5 Tips for Building a Technology Business
(with Bryan Clayton)
Bryan Clayton is CEO and co-founder of GreenPal, an online marketplace that connects homeowners with local lawn care professionals. Before starting GreenPal, Bryan Clayton founded Peachtree Inc. one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee growing it to over $10 million a year in annual revenue.
In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss Bryan’s entrepreneurial journey and five tips he has for creating a technology business.
We will cover the following key takeaways:
- Authenticity can be a huge competitive advantage.
- We should learn the necessary skills required to run our business or build our technology.
- We should focus on little things to gain traction, and then allow the little things to compound and become big things.
- We should start with a core customer problem and build everything else in our business around it.
- We can learn from our competitors.
In high school and through college, Brian mowed lawns, and over a 15 year period, he built a successful lawn mowing business, Peachtree Inc. He started earning $10 million a year in revenue and sold it in 2013 so he could retire. With so much extra time, he decided to build an app that could help make the lawn care industry simpler. He built GreenPal.
GreenPal has been called the “Uber for lawn care” by Entrepreneur magazine and has over 200,000 active users completing thousands of transactions per day. Today, Bryan shared five tips that helped him create a technology business.
1. Be Authentic and Experienced
While Bryan didn’t know much about designing software, he had the experience working in the lawn care industry. He knew the pain points so he could effectively create an app that could solve those problems.
“Authenticity can be a competitive advantage,” Bryan said. “I see a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of new startups, trying to innovate in spaces that they don’t have any sort of authenticity. Maybe they want to start a home cleaning service, . . . but they’ve never cleaned the home in their life. . . . It [makes it] really hard to innovate.”
If we don’t have the right perspective or experience in the industry we are trying to create technology for, we will likely end up building the wrong technology. This is why authenticity is so important. It not only builds credibility with our customers, but it also gives us more insight into the problems we are solving.
If we want to build technology, we should find something we already know a lot about. We should try to gain authentic knowledge and experience.
2. Learn Necessary Skills
The next thing we should do is learn the necessary skills required to run our business or build the technology.
When Bryan first started GreenPal, he had no idea how to code or build software, so he decided to outsource talent and have them build it for him. It took nine months and about $150,000 to build the software. However, once they released it, it failed. Bryan explained that it didn’t have all of the features it needed and it was buggy.
“A lot of it was our fault because we really didn’t even know what the app should be. We hadn’t talked to any customers,” Bryan explained. “We came to the realization that if we were going to be in the tech business, we were going to have to learn how to build software.”
Just as we wouldn’t open a restaurant without a chef or great recipes, we shouldn’t start a technology without any coding or software development skills. Without core competency in the business, it will be very difficult to create successful technology.
Byran and his co-founder decided to learn the skills themselves. Bryan took multiple online courses on software development, and his co-founder went to a nine month bootcamp. Once they knew how to develop a software themselves, they could build the right features and fix any bugs without having to invest in an outside hire who might not understand their vision.
3. Grow Your Customer Base in the Beginning
It’s really important for us to grow our customer base in the beginning. If we launch our product before we have any sort of community or audience, it will be extremely hard to find anyone who trusts us enough to buy. However, if we have a community of people who trust us before we launch, they will be much more likely to buy.
One thing we can do to grow our customer base is to start by focusing on one thing. Maybe we will focus on one city. Maybe we focus on one specific demographic. We should narrow our focus and find our core niche. When Bryan first started GreenPal, they only targeted a section of Nashville. Once they figured out that section, they sold to the entire city, then the entire state, and now they are selling to the entire country.
We don’t have to launch everywhere at once. It took Bryan and his team three years to launch their second market: Atlanta. We can gather a small customer base in one location or one niche area before we try to expand. Having this base will set us up for success in the long run.
“It’s really just a bottom up approach,” Bryan said. “Distill it down to this little list of into the fewest number of inputs and then it’s executing on those things, getting some sort of momentum ,and then funneling that to move our way up the stack so to speak.” He continued, “Focus on little things, get traction on little things, and then the little things compound to become big things,” Bryan said.
We can also ask for customer feedback as a way to gain trust with our customers. Not only does it show our customers that we value their opinion, but it also helps us create an amazing product they will love. Bryan went and listened to their customers. They had about 100 people use their product that first failed to give them advice on what to fix. Bryan took this advice and let the feedback guide them on creating a software that worked great.
“Get out of the building, get away from the laptop, get out of the office, and go talk to the dozen people who are using your crappy product,” Bryan said. “Let them tell you everything that stinks about it, or why they don’t use it anymore, or what they wish it would do. . . . Letting that early feedback guide you . . . is really critical when you’re inventing something brand new from scratch.”
4. Solve a Painful Problem
Bryan’s best monetization secret is to solve a problem people are willing to pay to solve.
“If people don’t have a ‘hair on fire’ problem that they’re trying to solve, it’s going to be really hard to monetize,” Bryan said. “Don’t try to build a company or business around a ‘meh’ problem or problem that somebody doesn’t have pain around.”
If we create a product around a mediocre problem our customers have, we’re only going to have mediocre success. No amount of growth hacking can make up for a useless product. We should always start with a core customer problem and build everything around it.
5. Look at Your Competitors
Finally, we should look at what our competitors are doing. We can look at their approach to marketing and design, etc. to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. We can learn from their wins and their losses and then apply it to what we do. We don’t ever want to copy them, but we can take certain principles and find a way to apply it to our unique product.
Because Bryan was creating software, he started to look at other tech companies. He signed up for every gig economy app he could. He drove for Uber and Lyft, walked dogs through Rover, delivered groceries on InstaCart, etc. He used these apps as both a supply and a consumer. He analyzed each customer experience, found what he liked and didn’t, and then applied it to his own business.
As a final note, make sure you don’t give up! When we set our mind to something and never give up, we will be on the road to success. We only lose if we give up.
Connect with Bryan
Thank you so much Bryan for sharing your stories and insights with us today. To learn more about or connect with Bryan: