Ryan Farley is the co-founder of LawnStarter, a lawn care concierge. In this episode he’ll show us how to craft a content strategy for a boring industry, predict customer behavior, and even some old school growth tactics.
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Ryan Farley with us. Ryan, thanks for coming on the program.
Ryan: Thanks for having me.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, Ryan, you’re the co-founder of Lawn Starter, which I think brings along care into the 21st century. I’ll let you describe it in your own words in a second. But you’re also part of Techstars Austin a couple classes ago. And so your fellow Techstars alum, we got to have you on the show, of course. So first, tell us how long starter actually works. What does a customer get? How does the process work? What is it?
Ryan: Sure. So, you know, we’re a two sided platform from the customer point of view. Traditionally long character has been a very arduous process to order. And both order and manage typically involves several calls to different providers long games, the phone tag waiting for in-person estimates. So from a customer standpoint, all you have to do is go to our website, type in your address. We automatically price all your services and you just schedule from there. From there it gets routed to the US. We all want care provider for your area and the platform. Actually, one of the big out value ads isn’t just the ordering, it’s the ongoing scheduling like notifications than their weather delays managing seasonal services. So the platform helps with the management, both on the consumer end, but also on the provider end because it replaces a lot of their paperwork and a lot of their customer service. So it’s kind of a symbiotic ecosystem that benefits both the supplier and the to the supply on the demand side.
Bronson: No, I mean, it makes total sense to me. When I was away from my home for the last six months, I had to get, you know, lawn care. And it was difficult. I had a do you know, a had a cut a check from the bank and have it mailed to them. They’re emailing me random invoices. I can’t open up in my programs. I don’t actually have visibility into what’s happening and I’m still using it. I mean, it’s it’s a broken system. And so I absolutely see the value in what you’re doing. Is it kind of is it fair to say uber ification of lawn care? Is that what’s happening here?
Ryan: Yeah, it it the analogy breaks down at some point because I really do think that the biggest value isn’t just the ordering labor, however, it’s the ongoing relationship. Management is like where we were, where we saw most of the pain, so. Gotcha. Yeah. Yeah, pretty much.
Bronson: I gotcha. All right. So how important has a content strategy be? Has it been two year olds growth? Do you guys use content currently?
Ryan: Yeah, big time. We have like anywhere at any given time between one and three full time people working on content.
Bronson: Oh, wow. What what kinds of content are those people creating?
Ryan: Yeah. So when we do the general like how to lawn care posts, which are pretty much just kind of going after long tail and just kind of foundational content. Mm hmm. But the content that we produce to actually promote and get out there is it’s, you know, it’s usually not about lawn care. It’s generally about things that are kind of tangentially related. For instance, today we just we’ve been working on this for about a week. We put we released a Quality of Life Index using methodology that the economists developed at city and state level. United. It’s because we found that, like our target audience tends to like stuff that kind of like celebrates their, their area. And it’s a way that we can reach our target audience without them having to be long for carried longer us. Because the reality is that lawn care is pretty boring and it’s never going to really just appear in your news feed. So we have to kind of figure out other things, you know, to reach our target audience.
Bronson: Yeah, no, I like that insight. You know, you’re in a boring industry, but you can write, you know, things that are adjacent, still relevant, but not about lawn care specifically. And you still get the right eyeballs from the right people. So are you guys going after like local SEO? So you’re writing an article just for Austin Rae? Another article just for another city. Because I know we had the founder of Apartment List on and he has the same kind of scenario you do where it’s a a marketplace and a lot different cities. And he said that was working well for him. Are you guys just going after kind of General SEO or, you know, the things you just said?
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. Both like for SEO and just kind of like, you know, the viral nature of like the content we produce. So yeah, like we commonly do infographics about like, you know, what will the whole city look like in this year? Or, you know, why everyone’s moving and just kind of aggregate a lot of data that, you know, honestly, journalists are too lazy to do themselves. So and we feed it to them and, you know, they’re, you know, they’re happy to write about it because it’s like, well, thanks for all doing all this work for. You know, that was easy.
