SaaS Founder Interview with Bryan Clayton, Co-Founder and CEO of GreenPal
Tony Zayas 0:00
Hey everybody, welcome to the SaaS founders show. We’re back for another episode. I’m Tony Zayas and joined by our cohost, Andy Halko. Andy, how is your mission to make Mohawks great again, going?
Andy Halko 0:22
Oh, you know, I pretty much just made my dog have a mohawk. But pretty much no one else would do it. So I think I haven’t quite gotten there yet.
Tony Zayas 0:32
Yeah, well, just stick with it. Right. Like we hear from our founders, you can’t give up too soon. You gotta you gotta have that wherewithal.
Andy Halko 0:41
That’s right. But you know, I could give my lawn a mohawk. Just a nice short cut, and then a big one down the middle. What do you think about that?
Tony Zayas 0:53
I love that idea. But where are you going to find someone to do that?
Andy Halko 0:57
I thought maybe you can help me.
Tony Zayas 0:59
Well, I think we got some help here today, because today’s guest is actually Bryan Clayton. He’s the cofounder and CEO of GreenPal, an online marketplace that connects homeowners with local lawn care professionals. And they’ve actually been called Uber for lawn care by Entrepreneur Magazine. And they have over 100,000 active users. So excited that Bryan on here today. Hey, Bryan, how you doing?
Bryan Clayton 1:27
Hey, guys, how y’all doing? Great to be here.
Tony Zayas 1:29
Yeah. Thanks for joining. excited to have you on board. So tell us about GreenPal. So I read the quick description. But But tell us you know about the service, how it works?
Bryan Clayton 1:39
Yeah, it’s basically Uber for lawn Mohawks. So that’s all we do is cut a long stripe down the middle of your of your yard. And, and we’ve never heard of a lawn Mohawk, but maybe we might look into it. Yeah, green palette is the Uber for lawn mowing. So homeowner needs to get their grass cut, rather than calling around on Craigslist, or Facebook or whatever, just download our app pop in their address, and they get quotes from Lawn Care Services nearby them and they can read reviews, compare prices, hire who they want to work with, and a schedule and pay them right for that. And if everything goes well, you just set it up and it happens like clockwork in the background, all through the app, kind of set it and forget it. I guess you could say GreenPal is a 10 year overnight success. My cofounders and I have been at this thing for like a decade. And now we’re in nationwide in United States and every major city doing several thousand transactions a day over 300,000 people use the app to get their grass cut and doing almost $30 million a year in revenue. So it’s been a hell of a journey getting here. But we’re, we’ve just self funded it every step of the way off of its own revenues. And and now we’re running a good growing business. It’s been a lot of fun.
Andy Halko 2:52
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. I so you said 10 year overnight success. We hear that term all the time. You know, everybody sees it from the standpoint that it’s successful things that happens overnight. But I’m curious to go back 10 years, how’d you get into this? What you know, what, what made you say, Hey, I’m gonna create Uber for lawn care.
Unknown Speaker 3:15
Yeah, you know, I think when you’re starting a new business, particularly a technology company, you’re inventing a brand new product from scratch, you’re inventing something that does not exist, and you have to kind of like figure it out as you go. And I think when you’re going through that authenticity can be a competitive advantage. And that’s been how it kind of unfolded for me before GreenPal. I actually had a landscaping business I started mowing yards in high school as a way to make cash and still kept cutting grass through high school and through college. And when I graduated college, I had to make a decision was I going to go into the job market and like take a pay cut, or stick with this lawn care business and see how far I can take it. And luckily, I figured out well, you know, business ownership could be my lane and, and the landscaping industry could could be, could be one that I could make something of myself in. And so I made a business plan and over like a 15 year period of time, built one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee where I live, eventually getting it over like 150 employees, and getting it to around $10 million a year in revenue. And in 2013, that business was acquired by one of the largest landscaping companies in the United States. And so growing that this is just for me and a push mower and like me and a hundred some people I learned a lot about the industry learn a lot about how it works, learn a lot about how to grow and scale a company. And after I sold the business, I took some time off, took about a year off and and decided well what do I want to do now? What should I do now? And I thought, well, you know that that company was really challenging. I don’t want to do that again. I want to do something easy. I want to start a software business. And boy, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and didn’t realize how challenging it was going to be. But luckily, I was like it was like naivete as an asset and gotten that got in the game and recruited two cofounders, we got into the trenches started working on this thing and haven’t given up. And the first four or five years were really challenging getting the marketplace going, but I’m glad we stuck it out.
Andy Halko 5:20
Love the naivety as an asset, I always call it the wiley coyote syndrome is, you know, if you run off the cliff and just keep looking forward, you just keep going. And so that’s what I see most entrepreneurs as is just like, Don’t look down. Just keep going.
Bryan Clayton 5:37
Yeah. Yeah, it’s challenging. And, you know, it’s, it’s one of those things where, you know, me looking back the last 10, really 22 years of entrepreneurship, it’s, it’s almost like a, like a movie, like a storyline, and there’s going to be ups and downs, and there’s going to be challenges, and there’s going to be things that you overcome, but that’s what makes it interesting. Like, my businesses have always been the thing that caused me to live a more interesting life. And so I guess I’m grateful for that, you know, I don’t, I don’t wish hard times upon my business, but getting through them. And kind of like, the way you know, a main character gets through the challenges in a movie is kind of how I’ve looked at it. And it’s what made me almost fun in a way.
Andy Halko 6:19
It’s awesome. In that beginning stages, you said you have cofounders. So when you were saying you wanted to do this was it, I’m gonna find some guys or I have some friends, we’re going to start this or did you just start dabbling? And then you brought people in? What did that look like?
