Bryan Clayton: 0:00
Oh, I gotta like onboard all this supply and I gotta get like the interfaces and the onboarding processes for supply and I gotta go to trade networks or trade groups for supply and bring them on and I'm like, dude, no, just just hard code. Three suppliers that you don't need any of. That is hard code. Three supplier profiles You're one of them, by the way. You know you're gonna be self fulfilling one of them and two others, and then go figure out how to get a hundred consumers and it's like, well, no, no, no, no, no, I don't want to do any of that. I don't want to do any of that. I don't want to deliver fast food. I don't want to go deliver groceries, I don't want to. You know, whatever it is they're trying to do, and you know there's countless stories of the successful founders that you know that have hand cranked the stuff. The founders of DoorDash they delivered the Chinese food. The founders of Instacart they bought one of every item in the grocery store and hauled all that back to their little apartment and took pictures of all of it and then would go deliver the stuff as people ordered it. So you got a hand crank it in the early days, and so usually the advice is always like beating that into somebody's head.
Tim Bourguignon: 1:15
Hello and welcome to Devilpuss Journey, the podcast bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. I'm your host, tim Boulgigno. On this episode I received Brian Clayton. Brian is a CEO and co-founder of GreenPal. His background was in landscaping and before GreenPal he had no experience in software development. But that was before, and actually I'll stop right there because that's the story we want to hear directly from him. So, brian, a warm welcome to Devilpuss Journey.
Bryan Clayton: 1:48
Tim, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me on oh it's my pleasure.
Tim Bourguignon: 1:51
I'm really looking forward to that story. But before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show. Every month. You are keeping the Devilpuss Journey lights up. If you would like to join this fine crew and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests than editing audio tracks, please go to our website, devjourneyinfo and click on the support me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable dev journey Journey. Thank you, and now back to today's guest, brian. As you know, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story looked like and imagine how to shape their own future. So, as is usual on the show, let's go back to your beginnings. Can you tell us the story that led to that start of your dev journey?
Bryan Clayton: 2:45
Yeah, well, so GreenPal is an app that works like Uber or Instacart or DoorDash, but for lawn care services. So if you're a homeowner, you need to get a grass cutting service. You just download GreenPal, pop your address in. Someone comes out, takes care of you. And the reason why I mentioned that is because I guess the journey started 25 years ago, when I started mowing yards in high school as a way to make extra cash. I wanted a pair of soccer cleats that were 150 bucks and my parents said no, we're going to buy you the $20 soccer cleats. And I didn't want the $20 soccer cleats. And so I found out that my neighbor wanted their grass cut and so I mowed the neighbor's grass, got paid $20. And I did that about six more times and I got the money for the cleats and so I didn't have to wear the cheap cleats. It didn't make me any better of a football player, but I found out something really early on that maybe my lane in life was having my own little business, and so I stuck with that lawnmowing business all through high school, all through college, and when I graduated college I didn't really want to go get a job. I liked having my own little business. So I made a little business plan and ended up building that lawnmowing business into a real company, growing it little by little, year over year over a 15 year period of time to around 150 employees, eight figures in revenue eventually, and then it was acquired. I sold it in 2013 to a big national company that operates thousands of employees throughout the country, and so after that, I took some time off and I started observing what was happening in 2013 in the mobile revolution, and marketplaces were emerging and making real world experiences happen. You know, up until then, technology was very much. It was very much bits. It wasn't Adams, it was. It was screens that you would interact with and and bits would move. But you started seeing marketplaces come about, like Airbnb and Uber and Amazon, to a degree where you could interact with a screen and things would happen in the real world. You could interact with us with a interface on your phone and a car would pick you up or a package would show up, and so I thought I thought, man, somebody is going to build a marketplace to make this industry that I know work smooth and seamless. And and why can't that be me? The movie, the social network, made it look really easy. And so I watched that and they built a. They built a Billion dollar empire in two hours. So so that was. That looked really easy. So why can't I do that? I never I had never built a website or even knew what HTML was or anything like that. And so I thought, well, how hard could it be? I'll just pay some developers and you know, we'll build this app, I will call it GreenPow and and and we'll see if we can do it. And so I did that, recruited two co-founders and we set out to build the Uber for lawn care. And we didn't let the. We didn't let it stop us that we didn't know how to code, never knew, never had tried to build any software before. And so the first thing we did is we paid a development shop all of our money we had we pulled together $150,000 between the three of us and we paid a dev shop to build what we thought GreenPow should be. And it was a total failure. It was a disaster, but we were able to get like 10 customers and we thought, well, 10 people want to use it, and, and, and, maybe we can turn that into 100. And so we taught ourselves how to code, taught ourselves how to build software, and and now, 10 years later, greenpow is an overnight success around 300,000 people using the app every week for lawnmowing, ten year long, overnight success.
