Day To Day, Administration, & Self

The Inventive Expert 
Episode #328
Day-to-Day, Admin, & Self
w/ Bryan Clayton

What This Episode Talks About:

How To Manage Business & Self

"In the first 4 years of the business, you're doing three things at once. You're working in the business, serving customers, answering phone calls, in my case mowing grass. And then you're working on the business. What does the marketing system look like? What does the employee recruitment system look like? What does the employee retention system look like? How do we activate cold customers? All of these things are working on the business. Then you're working on yourself."


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What Is The Inventive Journey?

Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.

ai generated transcription

the first maybe four years of the business you're you're doing three things at once you're working in the business uh so just you know make getting the business going serving customers answering phone calls you know in my case at certain periods you know boeing grass um and then you're working on the business you know what's the marketing system look like what's the employee recruitment system look like what's the what's the employee retention system look like you know how do we activate cold customers all of these things working on the business and then you're working on yourself [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur has grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where he helps startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks you ever need help with yours just go to grab some time with us to chat now today we have another uh great guest on the podcast brian clayton and uh brian started uh or to start his journey started mowing lawns in high school to make some cash uh made about uh 20 the first time he did some mowing and was hooked and so i'm decided he would take that as far as he could so he built a built a bit of a business around it that could grew it um and also i think continued when he was in college doing it as well as as he was deciding to go forward went to college um graduated built the business or started a business and built that over 15 years um sold that business and then retired but then got bored so i thought about uh thought about an uh an app for doing uber but for lawn mowing um recruited a couple of co-founders and started building that app um the first year was a total flop and failure in his own words i built a second version of it and got a few hundred customers nine years into it they now have over three hundred thousand customers using the app and they never had to take any inside cap or outside capital insight capital probably but outside capital and they're still growing and uh all or all of his businesses have been self-funded which kudos to him so with that much his introduction welcome on the podcast brian great intro devin thanks so much i appreciate you having me on your show absolutely so i just took a much longer journey and condescended into the 32nd version so let's unpack that a bit and tell us how your journey got started in uh high school bowling loans yeah yeah you just nailed 20 years of entrepreneurship two businesses uh in one industry but yeah i started cutting grass in high school as a way to make extra cash and i was like forced into the business by my father he made me go mow the neighbor's yard on a hot summer day and like you said i made 20 bucks doing that got hooked and i thought this is great you know i can i can mean i can work as hard as i want to work and make as much money as i want to make uh this is why doesn't everybody do this and so people like capitalism it's great well i understand this this is incredible and i just i the first thing i did is i passed out a bunch of flyers all over the neighborhood and got like a dozen customers that first year and uh always had more cash than my friends and it was just amazing i loved it and stuck with that lawn mowing business all through high school uh all through college and then when i graduated business school i thought well what now um should i i didn't really want to be a lawn guy my whole life um i didn't think that's what i went to college for but i thought well maybe this could be my lane this could be the thing that i can kind of work really hard in and make something of myself and and i made a little business plan and over a 15-year period of time ended up growing that that lawn care company into one of the largest landscaping businesses in the state of tennessee eventually getting it over 8 million a year uh or eight figures a year in revenue or before you get too far into your journey so you did this in high school which you mentioned and then i you you continue to do it as you're going to college right that's right so i went to school uh with the night school in college took me like six years to get an undergrad because i just went nights and nights uh and weekends but mowed yards cut grass all day and so i put myself through school and uh and also bought my first house when i was like 20 years old so so business ownership afforded me the ability to avoid student debt and also to start investing in real estate at a very young age which was great ask one other question because that makes sense when you i assume when you got into high school and even maybe early into our college you didn't necessarily i'm reading in there so i put words in your mouth so you could take them out and tell me the wrong words but you know i assume that it wasn't necessarily that you're saying here is the industry that i'm going to be spending the rest of my life in and you went to college got you know kind of went the normal path or got the degree but then you found that you were good at business it was a good stream of income you enjoyed it and it's worthwhile to pursue is is that kind of right or am i reading that right yeah i nailed it i had no dreams and