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Edward Coady – Value in Repetition as CEO – Ep.188

My guest on this episode is Edward Coady, CEO of Mainely Grass, a Chenmark-owned company he is taking over leadership for from former CEO and past podcast guest Palmer Higgins.

Episode Description

Ep.188 – Alex (@aebridgeman) is joined by Edward Coady (@EdwCoady).

My guest on this episode is Edward Coady, CEO of Mainely Grass, a Chenmark-owned company he is taking over leadership for from former CEO and past podcast guest Palmer Higgins. Edward joined Chenmark through their GVP (Generalist Vice President) program, the same way past guests Sean Joy and Philip Hussey joined their Chenmark companies as CEO. The GVP program is Chenmark’s CEO accelerator program to get folks first experience in a portfolio company and then as CEO of a new acquisition or current company.

Edward and I discussed designing high conversion website design, his new CEO role and early lessons, Chenmark’s GVP program, repetition, and much more.

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Clips From This Episode

What's the best business you've ever seen?

What strongly held belief have you changed your mind on?

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(00:03:26) Edward’s experience transitioning from CFO to CEO

(00:12:23) -The Sales Funnel and implementing content marketing

(00:18:13) The reason for not adding mowing as a service

(00:21:53) Optimizing for customers to take action

(00:23:25) HotJar

(00:26:32) Where Edward looks to improve the organization’s website

(00:28:32) Systematic approaches to getting feedback

(00:31:36) A/B testing as the CEO

(00:33:19) Edward’s main areas of focus

(00:44:49) Process improvements that need to wait for implementation

(00:46:57)How Edward plans out his tasks

(00:49:43) What are you most excited for?

(00:51:09) What’s a strongly held belief you’ve changed your mind on?

(00:54:19) What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah, it’s funny having Palmer on the podcast to talk about running Mainely Grass and then his replacement, you. So, I would love to hear about that transition and what you’ve thought of the business so far and just your early experience.

Edward Coady:  Yeah, definitely. First off, very much appreciate you having me on. I’m a first-time caller, but I’ve been a very long time listener. The transition honestly has been a lot of fun. I would say it’s certainly unique within kind of the Chenmark ecosystem, given that I am taking over for an existing Chenmark CEO, and more to the point, a Chenmark partner. So, the transition itself was kind of gradual to start, and then my official start date was January 1. So, I think we can round up and say I’m six months in the seat. I would say the biggest thing that struck me initially is I was the CFO to Palmer, the CEO, and you feel like you have a great sense on what it means to be a CEO and what it entails and what it takes given that kind of close proximity, and then you step into the seat, and you quickly find you have profoundly more to learn and you don’t quite realize the scale to which the responsibility requires.

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah, it’s kind of a hard role to get a strong sense for what it’s like just sitting next to the role instead of being in it. Is there any one particular area of responsibility or an emotional investment that you maybe underestimated?

Edward Coady:  I would say the biggest thing is the second that January 1st date hits, I very much always took on an ownership mentality of the roles that I occupied. And certainly, when you step into that January 1st date and you become CEO, all of a sudden, that ownership mentality gets really, really big really, really quickly, and your kind of aperture gets really, really wide really, really quickly. So all of a sudden, you’re worried about every single element of the business that a mere six months beforehand or two months beforehand, you weren’t even thinking about. Hey, is the copy on the About Us webpage, like is it good? Is it compelling? Do people like it? I don’t know how we do this element of our service; maybe I should know that, maybe that’s a problem. And all of a sudden, you become flooded with all these questions and potential concerns of, hey, is this element of the organization the best possible version it could be? Is there something we need to improve here? So, I would definitely say that first couple month period is kind of figuring out where you specifically want to dig in and make improvements and where it’s actually working quite well. And you arguing with someone about the copy on the About Us page is not really a great use of anybody’s time.

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah. How much do you feel like you have the ability to get in the weeds into projects now versus as a CFO?