Tim Bourguignon: 6:52
Yeah, yeah, about three of that, about three or four of that was just figuring out what the hell we were doing.
Bryan Clayton: 6:57
But that was part of the journey. It was indeed. Do you mind coming back?
Tim Bourguignon: 7:02
to this, which you described as a disaster. Yeah, what did you? What did you do? What happened and what did you learn out of this earlier phase? Yeah, big disaster.
Bryan Clayton: 7:13
Tim Bourguignon: 14:51
Amen to that. This, this is the journey.
Bryan Clayton: 14:55
Yeah, man, that was that. It was not, it was not fun, but you know, that's where the good stories come from indeed, indeed.
Tim Bourguignon: 15:02
Would you mind coming back to? So that day when you said, okay, enough is enough, don't want to have to do it with with guy who Say they're gonna be deal with their wife itself by this morning I'm gonna go to YouTube University. What did you search for? How do you decide on where to start that journey?
Bryan Clayton: 15:21
Tim Bourguignon: 19:37
Mm-hmm. That makes a lot of sense. Do you still code or do you still have an active part in building this product or morning Marketing sales, etc. That you described?
Bryan Clayton: 19:48
so the hats our team today is around 40 and and so my hats today that I wear is is more around growth and product management. So I knew the product management hat. You know, I'm overseeing the development team and I'm kind of prioritizing what we're working on and I am looking at code, I am looking at at what they're working on, I am, I am also Q a and using the app I. I believe that as part of the CEO's job, you should be doing no matter how big you get, you should be doing at least an hour of your own customer support every day, because it kind of keeps you Focused on on what customers are saying, and then you should also be doing business with yourself. You should be dog food in your own product. You should be testing your own product. You should be signing up for it every single week. You should be using it and, and I have a a little small portfolio of Real estate that I bought after I sold my first company, and so I use green power to manage the, the, the properties, and so I'm always finding stuff, always. You know I'm the CEO and but I'm still I'm Q a. I'm hey, this looks, this font looks a little off. The litter spacing looks a little off. The line height looks a little off. I know what good quality design looks like. I I know how that that line heights off, because I've coded up and CSS a million times and I know that that's off. I know that letter spacings off, I've done it and and so I know that's not pixel perfect and so I'm I'm, you know, even using it. You know, on a daily basis I'm seeing stuff and I'll put a, I'll put a ticket for a developer to work on, and so that's a hat that I'm wearing. Am I laying down code anymore? No, maybe I should, but, but but I haven't done that in a couple of years.
Tim Bourguignon: 21:36
There's two directions. I want to go with this, although we'll go one and we'll see if they're for the other. If you, if you had the chance, or off you had to do a rematch. You know what you know. You you've been developing. Now you know what you know. You're starting company from scratch now and you have to create an app. Would you go the same route of hiring people now that you have an understanding of what it is to to manage with air quotes and manage developers and and maybe give them the right instructions, maybe in board them way better on the product side and really tell what, what your vision is? Or would you develop again the basics yourself and then slowly and gradually hire people in your team? How would you approach that?
Bryan Clayton: 22:22
Yeah, it's so. I guess the way I'll answer that question is it's. It's hard because, because I now know everything. I know all the mistakes and not everything, but I know everything about my specific little journey, right, and so I know all the mistakes that I made. I don't want them. It's okay to make mistakes, but it's not okay to make them twice, and so I don't want to Make those same mistakes, so I wouldn't. We we didn't raise any capital for this business because we we just well one. We couldn't. We were in Nashville Nashville, tennessee is not a lot of venture capital here, and and so we had to bootstrap and self fund the business. But if, if, if, doc from back to the future rolls up in the DeLorean and he says, hey, we got to go back to to 2013, you got to start all over again. And no, you can't buy Bitcoin, amazon, tesla and Apple. You have to do this, this shitty lawnmowing app over again. And so, okay, all right. Well, the first thing I would do because I now know all this stuff I would raise a bunch of money and I would build out a team and we would just, we would just hit the ground running, but that's not a good way to answer that question. Let's let's answer the question and say no, you don't know how to develop, you don't know how to write code, you'd never done any of that stuff. You got to do. So now, how would you do it? I still I Don't know a world in which I could have helped, lead and guide us where we are today, where I didn't know the basics of how this stuff works and I, you know, I think you got to kind of have to do that stuff. I think you kind of have to have to get the scars, and so I don't know how I could have done it any other way. And I think this stuff, this stuff applies to pretty much everything in life. It's like my girlfriend she's a club, she's Colombian and she loves a salsa dance, and I wanted to surprise her by learning how to salsa dance, and so I took a bunch of classes and and took a bunch of YouTube videos and and spent like two months learning how to salsa dance, and so the first time I want to surprise her and salsa dancing it's my first time on a dance floor and I'm dancing with her I realized I suck All this stuff that I just spent learning in like theory and in a classroom stuff. None of this applies. Like she, this is terrible. And then I realized no, the only way you really learn how to salsa dance is to get out there on the dance floor and do it and To do it terribly, and that's the only way you really learn. And and so that that's really much. Pretty much you can apply this to boxing, mma fighting. You know, you don't learn how to box until you spar. You can watch a million YouTube videos, you can go to a million classes. Until you get up there and spar and get punched in the face. You don't know how to box. You don't know how to fight. And that's the same way with running a tech startup. I you really don't know what the hell it is you're doing until you get in there and try to build something, and build it with your own hands and get people to use it, do you learn what it is, how it works and how to, how to do, how to scale it and how to build it right.
Tim Bourguignon: 25:33
I mentioned that again. Now I want to go with the older route, meaning you, you know how to code, you've been doing this, you did all the mistakes as you did and and you really learn from that. Can that be a disservice to the next steps of really knowing how the, the, the usage is made, how the software is made, and not being Maybe it's not the right word impartial when you think about the business, about the marketing, sales, where you're pushing, and with this I'm really very much thinking about the dichotomy between CEO and CTO, what you often see in startups. I have a CTO very much deep in the tech and really has made all the mistakes and knows what's what's what's happening and can really dwell into that, but also a CEO that is not necessarily in tech and can think with a different brain. How would you react to that?
Bryan Clayton: 26:27
yeah it. Sometimes knowledge can, can be Dehabilitating and you know, you kind of kind of saw this with Uber. You know Travis Kalanek, you know he, he, he was probably, I think he dabbled as a coder, but he was never an engineer and and so and so maybe the ability to not know what was possible and what was impossible kind of helped him Make magic happen. Where you push a car, you push a button in the car comes and, and he didn't really care about all of the other things that that you know all the other technical reasons why it shouldn't work and why it wouldn't work, and so maybe that helped him. Now he had also built and sold like two other companies, so he is kind of starting on third base. As a first time founder, you really kind of have to be a builder. You really kind of need to be able to build your way out of problems. If you've done this a couple of times and maybe you've built and sold a company or two, then maybe you can get. You can, you know, get away from that and just focus on, like, the business side of it and the vision and then hire the builders. But as a first time founder, I think you kind of need to be able to build your way out of problems. I think you gotta kind of be able to work your way out of problems. So so for me, I don't know that I could have done it any other way, and and there might be situations where where the knowledge and understanding the technical limitations is limiting, but most of the time, as a first time founder, have the skills to be a builder. If, if I'm looking for two people and we want to build a house, the first thing I'm looking for somebody knows how to lay brick and somebody knows how to lay concrete. I'm not looking for a designer, I'm not. I'm not looking for somebody who, who, who loves what great homes look like and has an idea for a home. You know, I'm looking for a guy who knows how to use a hammer, who knows how to use a level and knows how to lay brick. That's what I'm looking for, because that's the only way we're going to get this damn house built. And so I think software development is much like that. Become a builder. Look for builders to found the business with. If you're a first time founder Now, if you've done this a couple of times and you've been on a rocket ship and you've got an exit under your belt. Maybe you don't need to follow that advice, but if you're a first time founder, be a builder.
