As you know from our prior coverage, we like niche two-sided marketplaces a lot. Here’s another one to study. Please note, this company went through TechStars, and had a validated business before getting into TechStars, as we have seen in several other case studies.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Ryan Farley: I grew up in Washington DC metro area. I went to school at Virginia Tech for Mechanical Engineering. I learned, pretty quickly, that I didn’t really want to become an engineer and I became way more interested in business. I had saved a lot of money from working throughout high school and had started investing it in public markets. That just got me more interested in business.
I ended up finishing the engineering degree but knew that that wasn’t the track that I was going down. While I was at Virginia Tech, I joined a group that manages a $6 million equity portfolio. It was a little asset management fund. That’s where I met my co-founder Steve who I would later start LawnStarter with. We ran that program and we both loved it. We spent a lot of late nights making investment theses and analyzing companies.
We were both going down the Wall Street track until we met another one of our friends in the fund who had just finished an internship at Google. We all started tinkering on technology projects and making stuff to sell. We didn’t really get much out of it but that’s the first taste we got of entrepreneurship and building our own technology. I ended up spending one year doing analytics and business strategy at Capital One.
Steve decided to drop out of school to work on something. He called me and said, “My friend is starting a lawn care company. What do you think about that industry?” That piqued our interest. We started talking to people in the industry and looking at the struggles that lawn care businesses have.
It turns out that it’s actually quite unique to other contracting businesses. We started figuring out how to build software to help our friend Ted who was starting the lawn care company. As we iterated, we realized that there was an opportunity to be both customer and lawn care provider. That was when I quit my job.
Sramana Mitra: What was the concept of LawnStarter?
Ryan Farley: As a homeowner or home renter, it’s the easiest way to manage all the maintenance for the exterior of your home. Before LawnStarter, you’d have to go through Craigslist or go online and call a bunch of lawn care companies, wait for a callback, wait for an in-person estimate, and schedule. You’ll often have to go to two or three different providers for fertilization, landscaping, and lawn mowing.
With a click of a button, you can set up lawn mowing service from your home. We allow you to switch your provider. We allow you to communicate with them. Even though a lot of people call us Uber for lawn care, it’s much more of a way to easily manage a subscription service. It’s more of a subscription service than it is an on-demand type of thing.