Bryan Clayton 6:35
Yeah, you know, I don’t, I recruited two cofounders. And luckily, I did, because they’d been instrumental to the business’s success, but I kind of got really lucky, I had two friends that I had known since like high school and, and they really wanted to start a business, they really wanted to be more in life, they really wanted to do something with their life. And I kind of saw that, and I saw that, and I could trust them. And, and they were motivated, they had ambition. And that’s really all I optimized for. And I figured that we could just like figure out the rest. You know, no matter what came along our way, we could just kind of figure it out. And that’s how it unfolded. None of us knew how to code. None of us knew how to build software, none of us knew how to design software, and more importantly, sell and distribute software. And so I got lucky in the sense that I recruited two people that I trusted and who wanted to work hard, and we kind of figured it out. That doesn’t always work out that way. And so when it comes to like cofounder dynamics, I always try to coach people to do go it alone, try to try to take it as far as you can solo, and then and then if you meet somebody or recruit somebody who you couldn’t imagine starting the business without, well then bring them on. I think a lot of times, people rush out to go get a cofounder is almost like a coping mechanism. It’s like, if, if somebody else is crazy enough to do this with me, then then then maybe I’m not crazy. And so that usually does that wears off. And that’s not going to get you like through like levels two, three and four of the game. And so like Paul Graham puts it as like a hacker and a hustler. You want to get somebody who complements your skills. You know, if you’re like technically oriented, you want to get somebody who’s like a hustler, and vice versa. And it’s hard to find that so when it when it comes to cofounders you know, start it with your business soulmate. Look at it almost like a marriage and look at it as importantly as like who you are going to like really marry because odds are you’ll be spending more time with this person than your actual spouse.
Andy Halko 8:46
Yeah, I totally agree. I’ve been doing this a long time. I had a business partner when I started out, I don’t now, and I’ve probably seen over the years 50-50 business partnerships working, you know, they get along, they have complementary skills, and on the other side, just complete disaster. So, yeah, yeah.
Bryan Clayton 9:04
And when it works great, it’s awesome. But most of the time, it doesn’t. And then another thing I kind of when I coach entrepreneurs, I do a little bit of coaching mentoring as a hobby. And one thing I tell folks is that if you had $10 million in the bank, would you write this person a check for $10 million to start the business with you? And And if the answer is no, then do not start the business with that person. Because ultimately, like their equity is going to be worth $10 million. If the business is successful, and you may raise a round of funding at some point if you want to go down that path and and like their chunk of equity will be worth you know, 5-10 million, maybe more and so if you if you wouldn’t strike them a check for eight figures to get in the game with you today then don’t do it. Don’t start a business with that person.
Tony Zayas 9:57
So Bryan, just to shift gears a little bit I’d love to would love to hear a bit about what did the product look like, you know, the MVP, when you initially rolled it out? What did that look like that as opposed to where you’re at today?
Bryan Clayton 10:15
Yeah, the the idea is this is weirdly the same that it was a decade ago. You know, if you have a basic yard, and you need like just basic lawn mowing services, it’s a real pain in the ass to get somebody to come do that for you. And it should just be as easy as pushing a button on your phone. That was the idea I had in 2012. And it’s the same thing we’re doing today. Now how we have gotten from there to there has like meandered and how the product experience has evolved and changed and improved and iterated has, has has has zigzag. But the vision, the problem and the solution, weirdly have not changed at all. And we’re really just still working on making it easier, faster, cheaper, more predictable, more reliable, less friction, to push a button and get somebody come cut your grass for you. The first product was horrible. Reed Hoffman says if you’re not embarrassed by your first release, then you waited too long. And we certainly hit that mark. But it was like, we didn’t know how to code, we didn’t know how to build software. And so we paid a dev shop to build the first version of green pile and release it. And, and it was like an instant flop instant failure, like it was clunky buggy didn’t have the features that needed, it didn’t fulfill the vision of push a button, get the grass cut, it was hard to use hard to figure out like we really were quickly confronted with, like how much we didn’t know that we didn’t know. And, and so we were reading a book at the time called the startup owners manual by Steve Blank, which is the predecessor to the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. And we and we read both those books and like two or three others, both those guys wrote. And what these guys have, like espoused in like 3000 pages of text is you have to get out of the building and go talk to your customers. And you first you have to get customers, nothing matters, like no business survives first touch with the customer. And so first, you got to get a dozen or 20 or 50 people to use whatever piece of junk you built. And then you need to like get out of the building, you’ll talk to them. And as like basic as this sounds, these guys wrote, like five books that teach you that one point. And so we were, we were, we were practicing that we were trying to put to work this knowledge that we were reading and so we met with every single person that we can meet with that use the first crappy version of that. And they would always tell us like variations of like, how we sucked. You know, they’d hire somebody and they didn’t show up or they’d hire somebody and they change the price or they listed their lawn, it didn’t get any quotes, or they couldn’t even figure out how to use it or they put their credit card in and it didn’t work and a credit card was good million problems. And then we would try to like, collate these things into into triage them to like, okay, these are the five things need to focus on. And but there was one thing we never heard, we never heard, I don’t need this, I don’t want this. This is stupid. It was always disappointment. It was always like they were let down. And they were they were they wished that they could push a button and summon somebody at a good price to take care of this chore and get it off their plate for them. And so the, like the vision and like the problem solution was there. And so talking to these people meeting with them face to face, you know, in every coffee shop and Middle Tennessee and kitchen tables, literally, you know, we we saw firsthand that we were building something that people ultimately would want and use, it’s just that we had a crappy solution today. And that we should just continue to grind on it and make it better and better and better. And that’s what gave us the I guess the the the ambition and reinforced our belief that we were doing the right things with our lives. And so we taught ourselves how to code taught ourselves how to build software, taught ourselves how to how to distribute software and things like that. And it just kind of like kept driving the ball down the field by not giving up.
