Building a Business

Our first humble delivery of our Yard Card Greeting Business: https://lawnfairy.fun

I’ve done many coding projects in my career but until this year I’ve never created a project that actually earns money. I have always had big aspirations to do this, and I’ve always talked about it, but until September of this year I had never done it. Well, I’ve done it! Humbly, but I’m still super pleased.

I was hiking Table Rock with my kids in August thinking about this whole Yard Card industry. You know, the one where a pair of suburban moms decide to buy lawn signs that spell out “Happy Birthday”, “Happy Anniversary”, or “Congratualations Graduates” and put those signs on people’s lawns. People rent these signs for the special day and then the signs are collected at the end of the day and used somewhere else.

It’s great fun. A huge message on the grass and no mess to clean up or store. I mean, I don’t think I want everybody knowing its my special day as I’m more private about those things, but some people love it. Especially kids. So I thought “I got skills, let’s hack together a website and make it happen.” I took 2 weeks to build the site that included integration with Stripe, Slack, and Google Sheets.

Stripe I used for payment processing. I was happy to see how easy it was to integrate. I even was able to get Apple Pay and Google Pay working on the site. Most of my competition used Venmo or something that wasn’t as seemless as customers are used to using. My customers also included lengthy forms, which I get, but we made ours more simple: $30 and you get a sign, no customizations.

Slack I used to send notifications. Whenever someone would search for a zip code I would get an alert to see where they were searching. Whenever an order was placed, I get an alert. Automating my systems saves a ton of time.

Google Sheets was used as my database. I didn’t want to go all out crazy with a database, and sheets is easy to use. I put a list of zip codes I would deliver to and then I could very easily add a zip code or remove one depending on whether we would service it or not.

The front end I used was a React app wrapped up in a container and hosted on one of my servers. I then made an API server as a simple Python Flask application and put that in a docker image as well and served them both from the same server. Using Let’s Encrypt I secured both APIs, tied it to the domain and had a working service!

I then purchased about $300 worth of lawn decorations from Oriental Trading Company and EBay and spent $150 on Facebook and Google ads. So all in it’s about $450 plus my time. This all happened in September. The site went up as https://lawnfairy.fun

It’s October 16th, 2020 as I’m writing this and to date we’ve charged $30 for each delivery and have had 8 paid for deliveries. None of these people who have ordered from us knew it was me, so they are not family or friends with the exception of one person who found out it was us after she ordered. All these people are friendly strangers on the Internet who were looking for our service.

All of this is at a loss. I’ve made this business for my kids and so I take 10% and they get the rest since they do all the deliveries and card setup. When viewing from that perspective, I’ve only made $24.00. A -94% return in 1 month. Actually, it’s worse than that because stripe takes 4%… so let’s just say I made $12. However, looking at it from my ever ridiculous optimistic mindset I’ve done a few things here:

  • Enabled my kids to earn some money and have a job during the pandemic.
  • Learned more about my craft and had the experience of running a real Internet business.
  • Built a brand and a company from the ground up.

I know this is all very 1999 of me, but I’m still amazed at the power of the Internet that we can put out a service and people will actually buy from us without storefronts or without knowing anything about us!

What’s next?

I’ve noticed a common model as I’ve looked at these other successful Yard Sign companies like Card My Yard or Sign Gypsies. They use a franchise model where the person can start doing their own business by purchasing Yard Signs from them and then they can be added to their website for advertising. These people do super cool customization and I’m amazed by their creativity. Check them out on Instagram! These are super cool people.

We decided we want to grow this thing a little bigger as well. Here are my plans:

  1. Get into customization business
  2. Add more services
  3. Recruit more people
  4. Get my kids more involved

Customization Business

Our $30 offering is a simple “Happy Birthday” sign with some fun pinwheels, butterflies, etc. We try to make it look like a real fairy was there. But our competition is charging $85-$150 for custom words like: “Happy 40th Birthday Beyonce!” with some stars and stuff. From that standpoint, ours is a cheap alternative! You could, of course, go into Wal-Mart and buy some happy birthday signs for $20 but they aren’t very high quality compared to our signs that we purchased and besides, you don’t use them all that often. And who wants to store them?

