Gene Caballero, Founder of GreenPal, found a hole in a vital market and ran with it. Combining a friend’s landscaping background with his own knowledge and interest in technology, a connection between homeowners and local lawn care businesses was born. In this edition of StartupStories, Gene discusses how he mustered up this genius business idea, how his company overcame startup mishaps, and why GreenPal’s future is looking lush and green.
Why were you inspired to start GreenPal?
Being an entrepreneur is in my blood. My mom, dad, uncle, and cousins have all owned their own business at some point. I had a few small businesses that I started and ran over the years but have always wanted to do something in tech. My best friend growing up had one of the largest landscaping companies in middle Tennessee, and when he exited that company, we talked about some things that we could do. At the time we started, Uber and Lyft were gaining traction and he knew there was a better way for a homeowner to find a lawn care pro and also some of the pain points that technology could solve for the small lawn guy.
How did your business get started?
We initially went door to door for a month straight to get unbiased opinions from homeowners to see if they would facilitate something like our product from the web. Once we confirmed our hypothesis and had our data, we decided to proceed and find a shop to build our site and our app.
From the good, bad and ugly, what was your startup process like?
In our first year, we had no idea what we were doing so basically everything we did was wrong. Below are a few mistakes that we made in our first year but have since bounced back.
- Inappropriate Council and formed incorrect company ($12K mistake) –if you plan taking 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. Even though we are far from going public, it’s good to know that most investors will only invest in C-Corps structured this way.
- Shop built website-We didn’t have a technical co-founder so we paid $85,000 for a shop built website that was based on what they thought our customers wanted. It has since been rebuilt by a co-founder (after he went to software school) and the only thing that was kept was the video….$85,000 for a 1:30 second video….and no it was not directed by James Cameron.
Some of the positives in our first few years were having vendors thank us for building a tool that makes their lives easier. Also, were able to expand into five more states and have grown over 300% every year.
What niche or hole in the market are you filling with GreenPal?
We are able to help homeowners find reliable lawn care, but more importantly [we are] able to help the lawn guy grow his business. We are like his operating system that allows him to find more business, schedule and organize that business, and get him paid faster after every job.
How much has your business changed from day one until now?
Our vision has always been the same but some of our processes have been overhauled.
What are your biggest challenges in marketing GreenPal?
The biggest challenge is that lawn mowing is not sexy. No one cares about the lawn until it needs to be mowed again.
What types of marketing are most effective for your business?
What has worked well for us is our word of mouth and our social media campaigns. Even though those are hard to track, we have gotten a lot of referrals (both from the vendor side and the homeowner side) due to our ease of use.
What is the #1 lesson you learned since starting GreenPal?
The biggest thing I have learned is how much work it takes to build something from scratch. Most people think that once you have your product built and launched, the customers and the money just start rolling in. It is quite the opposite. There are so many things you have to get right in order for any business to be successful.
There are so many things you have to get right in order for any business to be successful. – @yourgreenpalClick to tweet
If you won $50,000, how would you invest it in your business?
I would hire a mobile developer that has experience with building cross platform mobile applications.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
One piece of advice I would give to new entrepreneurs is to make sure your product or service is solving a big enough problem. If your problem is not 10x better than the traditional product or service, it will be hard to have product market fit. Talk to strangers, family, friends, co-workers and see if they would PAY for your product or service….not just see if they like it.
Business Tip: Make sure your product or service is solving a big enough problem. – @yourgreenpalClick to tweet
What can we expect from GreenPal in the next year?
We are looking to launch into 2 more states and have a goal of hitting $3 million in gross revenue in 2017.
To learn more about GreenPal, please visit yourgreenpal.com.
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