Edward Coady:  Yeah. So, I would say that has been the thing that has changed most profoundly from the standpoint of, as a touch of context, Mainely Grass has 14,000 customers across New England and about 100 employees. So, we have a lot of moving pieces on a daily basis. And it’s really important to be in touch with kind of all the players of that, be a sounding board, dig into issues that come up on a daily and weekly basis. But what that means is that you might be down a rabbit hole of some marketing project or understanding kind of conversion tracking, but what takes priority is the organization itself over that individual project that you might be working on. So, it is very hard to kind of carve out that really quiet focus time that a lot of these kinds of deeper projects require. So that was something I certainly, with Palmer’s guidance, kind of worked on quite quickly, like what are the specific projects that are my deliverables that I want to sink my teeth into because I quickly found that that list has to be trimmed very quickly, given how much important time is spent on being in touch with the team, keeping track of how we’re performing on these various metrics. So, you have to be really, really thoughtful about which deliverables you want to sink your teeth into and own. Because I certainly am often guilty of going very far down the weeds. So just really kind of limiting my scope on where I’m doing that.

Alex Bridgeman:  So how did you prioritize? How do you figure out which ones, which projects and initiatives you’re going to focus on and where’d you draw that line and had to cut things off?

Edward Coady:  One of the transitions as you go from, even though I wasn’t specifically an individual contributor as a CFO, I did have an employee who reported to me, in a lot of ways, a lot of what you own in the CFO seat is kind of an individual contribution style project. And that means you get to put your hands on every part of it and know every part of it. So, I think the biggest thing from a transition standpoint is just waking up to the fact that I’m very fortunate to have a phenomenal senior leadership team and just a great team overall at Mainely Grass, so realizing how many of those kind of projects and areas of opportunity would actually be much better served and much better owned by other members of the organization. So, in terms of like setting the high-level goal with that manager or that individual and obviously holding accountability and progress on it but realizing which specific projects I distinctly could add value versus a huge swath of my list, it was going to be much better served by other great members of the organization who could drive that ball to the field. So, what that specifically resulted in is the biggest thing that I sent my teeth into first in terms of the more individual ownership piece was just in regard to marketing attribution and sales attribution. So, we went through the incredibly enjoyable, fun process of redoing a website. But specifically, we redid that website to build it on top of HubSpot, which we then built an integration with Real Green, which is the ERP system we use. And that for us was just kind of the foundation, the building block to better understand, hey, if someone clicks a Google ad, how is that ad campaign actually performing in terms of what’s our win rate on that campaign? What’s the revenue associated with that campaign? We struggled with, given that we’re an offline conversion, we knew how a Google campaign might perform in terms of individuals requesting an estimate, coming off the website or calling us, but then we had our sales analytics out of the ERP, but there’s no way to lick them up. We tried a variety of things. But ultimately, someone showed us a HubSpot demo one day, and we nearly fell out of our chairs, where it’s like that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. So spent a lot of time on that, getting that infrastructure set up. And it’s still very much a labor of love and a work in progress. But basically, the core goal is like where do sales come from and how do we get more of them and what is the best allocation of marketing and advertising resources to optimize that?

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I’ve really enjoyed learning about sales and building sales teams and kind of love that revenue driving focus. Do you find that you’re in a similar- or like you’re a similar perspective and you enjoy that sales focus, too? It sounds like a little bit that could be the case.

Edward Coady:  Definitely. I’ve certainly enjoyed that piece. I’ve really enjoyed particularly kind of the marketing analytics side of that piece. For us, most of our lead- we’re not doing any outbound cold calling or any door-to-door sales or anything of that ilk. So, there’s a lot of fun time spent in like how do we drive more folks to our door? Mainely Grass has over the years built a great reputation in the New England area, our cancel rate is very low, we take a lot of pride in what we do. So, we always feel like there’s a lot of customers who just can’t wait to discover us; we just need to figure out how to help them discover us. So, I’ve really loved that marketing analytics piece of like how to get more of those folks to our door because there’s all these fascinating little like knits from the standpoint of we had an ad campaign that was fertilizer companies, which for some reason, we had a 7% win rate on. Fertilizing services was 36%. So, all these kind of like weird curiosities that feel like a very fun equation to optimize, particularly because it’s very tangible in the levers you can pull to drive value. And then the sales side, I think, is also very interesting from the standpoint of how do we convey value, how to explain value. We take a lot of pride in what we do. And sometimes we can kind of get a little carried away in the level of information we want to share with folks about lawn care. So, figuring out kind of that perfect balance of demonstrating that Mainely Grass magic to customers and that degree of care without boring them to death over the phone. So, figuring out that balance is something we’re always working on.