aspirations to be a lawn guy my whole life um in fact i hated cutting grass i hated the landscaping business um i hated the smell of cut lawns hated the smell of mulch uh but i saw that it could it could work at a bigger scale uh because i had two or three employees and i just you know did some some duplication and understood that you know if i had four or five of these crews out there working every day and i was managing them and doing sales that i could actually build a business doing this and so i laid out a little business plan and did that and executed against that plan and eventually growing it's over 150 employees and and and eight figures a year in revenue um a little over 10 million a year in revenue so so uh luckily i saw that as my lane and kind of just put everything i had into it and and was able to build a good good company in it and and it gets acquired too which doesn't happen very often in this industry uh rarely are these businesses ever ever bought and sold so that was a hell of a journey and learned a lot about building a business growing a company leadership systems processes that kind of teed me up for when i started green pal that i kind of was already on first base well for learning the things that you got to learn to get a business going so now and now before we dive to greenpower which we definitely will but you're kind of circling back just a bit so came out of college and i just had a curiosity what did what was the degree in college that you got business administration and you know which was congruent with what i was doing but when i was in school when i was in college uh i'm taking these business classes and i'm like this ain't how business works you know i'm running a business and like they're not teaching me stuff like marketing they're not teaching me leadership they're not teaching me management they're not teaching me customer service they're not teaching me value proposition and how to develop a competitive advantage and and even stuff like managing your personal psychology when growing a business college doesn't really teach you about about entrepreneurship and founding a company it teaches you more or less maybe the the the nuts and bolts of maybe of running a business but not starting one from scratch and so and and i'm right there with it because hey so i ended up getting way too many degrees but one of the four degrees i got was an mba and i was doing that happened to be a different kind of story but i started my first startup while i was getting the law degree in the mba degree and i'd go to the mba school which is much like business administration it's the master version versus the bachelor but i think they cover a lot of the same things or at least i think um and i'd look and say you know half of this seems really fluffy like it's great in concept and you know i think it was for me it was worthwhile in the sense i got some good foundational knowledge and tools and things to work off of but on the other hand i'm saying half of this i never see how it's going to apply it's very fluffy it's kind of just very you know on the the philosophical level and when you get into business then you have to have practical applications so i couldn't agree more that you're coming out and you're getting a lot better education or a lot better practicality in running the business so i always have the opinion you should be running a business if you're as as you're going to college and you can absolutely have that real application so now you come out of college you built you know you say okay whether or not i love the the smell of cut grass which i still like this smell of cut grass so i haven't got to your level but i probably haven't cut nearly as many grasses your lawns but you're saying okay this is a good business i can grow it you know i can do the business side of it i can market i can sell i can build a team and do all that you do that over the period of 15 years what and you know then you mentioned an acquisition was the what was it prompting for the acquisition was it just hey the proverbial too good of an offer i can't refuse or was it hey i finally got to a point i want to do something different or pursue something or have a new idea or i just want to retire or kind of what made you prompt to after putting 15 years and building a business to say hey i want to to do something else yeah i never intended uh to build the company to sell it and so ideally if if that is your your end game that's your goal that your dream you should well first read a book called built to sell which is a really good book about how to how to groom your business and building it and build it in such a manner that you could get it acquired but that's not how i built it and and the reason why i sold it uh was because i realized something in about year 13 that my business was the thing that was causing me to move forward in life it was a thing that caused me to learn things that i never would have learned and take on new challenges and and conquer new territory and i had kind of hit a plateau uh in that part of my life i i was running this business i i had kind of almost taken it as far as i could take it and it was very profitable and and we had a great culture there and we were doing really good but for me to kind of get to the next level of the game would have required me to maybe take it multi-city or or do something or move into an adjacent space or something like that and i didn't really have the desire to do that so i kind of reached a personal plateau in terms of my personal development and it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks one day i was like you know what i should have explore uh an ex and exit explore selling this company and from the moment that i had that notion to the moment that i was able to get it sold was like a little over two years and really probably two of the hardest years that i have ever had in business was was getting that business groomed for sale