Andy Halko 14:26
Any thoughts? You know, I think that’s such a poignant statement. And I think a lot of folks that go down this journey hit that first mark, and it doesn’t hit. Maybe they see some validation, but they get discouraged and stop. I mean, any thoughts for folks out there that end up hitting that stage? And, you know, where do I get the money and time to keep going on this even though I love the direction that it’s headed?
Bryan Clayton 14:53
Yeah. You know, like, are entrepreneurs made or are they born? I don’t know. You know, it’s like you there’s, there’s first off, there has to be some kind of thing burning inside of you that makes it to where you want to create something that people get value from and you want to be like, you have to make a decision really quick, do you want to be on the side of of creating a breakthrough? Or do you just want to fall in line like everybody else and go work a job somewhere. And that has to come from the inside. And that kind of carries you through a lot of the hard aspects of the journey. And so for me, you know, after I sold my first company, and learned about myself that, that I was wired to want to be in the game, I had made a decision that I was always no matter what going to be working on my best idea. And, and no matter what, so no matter how like hard it was, or no matter how likely it was not working, I would just try to figure out the three things we could do that week, and just work on those three things. And so that was that cleared up a lot of the uncertainty really, because I guess I’m not terribly creative. Creative, I had one good idea. And I still only have one good ideas, it’s GreenPal. And so I’ve spent a decade working on my one good idea. And so that took away a lot of the, Oh, am I doing the right thing with my life? Or should I quit? Should I keep going, like, it really kind of cleared that up, to be honest, even though you know, like, we couldn’t draw a salary salary out of the business for like three years, it was really, really tough. So so for me, you know, I saw that so long, you know, the smaller numbers, if we kept doubling them, you know, we have a hundred customers, if I know if we can get a hundred, we can get a thousand, if we get a thousand, we can get 10, I just knew that if we could just keep moving the number that we would eventually have something now. You know, it’s a balance between like that mindset, and then and then if it’s just not working, like if people don’t want it, don’t waste a decade on it. And but I never saw that people wanted this thing. And so so that was enough validation to keep going. So it’s a balance between those two. I think in entrepreneurship, there’s like a, like a persistent flexibility. And in a weird way, you just, you know, you, you keep driving it forward, but you’re flexible in terms of of getting feedback and letting that mold your approach. And I think startups fail, like every day. But entrepreneurs don’t. The entrepreneur keeps going and, and uses whatever they learned from what didn’t work and put that towards something that does.
Andy Halko 17:41
What do you know, to expand upon as an interesting idea. I just love to hear your thoughts on the the failure culture, because it’s interesting, we’re in Cleveland. And I heard a lot of folks say, like, if this guy failed on his business, he was kind of looked at funny. But if you go the Silicon Valley, and you’ve didn’t fail five times, you weren’t actually like, considered legitimate. How do you feel about that? And that idea of like failure, especially in the entrepreneurship space?
Bryan Clayton 18:16
Yeah, um, I think I think it’s somewhere in the middle, because I think out and see, because I’m from Nashville, Tennessee, so a traditional town as well. And I think I think the spirit, the spirit of Silicon Valley can really be carried anywhere in the country. I mean, we live in the greatest country in the world. And in many ways, that’s why we have, you know, the top 50 biggest companies in the world, like 90% of them are here. And a lot of them are out in Silicon Valley. And it’s because they don’t punish failure, and capital doesn’t punish failure. And they’re willing to take multiple bets on the same entrepreneur even though they, they they failed a few times. And so I think that’s one thing that makes Silicon Valley great and the spirit of Silicon Valley that can be applied and you know, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Nashville, Austin, whatever is one thing that makes it makes it great. But you do see some charlatans that continue to kinda like get funded over and over again you’re scratching your head like this dude. Like like this dude just like pilot a one of the hugest like disasters and you know, that we’ve seen in like five years and yet he’s getting money again. I so so there’s a battler somewhere in the middle I think I think it can get perverted at times. But at its essence, not necessarily celebrating failure but but not punishing it like in a lot of cultures. You know, if you failed as an entrepreneur first off, probably everybody’s rooting for you to fail. And then they kind of like they’re glad you failed. You know, this the Silicon Valley mindset of, it’s okay to fail. That’s just part of it, we get it. And really, I mean, if I was backing a founder, I would back a founder that failed once or twice versus a first time founder. Because they learn something, you learn something and and, you know, you don’t success is a lousy teacher. And if I had to do everything I’ve done, you know, with GreenPal over the last 10 years, if I had to do it again, I could do it in like a year. I mean, literally. And so I think a lot of times, you know, when you look at these overnight successes, that may have been seemingly have only taken two or three years, a lot of times that founder failed two or three other things, you know, failed two or three other things before, and they rolled all of that into the thing that did work. And so and so I, I believe it’s one of the things that makes this country great, and, and particularly makes Silicon Valley great is that they don’t, they don’t punish failure to the degree that other cultures do, and maybe other parts of the country.
Andy Halko 21:00
Yeah, like what you said, as you know, you don’t necessarily celebrate failure, but you don’t punish it either. Yeah. But that is where I have seen, you know, in certain areas of even the US where you can get punished for it. And I agree, I don’t think that folks should be punished for a first failure, or even a second.
Bryan Clayton 21:22
Yeah, yeah. And the other thing I see where it gets a little perverted is the failure and the concept of the pivot, um, is sometimes being used as an excuse to give up too soon. So like, I coach, I coach entrepreneurs, and first time founders, as a hobby in Nashville. And what I see a lot of is like, idea, a lot of hard work to make the idea work. I don’t want to do that hard work, therefore, like, it didn’t work. So I’m pivoting. And it’s like, yeah, this idea wasn’t, you know, it didn’t have legs like, bro, how many blog posts you write about it? Well, you know, that really wasn’t our thing. Well, brawling? How many like journalists Did you reach out to? about it? Now? I didn’t really do that. Well, bro, how many? How many customers did you talk to? Well, you know, I can see it wasn’t working. And it’s like, they didn’t actually do any of the hard work that it takes to get one of these things going, therefore, I’m pivoting. And before, you know, you talk to this guy, and he’s pivoted nine times in three years, and like, he’s let that be the excuse while you’re supposed to pivot. And so I think it like, like, everything is somewhere in the middle. Yeah. You know, it’s always somewhere in the middle. It’s somewhere between Columbus and and Silicon Valley is probably the truth.
