LA Business Podcast

43. Gene Caballero, Co-Founder Of GreenPal

Gene Caballero, Co Founder of GreenPal
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In this episode, we discuss with Gene Caballero how GreenPal has become the Uber of home-care services.

GreenPal is an online market place connecting homeowners with lawn mowing professionals that want their business. Get 5 bids in minuets, pick the pro you want, and schedule and pay all online or with the mobile app.

Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the LA Business Podcast, a form for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host is Robert Brill, CEO of an Inc 500 company. Delivering the power of hyper-local advertising. Robert writes for Forbes, Inc. and Ad trade publications.

Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship, and management.

Robert Brill: [00:00:36] Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the LA Business Podcast. Today, I guess is Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal.

Thanks for being with us today.

Gene Caballero: [00:00:45] Thank you for having me.

Robert Brill: [00:00:47] So I understand, you’ve been described as the Uber of lawn care.

Gene Caballero: [00:00:53] That is correct. Yeah. I’ve been in the landscaping industry, my whole entire life you know, kind of thought that, the trend would kind of go towards, on demand lawn care and saw the opportunity and, got the right team together. And here we are.

Robert Brill: [00:01:11] And so according to LinkedIn, you’ve been doing this since April of 2012. What prompted you to get started in this business?

Gene Caballero: [00:01:18] Just kind of a culmination of, kind of seeing the trend in the, in the West coast.  at the time I was doing corporate tech sales, I mean my territory was the West coast.

So I was privy to the newer technologies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and kind of, you know, realize that if you know, homeowners are individuals, we’re going to summon, a stranger to come pick them up or stay in a stranger’s couch that at some point home services would, would also follow that trend.

So that’s kind of how the idea and, for GreenPower started.

Robert Brill: [00:01:53] But did you have any experience doing this? I mean, it sounds like the work that you doing at general dynamics at Dell computers were so, so different than what you’re talking about with his business.

Gene Caballero: [00:02:03] So, you know, kind of growing up and through high school and college, you know, I did landscaping, so I kind of knew the business side of it.

Now the tech, the tech side of it was where, you know, myself and all my cofounders, we were, you know, Totally lost in, you know, developing something that, you know, that we’d never been a part of, but the landscape side of things, you know, we were solid on. It was just the technological, side that we really needed to help on.

Robert Brill: [00:02:32] So when customers work with you, what are they getting? Like, what, what are the services that you provide?

Gene Caballero: [00:02:37] Yeah, so homeowners can basically get any services outside of the outside of the home. So, you know, we started with landscaping, you know, we give the vendor the ability to quote any additional services that his company provides.

So if they do, you know, leaf removal in the fall, if they do snow removal in the winter, if they do, you know, shrub and Bush trims anything of that the homeowner can expect to get quotes on.  now for the vendor side, we are basically his operating system. Not only do we handle their demand creation, we also handle their, route optimization, their scheduling, their CRM, and also their payment processing.

Robert Brill: [00:03:15] I get it. So, so you’re, so you’re, you’re the layer that allows the individual independent contractor to find the work and like plan out their days and their weeks.

Gene Caballero: [00:03:31] That is correct.

Robert Brill: [00:03:32] Got it. I didn’t realize that.

Gene Caballero: [00:03:35] Yeah. To the homeowner it’s, you know, it’s, it’s pretty cut and dry.

I can find somebody to mow my lawn sooner than later, but on the vendor side, that’s the guy’s life that we’re really changing. You know, we’re, like I said, we were handling all of his backend, office stuff and also helping him grow.

Robert Brill: [00:03:55] So when a customer works with one of your contractors, do they realize even that they’re working with you?

Gene Caballero: [00:04:06] Yeah. So, you know, everything is GreenPal facing, right? A lot of the landscaping professionals that you see driving around don’t have a online presence. They don’t have any sort of vetting process either. So the GreenPal platform allows them to have a digital presence and also to, you know, give future and potential customers, you know, feedback and ratings and, you know, homeowners can see pictures of their previous work. So we’re a true platform that allows that, that whole dynamic to be done digitally.

Robert Brill: [00:04:39] You know, what’s interesting about that. One of the things I like a lot about like, like using Upwork for example, is that there’s a trust factor.

