Starting a SaaS is hard.
Starting a SaaS is harder when both co-founders have full-time jobs.
Bryan Clayton, CEO and Cofounder of GreenPal, joins the conversation to discuss how they turned a household errand into an incredibly successful SaaS busin
The best SaaS businesses starts with trying to solve a problem for a specific customer persona. Though your product might be good, it might not fit the the ideal customer persona right. So what can you do about it?
Listen to this episode of course…
Starting a SaaS is hard.
Starting a SaaS is harder when both co-founders have full-time jobs.
Bryan Clayton, CEO and Co-founder of GreenPal, joins the conversation to discuss how they turned a household errand into an incredibly successful SaaS business... whilst two of the co-founders were working full-time.
In this episode, we discuss:
Bryan Clayton: I'd wrote down a list of every single local peer-to-peer marketplace. I used all of them and I don't mean like I signed up and use them. I signed up and became a supplier. I listed a spare bedroom on Airbnb. I drove for Uber, I drove for Lyft, I delivered food for Postmates, I delivered food for DoorDash. I walked dogs on Wag and Rover. I cleaned homes on Homejoy. I signed up on Angie's List and did every service they could. I'd signed up for TaskRabbit and went and hung people's flat panel TVs that they had just bought, put their Ikea furniture together. I used all of these services and I would spend a month on every one of them.
Narrator: Welcome to SaaS Origin Stories. Tune in to hear authentic conversations with founders as they share stories from the earlier days of their SaaS startups. We'll cover painful challenges, early wins and actionable takeaways. You'll hear firsthand the do's and don'ts of building and growing a SaaS, as well as inspirational stories to fuel you on your own SaaS journey. Here's your host, Phil Alves.
Phil Alves: Today, I have Bryan from GreenPal here in the show. Bryan, thanks for coming over.
Bryan: Thank you so much for having me on. It's great to be here.
Phil: Awesome. The first question I like to ask people is just tell us a little bit your company and what problem does it solve?
Bryan: Yes, it's a great question. I like the way you frame it because that's where you want to start when you're starting a company, you got to solve a problem. That's the mistake that we made in the early days, I see a lot of founders make. GreenPal is an app that works like Uber, but for lawn mowing services. If you're a homeowner, and you've got super tall grass, maybe you call around on Craigslist, or Facebook or Yelp, and you can't get anybody call you back, you can't even get him to show up to mow your yard.
You download GreenPal, pop your address in and somebody comes out and does the chore for you. You don't have to call around hassling people anymore, you can just push a button and it just happens like magic. GreenPal is a 10-year overnight success. I've been at this for a decade. Now, GreenPal is nationwide in the United States with over 300,000 people using the app, 32,000 lawn care services using the app and doing multiple, eight figures a year in revenue. Also funded, didn't take on any outside capital, which is pretty rare for a tech company like ours.
Phil: That's awesome. I want to talk a little bit about this self-funding portion. Let me ask a little bit more about the problem because I have had that problem before. I'm trying to find someone, people are not reliable, and in my street, there's a lot of people that really love their lawn, and so if your lawn is not perfect, your neighbors are looking at you, and I'm out of time trying to find that person. How do you have the understanding about the problem, it’s a huge problem. Where did your knowledge come from that you knew about the problem to solve?
Bryan: Yes, you're right. You wouldn't think it'd be a pain in the butt to pay somebody to do this chore, but it actually is. It's like trying to book a taxi cab in the rain on New Year's Eve, a lot of times. It's like I got money in hand, I just need a ride but until Uber came along that was a big pain point, and so that's the problem we solve for homeowners. I knew it was something that needed to be built because the first 15 years of my entrepreneurial journey, I actually ran a landscaping company. I mowed grass for living. I started a lawn mowing company in high school as a way to make extra cash and stuck with that lawn mowing business all through high school, all through college.
Over a 15-year period of time built up one of the larger landscaping businesses in the state of Tennessee where I live. Got that business over 150 employees over 10 million a year in revenue. Then in 2013, it was acquired by a national company. After that, I took some time off. I thought what am I going to do with my life now? What am I going to dedicate my life to? I saw what Airbnb and Uber and Lyft and a couple other startups are doing in these kind of real world problems. I thought, well, if somebody's going to build an app that just makes the whole thing, what I spent 15 years doing easier it might as well be me and it was naivete as an asset.
I recruited two co-founders, did not know have any clue how to build software, didn't have any clue on how to build a marketplace, but we just got in there started working on it. The naivete is what got us in the game, because it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be but we stuck it out. Now here we are 10 years in and we got a good solid platform.
Phil: Awesome. Basically, you look at the marketplace, you saw the Uber, the Airbnb and you match that experience of 15 years in the space. You knew this space pretty well. You knew how hard it was to actually find a good company. That's probably how you grew your company so much because it's very hard. That together watching the marketplace with your past experience it's what put you in the right direction to start this company. Is that correct?
Bryan: Correct. That's right. Yes, authenticity can be a competitive advantage. That's what it was for me. Running that landscaping company, I saw the problem every day because people would call my office begging us to come mow their yard. As that company grew to 100 plus people, we no longer did those basic residential services like your basic $40, every two weeks lawn mowing, we didn't do them anymore. We would have to tell these people no, and I hated telling people no. We started referring them to other smaller service providers just as like a helpful thing to do. In effect, we were this connector service. We were connecting buyers and sellers in a very traditional analog offline way. I thought, well, an app could do all this and set out to build it.
Phil: That's amazing. Let's talk about how you build it and how you funded it specifically, you touched on that. I think you went in a very different approach of most companies. Of course, you had an exit, but it's still putting the cash on the line. Like you say, it's a very hard process. People don't realize most SaaS companies never make over $1 million. It is very hard to get there. It’s probably one of the most challenging places to put your money. Yes, that was a little bit. How did you fund it? How was the process to build? What did you learn along doing that?
Bryan: Yes, it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I felt like revenue was the best form of financing for the business because I knew that so long as we had enough revenue coming in to meet our expenses and meet the investment, we needed to make that we would never lose sight of the customer. We would never lose sight of what mattered because we had to make enough money to get to the next month. While on the one hand, I just sold a business and it was tempting to plough all of that back into the second business.
I didn't want to ever pick up a weed eater ever again. I didn't ever want to mow another yard in my life ever again. I didn't want to go backwards in life, so I locked all of that stuff down in highly liquid assets. I really couldn't spend all that money starting GreenPal. It had to sing for its own supper. The only money that we put into it was a couple $100,000 that my co-founders and I pulled together. This was liquidated 401(k)s, credit card checks, loans from mum and dad. We spent that on a development agency to build the first version of the app, which as it turns out, was a total mistake. That was basically a waste, we wasted all that money.
At least it got us in the game and got us something out there in the marketplace that validated the idea. We got a couple 100 people to use that first version. Then after that, we started to learn how to build software ourselves, learn how to code. For many years, it was just the three of us doing everything; writing the software, designing the software, writing the blog posts, doing all the search engine optimization work, reaching out to journalists to get them to talk about the app, recruiting vendors, customer service. All these things, we were doing it all ourselves for a very, very long time, and not taking any salary.
My two co-founders work day jobs. I was essentially retired. I didn't have to work anymore so it was nice. I didn't have to draw a salary, I'm not working 100-hour weeks growing GreenPal, but didn't take a paycheck, still don't. That enabled us to just knuckle down and get the thing to 10,000 a month in revenue. After we started getting a little bit of revenue, then my job as the CEO and the founder evolved into one of what's called a capital allocator. Like a little bit of money comes in, and I figured out how to put that money back to work. Just keep doing that over and over and over again.
Eventually begins to compound, eventually begins to snowball to where you can pick up some momentum. In those early days, self-funding the thing, no salaries for five years and just making pennies was very challenging, but we just kept focused, we kept working on it.
Phil: How long did it take to get to that first 10k?
Bryan: I think three years. Yes, it took three years.
Phil: Three years everyone working, but I think it's great feedback for people trying to do.
Bryan: Yes, you can't even get a good developer for the entire company. It was really, really tough. The numbers were small, but they were growing. It was like we ended our first year with 20 customers, and then we set a goal for our second year to have 100. In our third year, we had 300. In our fourth year, we had 1,000. In our fifth year, we had 5,000 or 6,000. Now we have over 300,000 customers, it kept compounding but it took a while to get it going.
Phil: Let's talk about those customers because that's definitely the challenge so many times getting those customers. I want to go back and touch back about developing but you talk about the 10 customers, then the second 100 customers, how you got those customers, what was this shortage? What you try, what didn't work, when did you finally find something that works? So many times you also say “Hey, this is what didn’t work,” but people behind the scenes like you say the 10 years overnight success, don’t see other things that we try and didn't work. Could you expand on that?
