In this episode Josh talks with Brian Clayton, CEO and cofounder of GreenPal (www.yourgreenpal.com). They discuss building companies with no outside investors.
Bryan built his first company from scratch to over 150 employees and eight figures a year in annual sales, and the company was acquired in 2013.
His second company GreenPal has over $20 million a year in sales and has grown to a nationwide network of landscape professionals being connected wit homeowners through the GreenPal mobile app and website. It works kind of Uber for lawn care.
In today’s episode you will learn:
- How to grow your business from one to 150 employees
- How to manage to get enough margins that you could afford to do this debt-free
- What challenges do you face on the path of building companies with no outside investors
- How to make sale ready business and when to sell it
Narrator: Welcome to “Cracking the Cash Flow Code”, where you’ll learn what it takes to create enough cash to fill the four buckets of profit. You’ll learn what it takes to have enough cash for a great lifestyle, have enough cash for when an emergency strikes, fully fund a growth program and fund your retirement program.
When you do this, you’ll have a sale ready company that will allow you to keep or sell your business. This allows you to do what you want with your business, when you want in the way you want. In Cracking the Cash Flow code, we focus on the four areas of business that let you take your successful business and make it economically and personally sustainable.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning, and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable and allow you to be free of cash flow worries.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. Today, my guest is Brian Clayton. Bryan is the CEO of yourgreenpal.com. I’m really anxious to have Bryan on the show today. The reason is very simple. He grew a business from one person to 150 people in the blue collar world of lawn care. Let’s bring Bryan on and start the conversation.
Hey, Bryan, how are you today?
Bryan: Hey, good morning, Josh. I’m well, how are you?
Josh: I’m well thank you. You grew your business to a few more employees than I did, but probably had a similar path. I’m curious, growing your business from one to 150, what was the most challenging thing that you had to face?
Bryan: For me, I don’t know if it was a asset or a liability but I listened to a lot of Dave Ramsey when I was younger growing up. I made it a commitment to grow my business debt free. As I was building that company from scratch with just me and a lawn mower in one truck and having to buy another lawn mower and a better one and another truck, I did it all with cash. That made it harder.
It made it less fun. I didn’t ever take on any lease payments or any equipment loans, but when it came time to sell that business, it was debt free, which made it a lot easier to sell. Whereas if I had taken on a bunch of liabilities, I may not have ever got it sold. That was probably the biggest challenge was growing that business from the revenues that it generated.
Josh: So you had to do controlled growth number one, and number two, you have to be charging a high enough price where you’re creating some significant excess cash flow because the business you’re in has a fair amount of capital investment.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s a very good point. You’re relying on equipment every day. That’s your livelihood. A good commercial lawn mower, a lot of people don’t know this, but they’re almost $15,000, $20,000. They last maybe four or five years. And so, to your point you constantly have to acquire equipment, rely on it, replenish it, keep it running, and replace it when it gets worn out. It was this balancing act of charging enough to be able to grow the business on my own revenues.
However, the lawn care business is a very competitive one. You have to stay within what the market will bear. That was always a delicate balancing act. I’m glad I did it that way.
Josh: How did you manage to get enough margins that you could afford to do this debt free because that’s not an easy thing to do in a capital intensive business.
Bryan: Yeah, one of my favorite quotes from Mark Cuban, he says, “The less you can live on the greater your options.” So for the first five years as an entrepreneur growing that business, I was lean and mean. I personally lived on less than $20,000 a year. So every excess dollar that I could get my hands on, I pumped back into the business. I personally didn’t take much out of it for a very long time until I got some momentum built up and get the flywheel going.
It wasn’t fun, but it was a good way to build it sustainably. It was a good way to build it in such a fashion that I knew that no matter what we were going to be okay, because we didn’t have any debt to service. In the early days, it was really just me being personally lean and mean and running the business as efficiently as I could. There was not much difference when myself and my business, we were kind of cohesive as one unit moving forward. That’s what a lot of entrepreneurs that I counsel today that I try to really get them to understand is that you’re personally going to have to live on as less as you as you can so you can make it through the hard times especially in the beginning.
Josh: What was the first bottleneck you found yourself besides trying to buy equipment as you’re growing your business? Because there are very few people who ever grow a business from zero to 150 employees. That’s a rare thing in the world.
Bryan: Yeah. I’ve been in business for myself for 25 years. One thing that I’ve always kind of look to my businesses for is, it’s my vehicle for my personal growth, myself improvement. It’s the thing that causes me to grow and level up and become stronger mentally, become a better leader. It’s the thing that pushes me forward. So, in the early days, when I was just myself, hiring my first employee, I had to really kind of be on both sides of the on it and in it aspects of running your own business. I was still physically executing the services we were selling.