I don’t have to worry about payments and even just the act of invoicing and payment is automatically happening. Like I never have to spend time. I don’t have to pay my bookkeeper to pay somebody from Upwork. And they’re also vetted by the community and they’re vetted by the individuals who work at Upwork.

So, I feel like. I understand some of the value propositions that you get when a customer works with GreenPal. Is there anything that you’ve pinpointed that your customers like, what’s the one or two things that your customers look at you and they say, You know, the,  consumer, they say, you know, I really like work with you  because why?

Gene Caballero: [00:05:37] It’s convenience, you know, in a market that we’ve got rolling, a hallmark can expect, you know, up to five bids in less than 15 minutes. So, you know, instead of calling 10 landscaping professionals in the middle of the summer and getting 10 voicemails, you’re going to get individuals that can actually model the day that you want, you know, with all of this proprietary ratings and reviews and, and, and all that. And the second thing is, is we handle the payment. So, you know, no longer do they have to leave a check under the mat or, you know, no. If the, the, the lawn care professional has mowed, when the, when the landscape professional has done, he uploads one picture.

And that goes to the homeowner and serves as this digital invoice. So, they know that, Hey, the lawn was done at 3:45 PM on August 11th.

Robert Brill: [00:06:28] Sure. And so, where, where do you operate? Like where, what are your markets?

Gene Caballero: [00:06:33] Yeah, so we’re actually in 45 States and over 250 major markets now.

Robert Brill: [00:06:37] Wow. And when you started it, like where you’re, you’re basing Nashville, right?

Gene Caballero: [00:06:43] Correct. Uh huh.

Robert Brill: [00:06:44] And are like, how did you grow? Like how, like, that seems like an immense.

Gene Caballero: [00:06:49] Yeah, it is. It’s not, it’s not easy. But you know, we did it slow and calculated. you know, we didn’t want to, you know, waste money. So, you know, after Nashville we knew we had a launch into a market that was, you know, basically year-round.

So we could have that little revenue to kind of throw back into the company. So we launched in Tampa and, And Orlando. And, you know, basically what we had to do is reach out manually to, to landscaping professionals in the area, you know, get about 10 to 1520 of them signed up. And, you know, we had to rely on the local news outlets to you know, to, announce that we were coming into the area and that’s kinda how we organically, organically grew, and that’s still how we do it. It’s just more automated as far as, you know, launching a new market and onboarding the vendors in that market.

Robert Brill: [00:07:45] And so you need to recruit on both sides of the transaction. You need buyers and you need providers.

Gene Caballero: [00:07:56] Correct? Yep. Yes. So, on the land, on the vendor side, we’ve utilized Facebook, to aggregate those, vendors, you know, since, our business model, we take 5% of the transaction. So, for customer acquisition, we really can’t afford to pay $20 to acquire a homeowner because that would in a perfect world be a whole entire season before we get our money back.

So we’ve heavily relied on, SEO and, basically relying on the landscaping professional to kind of bring on his non-green pal customers onto our platform.

Wow. So, you can’t use advertising to grow then it’s too expensive.

It’s, very expensive. We haven’t done it yet, and this is our eighth. We are possibly going to try, in 2021, just to see if we can formulate a way to get our customer was customer acquisition cost to below $10. If we can do that, you know, we have automated up-sales for the vendors as well to the homeowner. So we think we can get our money back and make a little money with that. But at $20, it’s, it’s very tough.

Robert Brill: [00:09:13] So for the provider of services, you are kind of like your demand generation engine, give them a website.

Yeah. They also have a unique, GreenPal vendor page. So if they’re active on social media, they can send a link to their, to their friends or their followers saying book, lawn care directly from me. And those homeowners will get, bids directly from that vendor.

So you were primary way of growing has been SEO is what you’re saying.

Gene Caballero: [00:09:45] That is correct. Yeah. It’s not the fastest way, but it’s the safest the tried and trued.

Robert Brill: [00:09:56] And you’re completely bootstrap, self-funded.

Gene Caballero: [00:10:00] Yeah. When we needed money, nobody was going to give it to us anyway. So we were kind of forced to stay that way.