Bryan: Yes, it's like a video game. You got 10 levels of Super Mario Brothers, and you just focus on getting one level at a time. The mistake that a lot of new founders fall, the trap they fall into is they try to deploy a level 8, 9, 10 strategy when they're on level 1. What by that is they want to hands off, self-serve or just try to do the non-hand to hand combat thing for levels one, two, and three, and in reality, is you can't do that. You can't skip those levels. I have a belief that you should know personally your first 100 customers, they should have your cell phone number. That's how it was for us.
We got our first couple hundred customers just passing out flyers, literally walking around Nashville, Tennessee passing out door hangers, and that was the strategy we needed to deploy at that level because we just needed 100 customers to figure out if we were on the right track or not, and what we needed to continue to do to make the product better. Every one of those people had my cell number and that was the strategy we needed to get to level two. Now we have a couple different channels that we get people through, mainly Google organic search. As you begin to grow the business, your user acquisition strategy evolves, but in the early days I think it needs to be as much hand-to-hand combat as possible.
One, because that's how you hustle up your first dozen customers, your first 50 customers but two, you're close to them, you know them, they will tell you everywhere you're letting them down. They will tell you what they wish your product would do that it didn't. They will tell you when they're upset and you need that feedback to even inform how you might go about scaling a user acquisition strategy. That's how we did it. Very, very hand cranking manual and then we evolved into an organic strategy, a Google organic strategy.
Phil: You’re touching a point which is actually the exact reason why I start this show. So many times, people are going to start a company a SaaS, and they want to do what the successful company is doing today. You need to know what they did when they start in the early days and that's why you have to do it. That's why I want to do the show to interview people and ask what they did in the early days because if you are starting today, that's what you have to try to do. There's many strategies, we are talking to many different founders, but what you do zero to one is very different than what you do after that when you have more resources, when you have product market fit.
Thank you very much to for bringing that insight. I love what you say your first 100 customers should have your phone number. That's a great strategy so you can really get that feedback.
Bryan: It's important for those two reasons. You got to hand crank it, you got to get the 100, and you need the feedback. Most of the time, in fact, I don't know 99% of the time, this is how the successful companies did it. Uber from 2008 to 2009 was just six Lincoln town cars in San Francisco. Then they tried to figure out how they would get their friends to order service for those town cars. Once they figured that out, then they started moving quicker, but it always starts with hand cranking the first kind I guess you could say, prototype of the experience. Instacart those guys went to Kroger and bought one of every single item and took it back to their apartment, and photographed it and put it on a website with a price.
That's what they had to do to hand crank the marketplace. Most of the time, when you go back to the real starting days of all these successful stories, that's how they started, and they don't get talked about a lot, and then everybody tries to emulate what they're doing at scale when you have five customers and it just doesn't work.
Phil: Exactly. Again, that's exactly why I'm doing this show. You touched on something before that I would like to go back and talk about because it's something that all the time, I tell people. Most agencies it is a mistake and you going to end up falling hard if you try to hire them. I'm saying that from someone I own an agency that help people build SaaS products. I have my own SaaS products but I believe most people shouldn't hire an agent, even mine. Could you go back and that was a little bit why that was a mistake, how the experience was, let's dive deeper in that a little bit.
Bryan: Where does the agency model fit in developing tech? I think if you have a super successful traditional business and tech is not your core competency, and you want to streamline pieces of it maybe, let's say you had a laundry mat or you had a dry-cleaning service, and you wanted to make a really slick custom mobile app where people could coordinate doing business with you and coordinate deliveries or something like that. Then an agency I think is a really good move but it's really hard to invent a brand-new product or experience from scratch and rely on an agency to do it because you're just going to end up rebuilding it over and over again.
It's like unless tech is inside of the DNA of the company, you don't have developers on staff, it's really hard to do that. What I would liken it to it's like let's say you want to be in the software business and you want to start a brand-new technology experience from scratch. It's like starting a five-star restaurant with no chef and nobody on the team has ever even cooked. Nobody's interested in recipes, nobody knows how to put together a recipe. Nobody's ever cooked their own dinner but you want to start a fine dining restaurant. To me, the way I experienced try to start a tech company without developers on the team, that's what it was.
It was like we're in the tech business but nobody here knows how to code. It was silly looking backwards so that's how because the thing we built, the thing we paid to have built, we scrapped it and then we built another thing, scrapped that. Built another thing, scrapped that, built another thing scrapped. Just we had to build it over and over again and it's almost impossible to do that outsourcing.
Phil: You're not aligned and especially if the team doesn't understand that if they have a project mentality that's the start, that's the finish.
