“There’s got to be a better way.”
The statement is perhaps the single biggest motivator of today’s innovative entrepreneurs.
St. Louisan James Hassinger’s “better way moment” came five years ago.
Hassinger, who studied computer science in college and later became a real estate agent and property investor, grew weary of trying to secure lawn care for the properties he was working on. “Lawn care companies wanted signed yearly contracts, or for me to be there with cash or a check when they mowed, but I wanted to pay online and have someone mow the property while I waited for it to sell,” he says.
He realized he had to take action on the day he took ownership of a home in St. Louis City. “The lawn hadn’t been mowed for a while. On the exact day I bought the home, I was fined $300 for lack of lawn upkeep.”
Thus was born LawnMowingOnline.com, an Internet-based service that connects customers with local lawn service contractors, with the aim of providing inexpensive lawn mowing services. From its start in 2009 in St. Louis, the service has branched out to Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Houston and Miami with more cities to come, Hassinger promises.
The website has two target markets, says Hassinger. “The first is small businesses and homeowners who need help around the house. Second is the independent contractor, handyman or even unemployed or underemployed person who’s looking for extra income.”
The concept is simple. A potential customer goes to the website LawnMowingOnline.com, and places an order, entering information that includes address, zip code, length of grass, and additional information such as whether weed trimming should be included in the job. The website can determine the yard size automatically using tax records. The customer hits the “submit” button and the order’s placed, for a flat fee of $19 for a quarter acre of grass. The price rises depending on the size of the lot and length of grass, whether weed trimming is included and if the customer wants to add a tip for the contractor.
Contractors travel to the property with their own equipment, document “before” and “after” photos for the service, and receive up to 90 percent of a basic order, with the rest going back to the company and to cover fees aligned to PayPal, the service the company uses for payment.
Why would a lawn care company accept $19 a lawn job instead of their usual fee of $40 or more? Says Hassinger, “Their employees are hourly so they have to pay them regardless, so what can they do when they’ve run out of work for the week? Send them home? Fire someone? Instead, the companies use us to provide them with a few extra jobs each week so they can keep paying their employees. Which means our customers have their lawns mowed by professional lawn care companies but pay $19 instead of $40 a week. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
As most of North America recovers from a long, brutal winter, Hassinger’s thoughts turn to other services his company might provide using a similar model, such as snow removal services, and other homeowner services such as gutter cleaning.
All of this, says Hassinger, has been done on his own dime.
“I would say I spent a few thousand in personal money over the first few years to get the ball rolling,” he says. “But money isn’t what made the website what it is today. It’s time, because it takes time to gather thousands of contractors to get the orders fulfilled. All the orders in the world won’t matter a bit if there isn’t someone there to physically drive to the property and mow the lawn.
And now that a long winter has turned to Spring, those orders should start rolling in again.