How GreenPal blossomed into 'Uber for lawn care' | Crain's St. Louis

How GreenPal blossomed into 'Uber for lawn care'

Gene Caballero, pictured, CEO Bryan Clayton and CTO Zach Hendrix founded GreenPal in Nashville four years ago. | Photo courtesy of Gene Caballero

GreenPal, an app that connects lawn service providers with homeowners, launched in Nashville in 2013 and has since sprouted in seven other markets, most recently Orlando. Other metro areas in its network include Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Houston, St. Louis and Charlotte, North Carolina. Crain's recently talked with GreenPal co-founder Gene Caballero about the early roots of what some call "Uber for lawn care."

Q: What is GreenPal and how does the app work?

It’s the best way to find someone to cut your lawn. A homeowner goes to our website, they list their lawn and the day they want it done. That information is given to our prescreened vendors in the area. We provide the vendors with the Google street view and an aerial view, plus any other lawn details that the homeowner provides. And then the vendors can bid on that job using that information.

All that [bid] information goes back to the homeowner – who can see the ratings and the reviews, and also the price of the vendors – and then selects a vendor. And that’s how an appointment is created.

Once the job is complete, the vendor will actually take a picture of the freshly cut grass and send that to the homeowner as a digital invoice, so they know the lawn’s done. Sometimes lawn services come in the middle of the day when everybody’s at work, so this is a nice little surprise to see in your in-box.

Q: What’s the business model? How does everyone get paid?

What happens is we take 5 percent of everything that goes through our platform. Vendors are able to bid for free, they’re able to sign up for free, and there’s no direct cost to the homeowner. When the invoice is paid through our system, we get 5 percent and the vendor gets the rest.

People have described us as the "Uber for lawn care," but we don’t by any means have vendors just driving around waiting for these properties to magically pop up. If I had to describe it, it’s more like an Open Table for lawn care professionals. We’re dealing with their demand-creation, their scheduling, their routing – telling them the best way to get somewhere – and also [handle] their invoicing.

The functionality on the vendor side has so many moving parts. It’s basically a remote-control for their business. We’ll send you an email at the beginning of every day to let you know what lawns you need to get done today. When you open up GreenPal, vendors can see months ahead all the jobs they have. We’ll also give them what other services the homeowner also needs. Last year we added [a feature] where the vendor can also bid other services like shrub pruning, mulching, leaf removal. They can literally go to a property and say, [we recommend] they need their shrubs pruned and we’re also going to do a little fertilization, and they’ll send a quote through GreenPal.

Q: How did you come up with this app?

About four years ago, one of my best friends growing up – our CEO, Bryan Clayton – had one of the largest landscaping companies in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He grew that company from when he was 18 to when he was 35 years old and grew it to an $8 million company. He had 120 employees. And when he was exiting that company, he knew there had to be a better way for homeowners to connect with lawn care providers.

His business didn’t do residential, but he would get 20-30 phone calls a day saying, “Hey, won’t you come and cut my grass?” And he would give them the number of a guy who did residential – but that guy wouldn’t call them back, or he couldn’t get to it for two weeks, so he knew there was a [problem] to be solved.

And this was when Uber and Airbnb were gaining a little traction, so the market had been proven – that people actually would facilitate the transaction via technology. But before we did anything, before we spent a dollar, we got our iPads out and went door to door for a month straight, asking people if this was a service that they would use. And we got a resounding 40 percent yes, so we decided to move forward. That was 2013.

Some would say, “Yes, I don’t like leaving checks under the mat.” Or they’d say, “I don’t like meeting several guys here to get a quote for my property” or, “This is a rental house. How do I know it’s going to get cut every week?”

Q: So how did you grow from there?

Being a startup, you just don’t have unlimited sources of cash to grow and market, so we knew we needed help from the vendors – with their existing customer base and with the ease of use. Clearly, we cut hours out of their week doing invoicing and marketing and stuff like that.

Every single [lawn service] vendor that we have has their own GreenPal vendor page. If you only have two or three employees, the last thing you care about is a website. So we built a page for you that you can share on your social media or you can email to any of your repeat customers and potential customers. So that’s actually helped our organic growth quite a bit. The vendors see the value in it.

After our first year in Nashville, we knew we needed something that was year-round, so we could have another market under our belt. Also, we needed more data in the off-season to know what to build. So we [launched] in Tampa, because it’s 365 days a year. In our initial weekend, I think we had about 300-400 signups.

Our first couple of markets, it was smile and dial. There was a lot of cold calling, a lot of emailing. But now we have a waiting list in almost every city. We’re in eight markets right now – Nashville, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Atlanta, St. Louis, Charlotte, Houston, and now Orlando.

Q: Tell me about the waitlist. Is that due to the vetting process?

Not really. The reason why is to get these vendors’ attention. You’ve got to give them something that they need – more business. If we let any and every vendor on the platform, we’d have 500 vendors in Tampa, and every one would have one or two lawns. So what we did is we limited that to 25 or 30 and let them get their schedules filled, and then that’s when we bolt on more vendors. We’ve figured out that once you can get a vendor 10 to 15 lawns on GreenPal, they really like to bring their old customers onto the platform as well. So it kind of helps build moats around our business. It’s like, “OK, this is truly an operating [platform] for my business.” It’s not just, “Oh, I get a couple of lawns from GreenPal.”

All that promotion is not easy to do, and not having a platform to do it is tough, so we try to make it as easy as possible for them.                                                  

Q: What type of funding have you received?

We’re self-funded. We have been approached by some large companies, pretty frequently now. But I think we’re going to defer and wait for the right partner if they ever come along. If not, we did $1 million in gross revenue [in 2016] and are looking to do $3 million to $4 million this year.

Q: How do you compare with the competition out there in regions across the country?

All those companies are great companies. They’ve survived for a reason. I don’t think this is a zero-sum game. There’s a huge serviceable market. What differentiates us is we facilitate the whole entire process, from beginning to end. A lot of [the competitors] are more demand-creation. We took the other approach. I think what stands out with us is we’re the entire setup. Hopefully, we’ll be the go-to place where, when you’re going to start your lawn care business, you download GreenPal.

April 3, 2017 - 1:55pm