However, I also had to wear the hat of HR, of employee recruiting, of payroll, of employee training, of all of these different things. All at the same time as anybody that’s ever done that those, it can be difficult to do all of those jobs at once. That was one of the challenging things for me is going from employee one to two to five to 10 I was just a young kid at the time, I was only 22, 23 years old and I had 15 people working for me.
I had to quickly learn through trial and error how to be a good boss, how to be a good leader, how to attract this talent, how to recruit good team members because I was also hiring managers to run crews to send out the clients properties. That was a very challenging part of my entrepreneurial journey was teaching myself how to become a leader, how to become a better manager. I did it wrong for many years. I wish I could go back in time and I could have saved myself many years of headache of doing it the wrong way. Reluctantly, I got help and I started reading a lot from guys like John Maxwell and others that coach in the leadership space. Over time, I got pretty decent at it.
Josh: Yeah, I don’t know anybody, by the way. I was smiling because I don’t know anybody who does the learn how to manage managers otherwise known as delegation when they first started. Most people by the way, when they first tried to delegate because it never worked right for anybody. They just say it doesn’t work. I give up. I can’t do it so I got to do it all myself.
Bryan: I’ll just do it myself. That’s right.
Josh: You obviously got through that somehow. What did you do to get through that?
Bryan: Well, I read a book called The E-Myth. It’s one of my favorite books because the book it characterizes this fictitional story of a lady that owns a pie shop. She gets into the pie baking business because she has fond memories of her grandmother baking pies with her grandmother. She remembers those memories. She’s like, “I would love to just be able to bake and sell pies. That would be my passion.” She very quickly understands that there’s a big difference between baking pies and running a business that sells pies. She seeks help from the author of the book and he begins to teach her throughout the book that, “Okay, you have to have these roles within your business. You have to have a business manager. You have to have somebody in charge of sales. You have to have somebody in charge of HR. You have to have somebody in charge of all of the different little systems that make your business run.”
In the very beginning days, it’s going to be your name on all of those roles, but over time as your business grows. You’ll then be able to delegate those roles out of people. It really helped me understand the difference between being in it and on it. So when you’re getting started, you’re in it. You’re not really you’re probably 90% in it and you’re 10% on it, but as time goes on, you need to be more on it and less in it. It took me years and years and years to figure this out. That book helped me kind of codify it in my head, explained it very simple, understandable concepts of what it actually means to own and run a successful business because most business owners aren’t really business owners. They’re just self-employed.
Josh: They’ve bought themselves a job.
Bryan: Exactly. That’s the sad thing about business ownership is that it can be an illusion that you think you’re in business for yourself, and you really just bought yourself a job. You actually probably at the end of the day net, net making less than you could if you just went to work for somebody else.
Josh: That’s often not true. I mean, that’s a myth. So Michael Gerber thing that he likes to saying it’s actually not true my experience. It’s not a horrible thing to do. I mean, if you decide that you want to have a small business of less than five people, you can have a very, very successful career. You need to do a different strategy than the one you pursued. You’re not going to have to learn how to delegate, but you’re going to have to learn how to do all the pieces of the business whether you doing well or not.
On top of that, you’re going to have to pre funded your retirement because you have nothing to sell. There’s nothing that says it doesn’t work. In fact, we teach people how to do this all the time. It’s just a different strategy than building a business to sell.
Bryan: Exactly, when done right it’s one of the most beautiful things that you can be a part of. It is the vehicle for social mobility in this country. I believe that.
Josh: There’s no question. I mean, the vast majority of millionaires in this country own their own businesses. It can be anywhere from a one person business up to a business with thousands and thousands of employees, but they have to all do a lot of the same things.
Bryan: Exactly. It’s not rocket science. It’s working the plan, but the sad thing is 9 out of 10 don’t know about the plan. That’s why we’ve got folks like you help getting the word out. This is the game plan, follow the game plan.
Josh: Well, I think having a game plan is a really good idea. First, you got to know what your game plan is and what it is that you want to accomplish. And just because the world tells you, you should build a great big business, the world is often wrong about things. You should build a great big business, if that gives you joy. In my opinion, having— I had 90 employees, you have 150 employees.
That’s a much better way to run a business one with five. The reason for me for that, that’s true is that when I had 90 employees, I only did stuff I was really good at. Now, that I have four people in my firm, I do a lot of things I’m not very good at it at all. It’s a huge waste of time.
Bryan: I totally get that.
Josh: That’s true when you go through a startup phase. One of the things you said that working on the business and in the business, I like to talk about that as being tactically involved in my business or strategically involved in my business. The truth is, when you’re starting a business from scratch, you’re 99.9% of the time tactically involved. Maybe for 10 minutes a week, you have to think strategically. You never get to act strategically. You’re always reacting to everything that goes on. At least that was my experience doing that.