Andy Halko 22:44
Well, it makes me think, what is the true definition of failure? Is failure just that you stopped? Or is it you tried everything? You were that hacker hacker and Hustler? You know, and then it was a fact that it didn’t make it and there is a big difference between those two things.
Bryan Clayton 23:03
Yeah, yeah. And it takes it takes guts to accept that and, and, and it goes back to you know, startups fail. But entrepreneurs don’t, you know, that entrepreneur will take everything they learned and apply it to this other thing. And some of the greatest, you know, successes that we’ve seen in the last, you know, 10 years were pivots, Slack was a pivot Instagram was you know, and so many more were these guys were working on something and it just just didn’t have the velocity. But they had this other thing that they discovered while working on it. And then they went all in on that. And man when, when it when it when it works, it’s a beautiful thing to see. And, and so yeah, it’s somewhere in the middle, like, you can’t just pivot your way to success. But on the other hand, you can’t just wait a decade on a bad idea to if it is not working, it’s gonna be pretty clear.
Tony Zayas 23:55
Bryan, you mentioned a moment ago that, you know, if you had to do it again, over the last 10 years, you’ve learned lessons where you can accelerate, you know, kind of your progress into about a year. What are some of those lessons?
Bryan Clayton 24:13
Yeah, for me, a big part of it was just learning this the 80-20 of a lot of this stuff, like learning, learning how to be a decent developer, learning how to design user experience learning, search engine optimization, learning data analysis, like, just getting to where I was, like, half good at a lot of these things was a big part of it, because it’s almost impossible to delegate something if you don’t know the 80-20 on how it works. And so and so now, you know, I like I’m decent at a lot of these things. So I can build out teams really quickly and know tactically how to execute and what to do to get something stood up and moving. So that was a lot of it. You know, when I had built my first company, it was it was a lot Landscaping construction business and, and, you know, had a 150 employees and I learned a lot about how to grow that type of business. But when I started over again, and to build a tech company, it was almost like not even the same sport. And you know, there were some things that ported over, but not many. And so just just learning those, like actual skills took a long time for me. And so now that I know them, you know, I know what a good growth team looks like, I know what a good SEO team looks like, I know what a good CTO looks like, I can bring these people on a delegate much quicker. Whereas in the early days, my cofounders and I were having to do all these things ourselves for a long time before we could figure out how to delegate them. So just that alone, would would save me probably four years. And then and then knowing kind of what levers to pull, and knowing how to move quick. And because I’ve done it now could save would have saved me a lot of time. So I guess my point is, is like the first time around as a first time founder, it just takes a long time, you got to learn these things. There’s just no way to fast forward through them. Maybe you can raise capital and you know, maybe you can you can pay people to do these things. But it’s really hard to delegate, if you don’t know how to do it yourself. And a lot of times, you’re just you know, you’re making bets. And if the bets don’t if you if you bet wrong then next thing you know, you’re out of money, and it’s game over.
Andy Halko 26:25
Another thing that stood out to me that you said of learning software learning UI UX, and, you know, that’s something that I’ve always seen myself as I love tackling something that I don’t know, it’s it’s invigorating for me. And I think the difference we talked a little bit earlier about entrepreneurs being you know, born or, or made. And I do you see a difference for folks that don’t, like they fear, getting into things that they don’t understand, and becoming, you know, versed in them. And I think that that’s something that I do see in entrepreneurs on a regular basis is, I don’t understand this, so I’m going to I’m going to break it apart, I’m gonna figure it out. So I at least understand it, and then I can drive other people forward with it.
Bryan Clayton 27:13
Yeah, that’s one of the cool things. For me, 20 years of running two to eight figure businesses was taught me is like, not believe my own BS around, you know, I don’t know how to do that, therefore, I can’t do it. And so you know, if you’re gonna make it, you know, you’re gonna have your backs against the wall, you can’t be made, you may not be able to afford a developer. So the next thing you know, you’re, you’re going on youtube University and learning everything you can about, about trying to teach yourself how to do this stuff. And so if you’re gonna, like, if you’re gonna make it, the marketplace is gonna require that of you. And you know, you don’t have to have like, titles, you don’t have to be an engineer, you don’t have to be a data scientist, you don’t have to be a designer. But you’re gonna have to be like half as good at these things. And so you don’t need the labels, but you’re going to have to learn the 80-20 of these things to do them yourself for a while. It’s kind of like, the way I look at it is kind of a goofy metaphor. But like, I used to love Super Mario Kart. And back when I was in high school, I used to play it a lot. And so you had like these drivers. And so you had like, like, in there, every one of them was really good at one thing you like, yeah, like Bowser who was like the hat that had the top is the fastest top in and Princess was the best, the one to accelerate and Toad handled around the curves really, really well. And then. And so every one of them had their one skill. And then you had Mario who was like half asset, all of these things. And he really like to be the best at the game was probably not the best driver. But if you were like learning how to play the game, he was probably the best driver for you. So you kind of have to be Mario and startup land. And you got to be like half good at a lot of different things. Because in the early years, you’re gonna be doing them all. And then you can learn how to delegate build out a team around you to do these things. And I think that’s what like raising capital, it gets a lot of founders into trouble, like, you know, the, like, well, we need they managed by acronyms. We need some SEO, and we need some PPC, and we need some some CRO and then you go and like hire people with these titles. They don’t know if it’s working or not. Whereas if you’ve done these things, if you hack projects together, if you’ve like, worked on these things yourself for a long time, you know what good looks like, you know what great looks like and you can delegate and, and delegate with success a lot better. That’s been my experience anyway.