because i had to reversal engineer a lot of things into the company that weren't there and also the way you run a business as like a family business versus one that you intend to sell are vastly different uh just things with how you make investments into the company and how you manage expenses and how you avoid certain expenses are very very very different so if it's your plan or your eventual goal or dream to sell your company start now work a five-year process and and and start doing the things today that you need to be doing to maximize that outcome no i think that there's a lot of wisdom there and i think you know i think that you can build it to sell a lot of people are saying hey i just enjoy it and you get to the appointment that you're saying either i've taken it as far as i want to take it or i'm worn out with it or you know it's a good offer and um you know all the or all of the different things are coming together and so you say okay this is a good time to make an exit i've you know i've had a good run it's still a good business it has a lot of value and so you're going to make the exit and so you know you sell the business and then i think you mentioned that if craig went from wrong he said okay i'm going to take a bit of retirement or take a bit step back or otherwise take a breather after or you know running in the startup or small business world for now over 15 years so is that right is that kind of the next step that you took for a period of time yeah that's right uh when i sold the company i i thought wow that was really hard uh and i'm beat i'm whooped uh i was 32 or 33 but i felt like i was 73. like it was really really challenging getting that company sold it was also very stressful running a business that size and in that particular industry it's very much uh organized chaos and hand-to-hand combat on a daily basis and so i took some time off uh and and uh maybe it was like a little over six months and i and i quickly got bored quickly uh realized something about myself that i was wired to want to be in the game i was wired to want to be a part of something that was bigger than myself and and that this was now missing out of my life and it was almost like a hole that wasn't there and a lot of my identity was wrapped up in that previous company so it was like almost like i i had an identity crisis almost and so i thought well i want to start another business i certainly don't want to do that again because that was really challenging i want to do something easy i'll start a software business and boy i didn't know what i didn't know uh i thought you know going i i had the idea for an app needed to exist for uh for ordering lawn mowing services much like an uber or a lyft or or even like an airbnb i thought an app needs to make all of this uh easier and so i thought how hard could it be you know i'll just pay some developers and we'll build it and we'll launch it market it and we'll just be off going and recruited two co-founders and we went to work on the idea quickly uh well not quickly took nine months to build the first version but once we released that version we quickly realized like wow this is a lot harder than we thought it was going to be and one thing that i under indexed on or really didn't know was that there's a big difference between running an existing type of business and existing type of industry like a construction company and maybe a house cleaning service landscaping business restaurant whatever versus inventing a brand new product from scratch that does not exist nobody knows how to use it nobody knows it exists nobody knows to even use it and and in a multi-sided marketplace at that connecting buyers and sellers i didn't i didn't know what i didn't know and i was we were quickly confronted with the reality of wow this is going to be really hard but we stuck it out you know we just kept on uh trying to grow the numbers we we ended up ended our first year with like 25 customers uh but uh we we got enough validation from those first few customers that know that this is a good idea that people wanted an app like this people wanted to use something like this and we just kept our nose to the grindstone and now we're uh nine 10-year overnight success we have like 300 000 people using this app to to get their grass cut oh and that's awesome but now one of the things just to or not to gloss over too much and it's always what we want to cross over which which is you talked about a little bit the first year was a flop but it's a failure i get that you had a few customers but it was first of all you know software always seems like it's going you know you get the budget you get the time frame and then it always is like way more expensive and takes so much longer and you're like why is this taking so hard long why is it so hard so i definitely get that having done that on other industries where we've done software and it always makes it look easy because software just on a computer it should be easy but it's not but even then to compound that is now you're taking and creating a new industry or a kind of a new sec or segment of way people approach it and so what was it you know when it's sometimes hard to pinpoint but what was it that kind of made it that first year's in your you know words when we talked before the podcast you know kind of a flop or a failure what caused that and how did you figure that out or adapt it to make it a success later on or in the next version a couple of uh couple of things that i miss miscalculated and didn't really understand because i'd never done this before i ran a traditional business but i never started a tech company is one thing was was that you don't really know what the hell you're building so you have an idea of what the app should look like what it should be how the interfaces should be designed what features it should have what people want but you really don't know and no like piece of technology like survives first contact with the