Robert Brill: [00:10:05] What does the next few years look like to you? I mean, how has. How has the COVID-19 situation? I imagine it might have, it might be good for you because people are staying home more and need better care of their home areas.

Gene Caballero: [00:10:21] Yeah. So, you know, we obviously didn’t design it to be contactless service, but, a lot of people are, you know, that’s the buzz word for now and our services truly contactless vendors don’t even need to go to the property to quote it. They, you know, we provide them with a Google aerial view, the Google street view, the square footage of the property and all that.

So they can literally bid that from anywhere, you know, from their mower if they want to. So, there’s no more meeting at the property or changing cash.  you know, and we also kind of have. I’m seeing an uptick in, you know, homeowners that, or over the age of 60. So that in itself can kind of lend to a different dynamic that we haven’t had.

So, you know, we’re fortunate to be able to see a growth, this year and hopefully that’ll continue into 2021.

Robert Brill: [00:11:10] Wow. That’s fascinating. Do you rely on any press or I imagine referrals is a big part of your business? Like what are the key things that you use to grow or is it like the vast majority of it is SEO?

Gene Caballero: [00:11:24] I’d say 95% of it is SEO.  5% of it is, you know, when we launched into a new market, you know, we get, get initial signups, you know, from that outlet from announcing our launch. But I’d say 95% is SEO.

Robert Brill: [00:11:40] That’s amazing. And so how many providers do you work with? How do you manage so many people, but like managing people is so difficult?

Gene Caballero: [00:11:49] It is. And we knew when we first started, that we couldn’t manage that many people if we wanted to scale. So, we don’t, that’s, the beauty of our product.  you know, we made it easy enough for landscaping professionals to kind of run their own business through it. You know, there are some parameters that they have to follow to be able to be in the GreenPal platform.

These guys didn’t go into business, you know, for some. To have a boss and to have somebody like me saying, Hey, you need to go cut a Bob’s yard today. You know, they know that the more they, the more lawns that they do, the more reviews are going to get, the more lawns that they do on the day that they’re supposed to, they have a higher reliability rating.

All of this kind of flows into our, platform. So all that data just kind of helps them grow their business on green pal.

Robert Brill: [00:12:44] That’s fascinating. So when you think about growth, what are the opportunities for you guys to grow? Is it like, I imagine you can’t increase the fees dramatically to the end customer, right? Cause you’re competing with the market rates.

Gene Caballero: [00:12:59] Right. Yeah. And you know, it’s, margins are very, very low in the, in a landscaping industry. And, you know, it’d be, you’d be surprised at how many people would get a bid for $32. And like, no, I can’t, I do it for 30, you know, so that all to tell you, you know, how thin those margins are.

And, you know, they’re very, very slammed for the landscaping professionals. So,  that is basically impossible, but you know, what we can do is we can branch in every market, in the state of Tennessee, for example, there’s about 15 markets that we can launch in, the state of Tennessee and, you know, there’s hundreds and hundreds and thousands of those markets all across the US that aren’t necessarily the largest city, but, you know, have 30, 40, 50,000 people that, that will contribute to our, our bottom line.

Robert Brill: [00:13:47] Do you do you look at like, neighborhood disposable or households? The income I imagine higher household is better for you because more disposable income and more likely to spend on fees for gardening and landscaping gardening classes.

Gene Caballero: [00:14:03] Yeah. You would, you would think that that would be the case, but,  about a year ago, what we did was we took a vendor’s route and drove it just for the fun of it, just to kind of see if we could see some sort of common denominator in the homeowner.

And we did about, I think the route had like 15 stops. And to be honest with you, there wasn’t really one common denominator, of those lawns, other than the grass was growing. And it was green. You know, it was everything from a trailer to a $2 million house. So, you know, our target target demographic or our total addressable market is basically anybody with, you know, anybody or sorry, a serviceable addressable market is basically anybody with a lawn.

So, you know, that’s kind of another tough. You know, marketing ploys, who do you market to? You know, it’s just tough to, to have that, to have that dialed in when there’s really not, a common denominator that is just, you know, just staring at the face.

