NSS Alumnus Builds Lawncare Service Application That Is Making Headlines Across the U.S.
There are developers who begin coding out of the desire to create something to help them in their everyday lives, jobs or professions. For Zach Hendrix and his lifelong friends-turned-business partners, it was their last chance to bring an application to life that would be the foundation for their shared dream of owning a business together.
Their company, GreenPal, has been called “the Uber of lawncare services.” The application connects homeowners with local, vetted lawn care professionals and allows them to schedule and pay for the service right on the app.
Zach’s business partner, Gene Caballero, told Virginia-based newspaper, The Roanoke Times, that starting GreenPal came down to one question: “Which one of us is going to quit his job and learn [software development]?” That’s when Zach stepped up and applied to Nashville Software School’s full-time Web Development Cohort 2.
We recently caught up with Zach and asked him about his experience since launching GreenPal, from conception to deployment, and how he’d encourage NSS grads looking to build their own business with the skills they acquire during their bootcamp.
Growing, Learning & Working With Others
For the first several years, Zach was the sole developer maintaining GreenPal’s application. “I was writing code or maintaining the app in some form or fashion 6 days a week,” he remembers. “In the very beginning, that meant doing everything from writing front and back-end code for web and mobile to Database Admin to troubleshooting and fixing bugs on the fly. After a short period, before we could build out an actual dev team, one of my co-founders learned some basic front-end skills to help alleviate the workload.”
Once Zach and his co-founders grew their business to a sustainable level, they began to leverage their personal networks and freelance platforms like UpWork to assemble a group of developers to assist with basic maintenance and small projects for GreenPal. “We started slow with short term sprints/contracts for specific features or lingering ‘back burner’ issues with one or two experienced devs,” he explains. “Some worked out better than others but we always learned something and kept moving.”
However, it wasn’t long before Zach and his team realized they were in need of more experienced, full-time developers as their company began to grow even faster. “If we could find affordable options and communicate our technical initiatives properly, it was way more efficient to leverage the talent that is out there than doing the work ourselves and moving slower.”
Today, Zach now manages the initiatives that their team of 8-12 developers work on for the GreenPal platform. “We have separate and specific mobile apps for our homeowners and vendors, so we have 2 full-time mobile teams working every day on each,” he shares. “We also have a collection of full-stack web developers that work together on everything under the sun.
What advice do you have for NSS grads that are looking to build their own business with the skills they learned?
Zach shares that before he and his business partners even built a single thing for GreenPal, they performed extensive market research on their target demographic, even by going door-to-door to survey thousands of homeowners about whether a product like GreenPal would be something they’d find useful. “If you haven’t done this type of research, I highly recommend you immediately purchase these 2 books and study the principles within, ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries and ‘The Startup Owner’s Manual’ by Steve Blank,” Zach recommends, “That being said, here is a blend of technical and general business advice/tips based strictly on my personal experience:
“Don’t be scared. The truth is you won’t ever feel ready, so build, learn, repeat. Start building a minimum viable product, or MVP, to validate your market and your customer. This MVP will be embarrassing, but that is okay. You need to find out what you need to build before you build it. I promise you have assumptions about what your product should be that are comically inaccurate. Avoid ‘feature creep’ and wasted time by building simple products that do one thing really well.”
“NSS has given you a great foundation to start from. But as a developer, the learning curve is constant and never-ending. You have to take what you’ve learned and build on it. The only way to do that is practice. Find a mentor. I had a fantastic mentor from NSS that helped me tremendously. Grow your dev skills on the things you do well and improve upon those you do not by coding or reading or online courses. Early on you will need to wear many hats. There are so many free sources and tutorials out there for you to take advantage of. Once you’re able, you can delegate dev tasks to simply free up your time or to experienced devs who are just better at them than you.”
Don’t take shortcuts.
“That is to say, implement best practices early and often. Plan properly, test thoroughly (WITH ACTUAL TESTS), write clean code, write proper documentation for team members you will bring on in the future, and update your code and tools as you go. If you don’t do this from the onset, you will cause yourself headaches later. And in the process, you will build a better performing application no question. Think about how your codebase/app will grow with your business.”
Find a development process that works for you.
“Do you like writing code in the morning? What task management tool is your favorite? How do you stay fresh/take breaks? How do you prioritize? Do you like to knock out some low-hanging fruit to get the ball rolling before attacking your most important dev task for the day? There are tons of different philosophies. You just have to find what works best for you and keeps yourself and your team the most accountable.”
“If you build it, they WILL NOT come”
“It’s more than just code,” Zach says about what he’s learned during his time as a developer and business owner. “As developers, we tend to fall in love with the technology and think ‘oh people are gonna love this’. Finding your product/market fit and then getting and keeping customers is often times way more difficult than writing code.”
If you have great code but no customers, you have a hobby not a business. The other skills needed to build your business are just as important as writing code.
“Be stubborn on vision and flexible on details”
“Develop a clear vision and core principles for your business/company. For example, ‘we are dedicated to test-driven development and building an efficient performing application’. The details, tools, and process of how you go about that are less important than the result being aligned with your overall vision.”
“It will take longer than you think. Most successful businesses have been working at it harder and for much longer than you think, even if it is a ‘startup’ that you just heard about. Overnight success is a myth.”
Take care of yourself.
“There are highs and lows and smiles and cries. If you maintain healthier habits, you will be better equipped to handle the stress. It’s cliche, but sleep, exercise, and eat as healthy as you can.”
You can read more about Zach’s company, GreenPal, and their expansion into markets outside of Middle Tennessee here.