customer and so it's it's kind of like building a house or maybe even a skyscraper with no blueprints and you're just you're just kind of like taking your best guesses on what people want and what people would like to see the features to be and what people would like for it to do but you really don't know and and so then you release it and then you realize all the places that you had like these invalidated assumptions and and then you have to like iterate and correct and fix those things so that's like one one problem the second problem was none of us knew how to code we didn't know how to build software we weren't engineers uh and so so you take the uh you know you take the house plan example and on top of all that you know you have to like you have you're at the uh you're at the mercy of a of a development agency to do these change orders and stuff and it's just it's a nightmare you cannot go through the cycles quick enough uh looking back it's as stupid as trying to start like a five-star restaurant with no chef um like like how silly is that well that's what like starting a tech company with with no development talent and you know in the team it's kind of like is impossible starting a restaurant with with no chef or no recipes and uh so we quickly we like we realized wow this is harder than we thought on many different like paradigms and we we thought well if we're gonna you know if if we really want to do this we're gonna have to learn how to build software so we took every online course we could take read every blog post watch everything on youtube my co-founder went to a boot camp nights and weekends and over the course of like two years we learned how to build software and we rebuilt the whole thing from scratch steeped in the feedback we were getting from our handful of users on how it actually should be built and how and the features it actually should have and the workflows and how they should look and and and then balancing the delicate balance between buyers and sellers on the marketplace and like getting the feedback from users to figure out what that should look like so one thing that looked that stands out like looking back is is that you don't learn then start um you start then learn and and the you know all of these ideas and assumptions we had were like false and we didn't really understand any of it until we actually got into the game started and started interacting with customers and getting that experiential wisdom from their feedback where we able to figure out okay no this is the direction we need to go with this this is how we're going to get there it was really really tough and on top of all that we sell funded it we didn't take any outside capital so that made it challenging as well but uh it was just some of our super super powers were and still are to this day which is consistency showing up every day figuring out what like triaging around what the two or three biggest things we have on our plate let's solve those let's fix those let's move on to the next set of things and just keeping driving the ball moving down the field and doing that for a decade you know now we've got a good profitable business i don't know like that one of the things you hit on in this what drives or what uh i always get pounded on with the the software programmers that i've worked with is that he always have feature creep and that can be one of two things either you keep thinking of new features or ideas that you want to incorporate into the app or even you think of things that you didn't ever think of that you needed in this offer in the app in order to make it more functional to make it work better you just never anticipated either because you didn't anticipate the users would need it or that would be the workflow you know how it goes for the flow of the application or anything else and so it always is just one of those where to your point i you know just kind of had to laugh internally because been there as well where it's just like every time you're just doing another revision another division and you see the dollar signs going up especially when you're self-funding and it's just one where just feels like it's a drag and a drain forever because you always are putting more and more money in and wondering when you're ever actually going to be able to start making money so i think that there's definitely understanding there but i think to your point is you have to get your you know you have to push through it you have to get that user feedback you have to go through you have to start building it you have to have an understanding and all those things that there is just no easy way around it or replacing they'll just have one day you have an idea for an app it's built you know somebody builds it perfectly exactly how you envisioned and there is any changes in that and the market just it works exactly how you envision almost never so i think that there's a good takeaway but it sounds like as you guys stuck with it as you continue to figure it out iterate update it and otherwise figure out where it's placed in the marketplace then it took off and as to what you guys have grown into today um where it's a much larger business and has a much bigger user base yeah and and to your point that feature creep you know on the one hand it's it's bad for several reasons the feature keeps bad it builds a bloated product it makes it harder to understand how to use and the other the the main impediment is it gets in the way of you and getting it in the hands of the customer because that's really the only moment in which you really learn about what it is that people want where you're trying to take the business and so the feature creep is is is it's like it's easier to sit behind the computer and build stuff than it is to get something in the hands of customers and like first-time founders and i've been guilty this first-time founders worry about features and product second time founders worry about distribution because