Tim Bourguignon: 28:54
Very, very in line with this. Not to come back to one thing you mentioned in passing, you were using the lean startup model or approach very early on. How did you stumble in that?
Bryan Clayton: 29:06
I was terrified because here I am, I just built and sold a company, and, and but it was a blue collar company, was a landscaping business, construction business, and and so I come to the starting block, thinking, oh yeah, man, this, this is going to be a tech business, is going to be easier. And because I don't have all these damn employees, I don't have all these trucks, I don't have all these lawnmowers, I don't have all this equipment, I don't have all these nagging customers, this is just tech. Social network made it look easy, it's just going to be easier. And, like, I just got knocked on my ass very quickly within like two or three weeks or a month. That, no, this is actually 10 times harder. And and so you better start re educating yourself Is in. And so I started picking up every book I could get my hands on about this stuff, and this was 2013. There wasn't a whole lot. I mean, nowadays it's almost too much, but back then, 10 years ago, there wasn't a whole lot. And so, and so, first thing was use Google how to build a startup. I mean, you're going to come across the lean startup. And so read that and like, only about half of it made sense. And then and then I, and then I, then I learned that actually Eric Reese's mentor was a guy named Steve blank, and this guy wrote a book called the startup owners manual and he also wrote another book called Four Steps to the Epiphany, and so I read both of those and then I went back and read the lean startup again and then it started to make more sense and and what these books tell you they beat into your head in a thousand pages or 2000 pages of text is that is that all of these assumptions that you think you have about about this idea and how it's going to work or most of them are wrong, and the only way to know what's true and what's not is to get people to use the product that you have brought to market and to study their use and to talk to them and to look at them using the product and and to let that be your free R&D, to let that guide you. This stuff seems like painfully obvious, but the reality is, none of us want to do that. We just want to code, we want to build screens, we want to build, we want to build stuff. We we don't want to do any of that stuff. That's not fun. That wasn't in the social network. You never saw one usability test. That's true in the social network and I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg and all those guys did a ton of those. I'm sure they did, they had to, but you never saw somebody slipping down to a Starbucks or you know and like saying, oh, what do you wish it would do? What did you expect would happen when you push that button? Where are you let down by this? What, what, what is the one thing it could do that would make you delighted that it doesn't do right just yet. Like you never see that, like that stuff's all set to like a, like a, like a music montage and so and so. But those books like be in your head. Get out of the building, get out from behind the laptop and you've got 10 customers. Go talk to them. Or you don't even have 10 customers. What the hell are you doing? Get five customers. And there's a famous story with Paul Graham and the and the founders of Airbnb where they're like you know, it's just not working. And he's like how many customers you got? And they're like well, we got, we got 10 people using it. Where are they at? They're all in New York. Well, what the hell are you doing in San Francisco? Get on a plane, go to New York, go talk to them, and so that's like we all need to hear that.
Tim Bourguignon: 32:46
Indeed, you said. You said that it didn't make sense in the first reading. You remember what, what, what didn't make sense and what came after, once it finally clicked.