Bryan: I agree and have whatever you want to call it. The millennials these days like to call it hustle, whatever it is you’re doing in the early days, it’s going to be on your back. It’s going to be on your shoulders. I volunteer at the Nashville entrepreneurs center. I meet with young aspiring business owners and one common thing I see is a lot of them don’t really understand in the early days. It’s going to be sheer grit and hustle that gets you through that first year, two years.
Now, they liked the idea of owning a business. They liked the idea of financial freedom, but they really want to get somebody else to do the hard work, or really would rather somebody else do all of the grunt work. The reality is, is going to be you as a business owner as the entrepreneur to do all of those things in the early years until you know how to delegate them and can afford to. That’s one of the big misconceptions I’ve seen in kind of the entrepreneurial culture that we’ve developed in the last 10 years in this country is a misunderstanding of what’s going to be required of the business owner in the early days.
Josh: The interesting thing that I see, I’ve gone to a bunch of these guru seminars. I actually knew Tony Robbins before he became Anthony. I was in a Brendon Burchard experts Academy thing. I think Brendan is great. His stuff is really good and you should really pay attention to it. But there was something there that really struck me this was an experts Academy where you’re going to learn how to sell your expertise. He asked the people in the room they’re about 4000 people, 5000 people in this room, how many of you have a business that you want to run? Only 10% of the people in the room even had an idea of what a business should be.
Now, my problem with Brendan and Tony and all the other gurus who do this sort of stuff, isn’t that the stuff they teach us and good because it’s not, it’s great. My problem is, is they make it appear like it’s easy to do what they did.
Bryan: Because it’s not sexy.
Josh: I’m going to tell you, it’s not.
Bryan: It’s not sexy, every movie that’s ever been made about entrepreneurship or running a business, the hard work, not fun stuff. It’s kind of like a montage set against music. They kind of go over that and then all the exciting stuff happens. It’s not fun, it’s not sexy.
Josh: It can be fun. I mean, I had a great time when I was building my business from zero to the first 25, 30 employees, but I didn’t realize how destructive I was being at the same time because I didn’t have a good role model for how to be a good business manager.
Bryan: Exactly. Guys like me and you who are old enough to remember what it was like to build a business before the internet. We didn’t have access to things like this. We didn’t have access to people who had really done it before that we could learn from. A lot of this stuff, maybe through audio tapes, but it wasn’t as accessible as it is today.
Now, you can jump on YouTube or you can listen to a podcast and you can learn how to do this stuff right the first time and not have to spend years wandering around through trial and error like I did and like you probably did.
Josh: When I was first in business. I never took responsibility for anything. It sounds like you’re super responsible and you’ve never blamed others or justified your way through life.
Josh: My first four years in business that was my modus operandi. It doesn’t work very well, because it always comes back and bite you. Once you get to a certain size, if your people don’t trust you, and you don’t trust them, you just get stuck.
Bryan: Exactly. When you’re at that 20 people, 40 people, 60 people it is– trust is the glue that holds it all together is that small, little unique culture that your little business has is what allows you enables you to compete with the bigger guys and also compete with the smaller guys. To your point, yes trust is all you’ve got in those stages of running a business.
That’s honestly probably why your people are with you. They like that. They don’t want to go work for a huge company where they’re just a number on a spreadsheet. They want to work somewhere where they feel important and that’s the competitive advantage of that size of business.
Josh: The research I’m seeing now is that employee satisfaction is really based around the workgroup more than it is as a company. So you really need to be paying a lot of attention if you’re going to build a business that’s of any size to who the managers are that you’re bringing in. Are you a values lead company or not? Do you make sure that your managers exhibit the values your company holds dear at a really high level?
Bryan: If not, then there’s no rudder on the ship.
Josh: So having said that, were the values fit into your or did they fit into your organization? Where do they fit in now?
Bryan: Yeah, then and now. It’s why are we doing what we’re doing? What is the guiding force? Why are we here today? Why does anybody care? In my first business, we created a family like culture. That was the thing that I wanted to instill into our organization so people really felt like they were a part of something and wanted to come work for us and wanted to keep working for us. One of the ways we did that, we were a landscape construction company. We had a lot of immigrant workers from Guatemala and Mexico.
One of the things we did to instill this feeling of cohesiveness is the company, every quarter would give an interest free loan to anybody in the company that presented a need for it. It could be they want to build a house here. They want to build something back home in Central America. They want to put a kid through college. They just want to buy a new car, whatever it was every quarter. We would give an interest free loan for one of these projects. When we did that, we would have a party we would say, “Hey, look” this person has been with us 10 years that they built this soccer— one guy built a soccer stadium back home in Guatemala that we financed. Look at all of the prosperity is happening there.