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah. So given we’re both kind of sales and marketing geeks, how do you describe the top of funnel that catches any potential leads for Mainely Grass? Where does that funnel start in its various places?

Edward Coady:  To be honest with you, I think in starting with my favorite bucket, the unquantifiable, that kind of nailing Jello to a wall bucket, a lot of it is referrals. A lot of its referrals. Now, of course, you talk to someone on the phone, and they’re like, oh, and how’d you hear about us? Oh, I was referred by someone. It’s like in HubSpot, it says they click this ad or associate it with this email campaign. But I would say the biggest base for us is referrals. Existing customers were happy with service and that drives awareness for folks. Our biggest bucket is Google ads. So, we spend a lot on Google and on Bing, on specific keywords, very much Pay Per Click marketing, so kind of driving awareness that way. From the SEO front, that’s a little bit kind of a blank space for us that we’re spending a lot more time on now. It’s always pretty devastating when you kind of see where you rank for specific searches. And that’s definitely kind of like a multi fanged beast I found with a lot of confusing information around, but each day, we’re trying to just get a little bit better and move up in the rankings. And then the other really kind of major source of leads is honestly previous rejects, so folks who have previously requested an estimate, they are aware of us, and we’re just kind of reaching back out to them via calls and emails, and relatedly folks that have canceled. People cancel for a variety of reasons, whether it’s temporarily non focus, maybe they’re doing work on their lawn, they’re moving, you name it. So that continues to be a great source for us. And we’re doing the social media posting thing, obviously, as well. We started that recently. It doesn’t drive a ton of volume. So, I think it’s just more about kind of building awareness there and giving people a feel for who we are. But I would say those three buckets described are our biggest driver right now. And that volume goes to the mixture of the website itself where people can request a quote, or they call the office directly. And then the games begin of us trying to get folks estimates that meet their needs and their desires for their lawn and tell them about why we’re the best service provider to do it for them.

Alex Bridgeman:  So, you mentioned you’re starting to do more social. Does that include video? Are there any really good landscaping companies that have like a great YouTube channel as their lead funnel for marketing? Does that happen, or does that work?

Edward Coady:  So, to be honest, that’s something we’re perpetually struggling with. I’m certainly kind of overthinking the video piece because you just want like a perfect video that captures exactly who we are and what we do. So, I’ve kind of stayed away a little bit from that rabbit hole in the first kind of half year tenure here. I definitely think it’s something we’re going to lean into. We think about it from the standpoint of, if we’re not able to talk to someone on the phone and explain who we are and why we do what we do, I definitely think we’re giving ourselves short shrift. The account management team went to Green School in the offseason, they’re very informed about what we do, they really care about getting the perfect program for a customer. So, if we don’t have that interaction over the phone, how do you replicate that same concept? I think it’s hard to do that over email or text. So, we feel like the best way to potentially do that, to convey that Mainely Grass magic, is over video. So, I do think that’s something we’re going to add in to the website and sharing with customers. We just haven’t kind of quite decided on how we’re going to go about it. I’ve spoken with others who generate video in the space, and everyone has the same kind of recommendation of you just got to start. You’re going to be the harshest, most harsh critic, so just start. But I will also add that folks that- I spoke with one individual recently who generates a ton of YouTube video content, and it’s like it does not drive volume. It is not this massive lever. But I strongly believe it will be and it will become a powerful lever. So, I’m just building kind of a long game around it. So, that’s, I think, the perspective you have to take because you’re going to sink time and money into it and you’re going to launch it into the world and five people are going to watch it and they’re probably going to stop after like 30 seconds, and you’re going to be devastated. But I do think video is just a very powerful medium to convey information. I say that, and we haven’t even made a video yet. But I do think there’s a lot of value in it and something we will do.

Alex Bridgeman:  Could it be more of a validator tool? So once somebody hears about you, they’ve clicked an ad or what have you, and then they see the video on your site, and that just accelerates conversion, instead of being- so instead of being like top of funnel, it’s more like somewhat down the funnel?