Andy Halko 29:29
Yeah. Yeah, I and I think, you know, it’s, I don’t know if you know, growth versus fixed mindset, but that idea that you can change and I am a huge believer in the growth mindset of, you know, you aren’t just who you think you are, you can be more. Yeah, I think that’s just a big piece of entrepreneurship in general.
Bryan Clayton 29:51
Yeah, and, and in the in the entrepreneur entrepreneurship, and the course of failure business extracts that from you. It’s not human nature to want to live Go do these things, it’s painful. So it extracts that from you. And, and, and it also, like, maybe you weren’t cut out to be a founder, or maybe you weren’t, maybe you don’t maybe you know, you’re not an entrepreneur, well, maybe still go get a job at a startup though, you know, be employee number five, or 10, or 15, because you’re going to be doing a lot of different things anyway. And you’re going to have to be learning a lot of different skills, being in that role. And so that’s kind of the next best thing. So for me, you know, that’s like, I think, if you’re doing business, right, every three, four or five years, you should evolve in a totally different person, because of all these new skills you’ve acquired. And the business has required that of you. And that’s one of the best things about it. In my opinion.
Andy Halko 30:45
Yeah. But I have actually seen entrepreneurs that they’re not very good when the company gets to a certain size of like, truly managing and growing and beyond their good startup, folks. Yeah, I think that gets into that idea of like, being a master of, of men, or you know, half assing many things and not necessarily one, versus then getting into that enterprise, where you have to truly understand systems and processes and building leadership teams, and
Bryan Clayton 31:15
You see it every now and then, you know, the some of the greats are able to, to evolve and become that, but it’s rare. Whatever you think about Mark Zuckerberg, you know, one of one of his quotes is, don’t be a know-it-all be a learn-it-all. And as one thing that dude did I mean, he, he always surrounded himself with people that he was just a sponge and just learning from and, you know, one of the, one of the most successful founders and CEOs of all time, so. So it’s, you know, it’s doable, I think every company kind of goes through every, you know, three phases, there’s the startup, which is like, we’re just trying to hack a product together and see if we can solve a problem and see if people will use it and keep using it. And then then there’s the next phase, which is the grow up, which is, you know, we’ve got some customers, we’re getting more, we’re maybe doing a 100k, or a million or 5 million in revenue. And then there’s the scale up, which is, you know, teams of, you know, middle middle management and people training people and training leaders that are training leaders and, and nine figures and beyond, and I’ve done the first two phases twice, and I may suck at the third, I may suck at the scale up. And if I do, you know, we may put a professional CEO, and we’ll find out soon enough, and I think there’s a different set of skills for every one of those phases. And I think as a founder, you can evolve and get coaches and get mentoring and, and learn these things. But maybe not, you know, you know, in the case of Uber, you know, they, they had the best CEO in the world for the first two. And as it turns out, the third they had to had to bring in a professional. So sometimes it doesn’t work. But the greatest business are founder led all the way through IPO, you know. And so so who knows what we’ll find out about me, we’ll see.
Andy Halko 33:00
Yeah and I just want to repeat what the quote you said, because I like it. As much as I’m not a huge fan of Zuckerberg is don’t be a know-it-all be a learn-it-all. I like that.
Bryan Clayton 33:10
Yeah I mean, here’s a guy who clearly has Asperger’s. And not, you know, I mean, he just, he just does and and, I mean, was Cowley. I mean, it was probably one of the youngest billionaires to ever, ever exist, and was pilots, one of the most important companies to ever exist in his 20s. And he’s one of the most power is probably the most powerful person in the world next to Vladimir Putin. You know, like him or not, you know, the dude, the dude has a system for learning how to how to how to evolve, and it’s impressive.
Tony Zayas 33:52
Speaking of, you know, evolution, I would love to hear Bryan a little bit about how your role and where you focus has changed through kind of the evolution of GreenPal.
Bryan Clayton 34:08
Yeah, you know, it’s a lot of times it’s, it’s, it’s, you’re doing three things at once you’re, you’re working in the business, you’re working on the business, and then you’re working on yourself, and, and you’re, it’s kind of dynamic. So in the early days, my role was in the business, you know, nine, six days out of the week, writing blog posts, reaching out to journalists, writing front end code, checking all the things that other people are doing and making sure that it’s as what it should be, you know, literally like this, pushing it forward, and then you try to try to develop time to work on the business. What does the marketing system look like? What is the employee, what is the customer retention system look like? What is the Winback system look like? What is what is our employee training system look like? And then, and then the other thing you’re doing is you’re working on yourself, you know, What is the blocking and tackling for what stage of the game I’m in, there was a time when I took six months, and I read every book, I could read on copywriting. Because I wanted to be a decent copywriter for the, to lay out the copy on the interfaces on the screen. I don’t do that anymore. But that was blocking and tackling at that stage of the game. So it always evolves between spending time in one of those three buckets in the business, on the business and on yourself. And, and now, you know, now that I have a team of 40 people, I try to spend as much time as I can high leverage working on the business, doing things that only the founder can do setting the standard, you know, protecting the culture, you know, setting the strategy, figuring out, you know, where we’re taking the business, what the next big thing is to put into the app, what the next big innovation is, and and then working on myself to make sure that I’m the guy that that is suitable enough to pilot this thing and less on less in the business. You know, I don’t write blog posts anymore. I don’t reach out to journalists anymore. I have teams of people that do that. So my role has evolved across those three buckets, as as the business has gone from startup to grow up, and now you know, kind of encroaching on to scale up. That’s, that’s kind of like the the fluidity of how I’ve perceived it. And still, I still do work in the business, I actually still do at least an hour a day of customer support, because I want to be close to what the customer is, is wanting and talking about needing and pissed off about. And so I never want to lose sight of that. So I still do in the business tasks. But I try to spend as much as my time on the things that that are important, but not urgent. And so the things that aren’t necessarily burning the office down today, but needs to be dealt with. And that’s where I try to live. And and, you know, I’m not able to spend all my time there. But I try to spend as much as I can.