So our next plan is to offer customization at higher price points. We don’t have as much inventory as some of our competitors yet, but we can spend another $500 on supplies and then be able to spell whatever people want.

Add More Services

One difference in the platform I want to do is offer more than just yard card greetings. I want to be able to rent out bounce houses, flamingo flocking, and even giant 12 foot skeletons for Halloween Parties. That skeleton is super fun, but who wants to store it? Just use it for a Halloween party and you are good. From this sense, the idea is that the platform could evolve into a peer to peer party decoration service. Another avenue for the Gig economy. Picture the uber driver who just rented out his AirBnB room now delivering flamingos to a house between his pickups or renting out other cool things that they have. You go deliver it to people and they get utility from it. It sounds really fun to me! If I were having a party (I’m sure those will be a thing again after covid… I hope) then we could rent all kinds of decorations and have them delivered by the person who provides them!

Get more Recruits

This is where I need more people. If I were to do yard signs on my current area and if I were busy every day, that would be $85*365 = $31,065. That’s not bad for a side business. Even if I had 2 every day, then that comes out to around $62,130 a year. A decent income! But that is as far as I can scale and Portland already has at least 3 or 4 people doing yard card services and that number will grow. So I want to do it different and get other people involved. If I can put them on my platform then I’ll take 10% (well, I only take 6% and stripe takes 4%) but now they can earn that $62k a year that I will have enabled for them. And think of all the fun in the world we are adding! Better utilization of party decorations you would just sit and let rust in the rafters of your garage.

To do that, I will be updating the platform to allow people to create their own accounts and offer their own services. Then I will enable them to offer whatever services want! No franchise, just let them be creative and know what works the best in their own community.

But then, what about all the other people selling yard card services already? I’m willing to bet they don’t want to manage their internet site as much as they want to show off and get paid for their work. They would also like a place where everyone can see them. I’m going to offer them the ability to freely put a link from my site to their site in zip codes they service. I’m then hoping they’ll see the convenience of my platform and use it as well to sell their services. I’ll then have the most comprehensive listing of Yard Card services, taking all brands, and putting them together.

Getting My Kids More Involved

My two oldest kids have already been handling customer service and doing deliveries. I turned off the Google ads because they were getting a little too much work. This week we had 3 deliveries and I want them to get sleep and focus on school work. So I’m having my oldest handle emails, phones, and questions. I’m also asking them where they want to grow this business. Some of their input has been along the lines of what I’ve written down.

They are both enrolled in an AP Computer science class this year. It’s been fun watching them learn together and they both seem to really like it. I’m really happy about that. I think after they get that done they’ll be able to start working on code and helping build out our platform.

Going Forward

The next major update of Lawn Fairies will ship today or this weekend. I’ve added a real database (DynamoDB) and added the ability to add profiles and create custom services with user signup. I’ve continued with the added ability to select dates and do a no-contact solution. I’ve realized very few people want to actually talk with people on the phone. You just want it as fast and efficient as possible.

I’ve also added some SEO to hopefully start showing up without people having to click on my ads.

Lastly, I’ve added lead time and scheduling so the “fairies” can block out days or when the service is full not deliver. None of this “Call for availability” that I’ve seen my competition put on their websites. This makes it easy for both parties. I still have big plans for a mobile app, analytics, youtube channel etc!

Building this has been super fun. If I could give advice to myself 10 years ago it would have been to just create some type of e-commerce selling business, regardless of what it was and skip the MBA. Starting a business is the best way to learn business. Even if I make no money from this I’m having a great time doing it and excited to keep working on it with my family and friends. Thanks for reading!