Edward Coady:  Particularly in explanations around what’s going to happen next after you request a quote or even the best way to think about lawn care. The thing that’s been very striking to me since joining the lawn care industry is, man, it’s complicated. It’s got a lot of moving pieces. So that’s really hard for a consumer who’s just looking at their lawn and just saying I want it to be better, for them to kind of understand all those pieces and all those variations and what they should be thinking about. So, I think helping guide folks in terms of what are the priorities they should think about? What are the associated services with those priorities? And I think specifically, to that point, we’re a lawn care company, and a lot of people understandably associate lawn care and mowing. So, we have hundreds of people calling here looking for mowing services, and we just have to let them know we don’t mow. We’re just in lawn care and, excuse me, fertilization and weed control and seeding and aeration and pest control. So, I think even the name itself can be confusing for folks. And that’s where I think those kinds of explainer videos would be very helpful.

Alex Bridgeman:  So why not mowing?

Edward Coady:  Quite a variety of reasons. I think the first thing to consider is when you’re mowing, the most you can do is sell your time. There’s no material associated with that service you’re delivering. So, the amount of gross profit you can generate per hour is quite low. Now, it’s not just merely dollars and cents if your gross profit per hour is that low because you have no materials to markup; you can only markup time. You’re not able to make the same level of investment in the individual performing that service and the equipment associated with performing that service. So, I think it’s a tricky loop in that regard. Now, I am often drawn to it sometimes because I think it would be very beneficial to customers and we do want to be helpful to them and be kind of a one-stop shop. There’s also the height you cut your grass, the sharpness of your blades, all impact lawn care outcomes. So, there’s definitely some temptation there. But I think the biggest challenge is just what you’re able to charge and thereby the limitation you’re able to make on the investment side for the technicians and the equipment. Contrast that with lawn care where we’re using products that we can markup reasonably to our customers, you’re generating- and there’s a lot of training associated with lawn care technicians themselves, so you’re able to charge a premium. You’re not able to do the same on the mowing side. And that higher gross profit per hour enables us to make awesome investments in those technicians from a training standpoint, from an education standpoint, from an HR standpoint, and then customers benefit from it. So, there’s like a really cool feedback loop that happens with a service like lawn care that has a higher gross profit per hour that I think is a lot tougher to do on the mowing side.

Alex Bridgeman:  So, mowing is just a hard service to offer kind of a premium level of product for then? That’s what it sounds like.

Edward Coady:  That’s right. And it also has a little bit of a tail on it from the standpoint of your mowing and then you’re doing spring cleanups because that’s kind of a natural extension, you’re doing fall cleanups. For us, it’s my grandfather repeated to me again and again, you can’t ride two horses with one ass from the standpoint of like it’s very hard to do one thing well. So, for us, it’s just focusing on doing one thing really, really well. And obviously, we partner with landscaping companies to be their lawn care subcontractor. But we want to be the best at that and focus on doing an incredible job with that. So, I think that’s a very important part of the story as well, that we don’t want to get kind of pulled away from those moorings.

Alex Bridgeman:  So, for clients of yours who want mowing services done, you mentioned a subcontractor. Is that what they’ll do, they’ll ask you for someone who could help them with mowing, and you’ll refer them or work with someone else for that?

Edward Coady:  Yeah, we haven’t like fully paved that path. There’re three sister companies to Mainely Grass that are part of the Chenmark team, three landscaping companies. So when it’s in those service areas, we most definitely shoot over those customers as soon as possible. When it’s outside those service areas, typically we have a couple of names that we might send them over to. But I certainly think there’s an opportunity for us to form up more of those partnerships because I do think they could be very mutually beneficial for folks that are running great residential landscaping companies and offer mowing services. We can do the lawn care for their customers, and we’ll send them mowing leads and landscaping leads.

Alex Bridgeman:  So, stepping back out of the mowing rabbit hole we’ve been going down, back to the sales funnel we were talking about earlier, so when someone comes to your website, you mentioned kind of a form that they could fill out or a phone number to call. Have you found anything with the way you present both of those options, either on your website or something else, that optimizes people to take action and do one of those two things?

Edward Coady:  Yeah. So, I would say we found the reverse insight first. We leaned into options. You can pick your package, you can pick what pest control services you want, do you want fall seeding and aeration, we offered a quiz in terms of what priorities do you have in terms of your lawn care. And I think that’s incredibly beneficial for some folks who have a little bit of knowledge. But you kind of look at some of the Hotjar videos which record what people are doing on the screen and some of the conversion rates. And there are a lot of folks who are like, I just want to request a quote. I do not want to go read through all this information, pick from the deck of cards. Please, I just want to request a quote. So, I would say the biggest finding we have is really making a very simple straightforward path for folks to request a quote, making sure we have those resources available for people who want to see the kind of different options. But for people that are very busy, make it very easy for them to get a quote requested and go from there. And don’t kind of overcomplicate the top of that piece.

