“5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My SAAS”, with Janna Bradley and Mitch Russo
Speak directly to your customer in a language that resonates with them — Too many SaaS businesses are focused on being transactional and get caught up in feature comparison. Market and sell your product in the context of the benefits to your customer. Avoid tech-speak and jargon and speak to how your product or service will improve their lives.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Janna Bradley. Janna served as vice president and co-founder of TBG Landscape, one of North America’s Top 100 landscaping companies for over 20 years. In 2009, after failing to find software that would help scale the business, she co-founded LMN to develop a proprietary solution. Now fully transitioned from landscape business owner to COO of the industry’s leading business management software for landscapers, Janna is committed to educating the industry and is a frequent speaker at green and snow industry trade shows. For the past 20 years, she has worked alongside organizations like Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association leading a number of initiatives to promote landscaping as a viable career path for women. Her passion for youth sport and the great outdoors led to her co founding the Durham Shredders Mountain Bike Club in 2016, a growing, non-profit where she is able to give back to her community as an active volunteer and director.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was quite independent from a young age so starting my own business was inevitable. I received my Bachelor of Science in Biology and took a horticulture program through our local horticultural trade association, Landscape Ontario. My husband Mark and I both loved the outdoors and though we both had great full-time jobs, we were driven to start our own landscape business, TBG. After six months, we knew the time had come to quit our corporate jobs. What started as a small residential design/build landscape business in our backyard grew to a team of 20 and $50M in annual sales.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
It wasn’t long before Mark and I had grown TBG into a $10M company. At that point, we had hired Mike Lysecki to run operations. Together, the three of us were looking for ways to increase efficiency and productivity while reducing waste and costs. The search began for business management software that would automate key tasks like estimating projects, scheduling work, tracking crew time and communicating with customers. There was simply nothing on the market that was specific to the needs of the landscape industry so Mike, who had a background in programming, decided we would build one ourselves.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
For almost 10 years, Mark and I ran a landscape business which grew to $50M in revenue as well as a growing software company. Both were a labour of love. It certainly would have been easy to stick to the relative certainty and security of TBG, especially on those days where there were too many hats for both of us to wear. But we refused to let go as the benefits of the LMN software to our own company were undeniable. We were driven to share this with the industry and took every speaking opportunity and meeting we could get. LMN had changed our lives as business owners and we just had to share that with other businesses. ‘Giving up’ simply wasn’t an option, not when we had a solution to the challenges so many business owners were facing.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
10 years later and we have 85,000 landscape professionals using LMN every day. My grit comes from the messages we get from our customers thanking us for transforming their businesses and giving them their lives back. These business owners are not only making a profit but they’re no longer missing their daughter’s ballet recital and are able to take their families on that long-promised vacation. It’s humbling and so gratifying to hear that we helped to make that possible. We made the decision to transition out of our landscape business to focus our energies on LMN. I draw strength and resiliency from my co-founders (Mark and Mike) as well as the incredible team we’ve assembled.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
LMN was quite literally built for landscapers by landscapers. We have modelled every process in the software on the actual ‘day in the life’ actions of landscape business owners and team members because we lived it. We knew we needed simple workflows for busy crews and that’s what we aspire to deliver with every iteration of the platform. Our users are not only grateful but loyal and involved. Their feedback keeps us grounded and in service to their needs. The stories we hear from customers about the impact a piece of software has had on their lives is what motivates us to continue doing better.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s imperative that you invest in key overhead expenses early. Invest in recruiting (and keeping!) a great office staff and of course, in software. In landscaping, the more efficiencies you can achieve and the more you understand your numbers, the greater your profit and peace of mind.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It truly is a team effort. There is no one person I can pinpoint or credit for our success. My co-founders and the early support of our local trade association, Landscape Ontario. are what drove our early success. Landscape Ontario truly believed in our vision and gave us a platform to share with our community.
Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
There are currently over 85,000 landscape professionals using our software every day. This community was built from the ground up.
1. Solve a problem you’ve experienced first hand. The fact that we developed this platform to address our own challenges built trust within our market segment.
2. We secured the support and enthusiasm of our local grassroots association who gave us a platform.
3. Keep your ear to the ground and purposefully build a community. No matter how much we’ve grown, without actively listening to our users, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We not only encourage feedback but ensure we provide the channels to solicit and respond to it. Our Facebook user group is one example. There are over a thousand users who actively participate daily. Not only are they interfacing regularly with our customer support team but they take the time to respond to, and encourage, their fellow landscapers in their use of LMN.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We are a SaaS based platform. We charge a monthly fee depending on the level of features and functionality a company requires, which can depend on their size and/or service type (design-build, maintenance, snow removal, etc.) Our tiered model provides a Free, Basic and Pro option. We’re laser focused on landscape and snow removal companies. Not all landscape companies in northern regions transition to snow during the winter months but most do.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five (5) most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
A) Know your customer profile — who are they? Do they vary or is it always the same type of customer profile? For example, in our industry, we categorize users by company size as well as the type of service they provide, e.g. design-build, maintenance (ie. lawn mowing) and/or snow removal
B) Know your customer’s pain points — Your goal should always be to focus on what pain point your SaaS will solve or make more efficient. For example, landscapers generally enter the trade because they love the work. They’re not necessarily natural entrepreneurs with business skills. Our goal is to transform talented landscapers into great business owners. And not just through software but through business education.
C) Your Team has to be ‘all in’ — It’s not necessarily just the time they invest but the passion for your vision. They need to have concrete goals they’re progressing towards and it’s your responsibility to work with them to set those goals and celebrate their achievement.
D) Speak directly to your customer in a language that resonates with them — Too many SaaS businesses are focused on being transactional and get caught up in feature comparison. Market and sell your product in the context of the benefits to your customer. Avoid tech-speak and jargon and speak to how your product or service will improve their lives.
E) Conquer your niche market. Focus on refining your product to near perfection before expanding into peripheral markets.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Most landscapers begin in the business because of their love for the outdoors and that was most certainly the case for Mark and I. Three years ago, we co-founded the Durham Shredders, a not for profit mountain biking club, in our community of Durham Region, Ontario. Our mandate was to get kids on bikes and today we have 750 families, 40 coaches and an inspiring group of riders competing in both local and national events. It’s so much more than competition as our club instills a love of the outdoors, and life skills such as teamwork, fair play, perseverance and community. We’re proud of the movement we started and look forward to seeing the good these children bring to the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Visit our website at www.golmn.com
Thank you for all of these great insights!