YPMS Episode 14: Build a local SEO strategy across the United States without any physical locations – Interview with GreenPal co-founder Bryan Clayton

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Show Notes

Casey Stanton
You’re listening to your perfect marketing strategy, the only podcast to teach you what marketing tactics are working right now, how to know which tactics are right for your business, and the immediate steps that you can take to deploy those tactics to grow your business today. Hey, it’s your host, Casey Stanton from https://cmox.co, the fractional Chief Marketing Officer company. And I’m here with Brian Clayton, the CEO and founder of Green Pal. I’m excited to chat with Brian because he’s calling in from Nashville and one of my favourite neighbourhoods up in germantown next to my favourite coffee shop in the whole country. Spitfire coffee. And we’re here to talk about Green Pal. And Brian, can you just give me a high level one, two sentences? What is Green Pal?

Brian
So Green Pal, and one sentence is the Uber of lawnmowing. So your homeowner, you need to get your grass cut. Rather than calling around on Craigslist, or Yelp or Facebook, you can just download our app, you’ll get hooked up with a good lawn mowing service in less than a minute. You can read reviews, pick the one you want to work with. And they’ll come out mo and after they do a good job for you. You can just set it up for the whole season right to that been apples for about eight years. eight year overnight success few 100,000 people using the app we’re doing $20 million a year in revenue. So we’ve been out of bananas a while we finally have some traction, we’re in every major city United States.

Casey Stanton
That’s huge man. Alright, so I want to get into and talk like about SEO specifically, but idealise? It’s kind of a simple business premise, which is you’re aggregating leads. So the typical marketing approach, right? Like that’s been around forever. It’s just like, someone does all the lead aggregation and they pass it off to service providers. That happens in dental that happens in solar that happens in home security, whatever. It’s interesting to see, instead of just like generating the leads and selling them, you’ve built the platform to actually service them. Why that whole like loop? Why did you do the whole thing instead of just part of it?

Brian
Well, for starters, my background is actually in lawn mowing. So I actually had a lawn mowing business before Green Pal I ran for 15 years, I started cutting grass in high school as a way to make cash all through college. And little by little grew this little lawn mowing business. And like one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee, got it over 150 people over $10 million in revenue. And 2013, the business was acquired by one of the largest landscaping companies in the United States. So I kind of know this business. You see, like in my soul is like the only energy industry I’ve ever worked, I never had a job, I’ve always just worked in the landscaping business in some shape, or form. So I saw the pain points of how difficult it was for homeowners to get hooked up with good lawn mowing services, particularly the smaller ones that don’t have any visibility, and then keep that thing running smooth for the life of the relationship. When I sold the business, Airbnb, Uber Lyft. These were multi sided marketplaces that were just getting some traction, and I saw what they were doing making real world service base transaction is magical. And I thought, okay, an app needs to exist for that. And so I recruited two co founders, and we just went to work on it. To your point, there’s no, there’s no shortage of directories and static repositories of lists of names and phone numbers. For every service, you can get on homeadvisor, thumbtack Angie’s List, Yelp, and you can you know, for lawn mowing or home cleaning or whatever you want, you can very easily get a list of names and phone numbers, that’s a few strokes of the of the keyboard. But from there, it’s still a pain in the butt, you still have to call these people and manually pull them to see what their availability is and what their pricing is. And good luck getting them to call you back. Because guess what, they’re busy on a lawn mower. And this is defunct, right? Well, their business is defunct, these are static repositories. And so it’s still very much a manual process to get this kind of service done, you still have to call 10 people to get one estimate, and how do you even know you’re getting the best price and reliability in the marketplace. So we have focused on building the only vertically integrated, focused a platform for this type of service. So when you come on as a homeowner, it’s like an Uber like experience, you can very quickly pick who you want to work with read reviews, get all this rich data that doesn’t exist anywhere else, and hire them right off the shelf. And then and then the whole relationship is smooth. You know, a lot of times these folks disappear or flake and if that happens, you can very easily get a different another one through our app.