Alex Bridgeman:  You said Hotjar; what’s that?

Edward Coady:  Hotjar is a very cool service that basically records people’s sessions on your website. So, it’s basically- they are sometimes quite painful to watch. But people click onto your homepage, and you kind of see what they do. So, it helps kind of reveal where there might be things that are broken or things that don’t make sense. It also has a feature that accounts for rage clicks. So, it’ll alert you if someone’s like absolutely hammering on their mouse, clearly a reflection that your website is broken in some degree. And just it speaks to a broader thing that we found on the marketing side that’s like makes you cry, but it’s hard not to love, it’s you just don’t exactly know what’s going to happen next. You could have a workflow that makes perfect sense, and then you release it to the world, and the world is like this doesn’t make sense. This is confusing. This needs to be easier. So those Hotjar videos are a very helpful forcing function to do that. And we have that everywhere. We’re doing a lot more email campaigns, AB tests on them. And it’s always the most hilarious thing that I’ll have an argument with our- a productive discussion with the individual, a great guy who has just become our marketing associate who previously was an account manager. And he’s saying, hey, I’m looking at a lot of other campaigns, people put the call to action at the top. I’m saying, hey, no, we got to put it at the bottom. We’ve got to really establish our value first before we kind of say, hey, do you want to request a quote or purchase this service? So we go, hey, let’s do an AB test. We’ll have the call to action at the top, we’ll have the call to action at the bottom. AB test runs, what do you know, the exact same results. And we just have a litany of those examples where it’s either exactly the same or it’s a counterintuitive result. So that is the other piece that’s cool about this is it’s very much kind of experimentation, trying a bunch of things and iterating accordingly.

Alex Bridgeman:  So Hotjar, that’ll allow you to- you can watch the cursor move across the screen?

Edward Coady:  That’s true. That’s right. That’s right.

Alex Bridgeman:  And it does this for every session. So if you had a thousand people visit the site one day, would it show like a heat map almost of your website of where people are going and clicking?

Edward Coady:  Yeah. So, it certainly shows a heat map. I don’t think it actually records every session. And that’s an uninformed opinion. But there’s been certain instances where people have requested a quote, and they’ve somehow broke the quote form, and I’ve gone looking for that recording session and haven’t been able to find it. So, I definitely think there’s maybe some sort of like privacy settings people have in browsers that prevent it. But by and large, it is pretty cool. You have to be incredibly thoughtful about time spent on it. Thankfully, the marketing associate at Mainely Grass is very good at going through them. But yeah, it’s a pretty cool way to kind of accelerate that feedback loop of what’s working and what’s not working.

Alex BridgemanI love going to the different pricing pages for software companies. So something like Airtable or like MailChimp, going to those where they have like the good, better, best plans you can click and just like looking at them because those are probably some of the most optimized pages on the internet. And I would love to know, what do you study? Like when you look for examples or ideas for improving your site or making it more efficient as next steps pieces, where do you go for ideas?

Edward Coady:  I would say one we go for who’s a competitor of ours, but its, they are a direct to consumer lawn care company that basically sells you packages to apply products yourself, so kind of an interesting concept. But they’re very savvy on the customer acquisition side. Point being, I think it’s very hard to look elsewhere and then draw parallels directly to you, from the standpoint of we look at other sites, maybe it’s a software company, maybe even another lawn care company, and we could say, wow, that site is great. We love that site. But ultimately, it’s really a question of how does the customer or user feel about that site? And I think, ultimately, for us, it’s just back to like how is our site performing, and where are things that we can improve. Because it’s just such a case of customer feedback, customer feedback, customer feedback, customer feedback, because we know what we do, we love what we do, so we’re not necessarily the best lens or the most informed filter to determine, hey, this is exactly what the customer wants. Ultimately, we just need to hear that from the customer and iterate accordingly. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s going to be places where we’re going to have to take a chance or lean in on something and take a swing and kind of be decisive in that regard and put our think like a customer hat on. But I think by and large, it’s just kind of iteration, iteration, iteration. We’re doing a survey right now where you win yourself a shiny Yeti cooler that we’re sending out to rejected customers just to kind of get their feedback of why we weren’t a fit and what we can do better because all that stuff is really valuable to help inform how we can get better.

