From a customer perspective, you’re basically ordering a lawn mow like you would order a product from a store.
Ladies and gentlemen, I come before you today a humble Utah tech and startup writer prepared to discuss the delicate art of lawn mowing. I’m not going to use words like vertical, ecosystem, or incubator. I’m not going to weigh the differences between a Series A and Series B funding round, or feed you made-up names disguised as tech companies.
Here’s what I will do. I’m going to talk about what happens when technology goes behind the bleachers with yard care, gets a little frisky, then spits out a 12-pound infant nine months later. And I’m going to talk about what happens when that infant grows up, gets a tribal tattoo, and dominates the lawn mowing industry in 2015.
I’m going to talk about TaskEasy.
The beginning of this technology-meets-lawn-mowing fairy tale starts in the most logical place imaginable: cyber security. That’s where co-founder and CEO Ken Davis spent his formative professional years, founding Oakley Networks and staying on for 5 years as VP of Technology after the company was purchased by Raytheon in 2007.
It was during this time Davis purchased rental properties and came face-to-face with one of life’s ugly problems, dealing with landscape contractors. After realizing he was wasting more time trying to get lawns mowed than if he actually mowed them himself, Davis made a choice.
“I decided, there must be a better way,” he said. “The way FedEx consolidated the shipping industry and made it so there was simple-to-understand pricing for package delivery…just a ruthless drive towards efficiency so that consumers would pay less, contractors would make more money because they would be billing for a higher percentage of their time, and there would still be room in the middle for TaskEasy to make ends meet.”
Designed to drastically simplify the process of pairing customers and contractors in the yard care world, TaskEasy has made ends meet and then some. They are currently acquiring roughly 200 new properties per day, in 2,900 cities across America, and are closing in on mow number 100,000. And the service isn’t limited to just lawn mowing.
“From a customer perspective, you’re basically ordering a lawn mow like you would order a product from a store,” Davis said. “You’re given a price, you click a button, provide a credit card, and at that point, your work is done. Lawn mowing is usually the gateway that customers come into the platform, but then after their lawn is being mowed, we help them to get aeration, fertilization, sprinkler turn on/off, and a bunch of other things taken care. Then in the winter, we convert to snow clearing.”
If you’re worried about whether or not the job will get done (and if you’ve ever dealt with certain less-than-reputable contractors, this is a valid worry), TaskEasy takes full responsibility for making sure everything is done according to plan. They won’t rest until the customer is fully satisfied and even then, they still probably won’t rest.
“The customer is effectively hiring us and we’re guaranteeing that the lawn is going to get mowed,” Davis said. “We train the contractor, we make sure they use good route management technique so they can optimize their schedule, we provide them with a bunch of management tools, we come up with the pricing guidance and provide fixed rate pricing for lawn mowing so there’s no ambiguity. To give you an idea of how aggressive our standards are, we have about 32,000 contractors registered in our database, but we only use about 2,700 of them. Those that have demonstrated to us they can perform well and consistently.”
Now I know I’ve been playing up the lawn mowing aspect of this, but don’t for a second assume that TaskEasy is run by a bunch of toothless, suspender-wearing, West Virginian hillbillies with no regard for technology. That’s completely untrue and unfair to the platform they have built.
“It’s actually a far more technical platform than you might imagine for lawn mowing,” Davis said. “We compute an alpha shape of the lawn based on Google Earth and use that shape to direct the contractor with the right piece of equipment. If it’s a big rectangular lawn, we might direct him to bring a riding lawn mower. If it’s a meandering lawn with lots of narrow pathways, we might direct him to use a walking mower. We base our pricing on the size and complexity of the lawn.”
The tail end of 2014 saw TaskEasy raise $7 million in a Series A round (I know I promised not to talk about Series A rounds, but sometimes I just lie), backed by Kickstart Seed Fund, Grotech Ventures, and Access Venture Partners. With a permanent need for lawn care and snow removal, more funding should be coming sooner rather than later.
“I think what Gavin Christensen is doing with Kickstart is terrific, I think that’s creating a really good angel and seed environment in Utah for starting companies,” Davis said. “And I think some of the big players like Mercato, Pelion, and Sorenson, do a good job at providing growth equity capital to companies that are a little bit larger and that’s terrific. I think the run-of-the-mill, growth venture investors are still few and far between in Utah…there’s not a lot of venture firms that are willing to do $3–7 million investment rounds, Series A rounds, for early-stage startups. I think Utah could do well with more capital in that middle category.”
The majority of startup stories center on a kind of technology-based arms race — you’ve made something incredible and futuristic, but now someone else made something even more incredible and more futuristic.
The creation and evolution of TaskEasy comes from a much different path. How do you take an industry known for being technologically-stunted and bring it into the 21st century?
Ken Davis has shown us the answer — find a need, call on your life’s experiences, then mix-and-match until you have a fully-formed yard care platform that blends new-age with old.
It’s not easy, but it’s sure as hell TaskEasy.