Bryan Clayton: 32:54
Yeah, it just. It just seemed. The first reading just seemed to painfully obvious that I couldn't grasp it. And and and what I mean by that? It's like he talks about Like a build measure, learn feedback. Like you build, you throw it out there, you figure out what worked, did it not work, and then you measure it and then you learn, and then you let that iterate, you let that, you let that inform what you, what you build, and like that just seemed too obvious to me. But while I was reading it, we were doing the opposite of all of that. We were like we, we had all these specs and all of this stuff that we had this dev shop building and like what they were building was all wrong. And so it's like I had to make the mistake while lit lark, reading the book and then read, read the startup owners manual, then come back and read the book again. It's like no, this is how you do it and the only reason you, the only way you can do it this way, is if you know how to code. You cannot work with a dev shop and Run the lean startup methodology at the same time. Those two things are at odds with each other, because the whole way a dev shop is is like give us a complete scope of work, a complete spec, end-to-end, and we will build that. They're not like saying, oh yeah, let's just try a few things, let's experiment, let's just, you know, it's not how it works, that's not how they make money and so and so. That's that's why I didn't make sense, because I was doing the exact opposite Of what you were telling me to do.
Tim Bourguignon: 34:24
Mm-hmm, yeah, makes it, makes sense. And I find it funny because I had the same, the same experience with the, the lean startup, but with a different reasoning. I was a builder before and to me it was okay let's build, measure, learn, so let's build. And and I didn't build something in in two hours, I built something in three months. Yeah, and, and that's not the lean startup either. It's way too big. You have to start with paper, with explaining your idea, with just drawing stuff, and that's right, that's right building. So it's exactly the opposite, but same problem.
Bryan Clayton: 34:56
That's exactly right. I'll tell you a quick story, a 22nd story, maybe a maybe a one-minute story about, about a guy that I thought had a conversation with a week ago. He, I do a little. I do a little bit of coaching and mentoring for other startup founders. They were building marketplaces for fun, as a hobby, and and he comes to me and he says, hey, man, I, I got an idea for a marketplace that I want to build and and. And I'm like okay, what is it? He's like well, you know how I just built a house, right, and I said, yeah, man, he goes. Well, dude, I saved so much money Because I got a. I got a $10,000 front door for like $300. I got like a set of windows that were like five grand. I got them for like 800 bucks. I'm like how did you do that? He said, well, the supply yards, all of them, have all of this stuff in the back that they either special ordered, or it was bought but never picked up, or they special ordered, never sold it. And like they want to get rid of this stuff and you can buy this stuff for super cheap. And he said I think a marketplace should exist where you should be able to point and click and tap and just buy this stuff, like you can. You know, on on Home Depot comm, I said man, that's a great idea. He goes, yeah, and they all have it. Like all three of these, all the three supply yards have this up. They want to get rid of it. I think that's a great idea. He goes, yeah, I'm working on the inventory system right now. I'm working on the landing pages. I got my marketing strategy figured out. I'm designing it. I'm meeting with the designer, got the logo made up like hold on, hold on, hold on, pump your brakes, pump your brakes. Dog. He's like what I said. Man, before he, please stop, before you do any of this, do me a favor. I Said man, go to that one supply yard and say and talk to the manager and say listen, I want to sit in the back office of this place and I want to sell all this crap you got and I will only take 10% of the proceeds and you can have the rest. He goes, why am I gonna do that? I said I gotta build all this stuff and I'm like just hold on, just, just, please, sell all that crap. Sell it on craigslist, offer up Facebook marketplace, any means necessary, sell that crap. He goes why am I gonna do that? I got, I got all this work to do and I said just do, just do it. And Like, I talked to him a couple days later, he's like dude, I'm not gonna do that. I said, dude, if you want me to give you any more advice, you will do this, because I will never help you again. He goes, okay, begrudgingly, begrudgingly. He goes and he sets up in this dank office and starts selling this crap. Two days goes by, he calls me. I actually call him like man, how's it going? Like, how much of that stuff have you sold? He goes there's no business here.