Bronson: No, absolutely. Now, if you were to look at your customer base right now, do you know, do you have an idea of what percentage might be because of content? Is this a fractional thing or is this like a big piece of what you’re doing?
Ryan: Yeah. So it’s definitely like, you know, a two year time horizon, like brand awareness play. I don’t have a number in front of me, but we definitely convert like during the spring time. We convert a lot of people straight from the content. Gotcha. And kind of looking at multi-touch attribution, like a good number of our customers have seen our stuff before. Mm hmm. So. And, you know, as soon as, like, get some, we know that at some point we’re going to run out of direct response channels in a city. So, you know, we’re starting investing in the brand awareness early right now.
Bronson: Yeah. Know, it makes sense. You know, you mentioned multi-touch, you know, attribution. What’s your feelings on that? You know, people are kind of divided. Some people just want to know what the last touch was, the first touch was. Some people like really complicated models that show them every touch that a customer has made with your company. What, as you know, as a co-founder, gives you the most insight into what you can turn up the dial on and, you know, get more value out of it.
Ryan: Right? Yeah. To me is the classic marketer’s dilemma. I’ll give you an example of one that’s really important for us. That is that’s like kind of, you know, that we’ve had to demystify a little bit. So, I mean, for the longest time, we were just starting out. We were only looking at, you know, kind of lost touch distribution or where a customer self-reported their problem. But as we started talking to a lot of customers, we learned that they would land on our site, check it out and say, oh, this is you know, this looks interesting. Then they would search, launch our reviews and then come from a review site. So that’s like a super important one to know. Like, you know, what were the multiple touches there? When it comes to kind of like, you know, retargeting and stuff or like, you know, some of the policy like click on Facebook in a display I’d like I’m a little bit less concerned or the review thing is huge for us.
Bronson: Yeah, no, absolutely. We’ll give you misinformation. If you thought they were just coming from the review site as opposed to actually hitting you guys first, because now you want to know, well, how do you get to us in the first place? And so it just, you know, allows you to dig and probably actually figure out how to get more of them. You know, one of the things you also mentioned to me before was that you’re careful to make the most of your engineering resources because you want every feature to give your growth guys the tools they need to grow. What do you mean by that? Unpack that for me a little bit. How you really align engineering with growth.
Ryan: Sure. So it is easy to like, I think almost like engineers are scarce resource in any startup and they’re almost always the bottleneck. So something we started thinking about recently is rather than just say, hey, we, we want this new like funnel feature built, like we kind of like think like, okay, how could we build something that we don’t need to like build on anymore? Or the someone that you know a lot of like have, like, I think we have like six growth team members. Half of them can code front end decently well. Like, you know, they probably wouldn’t trust themselves like, you know, having full access to our back and whatnot. But you know, they can make websites. So it’s like how can we build a feature that enables them to make changes down the line? Because you always know that you’re going to make changes. So for instance, one thing that we did recently was we basically made we had insta page together, so to make it more flexible. So the engineering team did that. So now that now we can make for any ads, we can make a landing page however we want with just a drag and drop editor and a few lines of code. Mm hmm. And we never have to bother them for landing pages ever again. Gotcha.
Bronson: That makes sense. Yeah, I like that. Insight is always trying to be efficient with engineering resources, because, as you said, the bottleneck, everyone who’s a founder like, just is not in their head right now. Yes. That’s the bottleneck. I mean, that’s the way I feel, too, at all the stuff we have going on. You know, we’ve talked about some kind of new clever stuff. We talked about content marketing, multi-touch attribution. We talked about, you know, insta page hacks and creating landing pages with efficient engineering resources. But in in the day, you guys are in like a really old school industry. I mean, it’s lawn care. It’s been around forever. Do you guys use old school marketing techniques to go with the industry you’re in?