Bryan: There's no scope.
Phil: That's not how building a SaaS, creating a product works. I like to say software is never done.
Bryan: Never done.
Phil: One thing I think it's very valuable though, it's getting that consulting approach so instead of hiring an agent to build hire agents to help you plan, to tell you about what you should think ahead. To give a plan that now you can come and present to your developers. That's where I think it would work and that's what we try to do. It's the planning strategy, you can bring the expert to help you, but you need to develop that skill. You need to become the product person. You need to understand and if you don’t have the mentality, you think I just have an idea, I'll pay someone money and that's going to fail. Good luck.
Bryan: Good luck. I think you're right. I think the agency fits in accelerating what's already working. It's like we have maybe the founder is a little bit of a product guy, maybe there's one or two developers and they've got all they can do, and then it's you've got a little bit of funding maybe, and you've got this whole roadmap you've laid out. Then you bring on an agency to help you execute that working in tandem with your team. I think that works, but it's I've never written a line of code. I don't know how any of this works. Here, you guys agency handle it and let me know when my idea's done. It never works. It never works that way.
Phil: You can't source your thinking for sure. Let's then talk about your first hires as you're building your team. You brought your two co-founders. Who else were you building and you believe was the right people in the early days that helped you go to the next level? We already established maybe the agents wasn’t the best choice and how you went away from the agents, and what was the right people to bring on in the early days?
Bryan: It was like we were building a big brick house and we needed more brick layers. It was me and my co-founder laying all the bricks, and I mean writing the code, and we needed more brick layers. We needed more developers, we needed more engineers. That was just-- we had all this huge roadmap and all of these bugs and all these things that had to be done and there was only two of us who barely half ass knew what we were doing writing buggy code ourselves. We needed more depth, but we weren't making any money. It was this catch 22 and what we did to get over that, believe it or not, back then in 2014, you could make $75 an hour driving for Uber.
My co-founder who didn't know how to code, was doing PR that was his job, was to get the press to write about us and customer service and driving for Uber. For every hour he logged on Uber, we could buy two hours of dev time from a developer in India or Pakistan, and that worked for two years. It was like a trade-off or arbitrage that we could do where we could buy dev hours and that's what we did. It was really challenging but that was the strategy we had to do at that stage of the game to get to the next level without raising funding, because I didn't want to raise funding.
The reason I didn't want to raise funding was because all around me were all of these Uber for X ideas. Uber for dry cleaning, Uber for home cleaning, Uber for laundry service, Uber for valet parking, Uber for locksmithing, Uber for car washing. There were 10 other Uber for lawn care ideas, apps. All of them raised huge amounts of money because everybody was chasing this gold rush where Uber was putting up all of these huge numbers and so then the idea was, we can just take this model and apply it to everything in life. It turns out you can't, not easily anyway.
All of these things were raising 5, 10, 20, sometimes as much as $100 million and in 18 months they were gone because they were trying to move too quickly and they were trying to apply the Uber model, and the VC blitz scaling model to a dynamic that wasn't ready for it. Looking back, it was like they were putting rocket fuel in a Toyota Camry or maybe even a moped and it just blew it apart. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to go down that path. We had to grit our teeth and gut it out. In the early days, the main key hires were just more devs. I was doing all the product, we could do all the customer service, as matter of fact we wanted to do all the customer service, we still do. Design, we could do in-house, and we could outsource.
The main thing we needed help within the first five years was developers. That was the first few key hires. Now the team is 47 people. A good hire today looks like we just hired a search and optimization lead where that was a job that I did my part-time. Now we have somebody focused just on developing our strategy around SEO. Those are level-up hires now where you can take something that you're doing in your spare time and put somebody on it full-time. When you see that work, it's a level-up. It's like a power-up. That's how that's evolved over time. It's a lot of times with hiring at a startup, particularly a bootstrapped one, it's like triage.
It's like what are the two or three things that are bottlenecks that are holding us up? Let's get some help there. I might want a head of PR, I might want a head of culture, I might want an HR head, I might want a head of, I don't know, customer experience, but I still have to do those things in my spare time right now. Right now, the main problem in the business is X, so I'm hiring for that.
Phil: For sure. It’s all about timing. I'm going to need those people eventually, but in the stage that I am right now, who do I need? I think that going and outsourcing in cheaper countries, doing the little arbitrage is an amazing strategy for bootstrapper founders, but it's also very hard, very complex. So many people fail trying to do that. What did you learn when you went that route and how did you make that successful? As you're bringing developers, there's differences of time zone, there's language barriers, there's trust issues. How do you make that work because that's a skill in itself?