Alex Bridgeman:  So, what are some- you mentioned rejected customers. It’s kind of an interesting pool to do a contest with. But what are some other ways that you’re trying to gain feedback in a more systematic way?

Edward Coady:  We do a year end survey with all of our existing customers that I think is incredibly valuable and very helpful. So, there’s that piece. Obviously, we try to ask as many thoughtful questions as we can in instances where someone purchases or someone cancels or someone rejects an estimate to help drive that. We do basically, when people log into their customer portal, they can give us a one through ten score, and then we follow up kind of on the- we follow up on the poor scores. And that helps inform it. We have a smiley face, happy face, neutral face on our after-service emails, that’s a helpful feedback loop associated with that. And then the other piece is looking at, we have the benefit of we have a lot of customers, we perform a lot of services, we have a data set that makes you able to have statistically significant conclusions. So, a specific example of that is we look at our cancel rate quite religiously. And we kind of look at what are some correlations associated with that cancel rate. And one thing that was really interesting is, service calls are basically when a customer calls in between their scheduled visit and says, hey, there’s an issue. Now, it might be something as simple as there’s weeds, their lawn is not the color they want it to be, they’ve seen a mosquito, there’s a tick on their dog, what have you. It’s an instance where we fell short of customer expectations, and we’re going to go back out there to diagnose the issue and fix it. And interestingly enough, we found our cancel rate was actually lower for customers that had a service call. That’s kind of counterintuitive because those are folks that at some point had voiced their displeasure to the point where we had to- not to the point, if they voice displeasure in any regard, we will go out there and see what we can do. But they cancel at a lower rate. And I think the key takeaway from that is, in a lot of ways, service calls or manager service calls are a great opportunity to differentiate ourselves and demonstrate the degree to which we actually give a shit. And we’re going to be out there in 48 hours, we’re going to do whatever it takes to fix the issue. And we see that, and then you have that insight, then you kind of look it up to the year end survey, and you start to see, hey, there’s actually an opportunity for us to improve people’s initial expectation of what they can get. So, as a manifestation of that, we start- we put free service calls on the website, we put our guarantee on the website, on everyone’s estimate, we put free service calls to further highlight like the value we’re really going to bring to this equation and that we’re going to look after your lawn and own the outcome. So, it’s not one data point. It’s kind of looking at all those pieces to help inform how we want to iterate, how we want to change, and then saying, hey, people really love what we do, how do we help tell more people about what we do? And then you kind of bump it to the video piece, the social media piece, and all that.

Alex Bridgeman:  Do you apply the same kind of AB testing methodology to your initial six months as the CEO?

Edward Coady:  I would say yes and no. I think the piece that’s very important in the CEO seat is you can’t sway with the winds. It’s very important to kind of take that feedback and iterate. But there’s certainly times where an unpopular decision has to be made or a decision that’s uncomfortable because it’s different or it’s change. But ultimately, you’re responsible for driving the organization forwards. And again, I’m very fortunate to have a kick ass team who everyone across the board wants to get better. So, it’s not like you’re really having to sell people on like, hey, we should do this, I think it’d be better. But I think that’s an important concept of kind of sticking by your guns. Now, at a certain point, you obviously have to iterate and change. And I’ve certainly changed the level of conviction I have on what consumers want after getting all this feedback from these marketing efforts. But I think that’s a general challenge in being the CEO, that you want to stick to your guns and not kind of go with the sways of popular opinion but also understand where those points are where it’s important that you might not be right and change might need to be made. So, I think that’s a perpetually fun equation to work on and get better at. But it’s definitely not something that I would integrate as quickly as an email campaign.

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah, predictability is really important as a CEO. How do you focus on being predictable to your team?