if you've done it before and you're now doing it for the second time you you really understand that there's a minimum feature set you got to have and and you need to get that into the hands of customers but that the bigger problem is distribution and how you're going to market it how you're going to get people to use it because if you build it they will not come you you have to innovate on like product and solving people's problems but you also have to innovate on distribution and growth and figuring out like what are the things what's what what are the what are the unique things about this endeavor that are going to cause it to spread and and i don't mean just like pumping a bunch of money and facebook ads i mean like what is the thing that the hook in the product is going to cause people to to be exposed to it um second time founders worry about that because they know that's harder than than than features i know i agree and i think you know there is that balance because if you have if you don't have that minimum set of features which you do need and which people need for the app if you missed that then you're never going to get adopted because it's someone is so hard to use unwieldy people aren't going to understand and be able to use it and so you do have to nail that but to your point is now you you off it's very hard a lot of times the things that you think you're essential or critical often times aren't and so now you're building it and bloating it or otherwise even just burning time maybe they are great features but you don't need them to get it launched right now you're wasting time that you could have been out there selling get adoption getting feedback and otherwise doing it so yeah i get it it's a hard balance on both especially if it's your first time through but there's definitely a big learning curve but i think to your point you know if you build it 99 of the time they're not just going to come unless they know where to they don't they need to know where to come and then it's even in existence before they can even come and you have to fill that out so i think that's some great lessons learned we could go all day about a lot of fun with the lessons learned and and we'll have to have you back on and maybe uh talk a little bit more about that that aspect of things but uh for this journey for this episode now as we kind of reach the present day of where the business is at and the journey that's taken to your at today always have two questions i ask at the end of each podcast so we'll jump to those now so the first question i always ask is long your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what'd you learn from it well you know success is a lousy teacher and so you you always learn from your mistakes and it's okay uh you're gonna make them you just try not to like uh make uh mistakes that are going to sink the company right you try to you try to make mistakes a lot of times in in business it's more like poker and not chess it's it's you're making small bets you're making bets on things and half the time or more they don't they don't pan out but some big mistakes that i have made particularly in building green pal was we delegated too soon meaning that we we delegated all of the technology development to an outside shop and that was a disaster and then and then we like had the scars from that and then three took us three or four years to to build out a team and then we delegated too late so we delegated too soon and then delegated too late and so a lot of times when you're building out a team and you're delegating to teammates you you want to delegate from a standpoint of stewardship and not one of education like education is i don't know how to do this it scares me i don't want to learn how to do it you handle it like that's always a recipe for disaster stewardship is here's the scope of what i need you to do here's how long it should take here's how much i think it should cost here's the how we're going to measure the quality of it here's one i want it back by and here's here's our standards and and and that's stewardship delegation so so once you get to a point where you can delegate from a standpoint of stewardship you should do so very quickly because that's a force multiplier so that's a mistake that i made i had to learn it the hard way and it was it was it was a difficult one took me it probably cost me three or four years no i think that it is one of those where on the one hand you always want to delegate because you're too busy too many things to do and so you're wanting to hand things off and you know rightly so if their people can do it better faster cheaper than you can you shouldn't be focusing on it but there is that sometimes hanging it off too early then you're going to hand it off to people they may not give them enough direction training guidance oversight and even if they are competent good it can still set that up for secure for failure and make it a much more difficult thing and vice versa you can get too long and then you hold now you learn that lesson okay i'm not going to delegate and you hold on to it too long and now it just has the opposite effect of to where now when you're it's slowing down the business because you're not letting other people do it they could do a much better job so i think that's right it's a easy mistake that almost i think all entrepreneurs will make it at some point and yet it's one where is it's definitely um you know one that is a great to learn from second question i always ask is if you're talking to someone that's just getting into a startup or a small business would be the one piece of advice you give them yeah you know it's this stuff's hard um the first first off it can be the best thing that you do with your life so i would encourage you to do it um but the reality is is is that it's it's a seven day a week thing uh it's it's especially in the first few years the first the first maybe four years of the business you're doing