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, we got our first customers, like from direct mail and it’s like, what’s that? But yeah, it’s, you know, I saw I did some direct mail campaigns when I was like Capital One and like they got super targeted. What’s it like? It was like they had crazy models built to predict the response rate, so you can be data driven with it. We found that like, you know, we’ve tried everything from just regular mailers to like large booklets and stuff like that, and your response rate just goes up as your cost per mail order goes up. But we found that they were the lowest churn customers. So you can spend more money on a good creative on direct mail and better chance of breaking even on it. And then we’ve also done like kind of setting up booths at the mall and just kind of like talking to people passing out free water when it’s hot, giving out fliers. So successful that as well.
Bronson: Yeah. If you if you had to pick one marketing, you know kind of thing to keep would it be old school or new school? If you had to pick one, you could do direct mail, you could do hand out water. You can do all that or you can do digital marketing, landing pages, etc.. What do you pick.
Ryan: A new school for sure.
Bronson: All right. So it still takes the cake. You know, you mentioned some interesting things. You talked in everything about data. It seems like you guys are really a data driven company. Just now, you mentioned the fact that the retention is higher on the direct mail customers so you can spend more to acquire them in that channel. That’s like, you know, an obvious thing to know and an obvious thing to track. And yet so few companies actually do it. It’s rare to find a founder that actually has a clue what’s going on, you know, through the funnel and not just at the very top of it. How have you built a data driven culture and how important is being data driven to you guys? Talk to me about that a little bit.
Ryan: Yeah. So that’s actually like was one of our quarterly initiatives was to become data driven and we didn’t been collecting data and all these different sources. But you know, when you’re I’m sure you guys have kind of dealt with this like when you’re just trying to get it off the ground, like, you know, reporting essentially like kind of like gets, you know, pushed down the priority list. Mm hmm. So the first thing is to make sure that everything is recorded one way or another. You don’t really know until you actually try. And where is that data? But basically, it’s like simple answers, like recently. So we basically we use a query, I think it’s like five train or something at the aggregator Salesforce Mixpanel as well, all that kind of stuff. Mm hmm. And one answer that we can connect to different data sources and, you know, like we have full time data analysts as well. And I have done my best to teach everyone like that because it’s the best tool. Mm hmm. So I think, like, you know, it’s it’s kind of like we came to a point. At some point, we’re like, oh, crap. We get a lot of things we don’t know. Like, especially, like, starting to stop our progress. Like, we should invest and, you know, answer a lot of these questions. Then it’s like, like you said, a lot of people aren’t data driven. You know, they said, hey, what? And it’s like amazing the stuff that you can learn.
Bronson: Yeah, it’s a huge competitive advantage. You have an angle on the competition that’s hard to overstate because what you think from intuition or gut just doesn’t show up in the data sometimes. And if you don’t have the data and you don’t have the insights from that data, even more importantly, you’re just going to make bad business decisions into the day.
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely.
Bronson: Yeah. I mean, I’ve done it. I’ve done it both ways, you know, with and without data. And I want the data, you know, you guys are in, you know, talking about the uber ification of what you’re doing. And, you know, obviously that’s too simple, but you’re on an on demand marketplace company and sometimes people are scared of those because it’s a two sided market. It’s almost like having two companies at the same time. For you guys, you have the lawn care providers on one side, the customers on the on the other side. They each have their own needs. They each have their own kind of ecosystem you have to deal with. What growth advice do you have for people watching this that are maybe thinking about starting a marketplace or they’re already in one and they’re just realizing how hard it is? Any words of wisdom there?
Ryan: Yeah. Um, yeah, a few. So for one, I think, like, you know, like you absolutely have an awesome supplier experience and if you’re going to invest like human effort into like making sure one party is happy, I think it’s the supplier. I think it’s like the lack of that focus is a big kind of root cause of why you have failed so badly. And I see it all the time because at the end of the day, like, you know, I see so many people go in and they see an old industry and they say, Oh, I can make the consumer experience so much better. But they end up essentially, you know, taking away from the provider experience, either taking margin or taking time or causing more hassle. And actually, that’s sure the supplier may be excited at the idea of more business. Whatever you’re bringing them. But if they hate you, they’re going to do shitty work and you’re just going to leaky bucket. So we actually like even though, you know, to the press and outsiders, you know, people said, oh, you’re making a better consumer experience. Like, ah, like if we had to say what, what our focus is one or the other. Clearly it’s both, but it’s definitely on the provider experience because that ultimately makes the better consumer experience. So the first thing to say about Marketplace is in the second one, it’s like if you’re trying to make something on demand, realize it’s like like you guys at a growth geeks like you don’t really you just make the connection and then they kind of like take it from there, right?
