Larry Weidel: I am here this afternoon with Bryan Clayton, CEO and co-founder of GreenPal, which is averaging $1 million in revenue a month, $20 million annual revenue for 2020, and growing by 200 percent annually.
GreenPal has a platform with 150,000 vendors and one million homeowner users as of November of last year.
Brian has learned many lessons about creating a company, getting it off the ground, reaching the market, reaching a lot of people, and taking your message to the masses.
Bryan, tell us about Green Pal and how you got to this point.
Bryan Clayton: Business can give us the path to becoming a winner and making something of our lives. I’ve been in business for 20 years in one industry, the landscaping industry. I’ve seen it from every angle.
GreenPal is like Uber for lawnmowing. If you’re a homeowner, you can download our app and get hooked up with a good lawn mowing service in less than a minute.
We’ve been at this for eight years, starting off slowly and humbly. It was tough getting this marketplace going from scratch, but my two co-founders and I stuck with it. Now we’re an eight-year overnight success, doing over $20 million a year in revenue and growing exponentially every year.
It’s taking off, but it didn’t start that way. It was tough in the early days. Our relentlessness and unwillingness to give up got us through.
Before that, I had a landscaping company. I started that business while in high school as a way to make extra cash. My mom and dad got tired of me hitting them up for money. I had 10 customers that first summer mowing yards.
I stuck with that little lawnmowing business for over 15 years, built it into one of the largest landscaping companies in Tennessee with over 150 employees and over $10 million a year in revenue.
In 2013, I sold the business to one of the largest landscaping companies in the US–so 20 years in business, starting out in a blue-collar business and then transitioning into a tech entrepreneur.
I’ve seen a lot. I’ve learned a lot. Every year it feels like I’m evolving into a new person. That’s one of the things I love about business.
LW: Now you might be the best example I’ve heard of the phrase “bloom where you’re planted.”
BC: It doesn’t matter what kind of business you start as long as you stick with it, and you go all in. I have found over the years the least glamorous your business idea, the greater your chances of success, and the lawn mowing business is definitely one of those.
It’s a challenging business. It’s a hyper-competitive industry, but if you work hard and smart, you can make something of yourself. I’m lucky to have been exposed to entrepreneurship at a young age.
LW: Why do you think that the less glamorous ideas have a better chance of succeeding? Less competition?
BC: Businesses that are seemingly glamorous, fun, and enjoyable are oversaturated. Let’s say you want to be a movie star or you want to be in music.
I’m in Nashville, Tennessee. We have a thousand country music singers moving here every month. Every one of them wants to be the next Luke Bryan. The reality is that 99.9 percent of them won’t make it.
If they started a home cleaning business, for example, they could be a millionaire in five years. If you are willing to do something that is pragmatic, that solves an actual need for a customer, and willing to stick it out for a decade, you can certainly make something of yourself in business.
A lot of people don’t want to be seen at the bottom and that prevents them from getting started.
LW: Talk about that.
BC: I get asked a lot, “Do you think entrepreneurs are born or are they made? How do I know I’m ready to start a business?”
If you have to ask that question, you might not be ready because you should be thinking about it and working on it on nights and weekends. You should get up early on Saturday morning so you can carve out time to work on your business.
If you have that fire in your belly, you don’t care about being seen at the bottom, and you’re willing to do that for as long as it takes to manufacture that success, then you will be successful.
Another piece of advice that gets tossed around a lot these days and that is doing a disservice is to “follow your passion.” For me, I’ve never been passionate about grass cutting.
I’ve been passionate about winning. I’ve been passionate about creating opportunities for people that work for me and my business partners. I’ve been passionate about progress and creating something from scratch and seeing it burst and come to life. That’s a lot of fun for me, but I’ve never been passionate about grass cutting.
If I had followed the advice of “follow your passion,” I may not have ever gotten started. I may not have had a business. I may be working for somebody else. The “follow your passion” advice is misguided. You’ve got to be passionate about winning and business. You’ve got to be passionate about improving your station in life, and business is the vehicle to do that.
LW: You have people like Mark Cuban who says, “Find your passion and what you can get good at that can make you money. You’ve got to have a skill that is marketable.”
Let’s say you want to be a golfer and get on the tour. First thing, you’ve got to go to your local club, and your name has got to be on the wall of records. You’ve got to have won every tournament, and you’ve got to be playing to a minus five. That’s the starting point.
Any of the creative careers, as you say, everybody wants to do them. Chances are, you’re not going to hit gold right off the bat even if you turn out to be great like Sean Connery. He used to be a plumber.
BC: Maybe you’re not going to be a golf pro, but maybe you can create the best online system for training caddies, or you can figure out a way to market a certain niche product, a certain kind of club better than anybody else can. Maybe you can figure out a way to do Instagram marketing for golf courses, better than anybody else can because you know golf. There’s a way to stay in that zone of what you’re interested in and make money.
People ask me all the time. They say, “I want to start a business, but I don’t have access to capital, therefore I can’t get started.” Then I say, “What’s your business idea?”
I had one person say to me, “I want to open up this new bowling alley theme concept. And I think it’d be really cool and different. I think this is why it would fit in the marketplace, but I need $10 million to do it.”
I say, “Okay, maybe you start a small business that you can start with no money. You do that for five years, put $100,000 in the bank, then you have a track record, and then you can go raise the money for this type of idea.”
One of those businesses could be a house cleaning service. Any in-home service is approachable. A lot of these businesses that are often overlooked and not glamorous are dismissed as not feasible.
LW: Or go get a job in that industry. It doesn’t matter if you’re mopping the floor. If you get in the door, you can move up if you’re the greatest mopper and sweeper they’ve ever had.
There are openings in every business because people get older, they get sick, they move away, and they do other things. If you get into a company that’s in the arena you like, and it’s a good company, the worst thing to happen is that you learn something and find out if you really like it.
You might find that it’s not as big a thrill as you thought, but you might find yourself learning things that save you money. There are ways to climb that ladder. I’ve told people that the main thing I wanted was to be my own boss. I really didn’t care what I did, but you have to go with your motivation.
As you grew up, you were developing a strong motivation to do well, move up, push things to other levels. Maybe it was not in your head to have a business of your own, but it came to you quickly.
Talk about what got you on this track to where you made this such a success.
BC: I love that story you just told about your “why” for getting started. It was being in charge of your own destiny. Every one of us who starts a business and achieves some level of success has some reason why we are doing it other than money. For me, that has evolved over the years.
When I first got started, I needed to make extra cash, and then I started building it. Then I thought, “I just want to make this the biggest, most profitable, most successful landscaping business in Nashville, Tennessee.”
It was like I had a chip on my shoulder that I wanted to prove that I could do it. I had this idea that I wanted to retire by 30. I was going to work my butt off as hard as I had to to make that happen.
That was a big reason that got me through those first few years working seven days a week, 14 hours a day mowing yards, and doing bookkeeping and sales at night over and over again for years until I started to build out a little business around me.
As I did that, I started to realize that I had 20 or 30 people working for me. I’m responsible for their livelihoods. If I screw this up, there are 20 families that won’t have a paycheck if I mess this up.
Then the reason behind it evolved. I thought of myself as the shepherd or the pilot of this thing, and that was fun to experience. As a leader, a manager, a founder, the reason why you’re doing it evolves every four or five years.
That’s certainly been the case for me. As I grew that company, sold it, and started my second business, I realized that business causes me to learn more, do more, and level up.
It’s the vehicle that causes me to be a better human being, a more humble person, a better leader. Without it, I get really sloppy. Business is the thing that causes me to fire on all cylinders. I have to have it. That’s how it’s evolved for me.
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