Casey Stanton
Yeah, okay, that that’s really interesting. So I’m thinking of my experience and looking to hire like a professional to come to our house to do some service work. We need baby gates installed. And it’s really a game of Who do you know, and who do they know and who’s had good experience with who and yeah, Angie’s List, but Angie’s List is one of those directories that I don’t know can kind of get juiced, and you know, people can kind of buy their way to the top. And also, there can be a number of listings that are businesses that aren’t in business or people who have bad business etiquette. And I’m, I’m a consumer who doesn’t need the lowest price, but I certainly need you to be on time and do what you say you’re going to do and finish what you start right

Brian
Yeah, and that’s that’s something we keyed in on in the early years, we thought we were when we first started our first year, we thought our value proposition was going to be the cheapest way to get your grass cut and price does matter. But what we what we learned early on was actually our value proposition is more oriented around speed and reliability. When somebody comes to our website or download our mobile app, they want somebody come today, or in the morning, and they want them to actually show up. And so our same day service, yes, our app delivers that it delivers the reliability at an at a good price within the market, or maybe a little cheaper. And, and the and the speed in which you can get it done. And that’s what people want. They don’t, you know, they don’t, they’re not unrealistic and think they’re going to get their lawn mowed for $10. They just want to pay a fair price and actually have the person show up, which you wouldn’t think is a problem that had to be solved. But it actually is a problem.

Casey Stanton
Yeah, huge problem. I mean, there’s just more noise in the market than ever before. And to be able to provide that signal that people need, I feel like is a much desired kind of experience.

Brian
Yes, that’s and and we had to figure that out about our value proposition day, you know, really early because had we had set off on the wrong value proposition we might not have gotten the traction. So we figured out how…

Casey Stanton
How you how you test that value prop?

Brian
Well, when we launched the app in the summer of 2013, we didn’t really have any kind of user acquisition strategy. And so we just passed out door hangers all over Nashville, Tennessee, like 200,000 of them, we hoped it all over the place. So yeah, you know, we had to hustle up a few 100 people to try it out. And and once we got those few 100 people to try it out, we met with as many of them as would meet with us in coffee shops in their, in their home, in their kitchen, wherever. And we would talk to them face to face. And we would ask them questions like, well, where did the app let you down? Where Where did the delight you? How do you normally get this done? What are the things that you really were looking you know, would that you use to consider when when hiring a lawn mowing service. And the thing we kept coming across was like, you know, my last guy flaked, he just disappeared. I hired another person they didn’t show up. Then I hired another person. They showed up one time and didn’t keep coming back. And then I was like, I’m doing this over and over again. So we thought, okay, that’s actually what we’re attacking. We never heard. We never heard this. I’m paying somebody $40 and I’m trying to get it done for $32. Right? Ever heard that? Not one time. Right. And that surprised me. Because I came to the I came to the starting line. As a contractor I spent 15 years as a contractor and as a contractor, you’re always competing on price. So I thought, you know, my my assumptions were well, that’s all people care about. Let’s just figure out a way to optimise for the cheapest solution. And that’s not what people care about. As it turns out, and we didn’t know that until we we met with people face to face.

Casey Stanton
So what do you sell? Now? Do you sell a beautiful lawn? Do you sell grass cut on time? Like what what do you feel like the the outcome is that you sell.

Brian
So we wind eight years ago, when we started, you know, we pass into the press not these door hangers, we went to the nicer parts of town, you know, the million dollar plus homes because this is where my clientele resided. In my former business, I thought okay, that’s who we’re attacking. That’s the market segment we’re attacking. And what we came to find out over time was those folks actually don’t have a whole lot of pain points because they’re spending a bunch of money on their landscaping maintenance, and they already have like a white glove service, that that is that is handling everything for them concierge style. What we began to notice where we were we’re getting traction was in the working class parts of town. So you know, like your, your $200,000 homes or $100,000 homes, people that might have had a household income of less than $75,000. We’re using our service to get just a basic every two week lawn mowing. And and that’s what we what we keyed in on it really early on was like, Okay, well actually, there’s a whole lot more of these people than there is these people. So let’s attack that. And let’s figure out a way to to give these people like the the big company experience with hiring the smaller service provider. And then as it turns out, when those folks calls, call service providers for every two week grass cutting for $35, nobody calls him back. Because they have to drive out there and look at it, they have to like measure it, and then they and then it’s like every two weeks, it’s $70 a month, I’m not talking about a whole lot of money here. And so it’s hard like pulling teeth to get somebody show up to take that gig. And so what we set out to do was well, okay, we’re going to make that so easy for service providers, to quote it through through imagery and data that we give to them to schedule it to get paid within 24 hours, we reduce all the pain points for the service provider, to where it becomes profitable for them. And then where they can package together 100 or 200 of those clients. And then guess what now they actually have a more profitable book of work than they typically do. So that’s kind of how we back in reverse engineer the problem and figured out how to deliver like a 10x experience on on the app and on the platform versus how people normally get it done.

