Be ready to be alone-Immediate family and a few friends will always be supportive — sharing on social media, writing reviews, actually using your product, bringing food to the office at midnight, etc. Second-tier friends, like your bar buddies and old co-workers, just don’t understand the work it takes to build something from scratch. They can’t fathom why you are not able to grab a happy hour or grab dinner on a Tuesday because you have to work. Slowly but surely, these friends will eventually quit asking and become mere acquaintances.
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gene Caballero. Gene is co founder of GreenPal, which has been described as Uber for lawn care.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have been in the landscaping industry my entire life. In high school and college, I mainly cut grass to make extra money and it quickly turned into a full-time job. After college, I got a job in tech sales and was privy to new businesses and soon realized that the “on-demand” platform was something that excited me.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
In my corporate sales job, my territory was the west coast and I ran across Uber and Lyft. If consumers were going to summon a stranger to pick them up and take them somewhere, I knew that they would do the same with lawn care at some point and that is when I decided to start GreenPal.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When we first started, we knew nothing about building an app so we figured we could outsource that aspect of it. After spending $125k on our platform, the company that we hired to build our website and apps went out of business — leaving us with a barely usable product. At that point, we knew we had to shut it down or find a technical co-founder to help us build our vision. After talking to the few landscaping professionals that were using our product at the time, we knew that we had to continue to build this platform to help make their lives easier — at whatever cost.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
In 2014, we started with one market and now we service over 40 states and over 150 major markets. Our revenues have doubled every year and we are also starting to tackle other verticals in the home services industry. We knew that by staying self-funded we could grow this slowly and do exactly what we needed to do to make GreenPal successful. Sales cures all and seeing that number grow has keep us motived.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we first needed to get homeowners into our platform, we didn’t have any money to spend on advertising. So we decided to hang fliers on homeowners’ doors letting them know about our new service. After a being attacked by a dog, having the police called on us, and being threatened by homeowners, we were able to get 50 homeowners signed up for our service. The take away? Do whatever it takes to get users into your platform. There are 3 8-hour work days in a 24 hour day. Pick which two you want to work and you will be successful.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes GreenPal special is that we are the first true operating system for landscaping professionals. Not only do we handle their demand creation, we handle their scheduling, payment processing, route optimization, and customer relationship management. We have hundreds of vendors that make over $100k just through GreenPal. We constantly have vendors thank us for making their lives easier and making more money to provide for their families.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Burnout is going to happen no matter what you do. My advice is that you have to be so passionate about your product that you constantly want to keep the momentum going.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Starting a peer-to-peer platform in Nashville, Tn was not easy. Being overshadowed by the healthcare industry, there weren’t a lot of people that had done what we were trying to do. We had to rely the mantras of Steve Blank, Eric Reis, and a few others to keep us pointed in the right direction.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We have over 15k landscaping professionals that have signed up to use our platform and have over 500k homeowners that have requested lawn care services through GreenPal.
- Start slow in a smaller market.
- Get as much feedback from your users to quantify product and business decisions for future features.
- Keep your vision aligned with the best interests of your power users.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
GreenPal is simple — we take 5% of every transaction that flows through the platform. Margins are very thin in the landscaping industry and taking more than that percentage would not have the providers as invested into our platform. When you go in the subscription business, that can muddy the waters of your company’s intentions.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Have a technical co founder — You don’t want someone else that is being paid by the hour to work on your business. Even if our site would have been perfect after spending $125k, the firm could have nickel and dimed us to death.
- Form the proper company — If you plan to take your company public, make sure you form the correct corporation. We were told that we didn’t need to set up a C-Corp in Delaware even though they have the most tax-favorable state for this. This cost us $12k to fix.
- Defer taking money — Doing this forces you to be metrics and ROI driven on every dollar you spend and it gives you the freedom to move at your pace and be stingy with your equity. Tell yourself to be like a cockroach because they never die.
- Be ready to be alone-Immediate family and a few friends will always be supportive — sharing on social media, writing reviews, actually using your product, bringing food to the office at midnight, etc. Second-tier friends, like your bar buddies and old co-workers, just don’t understand the work it takes to build something from scratch. They can’t fathom why you are not able to grab a happy hour or grab dinner on a Tuesday because you have to work. Slowly but surely, these friends will eventually quit asking and become mere acquaintances.
- Fail Fast-If something is not working ask “why” 5 times. That will get to the root of your problem.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Require children to learn an instrument in school. Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Mitch Russo started a software company in his garage, sold it for 8 figures and then went on to work directly with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes to build a $25M business together. Mitch wrote a book called “The Invisible Organization — How Ingenious CEOs are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies” and now his 2nd book called Power Tribes — “How Certification Can Explode Your Business.” Mitch helps SaaS company founders scale their own companies using his proprietary system. You can reach Mitch Directly via firstname.lastname@example.org
5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS, with Gene Caballero and Mitch Russo was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.