Bryan: It's hard. It's hard. It sounds easy. Oh, just hire somebody across the world. For us, the first thing we had to learn, we had to build the product ourselves and then outsource the things we were doing. That was step one. A lot of times people try to outsource something they'd ever done. There's two types of delegation. It doesn't matter if you're trying to outsource or delegating to an employee. There's delegation from stewardship and then there's delegation by abdication. Delegation by abdication is, I don't know how to do this. I've never done it, here you handle it. That usually is a recipe for disaster.
Delegation by stewardship is here's what we're doing, here's why we're doing it, here's how we do it, here's how we want it done. Here's how long we think it should take. Here's what we think it should cost. Here's how we grade the quality of it, and here's all the specifications for how we want it done. Here's where we want it backed by follow our methodology. That's delegation by stewardship. First off, you have to get to a standpoint where you can delegate from a position of stewardship, and don't even try to outsource across the world until you can at least do that. Until you can outsource somebody who maybe he’s in the same room because that's where a lot of international outsourcing goes wrong.
It's like, it wouldn't have worked if you had somebody in the same room, much less somebody across the world. That's step one. Then step two, a really good book about this is actually the four-hour work week. That book's almost 15 years old at this point. What Tim Ferriss talks about in that book is laying out specifications, laying out standard operating procedures, laying out something so simple where somebody else can follow it, and then they execute your game plan. You have to get to a position where you can do that before you can outsource somebody across the world.
One reason is because there's particularly, we found this out, we are an app that enables somebody to order a lawn mowing service. Pretty simple, but if you live in Pakistan, there is a irrelevant, I guess you could say contextual perspective. They don't have gardeners in Pakistan. Maybe the super wealthy do, but by and large hiring a lawnmowing service is not something that is done. It's like you're talking to somebody on Mars almost, and there's no context. They're great, some of the best engineers in the world, but a lot of things get lost in the cultural context. You have to distill it down to delegating from a stewardship standpoint down to the task level and leave nothing up for interpretation. That's where a lot of outsourcing goes wrong.
Phil: Yes, for sure. I think the way they like to phrase that I think there's project-level thinking and task-level thinking. If you are outsourcing, if the labor's a little bit cheaper, if they don't understand your culture, you have to do task-level thinking. Project-level people, at early days they should be the founder because project-level people, they're expensive and they're hard to find. That's why when you grow your company and you have more money, you're probably going to have a project-level person in HR, or you're going to have that person in PR and they're going to come and build.
At the early days, you are the project-level thinking. You and your co-founders and you bring that person just for a task. If you have the right mentality, it's going to work. If you don't, if you think they're going to think about the whole big picture, it's not going to work. Did you know anything about coding before? Did you learn how to code yourself because to have the project level thinking and just give them the task, you have to develop the knowledge of developing software. How did you go about that?
Bryan: We knew absolutely nothing. We had never built a website, never built an app, never designed a user experience, never coded anything, so we had to teach ourselves all these things. The thing that we got from outsourcing to a dev shop, at least we got a crappy beta that people could use and it didn't work, but at least they could use it. We would talk to them and they would tell us everywhere the app sucked, but they would never tell us, “I don't need this.” They would never tell us I wish-- In fact, they were disappointed that it didn't work.
They were disappointed that they were let down that when they pushed a button, somebody didn't show up and mow the yard. That was validation for us to invest in ourselves, to learn how to code, learn how to design software. We just did it through YouTube University and there's a great website called Envato Tuts+ that we learned, we used to learn everything from front-end programming to back-end. My co-founder went to a Bootcamp that was nine months long, that was $8,000 that he put on his personal credit card. We just took a year and just learned everything we had to learn.
Not only do you have to learn how to write code, but you also have to learn how to do product development. Shit, I didn't know how to do that, and so it's like, how do you do that? What I did was I thought, well we didn't raise any funding but all these other companies did. I'm going to try to learn from them on how they approached these things with a tech product and what they did to make these real-life experiences happen. I wrote down a list of every single local marketplace, peer-to-peer marketplace. I used all of them. I don't mean I signed up and used them, I mean I signed up and became a supplier.
