This week on The Millionaire Choice Show, Tony talks with return guest Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal about how he went from cutting yards as a teenager to multi-millionaire businessman. They discuss life principles of success, business, and leadership.
About Bryan Clayton
Bryan became a millionaire through one of the most common professions for teenagers, lawn care. Starting his lawn care business in his teens, he took the entrepreneurial route to becoming a millionaire. Over a 15 years, Bryan built his landscaping it 150 employees and over $10 million in annual revenue before selling it to one of the country’s largest landscaping businesses. While his story is impressive, the most impressive part is that he did it debt free.
Upon selling his business, Bryan turned his attention to the digital world and taking his landscaping experience into a path with GreenPal, where he and his team connect landscaping and lawn care professionals to people who need their services. He’s grown Green Pal to 22 employees and over 200,000 customers.
Discover more about Bryan Clayton and Green Pal at https://yourgreenpal.com/
Welcome back to the millionaire choice show. And today we're gonna have a repeat guest. If you guys wanna hear a little bit more from Bryan Clayton, the CEO and co-founder of your GreenPal and noted real estate investor, he was on the show back around episode 20. So, if you wanna go hear some more about him, there's extra hour of a conversation, but I'm glad to see Bryan back on the show. He's been growing his business. I'm gonna go and throw this out there, you can talk about it more, but when you got a business guy that can grow his business 40-50% a year for four years in a row, you must be doing something right. And you have got wisdom to share, Bryan.
Bryan Clayton (00:42):
Thanks for having me back on your show. It's great to be back on here.
So, we were talking in the pre-show about your story, so let's start there. You didn't grow up with money. You didn't grow up as a millionaire, you had to figure it out. Where did you start though?
Bryan Clayton (00:57):
I started off very- you could say middle class or lower middle class. My folks were working class folks in the lawn care business. I was dragged into it, kicking and screaming by my father on a hot summer day. He said, "Hey, get off your butt. I got a gig for you. You're gonna go mow the neighbor's yard." And I wasn't living in a, democratic household and this was an order and he made me go mow the neighbor's yard. And luckily he did cause I made 20 bucks an hour, "I thought this is incredible. Why doesn't everybody just do this? This is awesome." And I made a bunch of flyers and by the end of that first summer, I had 15 customers and kept with this landscaping business all through high school, all through college, graduated college and had to make a decision.
Bryan Clayton (01:42):
Was I gotta go into the job market and take a pay cut or stick with the landscaping business. I thought, well, I really don't wanna be a lawn guy my whole life, but let's just see if I can use this business as a way to level up as a way to make something of myself. So, I made a little business plan, I guess you could say I had a chip on my shoulder and over a 15 year period of time ended up building one of the largest landscaping companies in this state of Tennessee eventually getting it like over 150 employees over 10 million a year in revenue. And in 13 was able to get that business acquired by one of the largest landscaping companies in the United States. And so going from just me and a push mower to me and like 90 trucks going out every day, I learned a lot about how to grow business scratch.
Bryan Clayton (02:25):
And at 32, I took some time off. I basically retired and got bored and thought, "what now? Well, what am I gonna do now?" And I thought, "well, I wanna start another business. An app needs to exist for the lawn care business. And so there needs to be an Uber for lawn mowing and I thought, well, why can't I just build that and recruited two co-founders," and it was kind of naivete as an asset. We didn't know how hard it was gonna be, but we just got in there, got in the trenches. And I guess you could say the company I'm working for working with now is GreenPal is a 10 year overnight success. We're now 10 years in, over 300,000 people using the app doing close to 30 million a year in revenue, facilitating law, knowing services. And so it's 22 years in one industry, two businesses. And just focused on just one thing for a long
time, I guess that's one of my keys to success.
I love the energy there and the story, The journey, the story of the journey, because when you really chase your roots back, it started with a young guy, and his dad saying, "get off your butt and go make some money," and you went out there. And so really you could honestly say you built a multi-million dollar business off of $20. Like when you really get back to the core.