Tony Zayas 36:59
You mentioned, as you mentioned earlier, being focused on kind of like learning the 80-20 of different aspects of the business. How did you use that to grow the team? And now have people to handle that? So what is the team look like today? And what were some of the things that, you know, you learn being hands on and doing things that you were able to look for people with specific traits? What are some of those things that you know, have been beneficial to you in the business?
Bryan Clayton 37:29
One thing as far as like team building that I’ve learned the hard way over the years, like it almost doesn’t matter what somebody says, and how they present themselves and how they, how they describe their experience, I mean, literally, the only thing that matters is is watching observing something that they have done, and observing something they have worked on and observing something about like, so I really try to date everybody that that that comes aboard for a period of time, and figure out if if if there’ll be a good fit, and try to bring people on as contractors or freelancers for a while and then and then into a more formal relationship, maybe let’s just try this for a month or three months. And like date them for a while before, before we commit to bringing them on. And because I’ve learned the hard way that you know, don’t send me a don’t send me a resume on like as a as a product manager like actually use our product for like a week and and create some mock ups of some UX improvements and and maybe a new feature that you think you should have. That to me like the like the like watching people’s feet and not their mouth, has been the thing that has led to my best hires, and also the thing that has led to some of my worst hires when I don’t obey that kind of heuristics. So that’s how I’ve approached building the team. And I think it comes from a place of doing these things myself and being able to call BS on when somebody is just just looks good. The thing is about people that interview good. They interview a lot. They have a lot of practice interviewing. And so and so it’s like they’re either job hopping or lot or they’re doing a lot of interviews, and that’s why they’re good at interviewing and so the interview almost doesn’t matter. The resume def definitely doesn’t matter. Where they went to school doesn’t matter. It’s like okay, here’s here’s a quick project, tackle it, let me see how quick you can get it done and how good you can do it. And then and then we can talk is how I have learned to approach bringing people on and, and the other thing that I’ve done that that’s worked for me that that I learned. I was watching a presentation about the Navy Seals and how they bring on team members and they look at it on a two by two matrix. And on one axis is trust. And on the other axis is skill. And so they evaluate people based on trust and skill. And so in the lower left hand corner, you’ve got low trust low skill Of course, you don’t want those people and the upper right hand corner, you got high trust high skill, that’s really who you want, but they’re kind of unicorns they don’t exist. So so you’re so what they emphasize is they over index on trust and less on skill, they will take somebody who’s not as good at the actual skills, but they really trust. And then they figure that they can train them on the other things, that’s, that’s a little kind of like view, like a little heuristic that I’ve used, that that’s helped a lot, too. It’s like, do I really feel like I can trust this person? And do they trust me, they might not be as good a copywriter, but but we can, we can train them on that. That’s helped me a lot.
Andy Halko 40:37
We always talk about hiring for fit training for skill is that you find someone that fits the culture. And I think that’s that trust, as well as like your core values, you can train them on a specific skill, but if they don’t fit the core values, and they don’t fit that trust, and the the culture, they can have all the skills in the world there, they’re probably going to fail.
Bryan Clayton 40:59
Yeah, this stuff’s important. With three people, five people, 10 people 50, it’s important at every stage of the game, because I have ignored it. And in my first business, you know, I had probably 75 people working there. And I was driving to my office one day, and I had a pit, like a pain in my stomach, and I didn’t want to go there. And there was just a lot of people that worked there that I didn’t necessarily like, I wouldn’t hang out with these people. And, and, and there’s just a lot of bad attitudes in my attitude sucked. And I hated the culture there. And then it hit me, it’s like, you built this, you know, like, this is a reflection of you. You’re an asshole. You know, it’s like, is as a founder, as a manager. As a leader, you get exactly the culture you deserve. Because it reflects you reflects your attitude reflects your personality reflects your enthusiasm. And that was a hard lesson I had to learn as a big point of self reflection for me. So you get exactly the culture you build and deserve in your business. At every level, I have three people 30 and 300.
Andy Halko 42:04
How do you feel about the fire quickly mentality, you know, I’ve been doing this 20 years, I was really horrible at it when I started. Now, I’m still a little bit horrible at it. But letting people go when it’s not a right fit, and even doing it early on, when it’s not a right fit, you know, how do you don’t want to go through that journey of like, when do I make this decision? And how quickly do I cut it? Because I think a lot of entrepreneurs really struggle with that. They’ll let somebody sit for years that they don’t think is right.
Bryan Clayton 42:37
Yeah, I’ve made that mistake many, many, many, many times. And a lot of times when you’re running a small business, it’s tough because you just need bodies. And like you you can’t afford to cut somebody even though they’re just not a good fit. And because you really need bodies and so I get that it’s really hard. And and the reality is is is you have to be honest with yourself keeping that person on is a weak decision at every level, it’s weak for the first off is poor for is poorly treating them because they would need to go on and be a better fit somewhere else. It’s weak for everybody else on the team is the customers are losing out because they’re not getting good service from the from that person. It’s just weak at every level, I read something that something that really helped me with this was a book called necessary endings by I think it’s Henry Cloud, or Stephen cloud. And it’s a really good book about how you how you identify that point of necessary ending. And, and you always wait too long. And the reality is, is that you might have, you might have made a mistake bringing them on in the first place, you didn’t do something on the front end to identify, they wouldn’t be a good fit. So you kind of need to tweak that, you need to figure out where that broke down in the system. And you also need to probably, you know, particularly if it’s if it’s a, if it’s a high turnover situation, like you just need bodies, maybe need to invest in the training system to where, you know, you’re not beholden to this to this person, because you now have a really good training system, it only takes three weeks and not three months to get them up to speed so and then and then the other thing is to is to try to have some kind of redundancy in the business to where you’re not so beholden to this person tactically to where if there won’t be like you know, it like them leaving is not totally detrimental to the business. So there’s there’s, there’s all sorts of like compounding things that you probably need to work on. But I get it a lot of times we have to suffer these folks for a period of time, but the reality is, is that we always wait too long. We always do it too late. And that book really helped me kind of make sense of it. So So yes, I am of I am of the camp of of hire fast, fire faster, and get somebody else in there. You will always be glad you did. And you will always wish you’d done it sooner.