Casey Stanton
Sure. Yeah, that makes a tonne of sense and when I think of I mowed lawns after college, right couldn’t find work on the back of a lawn more. Had a had a summer doing that and the guy that I worked for Didn’t market didn’t know how to market, he knew how to cut lawns, he knew how to, you know, fix divots, but he didn’t know how to market. So you guys solve that problem soup to nuts for everybody, for what like a platform fee or for like a per lead fee project

Brian
We take a piece of the transaction for all of the work that vendors do on our platform. And that varies depending on how much volume they’re pumping through the platform. And to your point, yes, these these folks are hard working they, you know, making a living as a grass cutting services is really hard. It’s it’s hard manual labour. And they may have never owned a business, they don’t really know inherently like how to market how to do bookkeeping, how to schedule, how to get paid on time how to like differentiate themselves in the market, things like route density, and optimal optimising of their route, like they don’t inherently know how to do these things. And so, right out the gate, somebody can get access to all of those tools. And you know, the use of like marketing automation to keep the flywheel going for their little business, just day one by plugging into our platform. And so where we’re where we really shine is that part time or the the bartender, the school teacher, the fire man, that that is just looking for a way to put an extra $1,000 a week in their pocket, this is the best side gig you in the on the planet for an extra grand a week in your pocket. And so that’s, that’s where we set out to, to onboard suppliers to to do this, you know, part time or full time and, you know, mow 50 or 100 100 lawns a week and make that extra income without having to do all of the big company stuff, because we handle that for them.

Casey Stanton
Yeah, that’s awesome. And that seems like it solves a problem. That’s pretty significant for folks.

Brian
Yeah, on both sides of the transaction. So we’re constantly trying to figure out how we add value on both sides that bring these folks together to where they can have a more delightful experience than they typically would.

Casey Stanton
Hey, and you mentioned that at the beginning, you said that you saw Uber and Airbnb, multi sided markets. And I think that’s such an interesting approach. And it’s almost it’s a business model to kind of consider for anybody just like a two sided market, can you match people who have a problem with people who provide solutions? And can you do it in a way that reduces friction for both?

Brian
And it seems like greenbelts on it, that’s their their tough business to get going. But once you get them going to have their ability and defence ability. And so some some of the greatest businesses, you know, we’ve seen in the last, you know, three to five years have been marketplaces you know, doordash. Airbnb, for example, just went public at and now trading at 100 billion dollar valuation. Plus, you know, and that’s just amazing is because of the the, the the dynamics of a network, a network effect business and a marketplace.

Casey Stanton
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That’s cool. All right. So I’m curious. You started an app in 2013. What was what’s changed in the app development world? as like a business owner? Like, what should we know about app development? Is it easier now? I assume that it was a pretty sizable investment to get an app started. And now there’s what open source frameworks, you’ve got React Native, that kind of thing?

Brian
Yes, so when we started, you know, we had like, 20 different problems going on at the same time. One was, we didn’t really know what we didn’t know, like, literally, my two co founders, and I none of us knew how to code. And so the first thing we did was we paid a dev shop to build what we thought green power should be. And some like $150,000 we pulled together between the three of us and then they went to work on the mobile app and the website it was a total flop total failure. And what we were able to get enough people to use it to get some validation and get and figure out what the hell we were doing. So then we went to work on ourselves and so then we like pored over every blog post every every YouTube video, every online course we could to learn how to code, learn how

Casey Stanton
Before they’re great online courses. I mean, 2013 was it was it was it?

Brian
Yeah, it was, it wasn’t, it wasn’t as robust as it is today. Now

Casey Stanton
There’s rack overflow even out then.