Bryan Clayton (03:42):
Started with 20 bucks and, borrowing a push mark and just snowballed from there. So I guess the key is get started.
You gotta get going in the right direction. I think that's a, that's a good principle because I think in wealth too, like when I was 25 and broke doing stupid stuff, I didn't know enough, man. It's like, looking back at my 25 year old self- I'm like you- you thought you knew a lot more than you really did, but you knew enough to get started. That's the big thing is if you can just get moving in the right direction and keep moving in the right direction, long enough, you can really make something happen. And I think that's kind of buried in your story there, your dad started that little match for you. You like kinda lift the fire a little bit and you fan the flames. So, when did you earn enough money to buy your own lawnmower?
Bryan Clayton (04:29):
It's kinda funny. The lawn care business teaches you so many principles of business ownership that apply to pretty much all business. And one is like, as a business owner, as a founder, you take on this role of capital allocator, which, basically money comes in and you figure out where to invest money to make more money. And, and so like, this is a fundamental thing in all business and really maybe even how to build wealth. And so, "okay, how am I making money and how am I putting money back to work?" And so I learned really quick, just like, "okay, well, I got this little piece of crap, 20 inch Murray hundred-dollar lawn mower that the family has to cut their grass, but it's breaking down all the time and it's taken too long. And if I bought this other one that drove itself and had an extra three inch wide deck that I could maybe increase my productivity," like these were like legitimate conversations I was having in my head at age 15 and what an awesome like way to learn those principles at an early age and at a simple business, because that applies to all business.
Bryan Clayton (05:34):
And, I thought, "well, okay. So if I can save up, $450, I can buy this better one." And so I would say by the end of that first summer, I had my own equipment and I was buying commercial grade stuff by end of the next year. And that's you in that business, it's like you learn that you can invest. You can make capital investments into and assets and make more money and you start to figure out, "okay, well, I can make that back in a year. That's a pretty good bet. This other thing is a three year payback. That's bad." And, it's kinda, it's kinda funny how I learned those lessons, in the owning business. One thing I tell people; they have these big business ideas, they wanna start a 10 million business, whatever; I'm like, "well, maybe we should start a simple, I don't know, a simple service based business that you can get into for five grand rather than trying to go get financing, for this other big thing, when you don't have any track record." Service businesses are great to kind of cut your teeth on, on getting a business going.
I think the principles, you get so much rich knowledge, worked into that, what you just said. I mean, you should probably write like five books just off of what you just said.
Everybody's gotta share their wisdom, but you, as a kid being a 15 year old, analyzing, just learning business principles and going, "Hey, how do I make this better? I'm working, learning to work smarter, not harder." I had people telling me that, as a young guy and, you're figuring that out, like, get me three more inches of lawnmower, get me a better lawnmower. That makes my job easier. That means I'm multiplying my productivity. But even what you said, simple concepts, money wise, how do you make, manage and multiply your money? And even in business, you've gotta learn how to multiply those assets.
Whether it's through marketing or sales, but I love what you said about, from the business mindset. Because I think a lot of us, we're starting our businesses invisioning millions in the future. But if you, if you keep your eye that far down the road, you're gonna miss what you need to do in the, the beginnings, which is, Hey, you just gotta get to profitability. Like, if you can just get to profitability, then you can go on forever. You can, it doesn't matter what happens next year. As long as you reach the profitability, mark, you can continue to, reinvest and, and the thing will grow, You're gonna figure things out along the way. You may make some bad decisions. I'm sure you made some bad decisions along the way. But I love that the inspiration. So did your dad, when you got that first 20 bucks and said, "Hey, I wanna turn his $20-" You weren't thinking, "I'm gonna turn his $20 into like $3000 this summer." Like you were just like, "Hey, I got 20 bucks. Let me go mow another yard." Like, what was your thought process as a 15 year older? Or is that too far in the past to remember?
