In the Age of Uber, Lawn Guru Takes Yard Care Services Digital
The Uber-fication of modern life continues as service providers of all stripes realize they can capitalize on the peer-to-peer service model that has worked so well for the ride-sharing startup. Just in time for summer, there’s a new, locally based app called Lawn Guru that allows users to connect with lawn care professionals and order services on demand.
Lawn Guru was started by Skye Durrant and Brandon Bertrang, who had a successful lawn-mowing business while still in high school in South Lyon, MI, a decade ago. The pair eventually went their separate ways for college—Durrant to the University of Colorado-Boulder and Bertrang to Michigan State University—but Bertrang kept up with the business to the point that the profits were able to cover his tuition costs. The men stayed in touch throughout college.
After taking a couple of business classes, Durrant got the entrepreneurial bug. He headed to Silicon Valley after college and dabbled in wealth management. Over the holidays in 2012, Durrant and Bertrang reconnected and talked about opportunities in lawn care. “It’s a lagging, archaic industry,” Durrant explained, adding that there were lots of simple innovations the two thought could be made to improve the still-operating lawn business they created in high school.
Despite the old-school business model, lawn care is big business in the U.S. Durrant said more than 85 million homes have lawns, and 30 percent hire lawn care services. The average homeowner spends $700 annually on lawn care, and he estimates the total market value is $80 billion.
Durrant was going through the interview process for a new job in San Francisco when Bertrang called his old friend and asked him if he wanted to partner again in a lawn care business, but take it to a new level that addressed some of the pain points in the industry. “I decided I was young and could afford the risk,” Durrant said, and he was back in Michigan by the spring of 2013.
At first, Durrant and Bertrang took a commercial franchise approach to the existing business and modernized operations by creating an online portal that incorporated customer relationship management software, allowed payments to be made online, and introduced a few other features. Customers loved the changes. “We realized lawn-care customers are ready for a more technological approach, and we wondered, what more could we do?”
The answer is the Lawn Guru iPhone app, which allows users to order and pay for lawn care service on demand, instead of being locked into a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, which Durrant said saves customers an average of 30 percent. “Lawns don’t grow at a consistent rate,” Durrant explained. “It depends on irrigation, shade, and other factors, so forcing it into a set schedule doesn’t always fit.”
The app works like this: You request a cut from inside the app by entering the property’s address and using tracing tool on a bird’s eye image to designate the area you want mowed. Based on the time and location of your request, a list of lawn care providers pops up. Choose one, book the service, and wait to get a picture of your freshly mowed lawn, which is included with the electronic receipt sent to customers’ mobile devices. Durrant said if a customer books a cut before 3 pm, they can expect service the same day, weather permitting. If the request is made after 3 pm, they guarantee service by noon the next day.
App users can also track the location and estimated arrival time of the providers similar to the Uber app; customers are notified when a provider has accepted the job, is en route to the job, has started the job, and has finished the job. Payments to service providers are handled in the app by charging a credit card linked to the account—no tipping necessary. Lawn Guru is free for both customers and providers to download, and the company makes its money by charging a transaction fee.
Formally launched last month, the Lawn Guru app has so far signed up just under 500 users, and Durrant said more than 95 have requested lawn care. What he’s particularly proud of are the comments he’s gotten from customers after they’ve used Lawn Guru. “Sixty percent leave a five-star rating,” he said. “They love it.”
Lawn Guru is also popular with providers, he added. There are roughly 168,000 lawn care companies in the United States, he said, and 98 percent of them are owner-operator run with perhaps a crew of one or two people. “They don’t have a lot of resources—no back-end offices, marketing, or invoicing,” he said. “Lawn Guru improves their cash flow, gives them jobs in the area they live in, and adds transparency for customers.”
Durrant said Lawn Guru providers fill out an application on the company’s website and undergo a vetting process to ensure they meet basic requirements: They must have their own commercial-grade equipment and submit to a background check. “Once they’re approved, it’s really seamless,” he said.
So far, Lawn Guru is operating only in a handful of metro Detroit cities: Brighton, Milford, New Hudson, Northville, Novi, South Lyon, Walled Lake, Whitmore Lake, and Wixom. And though the field is crowded with other companies trying to digitize lawn care—two that Xconomy has written about, LawnStarter and Lawn Love, come to mind—Durrant said expansion is imminent.
“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from VCs, and we’re working on closing big partnerships with lawn care equipment manufacturers. We predict rapid expansion—first in Michigan, and then in the Southeastern part of the U.S.”
And just in case you’ve forgotten summers in Michigan are fleeting, Lawn Guru has a new feature coming soon to the app: On-demand snow removal.