Lawncare and landscaping are areas that have remained largely un-”disrupted” in the whole software eating the world trend that’s been going on in recent years. If you’re in one of the 80 percent of American households that have a lawn, chances are that you either take care of mowing and upkeep yourself, or you have hired a local lawncare provider you’ve found the old fashioned way, through a recommendation of someone you know — research shows that fully 98 percent of the $74 billion landscape industry business marketing is done through customer referrals. Getting a quote on lawncare is usually an in-person affair, and booking and payments are not often conducted through the web or a mobile phone.
Lawn Love is a new startup launching out of the Summer 2014 batch of Y Combinator that aims to add a layer of tech-enabled ease to the process of finding, booking, and paying a landscaping or lawncare provider. Essentially positioned as a Homejoy for lawncare, Lawn Love has built a web platform that works as a two-way marketplace with the aim of bringing more efficiency and protection to both sides of the business transaction.
From the consumer side, the platform works like this: A user selects the kind of service they need among a few options, and provides some basic information about the property’s size and location. Lawn Love provides an automated quote within minutes, and from there, the user can select their preferred provider from a short list of available people, and schedule the service. Lawn Love provides full insurance protection and payment processing services to both sides, and takes a flexible commission on each job, which is paid by the hour. The average Lawn Love job runs at about $40 per hour, though it all depends on what services are being rendered and the size and location of the area.
Lawn Love founder Jeremy Yamaguchi says that the proprietary “secret sauce” of the platform is in how quickly finds available providers and ranks them by customer ratings and their own specialties, as well as its automated price quoting technology. “We’ve built some pretty sophisticated backend software that does smart routing and intelligent batching,” Yamaguchi said. “And many lawncare professionals will tell you that there’s no possible way they can create an estimate without seeing a lawn. Us being able to intelligently provide a quote, sight unseen, is a nontrivial advancement.”
According to Yamaguchi, the lawncare industry today looks a lot like the taxicab and town car transportation industry did in the pre-Uber days: comprised of many long-tail independent service providers without a clearly dominant player that ties them together. “90 percent of companies that operate in the space have fewer than 20 employees, many of whom are individual contractors. A lot of the business process is unnecessarily painful on both sides,” he said.
Lawn Love launched its pilot market in San Diego, and is currently active there and in three other California metro areas: Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Jose. The company has just two full-time staff right now, but founder Jeremy Yamaguchi says that since the platform is easily scalable, further geographic expansion will be on deck in the weeks ahead.
So far, Yamaguchi says that lawncare professionals have responded very positively to the Lawn Love platform. “Some of the providers we work with have part time roles with other companies, and they use Lawn Love to fill in their downtime,” he said. “The majority, though, are essentially small one-man businesses. We’re bringing them a bunch of new business and handling the billing and scheduling, so they’re able to divorce themselves from the unpleasant parts of the job, like chasing down non-paying customers.”
The real challenge, of course, will be in getting people on both sides of this industry to change their habits. The way that people have done business in the lawncare space has been unchanged for a long time, and shaking up the status quo is never easy. Customers might be happy enough with the way they do things now, and lawncare professionals might not be too keen to give up a percentage of their fees to a third party. Also adding to the competition is the other tech platforms that deal in this space at least partially, from TaskRabbit to Thumbtack.
Lawn Love will certainly have a lot of work ahead if it wants to become a big player in this very fragmented and localized industry. But it seems that if it takes off, Lawn Love could both satisfy an existing market that wants an easier way of doing things, and help create more demand from people who currently do their own lawncare because they find it too much of a hassle to find and book a professional.