Bryan Clayton (08:28):
No, I remember it very well. And, for me, it's almost like looking back 22 years of business ownership. It really is like a video game in a way where there's 10 levels and you're just getting through one level at a time. And to your point, a lot of people use the metaphor, they worry about Bowser when they're on level one and it's like, you shouldn't worry about Bowser. You just get through level one, throw up the flag, and get to level two. And so, to your point, you gotta get to a profitability point. You gotta get to what I call default alive, which means no matter what; you're gonna stay in business. You're not like running outta cash. And, going back in those early days, like, like level one consisted of, "wow.
Bryan Clayton (09:19):
If I could make $300, I could like buy a pair of soccer cleats that I wanted." And then I realized, "okay, I bought those cleats, but what if I could make like a thousand dollars, and then I was like, "well, what if I could buy a mower that I could ride on? And what if I could buy an extra longer trailer? And then what if I could get two of these trucks and trailers? And then what if I could get three of 'em and then what if I could pay somebody to manage all of this where I wouldn't have to do," this was like the first maybe level one.
And it's a big level one, man.
Bryan Clayton (09:56):
It ultimately ended up with like 90 trucks going out every day, and hundreds of employees and, and all kinds of this organized chaos. And so, that might have been level one or two, but you just learn. You try stuff, you fail, you learn from that experience, you apply it, and you make it better and better and better. Just work your way through those levels. It's like in entrepreneurship and business ownership, you have to do two things at once. You have to have this big goal. To your point, "I wanna be doing 10 million in revenue," but then you also have to think and act very, very small. It's like, "okay, well, I have five customers. I need a hundred. How am I gonna do that? Well, I need to like send a bunch of cold emails out, or I need to make a bunch of cold calls, or pass out a bunch of flyers, something, these are like very mundane, small menial tasks. So you have to have like a very big audacious goal. And then you also have to be will to think and act very small until that begins to compound. That's the way I've experienced it.
Well, for the listeners, the future millionaires listening, we may have to interpret your language a little bit there, who is Bowser?
Bryan Clayton (11:06):
So everybody, that's not, I guess you would be 30 years old or older to know who Bowser is. Bowser was the final boss in the original super Mario world. So, Mario Brothers, I think it was 10 levels might have been 12. And he was a mean S.O.B. And he was hard to beat. And everybody knew who Bowser was and knew he was the end of the game. And if you could beat him, you beat the game. The thing is like, there's all these other bosses at the, at the end of these levels before him that you have to beat first. And, in business, we worry about Bowser when we don't even have 10 grand a month in revenue. And it's like, "don't worry about Bowser. Hustle up some customers. Cause that's what you need right now. You need the feedback from the customers to figure out if you're on the right track. And so I see that mistake a lot. I made it myself.
Oh Yeah. I went from the corporate world. I'm kinda struggling with that a little bit right now in the last couple years, because I was in the corporate world, till I was 46. And then now I'm an entrepreneur. I wouldn't say I'm a wildly successful entrepreneur. I'm, getting by, but I'm mostly living off investments. I made some good investment decisions. Living off of those, but you get programmed with a job mindset and I'm analyzing that. I'll probably write a book about it someday, but where you really, when you have a job, it's kind of easy. I don't care what kinda job you got because I had a pretty complicated job. Like I had to figure out problems, problem solve, do business stuff.
I was working as a CIO, chief information officer, chief operations, officer VP. So, I had a lot of business problems to solve, but you still have a framework, a business framework or money making system. As I all a business is just a system to make money. And it, different businesses make, business money in different ways. and so I was inside of that system, but when you go to work, you pretty much have your day defined for you. there's, 80% of it's probably already spent before you show up there's things you gotta do. There's people, you gotta deal with projects. You gotta check in on and you, you might have 10 to 20% of your time where you get to do something new and interesting that you're kind of saying, Hey, I need to work on this.