Tim Bourguignon: 37:38
Is this painfully funny.
Bryan Clayton: 37:40
There's no business here. And I'm like, I'm like what's up, dude? He's like dude, all of this stuff is just just not sellable. Consume, like the people I'm trying to sell this crap, to have all of these weird mismanaged expectations. I Did sell some stuff but then I had to take it back because it had a ding on it. Um, all of these problems. He said no, no, screw, no screen is gonna fix all these problems. I said. I said now you understand? Well, now you understand why that stuff's just sitting there and and. And I said that's. And I said, dude, this is lean startup. That's lean startup. Before we lay down a line of code, let's just, let's just hand crank this make, see if there's a business. So that's lean startup.
Tim Bourguignon: 38:28
Even to that. Is there a piece of that you mentioned? You mentioned coaching and mentoring New founders, so I'm gonna piggyback on that. Is there a piece of advice? You tell all those persons again and again and again, something that that they have to hear. Maybe it's what you just said, maybe it's something else.
Bryan Clayton: 38:45
Yeah, it's always, it's all. If, when it's people in the zero to one phase, they're just trying to, they got an idea and they're and they're trying to Manifest that idea, it's always back to we need 10 credit cards, dude, and we need, we need, we need, we need 10 credit cards on file. We need and we need a hundred transactions like we don't need anything. Until that, none of this matters, until we get 10, 20, 30, 40 people to use this thing. And then let's study that use. And, and especially when it comes to marketplaces, I've been guilty of this before myself. Marketplace founders always want to think about oh, I got to like onboard all this supply and I got to get like the interfaces and the onboarding processes for supply and I Got to go to trade networks or trade groups for supply and bring them on and I'm like dude, no, just just hard code three suppliers that you don't need any of that. It's hard code three supplier profiles. You're one of them, by the way, you know you're gonna be self-fulfilling one of them and two others and then go figure out how to get a hundred consumers and it's like well, no, no, no, no, no, I don't want to do any of that I Don't want to do any of that. I don't want to deliver fast food. I don't want to go deliver groceries, I don't want to. You know, whatever it is they're trying to do and you know there's countless stories of the successful founders that you know that that have hand cranked the stuff. The founders of DoorDash they, they delivered the Chinese food. The founders of Instacart they, they took pictures of, they bought one of every item in the grocery store and hauled all that back to their little apartment and took pictures of all of it and then would go deliver the stuff as people ordered it. So you got a hand crank it in the interrogation. So usually the advice is always like beating that into somebody's head.
Tim Bourguignon: 40:38
And it makes so much sense it's. It's really important to hear this. I fully agree, brian. It's been fantastic listening to your story. That was the time all time box already.
Bryan Clayton: 40:50
Well, tim, I appreciate it. Man, this was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun. It was therapeutic for me. I'm glad it was.
Tim Bourguignon: 40:58
Where would be the best place to continue discussion with you? Yeah, anybody want to hit me?
Bryan Clayton: 41:01
up, find me on LinkedIn or actually hang out on Instagram a lot. Brian M Clayton Just dropped me a DM there and anybody in the United States wants to check out green pal. Let's go to green pal, calm and well. Add all this in the show notes.
Tim Bourguignon: 41:14
Just have to scroll down and click and everything will be there. Anything else you want to plug in?
Bryan Clayton: 41:18
you know, anybody that's hearing this is like man, I should I do that, should I not? You know, I hope what you got it got from me is that if that guy can do it, you can too. There's nothing special about me. I'm not particularly smart or brilliant. I just picked one idea and stuck with it for a decade. So so pick an idea you're passionate about, that you want to see exist in the world, and spend 10 years on it, and and good things will happen, amen.
Tim Bourguignon: 41:45
Brian, thank you. Thank you Tim and this has been another episode of Delper's journey. I will see each other next week, bye, bye. Thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you like the show, please share, rate and review. It helps more listeners discover those stories. You can find the links to all the platforms the show appears on on our website devjourneyinfo slash subscribe. Talk to you soon.