Andy Halko 45:04
Yeah. Yeah, I always think about that is, you know, process is a way and have, you know, if you’ve got great processes, you’re less beholden on individuals, you know, their skills, but that depends on the type of business to that you’re in of.
Bryan Clayton 45:19
Yes, yeah, it really does, too. You know, like, you know, I mean, to use a bad example, but McDonald’s, you know, one of my favorite books is grinding it out by Ray Kroc. And that book is about how he built the McDonald’s system. And he one of the points he makes this is kind of a crude example. But it’s like, you cannot build a business. That depends on extraordinary people, your business should develop deliver extraordinary results from ordinary people. And you kind of like can learn something from that, like in terms of the process of your business, there’s shouldn’t be a machine to where you can put, you know, it doesn’t rely on exceptional people is my point, you know, it may be a certain key roles, but like for the operating core, it shouldn’t have to rely on just outstanding exceptional people, you should have a system and a process in place to where you can put an ordinary person in there and get exceptional results.
Andy Halko 46:15
Yeah, I’ve always looked at it in my head of like you can have, I mean, if you have C grade processes, you need top A player, right? But if you have an a process, you don’t have C players, but if you bring in the B’s and A’s, it’s only going to be better. That’s right. Oh, you know, it’s figuring that out.
Bryan Clayton 46:36
Yeah. And the thing is, is it’s harder work to create the A process, then to just keep beating your head against the wall and getting pissed off at people and wondering why nobody wants to work and why there’s no good work ethic in this generation. And why you can’t find good people and bitching about that is easier than creating the a process. Because the a process is hard work to spend time working on the business, working on that process and honing it and reflect and refining it. And it may take two years. But that’s the hardest work. But but in business, if you do things that are easy, it’s going to be hard. If you do things that are hard is going to be easy.
Andy Halko 47:18
And I think for those entrepreneurs out there, it’s not just about the process of the day to day, but that training and onboarding, I think getting people up to speed, right is a big part of that. Just yeah, that are out there.
Bryan Clayton 47:31
Yeah. And like business is a video game. And, you know, a lot of times you’re on level one, and you just need one or two people and you don’t have the bandwidth to create all these processes. But once you get to levels, maybe three, and four, these are level three and four things, you have to create the onboarding process, you got to create the training process, you got to create the retention process. And like these are the like maybe three, four and five level things that you should be working on at that stage of the game, knowing where you’re at where you are in, like the metaphorical levels of business is also important. Because I see a lot of folks that like, are on level one, and they’re worried about culture and brand and, and all these things that don’t matter. Like bro you need, you need 12 customers for this thing, go go pass out some flyers, like that’s all that matters right now. Like, we don’t need to worry about culture today. Let’s worry about culture at level three, when we have maybe five people, then we can really try to figure out what the culture is. That’s how that’s how I’ve observed it and how and I mistakes I’ve made along the way.
Andy Halko 48:30
How do you approach culture? You know, like, I there’s so many thoughts, so many different ways that people look at it. But is it you know, a conscious strategy for you? Is it less conscious? You know, do you believe that you can impact it? Or is it about the people that you hire? are core values important? Like how do you look at culture?
Bryan Clayton 48:53
I think it’s it’s some one of those few things that only the founder, or CEO or chief can set and maintain and protect. And I think in bought it’s embodied lesson values, like, and more so virtues. So you might say, you might write your 10 values up on the wall. Honesty, integrity, kindness, truthfulness, perseverance, consistency, whatever those values are, you write them on the wall, well, what does that actually mean? And who gives a crap? Like, how does it actually manifest into the culture of the business? I think it’s more like virtues, and maybe only like two or three. And these are the things we actually do. These are the things that we like even it starts with the chief, you know, the things that the CEO or the founder is actually doing. So maybe one of the values could be like consistency, and, and, and grit, while the CEO one of his virtues is is he’s there before everybody else and he leaves after everybody else. or one of the virtues of the CEO is when there’s a project that’s behind, he gets in there, rolls up his sleeves and helps the team do things, or one of the virtues of this CEO is like, he gives a crap when a customer is upset, and he actually figures out what went wrong. And so it’s virtues, that I think a lot of times start with the CEO start with the founder. And, and, and it starts with there in permeates into the rest of the culture, you can’t have a virtue of of consistency. If the, if the founder isn’t showing up every single day, six days a week. It’s impossible. And I mean, that’s why Elon Musk sleeps on the on the factory floor. And, and so I think a lot of it, it boils down to virtues of the founder virtues of the CEO, and then permeates from from there. And that’s why Steve Jobs built one of the greatest, you know, companies in history, because these were virtues that he that he displayed, that permeated throughout the rest of the company. And and I mean, it’s, it’s one of the this is one of the hardest things there is about about growing and founding a business, but it’s one of those, it’s one of the only things that the founder and the chief can can protect, and create and should focus their time as you get further along the game. You’re on level one, don’t worry about culture doesn’t matter. Maybe even level two, level four or five, you maybe get 10 people that you need start thinking about it.
Andy Halko 51:29
Yeah, I always call them vanity values, those ones where companies come up with these, you know, I remember going in one company and consulting with them. And, you know, they had community service as a core value, but no one had ever done any community service in 10 years.