Robert Brill: [00:15:02] Yeah. I mean, it seems like a volume play. The lower income has still the same 30 or $32 as income property.

Gene Caballero: [00:15:20] Yeah.

Robert Brill: [00:15:20] The challenge that you face also is that you have challenges with once you set pricing, the pricing has to be low enough for lower- and middle-income neighborhoods and you can’t then randomly increase the price for higher income neighborhoods.

Gene Caballero: [00:15:36] Right. And the beauty of our system is we actually don’t set the pricing, the vendors do. So, you know, they know the area and they’re smart guys, and they know that, hey, this neighborhood right here is, you know, five to $600,000 homes and we’ll. Charge a little bit more, you know, or this is a neighborhood that I don’t even want to go in.

I don’t want to have to bid, so we don’t handle any of the pricing, let the vendor set it. And so that makes it a lot easier for us to not have to own that appointment or to be on top of it.

Robert Brill: [00:16:06] Do you, I mean, do you have it? You don’t have to name them, but like, are there even other companies who, who do something similar?

Gene Caballero: [00:16:13] Yeah, there, there are a couple other companies that do basically what we’re doing, but they just do the lead generation. So if you had a landscaping company, you would see lawns that are available and the prices that those loans are paying out. I do believe we’re the only company that allows the vendors to actually bid on the properties, that other companies use, basically like an algorithm, to kind of set the pricing for that zip code.

Robert Brill: [00:16:40] So, what are the next couple of years look like for you guys? How do you, do you expand to more cities? You create more offerings.

Gene Caballero: [00:16:51] Yeah. I think in the next couple of years we want to be just the default place where homeowners go to find lawn care, you know, just be a no brainer, be, you know, brand recognition.

Oh yeah. I need to go get me a new GreenPal because mine went out of business. So that’s kind of our ultimate goal. You know, another thing that we’re adding, this has actually be our second year is snow removal. That’s going to be huge for, the Northern States in the winter and kind of give a, you know, those vendors and other vertical to make money.

So, as far as growth, I think the next three years, we’re going to concentrate on, you know, launching as many cities as we can across the US, be in every state. And also a few more, different verticals. So these guys can make a little more money as well.

Robert Brill: [00:17:38] I also imagine pool, management or cleaning would be something I bet I don’t know the economics of that or the mechanics of it either.

Gene Caballero: [00:17:47] Yeah. That’s, you know, that’s something that we’ve kind of toyed with.  But I think we’ve got a lot of ground to cover as far as launching a different city before we can bolt on something like that. It’s, it’s kind of a little bit different of a discipline than, than lawn and, and snow removal, but, you know, you never know.

Robert Brill: [00:18:05] That’s fascinating. And, I believe you have a cofounder, right?

Gene Caballero: [00:18:11] Yeah, I have two cofounders. We’ve been at this for, for eight years and, we haven’t killed each other yet.

Robert Brill: [00:18:21] How do you, how do you divvy up the roles between the three co-founders.

Gene Caballero: [00:18:26] Well, when we first kinda started, nobody really know what to do anyway.

So it just kind of gravitated towards, you know, what, we were kind of good at what we had the time to do and what we were able to do. So we kind of, each kind of took our own little path and, you know, we don’t overlap a lot. We kind of stay out of each other’s way in our own lane and, it’s worked out well so far.

Robert Brill: [00:18:50] Does someone has an operational, role in, within the three?

Gene Caballero: [00:18:55] It would probably be me that kind of does more of the operational stuff.  You know, I still talk to vendors on a daily basis and, you know, handle a lot of the, the customer care if we do have it and stuff like that.

Robert Brill: [00:19:10] And so then there’s a different person, like, It’s always interesting to me how, how, how organizations, are organized really, right.

We’ve, had to really focus in, on process within our order complete different business today than we were about the year, because we really focused in on, on operations. Is there, a separate individual who does, who’s thinking about the marketing for, for your business?

Gene Caballero: [00:19:39] Yes. So I pretty much do all of our growth, growth, customer service, vendor acquisition, and, PR another one of our cofounders does more of the backend development stuff. And another co-founder kind of does more front end.  Does a little bit of growth in kind of overall kind of, kind of overall management of the tech side as well.