Brian
It was, but it was neat. It was it was new. And you know, there was some online courses, but it wasn’t like it is today. And we actually, my co founder actually went to a boot camp called natural software school and learn back in programming and, and I learned how to be a really terrible, awful front end engineer, but just enough to get like something hacked together. And for the longest time, we had like, a web mobile experience and like packaged in an app, it was really, really, really, really crappy. It was a horrible experience buggy. But it was just enough to get some liquidity just enough to get some people using it. And and we just, like, for the longest time, our experience was like, website or crappy app, and then like chat bubble in the lower right hand corner. And so you know, at may 50% of time, it would go well and the other half for whatever reason, it you know, it wasn’t a good experience. And so we would be there to like pick up slack manually, like hand cranking like, oh, okay, your servers fired and show up like figure out what went wrong and then you go through these things enough over and over and over again where your hand cranking something where you realise Okay, these are the these are the technological solutions we need to build to prevent that from happening again. And so, we will go through this framework of ask Why five times? It’s like the Toyota lean manufacturing framework where every time something would go wrong, we would we would document it. And then the ones like the top three, we would we would focus on. And then we would ask why five times? Okay, why did this happen? Okay, so well user logged in, and they are supposed to be mowed today, but they actually didn’t get service today. Well, why did that happen? Well, the service provider didn’t know they’re supposed to do it. Well, why didn’t they know they’re supposed to do it? Well, because they didn’t read the email. Okay, well, well, they didn’t get email but we sent out a text message so why did why did they get that? Well, because they had filtering turned on on their on their iPhone and and and like that, weeded it out. Okay, so now we got to build this pop up modal that detects that on the service provider side and, and like, prevent that from happening. And I guess is one of like 10,000 different things that can go wrong between hiring a lawn mowing service and them showing up on time. But if you go through that over and over again, enough, you you then begin to like, solve the ones that happen most of the time. And, and that’s how we that’s how we iterated. That’s how we went from crappy web mobile experience to over time or mobile app that actually works. And so to your original question, it was just constant improvement. We’ve built it on Chrome on on ionic, but we have rebuilt this thing, like two dozen times. And it’s the same and and the problems we’re solving today. push a button get the grass cut is the same vision we had eight years ago. So it’s like we are still working on that. It’s making that experience more reliable, quicker, faster, cheaper, smoother, more delightful for both sides of the transaction.

Casey Stanton
Yeah, fascinating. Okay, so let’s pivot to where you get your customers. And where you get your service providers. How do you prospect for them? How to pull them in? Is that an SEO game? What is it?

Brian
Yeah, so a multi sided marketplaces, most of the time our demand side constrain that means like the party that is putting their wallet down, and like paying is usually the harder to get and ours ours is certainly like that, while service providers are relatively straightforward to get for us in early in the early days, it was a lot of cold calling, it was a lot of dialling for dollars for us. But we were able to get enough of them on the platform. Now we’re kind of a known commodity in the industry. So we have we get a lot of just organic people word of mouth, on the supply side to sign up. So that’s not really where we’re constrained. The word constraint is demand side and like we could take on, you know, doing $20 million in revenue, but we could easily do 200 million. And so it’s so it’s like, how do we grow that and, and for us, the way we acquire users is just through organic search. So people are, you know, blowing service near me in Wichita, Kansas, you know, Reno has to be part of that conversation on the search engine results page for the other options for that person to consider.

Casey Stanton
How, like that, to me seems like the hardest thing to do. organisations, you know, that are franchises, especially franchises that have like, their franchisees are independent, meaning like, they don’t have a physical location, they kind of work from their home office or wherever. They can’t use Google My Business because they don’t have a physical location, and they can’t use a peel box or something to certify it. And then also, the problem is like, we have new locations, you have to have a process to roll out to those new locations. How do you solve for that? What what’s the what’s working right now for, like, multilocation, local SEO strategy…

Brian
Really hard, really challenging. If you’re a startup it’s in you want to have dreams of having SEO as a main channel, it’s a it’s a bet the company decision. And it’s not one where you can like build the build the product, build the app, build a website, and then sprinkle SEO on top, like SEO has to be organically in the DNA of the business, like the CEO has to care about SEO because it just pulls in so many disciplines, it pulls in every single corner of the organisation like our SEO team is is two engineers, a data scientist, a designer, a content writer, a conversion rate optimizer, and more. And these all these people have to work together to to pull off SEO and I haven’t even gotten into like backlinking PR outreach, all these things I’m talking on page SEO. So it’s, it’s really hard. And I don’t mean to like just be give a short answer. But the reality is, is it’s really really really, really challenging. So that said the way we do it is is like in the early in the early years it was just all focus. We stayed in Nashville, Tennessee.