three things at once you're working in the business uh so just you know make getting the business going serving customers answering phone calls you know in my case at certain periods you know boeing grass um and then you're working on the business you know what's the marketing system look like what's the employee recruitment system look like what's the what's the employee retention system look like you know how do we activate cold customers all of these things working on the business and then you're working on yourself you're you're listening to podcasts reading books listening to audio books listening to uh conferences on on on youtube that you didn't go to that you probably should have um and so so you're doing all three of these things at once and it's really like a seven day a week thing to to make to to get a business going from scratch from zero to one that's that's what it takes so so i would tell i would tell anybody that's new listening to this that that get in the game uh because only when you're in the game can you win and be willing to just pour your soul into this thing for three or four years and that's not just you know a lot of times people get stuck in that in the business thing they don't work on the business or on themselves and so they stay stuck there and they get burnt out be cognizant of the fact even down to like managing your your weekly schedule that maybe monday through friday's in the business and the saturday is on the business and sunday is on yourself so you can quickly see how this is a seven day a week thing and so that's the advice that i would give anybody getting started i like the one thing you'd hit on you know multiple great pieces there but uh is the i like the continual learning or figuring things out in the sense of you know i listen to a ton of podcasts i'm always consuming that reading book and learning things and i kind of like you guys found out that hey we just need to learn at least enough of programming or how to do this whether it's we all do it ourselves and build it from the ground up or at least we have enough of a foundation then when we are hiring programmers if they are doing things that we know whether or not is what's necessary and what that's right you know doing i think you need to get that that level of education understanding and always be learning and you know that's one of the things even as i got into the law firm and i had the mba and i had the law degree and i've been doing it for a while and yet i'm still always learning because you know what are new ways to help the customers what are new systems what are new ways to reach out to them and market and sales and all those things and even if i had a good foundation when i started it's continuing to evolve and change and you have to continually have that learner mindset so i think that's a great takeaway absolutely and and uh it's it's dynamic it's it's a lot of times it's blocking tackling a lot of times like i spent six months reading every book i could read on copywriting because i was trying to be a decent copywriter uh i i uh was it was in some uh a lawsuit with with with somebody over a business agreement and i spent like uh four months reading every every legal book i get my hands on so i could be a better consumer of financial services um a lot of times you're moving it around and you're and maybe you need to pick up a book on leadership and you spent four months reading everything john maxwell ever wrote because you're now building out a team and you realize you're a crappy leader you move it around like it's it's blocking tackling for whatever you're dealing with at that stage of the game whatever level you're on um and and and before you know it you do that for five years you're like wow i'm 80 20 good at a lot of different things and it's kind of cool yep no i agree and i think that then it gives you a foundation even what i find is a lot of times even as you're hiring people on bringing them on have new teammates or you know people on the that are doing things you can still pull from that foundation in the sense that now as you're managing them as you're directing them making sure things are done you may not be doing the day-to-day but you still need to have that foundation to make sure it's done right or that you can give them the guidance and the direction of the training they need so i think there's that's right a lot of a great piece of advice but we can go on all day but as we're wrapping up the podcast for today if people want to reach out to you they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to use your app they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what is the best way to reach out to you contact you find out more yeah you know any life's too short to mow your own yard so just download green pal and the app store or play store uh if you want to check out the app anybody who wants to hit me up you can reach me at insta on instagram brian m clayton just dropped me a following a dm there awesome well i definitely encourage people to reach out connect download the app and otherwise uh get her to check it out so well thank you again for coming on the podcast it's been fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you uh have your own journey to tell them you'd like to be a guest on the podcast we'd love to have you just go to fly to be on the show also as a listener make sure to click subscribe make sure to click share make sure to leave us a review because we want to make sure that everyone finds out about all these awesome journeys so we can help businesses along their journey to success and in that vein if you ever need help with your patented trademarks or anything else to business just go to grab some time with us to chat we're always they're happy to help thank you again brian for coming on the podcast and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thanks devin [Music] you

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