I listed a spare bedroom on Airbnb. I drove for Uber, I drove for Lyft, I delivered food for Postmates, I delivered food for DoorDash. I walked dogs on Wag and Rover. I cleaned homes on Homejoy. I signed up on Angie's list, I did every service that I could. I had signed up for Task Rabbit and went and hung people's flat panel TVs that they had just bought, put their IKEA furniture together. I used all of these services and I would spend a month on every one of them. I would just be insanely rigorous about screenshotting every single interface and taking notes, and figuring out this is how they make sure that the guy shows up on time. This is what they do when the guy doesn't show up on time, and this is what they do when the homeowner hasn't logged in and paid. This is what they do when the homeowner doesn't come back and buy again.
I was taking crazy notes, and by doing that for a year I became a pretty good product person just by going through this school of hard knocks. Then I applied all of those things collectively between those 12, 15 companies that probably raised $10 billion. I was able to put to work $10 billion of venture capital in terms of discovering excellent product design into my own product just by using and taking notes from reverse engineering what they were doing for similar experiences. That's how we went from not like layman to half-ass good product people and developers.
Phil: It's amazing the way that you learn about products, it's by using products and you really took the time to use every single product that was similar to what you were doing to develop that product skill. Looking at different eyes for sure made a difference too. Now I'm looking with the eyes of a founder of a similar product. What are they doing right? What do I love? They spent all this money in research and they are ahead of me, so they're probably know how to go about this. That probably was the mistake because the people that you hire to build the first version didn't do that. You haven't done that, so the first version wasn't built with the product mentality.
I love also that you guys went and learned how to code. The one thing that sometimes people miss is the 80-20 rule. To actually build something that works, you don't have to know everything about coding. There's a 20% of the things that you can learn that's going to get you the 80% of the result. The same for the product. What is the 20% thing that I can do that's going to give me the 80% of the output? What do you think the 20% was for you when you're talking about the product and the development skills that you had to develop, what was that 20%?
Bryan: I'm glad you brought up the 80-20 rule because as a founder you're going to have to be 80-20 good at about 30 different things. Whatever stage the game you're at, you have to get 80-20 good at blocking and tackling at that level. For us, engineering was a bottleneck. We had to get 80-20 good at that, but it just didn't stop there. I spent six months one time and maybe a year or two or three and read every book I could read on copywriting, because I learned that words on a screen matter, and that in user experience and in a user interface the word is probably the highest place you can deploy expertise and get results. I became like an 80-20 good half-ass copywriter. All these things you got to learn and looking back, it's like one of my favorite video games growing up was Super Mario Kart and in that video game, you had six different drivers. Every driver always had something they were really, really good at. Princess was the fastest driver to accelerate off the line. Toad handled the best in those curvy tracks. Bowser had the highest top end and so on. Every one of them had their own skill, and then you had Mario, and Mario was half good at all the stuff. He wasn't like the best driver in the game but if you were just getting started, he was the driver you wanted to select because he was half as good at all these things.
I think when you're starting a company, you got to be like Mario. You got to be pretty good at copywriting. You got to be pretty good at product design. You got to have a keen eye for good design. You got to be pretty good at basic accounting and strategy and data science, and maybe content and all these different things. You got to be pretty good at. The gold standard for this is probably Elon Musk. If you think about it, it doesn't matter if it's Tesla or SpaceX or whatever, Elon Musk can walk on the factory floor and have a conversation with anybody that's working there.
It could be somebody who's the battery department, he could talk to them about the science around battery life. He could probably talk to somebody at rocket science SpaceX about how to land the Falcon 5 perfectly upright. All these things, he can go way deep. You have to be like Elon Musk in a way where you can do pretty much anything, any function in a company. You can do 80-20 good. For me, it was like not believing my own BS. Putting in the time, learning the stuff and just doing it and getting good enough to where then I could hire somebody to do it for me and know if they were doing a good job or not.
Phil: I think this is an amazing site for founders that are starting. What are the things that I need to become the 80-20 good? That again, it's what's going to allow you when you hire someone that's better than you at the job, you know how to make the hire, you know the right questions to ask, and you have a bar.
Bryan: That's right.
Phil: Now, he has to be better than me because I'm hiring you to do this one f-ing job. You better be better than me at this. If you don't have the 80-20 skills, you don't know how to make the hire you're going to keep making mistakes, and I think that's like the whole team of our conversation today. It is go back, go down and learn that, become the 80-20 good at selling, at developing a product, HR, SEO, copywriting, and then you can hire other people, but the 80-20 is going to be enough to get you going. It's where you should be in the early days of building a SaaS product.