Robert Brill: [00:20:07] Do you operate in Los Angeles?

Gene Caballero: [00:20:11] We do. Yeah. We have about, I’d say we probably have around 60 or 70 landscaping professionals in the LA area.

Robert Brill: [00:20:17] So how do you handle, like when you, when you work with a lot of different people, tell us about how you ensure that your, your providers are know what to do.

Gene Caballero: [00:20:28] Yeah. So, we knew that we couldn’t hire a customer service representative or somebody to, to, you know, teach new vendors how to use our products. So we created a Facebook group. That, we tell every vendor that has joined the green pal platform to also join this Facebook group.

And what we learned is that the committee unity kind of answers the questions for any of the landscaping professionals that have just joined. So, you know, if you have a new vendor that doesn’t know how to reschedule an appointment or cancel an appointment in this Facebook group and the community answers to questions for them. So we literally spend $0 on customer support on the vendor side, and also on the homeowner side.

Robert Brill: [00:21:11] Do they share marketing tips. These vendors.

Gene Caballero: [00:21:13] A lot of them do share marketing tips.  You know, they, they’re always asking, and you know, how do you guys do this? How do you guys do this?

So it’s kind of a, a strong family that, yeah. You know, that you’d think there’d be a lot of, competitive nature in this business, but it’s, a lot of feedback, a lot of positive reinforcement and a lot of tips, you know, being given to people that have. Just started out in the business and,  you know, it’s just a, it’s, it’s, it’s a great thing that we’ve done.

And it’s probably one of the best things we’ve done as far as, you know, trying to get out of the business and get on it and not have to be in it day to day.

Robert Brill: [00:21:53] So, I mean, you know, there’s a lot of things you could do with your life. A lot of places, other types of businesses you go into. Why, do you, why do you choose this?

Like, what’s the, what’s the sort of motivating factor for you here?

Gene Caballero: [00:22:08] Yeah. So, ultimately I’ve been in their position, you know, trying to grow a business and trying to keep customers happy and, you know, being out in the a hundred degree weather mowing, but it kind of boils down to just helping people.

You know, when we first started, you know, we had vendors telling us, Hey, thank you for, you know, allowing me to take my family on a vacation for the extra thousand dollars that you guys helped me create this month. So, you know, when you have people in the group thanking you for, you know, helping them send their kid to college.

It kind of motivates you. And, you know, if it’s, if it’s helping people, no matter what you’re doing, I think you’re doing what you’re supposed to, and you’re not chasing money. And you know, you’re doing everything you can to, to put somebody else in a better situation then, everything else will follow.

Robert Brill: [00:22:57] So Gene. If I asked you, what, what did you learn? What, what as a business owner, entrepreneur, what’s not, what should we not be doing that you learned through tough experiences?

Gene Caballero: [00:23:10] Yeah. A couple of things is, make sure you have a cofounder that is, that is technologically, educated.  we made the first mistake of hiring a firm to build our website.

We spent $125,000 on them building it. And, once they delivered us barely usable product,  they went out of business. So we actually had to have a cofounder that had zero coding experience, go to a software school, learn how to code and rebuild that whole entire website. So that’s the biggest. You know, a tip. I would give somebody, you know, when, when starting some sort of tech businesses to have somebody with some technical background to kind of guide through the process.

Robert Brill: [00:23:57] And so I imagine that coding help has really helped you. Since the very beginning.

Gene Caballero: [00:24:02] Yeah, it has. And, and having that technological background also has helped, you know, hire 15 full time employees that do all of our development now.

So having that knowledge kind of gives you the ability to hire somebody that maybe you couldn’t afford here in the US but you can afford overseas.

Robert Brill: How, can people find Gene? They can go to our website is just your

Awesome. Awesome. Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal.

Thanks for being with us today. I thank you so much. Thank you for listening to this episode of the LA business podcast. If you like what we’re doing on this podcast, please consider subscribing on Apple or Google play, leaving a five-star review and sharing with your friends. If you have any questions, comments, or recommendations for a guest you’d like to hear on this podcast, please email me [email protected].

Thank you. Have a fantastic day.

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