So, most of your itineraries taken care of. So as an entrepreneur though, you've got a whole different set, cuz you have to come up with that, You have to come up with everything that you do, especially until the business gets to a certain level where you have more employees cuz as you get more employees, then you get back into that same kind of model that you had before you, oh I gotta take care of these things every day. I gotta make sure. I'm sure you had a list of things that you had to do every day as the business crew, but as it was in its infancy, like you said, probably the most important thing. And I'm eager to hear your opinions, it's sales. It's like, what are you gonna sell today? Like what are you gonna sell? And if you're an entrepreneur that is like the dominant question every single day that you have to create until you can hand that question off to somebody else, like somebody else that's gonna take care of the sales. But that has to be like one of the top two, three things,
Bryan Clayton (14:13):
It really is, going from zero to one, I have nothing. Now I have something. It it's like pushing on a string and sales and is being able to drive the ball down the field. A lot of times is the difference between success and failure in my world, GreenPal, we we've built a tech product and there's this saying that first time tech founders worry about product. They wanna build the best product. They wanna build like the best solution to a problem for us. It's pushing a button, getting your lawn mode and they obsess over a beautiful, well built product. Second time founders worry about distribution. All they care about is how in the hell am I gonna put this product in people's hands? And how am I going to get people to find out about my product, use it, try it at out, continue to use it.
Bryan Clayton (15:13):
And that's all I care about. good product is like table stakes. We have to do that too. But I don't even care about that. I care about good distribution, which is how can I get the product to spread itself? How can I get the product to people's hands without having to like buy a bunch of TV, ads, billboards, Facebook, ads, whatever. And so I believe that to be true. And I, and I've experienced that now in both businesses, it's like you have to have a growth kind of marketing mindset and build a good business at the same time or else you're, you're, you're gonna be dead on arrival, like bad, bad distribution, bad marketing kills, more businesses than bad services are bad products. So that's been the experience for me. And, and if you get like a co-founder or, or if you do this alone, you kind of have to have this, hacker and a hustler mindset.
Bryan Clayton (16:07):
So the hacker is, like in a tech world, like what I live in the hacker is writing code is building a software and you have to have a hustler. You have to have somebody who's willing to look at, "OK, what are we doing? We got, we don't have any customers. How are we gonna get five customers? How are we gonna get 10? How are we gonna get a hundred?" And so having that growth mindset, that marketing mindset is like, you have to innovate on a problem and solve a problem, but you also have to innovate on growth and marketing at the same time. And a lot of people under index on that, a lot of people under emphasize that. And, the other thing I see a lot too, is this concept of what they call 'the pivot,' which is you can just pivot from one thing to the next and kind of find some magical thing that works.
Bryan Clayton (16:50):
And, what that does is it gives founders a license to not do the hard marketing. Cause it's like, "oh, I did this for like three months. It didn't blow up, so I'm gonna do this other thing." And it's like, if you build it, they will not come. You have to have a marketing strategy. And it's not just like throwing a bunch of acronyms in a box. It's not like saying PPC, SEM, CRO or whatever. It's like, "okay, this is how I'm innovating or getting people to find out about what I'm doing." You have to look at it that way. And so sales cures all.
And I think that's interesting because, I hate to say it, but you have to go through some of these things, even though I was successful in the business world, doing it on your own is a totally different animal because you don't have support infrastructure in place. every company I've ever gone to work for was probably about 3 million, at the start when I joined them. some of them were much larger than that, but when I'm, I'm talking about rela where I yielded any kind of real authority in the organization, and then, my last stint, I was there helped grow that company from 3 million to 125 million and was instrumental in a lot of the decisions, the strategy, the execution, the technology, but I was really never that responsible for the, the, well, we, we were able to, we were kind of cushioned with the marketing, like the, the mark, the, the primary marketing engine was already there and kept growing on its own.
I was more of responsible for, capturing the sales from that marketing engine. So now I'm in that, that position. And I'm more of a builder guy. Like I have to go, like what kind of an entrepreneur? I think somebody outta publish a book on that about, help people identify what, what their own skill sets are in, within the entrepreneurial world. Cause you have, like you said, people who can code and those guys can be entrepreneurs, but they have to understand what hats they're missing. Like you can be a good product guy and build a good product, but if you don't have people using it and you don't have a skill set to find your users, then you're, it's a dead product. That's a dead business and a dead product. And I'm more of a product guide than I am. I'm more of a builder.