Bryan: Yes, and this doesn't get talked about a lot, and it should. It should get talked about more. When you're starting a new business, you're doing three things at once, at all times. You're working in the business. You're always making sure the damn thing is running, and then you're working on the business. You're developing the system's processes, routines. You're trying to make a business, not a job. Then the third thing is you're working on yourself. You are reading blogs, you are taking online classes. You are reading books, you are going to YouTube University, you're going to a bootcamp, whatever and the reality is, man, in the first three, four years, it's a seven day a week thing because there's only so many hours in the week.
Maybe Monday through Friday is in the business. Saturday might be on the business. Sunday is your on-yourself day. One thing I liked to do was try to knock out some of these things at the same time. As I was coding, I would be listening to a podcast from somebody in product development. Or as I was running in the morning, like I try to run every morning, I would listen to a podcast on product design or something. Anytime I could double-dip, that was always fun. You're doing all three things at once, probably throughout the entire journey of being a founder, but definitely in the first three to four years.
Phil: That's amazing, and I think, again, that's amazing feedback here because you don't hear that. You only hear the success story. You only hear about that amazing VP of X that was at a company. You can't afford that person. You better do the 80-20 rule.
Bryan: That's right.
Phil: What was your biggest fear when you were starting this company?
Bryan: I was never fearful that it wouldn't work because I saw it working in analog. I guess my biggest fear was not necessarily imposter syndrome, but I wasn't a tech guy. I spent 15 years running a blue-collar business. Very much as blue-collar as you can get and so then jumping into the tech world, I was almost feeling like, well, am I really cut out for this? I don't know how to do any of this stuff. All this stuff is foreign to me. At the same time, it was fun. It was fun learning new things because spending 15 years in the landscaping business got dull after year 10. That was fun, but that was also scary because it's like, do these people have something that I don't and am I capable of playing this game?
For the first three years, I really wasn't but then the big unlock for me was I learned that I could pretty much learn anything I needed to learn if I was willing to sufficiently dedicate myself to it. That was a cool thing to learn about myself, I guess, you could say because a lot of times we do things because we have titles. It's like, I'm a product person, so I can do things with product, or I'm an engineer, so I can write code or, I'm a designer, so I design. The reality is you can do anything. You're not relegated to your title, and starting a company will teach you that you're going to have to do it all.
You're going to have to learn how to do it all. In the early days, I was scared if I was able to overcome that. If you just keep working on it, and you keep growing the number, no matter how small it is, eventually it does work itself out.
Phil: Thank you for bringing that up because that's another thing that so many times we don't talk about. What was our fear? You coming from a different industry, having to learn about tech. I think there's a lot of people in your shoes, and it's just like you can overcome and like you said, it can even become fun. Good job what you guys have done. Where you guys are today, you touched you guys are pretty big now.
Bryan: We're like the world's most unknown, known unknown, unknown known. [laughs] It's like if you're looking for a lawn mowing service and your grass is 4 feet tall, you find us pretty quick but are we a household name like Instacart, DoorDash, Uber, Postmates? No, not yet, and that's where we got to get to. Every company goes through three phases. The startup is trying to get an idea off the ground and then the grow up, which is maybe 10 employees to 100, and then the scale up. We're in the grow-up phase right now, and we got to keep grinding until we get to, I don't know, 1 million users.
Then we become in that same lexicon of the English language why would you cut your grass when you can just go to GreenPal? Why would you go to there? Why would you call a cab when you can just get an Uber? We need to be in that same conversation. That's where we're at. We're at startup mode, and we're not in nationwide scale yet, so we got to keep grinding. Still day one.
Phil: I believe you guys passed the hardest part because most companies don't make out of the start that mode. All those companies, they raise a bunch of money in your space, they crash and die and you guys made it out of there, and now you're going to keep going into the scale. [laughs]
Bryan: I read, somebody said the other day, I think it was Marc Andreessen, that the best thing for success is success. If you're making money, it's a lot easier to make more and that's my job now, is one of the capital allocator. We got $30 million in revenue coming in. How do I put that money back to work out there in terms of better marketing, better product, better engineering, better data analysis, all these things? Then it's a different gain than in the first few levels. I got to be honest, it's a lot more fun. It's a lot more fun than it was. I don't want to go back and play levels one, two, three again. They were tough.
Phil: Thank you very much for sharing everything about level one, two, three because again, that's not shared enough, and I believe we left a lot of insights here for the people that are listening to the show. Before you go, I have just two more questions. The first question, it is what you're very excited about right now and what you're motivated by?