A lot of them were family members back there and here. It was this kind of guiding force that that bought us all together. And like look, “We’re not here, just building landscaping, installing trees and laying grass and mowing yards. We’re actually doing this for each other because when the company wins, we all win.” We did that for seven, eight years and it was a lot of fun, a lot of fun for me being a part of that, leading that when I sold that business in 2013, I actually the next day cried because that piece of me was no longer my baby.
That connection I had with my people really felt like a family that I felt like I wasn’t a part of it. That was one of the one of the things that we instill into the company’s culture to get everybody to buy in that this thing was bigger than any one of us.
Josh: I don’t often ask this question, but I’m going to ask it to you, what brought you to selling your business?
Bryan: I had taken it to a point where there’s a sinkhole, the Peter Principle where everybody reaches a point of their incompetence. So I had taken it to a point where it’s going to be as big as I could get it. We had 150 people, eight figures and annual revenue. It gotten to a point where my next level with growing that business was to take it to multiple cities. I didn’t have the chops to do that. I was 32 at the time. I felt like from my people, my team that my business needed to be absorbed with a bigger national company. Long story short, that’s what ended up happening.
We’ve [inaudible 00:19:10] third largest landscape organization in the country, bought the business and put it into its bigger conglomerate. I did that because I had reached a point where I could have taken as far as I could. I wanted to develop more opportunities for my mid level managers, all the way down to our entry level workers so they could grow with this thing. That was five, six years ago. That’s what has happened. Now Nashville has been red hot. The business has grown naturally because of that, but there’s more opportunities now with the national organization that bought my business for my people. Also, I had been doing it for 15 years the time. It was time for me to try something new and that’s what I did. I reinvent myself as an entrepreneur from a blue collar business owner entrepreneur to a tech startup. That’s what I’ve been in the last six years with GreenPal. GreenPal is like the Uber for lawn mowing. I had to basically ran a bit everything I knew about how to start and grow a business all over again over the last six years. That’s been a lot of fun.
Josh: So in other words, you’re a booking agent for other landscape companies now.
Bryan: Yes. So essentially, GreenPal is a platform that matches homeowners with lawn care pros in their neighborhood. It’s like a matching service. So if you’re a homeowner, you need your lawn mowed, you just jump on the mobile app or the website, you’ll get five quotes back in 60 seconds. You read reviews and you hire the guy or gal that you want to mow your lawn and you pay them right to the website or app.
Josh: It’s pretty cool.
Bryan: It’s kind of like an Uber for Lawn mowing.
Josh: That’s very cool. So Brian, unfortunately, we are out of time.
Bryan: Oh, man, I could do this all day.
Josh: Yeah, I know. So could I have done this? I was actually on a podcast a couple of months ago where we went for an hour and a half.
Bryan: Oh, wow.
Josh: It wasn’t my podcast. I keep ours to about 23, 24 minutes because I want folks to be able to listen to it either to or from work. It’s a one way commute podcast. So I’m going to bet folks are going to want to find you. You want to be found first of all, yeah. If so, how would they go about doing that?
Bryan: Yeah. Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org. Just shoot me an email and I’ll respond.
Josh: Okay, cool. Do you have anything for the audience might be interested in buying besides your lawn care service?
Bryan: If anybody listening needs to have their lawn mowed, you just jump on Green Pal in the App Store. Or if you’re thinking about starting your own lawn mowing business as a side hustle or starting your own business in general, you can jump on GreenPal as a service provider.
Josh: That’s great. I also have an offer for you too. I keep coming up with new programs and our newest program is what we’re calling the Sale Ready business. Now, sale ready business means your business is ready to sell. It doesn’t mean you’re going to sell it because my experience is once I help people create a sale ready business. They no longer want to sell [inaudible 00:22:00] too much fun to making too much money.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Josh: Brian did, but he ended up selling anyhow. The first step along with this thing is to figure out where you are on the road to financial freedom from your business. I have this little quiz I put together, which we call the Four Boxes of Financial Independence. To get the quiz is really easy. Just go to thecashflowcode.com.
That’s thecashflowcode.com, click on the big orange button, take about seven or eight minutes, put in some financial information and you’ll find out really quickly, whether you’re on the road to financial freedom or not, and if you’re not, I’m going to highly recommend you make some changes so you get on that road. This is Josh Patrick. We’re with Bryan Clayton. You’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to the “Cracking the Cash Flow Code” where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you’ve liked what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 extension 102. Or visit us on our website at www.sustainablebusiness.co. Or you can send Josh an email at email@example.com. Thanks for listening and we hope to see you at Cracking the Cash Flow Code in the near future.