I've always been a builder since I was little, I built things, made things. and the sales part of it is the most difficult side of it for me. but I liked what you said earlier and this, I think this might be a fun conversation cuz you brought Bowser in and super Mario brothers in and I've kind of gotten to the point where, I'm going businesses, gamification. Like if you can gamify your mind around your business, where you're motivated by punching numbers and seeing numbers grow and, and it, it can really capture your imagination. And I'm a gamer too, from the old days, way too many hours, game. And I think I confessed on the show. I've probably spent between 10 and 20,000 hours video gaming since I was about 23 years old, you know?
And people go, how in the hell did you get that many hours in gaming? Well, you keep doing, you keep doing it for 25 years. It adds up after for a while. You don't realize how much your time slips away from you. But fortunately I was able to do some positive things with my time too. and and still have some success, but business is gamification. I think some of your most successful CEOs and business guys, they do get motivated by the numbers. And, and so therefore their behaviors just like in a video game, they're getting their dopamine hits from accomplishing, gamification levels like destroying Bower, whereas business guys, Business guys get their dopamine hits in the brain from, seeing the numbers go up, whether that's sales or customers or products or whatever. And, they do you find that true to be about you with what you're doing and what you've done over the years.
Bryan Clayton (20:33):
I'll throw another one at you. I promise, I don't look at everything from the lens of a video game, but another one that makes sense to me is, you mentioned when you joined up a couple organizations, they already had two or 3 million in sales. And, I think a lot of people that, that makes sense, like you don't have to start something from scratch and reinvent the wheel. You can be employee number 10 or 20 or 30 at, at a, and get a, get a, get a spot on the rocket ship. And that's a, in many ways, a better path. That's ultimate like success in wealth building then trying to build the next Uber for X Uber. Like, the first couple years of the building, the Uber for lawn mowing were really hard. Cause we, we, there was no roadmap.
Bryan Clayton (21:16):
We had to figure it out and we had to be like 80, 20, good at a lot of different things. And you couldn't go like, couldn't just be like one thing you had to be, you had to be a good software developer. You had to be a good marketer. You had to be a good product person. You had to be a good designer. Good per good at culture. Good at branding, good at copywriting. Good at all of these things. And like going back to another video game metaphor, one of my favorite games back in the day was old schools who Mario cart. And so you had, you had, you had like five different drivers to choose and super Mario cart back in the day you had, toad, princess Bower, Mario Luigi. And every one of these drivers was really good. At one thing like princess was the best accelerator.
Bryan Clayton (22:01):
She was the fastest off the line. And toad was the best handler around curves and Bower and donkey Kong, I think had the best top end ultimately, but they were, they were slow off, off the line. And then you had, you had Mario who was like, halfassed at everything was like pretty good, pretty good at everything. Wasn't the fastest, wasn't the best accelerator. Wasn't the best handler, but was pretty good at everything. And as it turns out, if you were a newbie to the game and you were trying to learn how to do the game and maybe just acclimated the game, you probably wanted to start with Mario. And for me, starting businesses from zero revenue to getting on the first million, 5 million, 10 million, revenue's better to be Mario than it is any of these other drivers, because you're gonna have to like all these different hats and you're gonna have to be pretty good, not awesome.
Bryan Clayton (22:53):
Maybe you're awesome at one thing and then pretty good at the rest, but you you're gonna have to be pretty good at everything. You can't just look at it from like, a, a software developer standpoint and nothing else, or you can't just be only a business guy or gal and not have these. You gotta have all. And that's, that's, that's what, what I have found to now, if you can start, you can join a team. That's already doing a million revenue or two or 3 million of met per revenue. They have found product market fit. They have found a solution to what customer, to a problem customers have. Those customers will buy, will pay them money and continue to do so. And then now they need your really good skills to help take them to the next level. That's a great place to start, but if you are starting with no product, no customers, no revenue, it pays to be Mario, cuz you're gonna have to be good at a lot of different things.
Until you can hire the first person. I think, that's one of