Ryan: Yeah. For us, it’s like there’s a huge operational challenge because we stay in the middle. Mm hmm. And a lot of people underestimate how big and costly that challenge is. We’re we’re lucky that, like, we have good at unit economics and we’ve kind of started this. We didn’t really plan for that. But like a lot of marketplaces that kind of manage the operations, places don’t have good economics and never will. Yeah, and that’s kind of scary.
Bronson: Now, those are great insights. I mean, as somebody who runs a marketplace, I know the wisdom of what you just said. And to somebody that doesn’t run a marketplace, they probably missed all that, but they will learn it soon enough that the supply side matters immensely and you know, and economics matter immensely. And if you can get that margin up, you got something you can work with. All right. I have a couple of final questions that I’ve been ending every interview with just because they’re fun. The first one is, what are you working on as soon as this interview is over and it could be super awesome or super boring, but what what are you actually doing as soon as we’re done talking.
Ryan: Cool. So what am I? So, actually, as soon as that is done, work out a really cool project. There’s this company called Dana Robot. They’re. They just launched or I don’t know if they’ve watched yet or not, but they basically made this tool that makes like any idiot like me who doesn’t really understand stats like able to do machine learning. And we use it to build like machine learning algorithms to predict customer reaction and stuff like that. So that data like that I mentioned now that we were stitching all our data together, I’m going to be like using data robot to make some of these models that like they can predict churn, they can predict conversion, they can like you can basically predict anything and not allow a data science expert to do it. So that’s all pretty excited to be working on that.
Bronson: Yeah, I want to check that out. That sounds awesome. All right. Last question. What’s the best advice you have for any startup that’s trying to grow? Yeah. It’s easy.
Ryan: All right. I would say it’s assuming that you have a good product because, you know, you can’t polish. It’s hard. It’s true. Look for where the customer intent is. For example, like, you know, on a review site, we have five x the conversion of somebody from Google ads it’s like and Google ads. The intent is there to it’s like, hmm, that’s like every good channel that we found. This works for us. Aside from some of the old school ones, it’s just like, where is the internet? And even at your home. Like when we’re mailing somebody and the people that are intent is there, it’s like, what are people already kind of looking for your service ish? Mm hmm.
Bronson: Makes an absolute make sense. I mean, Google built a massive business of intent, and if you can take that inside and put it in some other channels, also, you know, I heard somebody say once, you know, if you were you know, if you had a food truck, where would you park it to make the most money? And, you know, people would be like, oh, here, there they have all these answers. Like, No, by hungry people. Like that’s it. It doesn’t matter. Like where the hungry people are, that’s where your food truck would make money. And it doesn’t matter what city that’s in, it doesn’t matter, you know, what street that’s on. As long as it’s a group of hungry people because they have the intent to buy food and same thing, just find the intent. Find the hungry people, and you’ll be able to sell something.
Ryan: Yeah. Loaded.
Bronson: Awesome. All right, this. It’s been a great interview. It’s been fun talking about law and starter. I, you know, have fun talking about marketplaces. I think there’s I love that we’re in such an old school industry. And yet you’re doing so much with data and, you know, you know, algorithms and models and predictions, it just shows that software is eating the world and data science is even eating software. And it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, you can be on the cutting edge when you’re cutting lawns, you know.
Ryan: So there’s still that when.
Bronson: I do it, I just came up with. And so again, Ryan, thanks for coming on Growth Agro TV.
Ryan: Thanks for having me.
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