Bryan Clayton 51:46
Wow. See, that’s a great example. And that’s a great example of what what is a value and could be a virtue? If community service is a value, if you like, if this human service like beings being being helpful to people is a value, well, then a virtue needs to be once a month, we get our asses out and do some kind of thing for the community. Like what are these what a layup, you know, like, but they don’t do it. This is written on a wall somewhere it is comical?
Andy Halko 51:46
Well it was a process of you know, what do we think our customers would think is interesting if they heard was our value, or Yeah, what do we think employees in but yeah, then an employee sees that I always say like, the employee sees that the potential candidate comes in, and then you don’t do anything for other humans. And now it’s just this, this, it ends up being broken, and that person doesn’t fit the culture. So you’ve screwed yourself by creating this vanity value.
Bryan Clayton 52:42
That’s right. And it’s so hard to reverse engineer these things. I mean, this is happening right now at DoorDash. The CEO just announced something to the effect of every single person in the whole organization no matter what title they have, has to deliver on the on the on the network and has to actually go make deliveries. First off, I think it’s a great idea. What a What an awesome virtue, to make sure you got the right people on the bus that to make sure nobody loses sight of the of the vision, this is why we’re doing what we’re doing and why it matters. And this is how it affects human beings. And this is how we serve somebody when it’s snowing outside, and they need, you know, like, this was the only thing that like, gave them sustenance, and the person who, you know, needed to make $20 an hour, we helped them out to like, what a great virtue. And he’s got nothing but pushback. People bitching about this is not what I signed up for. I’m a developer, I went to Harvard or whatever. And, and so it’s hard to reverse engineer these things. You’re better off doing it from day one, if he had done that day one. Never would have been a problem and may have had an even healthier company, although a tremendously successful company. But But So yeah, you it’s hard to reverse engineer, engineer these things. But it is virtues. It’s things you’re doing, and less of them. I think people for some reason, think we need 10 values, you probably really only need like three virtues that really matter. And just do those things and make sure everybody’s doing those things, I think can take care of a lot of the culture stuff.
Andy Halko 54:18
Yeah, I always think three to six. That’s great. Yeah.
Tony Zayas 54:20
So Bryan, before we kind of asked her last couple of questions here, and I would like to hear a bit about what the future looks like for GreenPal. What do you envision in the next one to three years?
Bryan Clayton 54:35
Yeah, we, you know, I’m not a big five year planning guy, although I probably should be. But we’re focused on one goal 100 million dollars we need to make we need to generate $100 million a year in revenue to be meaningful. And that’s what we’re driving towards. We’re almost at 30. And, you know, we’re in every major city in the United States, every state and we need to go deeper and touch more lives in these markets. And like our top 10 markets generate 90% of our traction and revenue. So we know if we can figure out what’s working in those 10 and apply it to the ones where we don’t have the flywheel spinning as fast. So that’s what the next two to three years looks like, we should probably be able to get there in three years. And, and not really worrying about anything else, all of the little things that go into getting to that goal is what we’re working on in. And I’m having fun running the business I’ve had I had, I had, I haven’t worked a day in 10 years. I mean, I’ve had some hundred hour weeks. But I haven’t worked a day on this business in 10 years, because it’s really what I want to do. And I’m gonna keep doing it. So long as it’s fun.
Tony Zayas 55:42
Andy Halko 55:44
So, you know, the question that I asked pretty much every founder, towards the end here is, if you were able to go back in time, right before you started the business, have coffee with yourself, what advice would you give?
Bryan Clayton 56:00
Yeah, this business, I would lay I fucking like get into the DeLorean and maybe take some artifacts back, I would take like a blueprint of some sort of like maybe maybe even an org chart, I would, I would, I would, I would, I would encourage myself to create an org chart day one, and, and put my name on my name and my cofounders name on all of the roles, and then create a better plan to scale quicker through delegation, and putting people in roles where they can excel quicker. Because after we made the mistake of paying a development shop to build the first version, and that was like a total wreck, we waited too long to then do the other flip side, which is delegated again, so we delegated too soon, and then we delegated too late. And that costs us probably two or three years, and almost causes the company because because we almost we almost lost it in terms of getting overtaken by competitors. Luckily, we were able to get it back on track. And now we’re the nationwide largest network for lawn services, but it was almost a bet the company thing. And so I would I would really talk to myself about delegation, doing it right delegation to stewardship, and really going to the exercise of creating an org chart day one, and moving through that as quick as possible. Because speed speeds everything.
Andy Halko 57:28
Yeah, there’s actually some interesting stuff to unpack there of the org chart and placing yourself in a bunch of those roles until you can put somebody there but yeah, yeah, that’s a whole longer conversation.
Bryan Clayton 57:40
Great book about that is E Myth by Michael Gerber. It’s an awesome book.
Andy Halko 57:43
It’s one of my first business books I ever read 20 years ago.
Bryan Clayton 57:46
That’s table stakes I love that book.
Andy Halko 57:49
Tony Zayas 57:50
Well, Bryan, where could people that are, you know, tuned in paying attention and learn a lot of great stuff. Where can they find out more about GreenPal as well as you?
Bryan Clayton 58:00
Yeah. So anybody listening to this doesn’t want to waste time mowing your own yard. Just download green pal in the app store or Play Store. Anybody wants to hit me up? Hit me up on Instagram. Bryan M Clayton. Drop me a DM. I’ll hit you back.
Tony Zayas 58:14
Awesome. Well, thank you, Bryan. Really appreciate your time here today. This has been a fantastic conversation. Thanks to everyone who tuned in. We will see you again next week. Same time, same place. Thanks a lot, Bryan. This was fantastic.
Bryan Clayton 58:29
Thanks guys. I enjoyed it.
Andy Halko 58:30
Tony Zayas 58:32
Bryan Clayton 58:33