Bryan: Here's another actually a Marc Andreessen quote, he talks about-- If you don't know who Marc Andreessen is, he's the guy who wrote the first web browser. He was on the team that invented Mozilla and which became Netscape, which was the first web browser. He talks about going out to Silicon Valley in 1992, and he felt like he missed it. IBM, Apple, Microsoft, they owned the tech world and there was no more room for any more innovation, and it was all like they missed it. He felt that, and as it turns out, how hilarious that was the minute one, second one of minute one of day one. If you're in tech, that excites me.
You didn't miss it. It always gets bigger. If you think software is going to be around 100 years from now, then we're in year maybe 20 or 30. It's like we're still very much in the early days. That excites me a lot and even in my little world of lawn care, it's a $90 billion industry, 99.9% of it is still analog. That's just a huge opportunity and that's exciting. That's what excites me is that because I'm in the tech world, the possibilities are much more grand than my previous life. That's what gets me out of bed in the morning. Then the other thing is small businesses use our platform to run their livelihood.
We have 32,000 of them now and man, they're all the time telling us, "Thank you GreenPal. I was able to put a kid through college,” or “I was able to put a down payment on our home.” Or I was “Push mowing all day, and now I was able to buy a $12,000 professional riding mower." Helping people achieve their goals through software is a lot of fun. That excites me too.
Phil: That's awesome, and I think that's what entrepreneurship is all about. It's about changing people's life even if in a smaller scale, it's amazing to hear the story of that small business that now you improve their quality of life.
Bryan: That's right. That's a lot of fun.
Phil: You can keep doing that through software, I agree with you. Software's early days. There's a lot of software's to be built, a lot of problems to be solved with software, and we can make the world much better through software. Final question, what book are you currently reading or you recommend that every founder should read.
Bryan: Yes, I'm reading a book right now by a guy named Andrew Chen. It's called The Cold Start, and what this book is about is about marketplaces like ours and how they got their first few customers. He talks about, like, you wouldn't think about it, but an app like ours that connects homeowners and lawn care services, we can actually learn a lot from an app like Tinder. Tinder connects men and women and it's a marketplace, and how they got their first 100 users is very similar to how we got our first 100 users, and in how they scaled to now worldwide hundreds of millions of users we can learn from that.
Andrew Chen in this book, The Cold Start, talks about that and he does a deep dive on dozens of other marketplaces as well, so that's a good book for anybody who's building a marketplace like ours. My point is, is that never try to learn something from somebody who hasn't done or isn't already doing what it is you're trying to do. Andrew Chan has been a practitioner of these sorts of things and that's why I'm reading that book. More generalized books that I think everybody should read doesn't matter what you're doing, is the E-Myth by Michael Gerber. That's a great book about just the business 101.
We talked a lot about delegation and how do you build out an organization. One thing about that in the E-Myth is going through the exercise of building out an org chart day one maybe for a 50-person company and it's just you, and it's your name on every role. Then as time goes on, you peel your name off a little bit, and so that's a lot of fun when building a business. If I had to recommend one business book about going zero to one, it's probably the E-Myth by Michael Gerber.
Phil: That book is amazing. I agree with you. You shouldn't be in business if you haven't read that book. [laughs]
Bryan: A couple times, and the audio book I think is even better. You can just sit there and just listen to the audio book three times, and then internalize these things and then you're never at a loss for what it means to be in business. It's such a good basic book, I love it.
Phil: Yes, I love it too. Yes. I love what you said about learning from people that are done, but it's also, you can think with a little bit of creatively because it doesn't have to be the exact thing that you are doing, the Tinder example it’s amazing. They have done something similar enough that there's a lot of learning experiences that you can apply on your own marketplace. That's the other thing for people to keep in mind, even though you might be doing something unique, there's a lot of people that done part of what you are trying to do and you can learn from them.
Bryan: That's right.
Phil: That's again, an amazing way to look at how to learn. Again, thank you very much for being on the show today, Bryan. It's been amazing to have you here. If people want to learn more about you, follow you where they can find you.
Bryan: Yes. Well thanks for having me on, I really enjoyed it. Anybody 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? Instagram's the best place to find me, just search Bryan M. Clayton and shoot me a DM there and I'll hit you back.
Phil: Awesome. Again, thank you very much. That was a great show. Thank you.
Narrator: SaaS Origin Stories is brought to you by Dev Squad. To find out more about how we help entrepreneurs launch new products and help larger businesses plug in a ready to go development team, visit devsquad.com. Add us to your rotation by searching for SaaS Origin Stories and Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click follow so you don't miss any future episodes. Thanks for listening, and remember, every SaaS hero has an origin story.