Edward Coady:  I think one that has occurred in kind of both directions, I would say, is material usage tracking. So, one of the things I built out on the CFO side was more granular material usage tracking based upon the square footage we service. So, we do a beginning of the month inventory count, end of the month inventory count. We have what we purchased in the month, here’s what we transferred between branches, how much did we use, how much would we have expected to use given the amount of square feet we serviced and the spread rate of that product. And the first time we did it, the results were kind of crazy. I think it was largely due to inventory accounts themselves. So we had to beat the drum – inventory accounts have to be accurate, have to be accurate, month after month after month after month. They have to be accurate, they have to be accurate, they have to be accurate. And accuracy improved. We rolled to this year, we have a different program, new products, and again, to perform a great service, it’s obviously about the technician performing a great application, but you have to put down the right amount of product. So, we started daily tracking. And the daily tracking was mostly working, but there were issues of people not filling out the forms or mismeasuring or what have you. And got to keep at it, keep at it, keep doing it. I know it’s a pain in the ass, keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it. And we reached a certain point where it was just getting messy where we were getting inaccurate measurements on the liquid side, it seemed like we were kind of chasing our tail trying to make headway here. And some of the early material usage results suggested that we were on track. Well, then we have an issue. We’re grossly overusing one product. Now, thankfully, you always want to use more product, not less because then you’ll be impacting customer outcomes. It’s just a cost issue for us. But now, we’re shifting back to, in an unyielding way, we have to do this. And let’s figure out an easy way to do it. Let’s figure out a better way to do it. But we have to do it. So I think that’s a specific case where kind of being unyielding initially and not kind of blowing with the wind, even though it’s an unsexy topic. It kind of diluted a little, let it go a little bit, and then I think kind of the silver lining of that material usage issue is now that is kind of the tentpole of like we’re doing this forever because it is so important. And even if you’re on a run rate place where it’s like it’s working great, something’s going to happen, and this is kind of your insurance and fire alarm to make sure that we’re, again, delivering great outcomes to customers.

Alex Bridgeman:  There’s certainly a lot of value in that repetition as well, repeating the same mantra, mission, process, goal. Repetition is super important, too.

Edward Coady:  And that’s where I think it goes back to being very specific about what your priorities are from the standpoint of repetition is so important. And more than that, spending the time explaining why. It’s people over process. You could have the best process in the world, but you haven’t explained why you’ve adopted this process to the people who are actually executing that process. And really spending the time to help them understand why it’s really important and why we’re doing this, to me, that’s everything. So, when someone’s not filling out a form for inventory counting, in a lot of ways, that’s a failure on our part because we didn’t really sufficiently convey the value to that, the importance of it for them to consider it important enough to do because there’s a lot of competing priorities. They got customers. They have a lot of work to produce. They have to be thoughtful about their time. So repetition on, hey, this thing is actually really important is a really big deal, and then spending the time to explain why it’s important. And I think that also goes back to your question about not kind of blowing with the wind is that if you’re trying like 45 initiatives at once, and you’re repeating some, and then after two weeks, you’re onto a new thing, people are just going to kind of wait for the tide to go out. I started my career working in venture capital. And I had a very charismatic partner that I worked for there. And he was the CEO of a large software company that he took public. And we had a meeting with his old chief marketing officer one time, and he asked him, how do you know which of the thousands of initiatives I told you to do, which ones actually to do? And the guy said, well, when you repeated one three times, I knew it was actually important and I was going to do it. So, I just think that idea of being very thoughtful about like which initiatives you’re going to push and keeping that to a small number, because again, people are busy, they have a lot of competing priorities. And just sticking with that, and repeating it again and again and again and again, and making sure there’s accountability around it in perpetuity.

Alex Bridgeman:  And also that those projects are ones that have that level of importance that they’ve cleared the hurdle rate that it’s important for the CEO to care about, and it’s not necessarily like your pet project that you really just care about on your own but may not in the broader scheme make a huge difference.

Edward Coady:  That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. So again, it’s like it’s just picking your points. I think that’s what so much of the role is picking your points of leverage and really leaning into those.

Alex Bridgeman:  What topics and concepts have you been thinking a lot about as CEO?

Edward Coady:  I would say there’s two, and we’ll start with one. With a large organization like ours, we have metrics. We track service call rate, we track our efficiency on properties, we track customer satisfaction, all of this on the production side. We track it on a technician level, obviously rolling up to the branch performance itself. We’ve emphasized it. We’ve built a lot of fancy tools to help. We’ll look at it six ways from Sunday. But they’re not the answers unto themselves. And you risk overoptimizing an equation leaning in too hard into one of those factors. Basic example, if your focus is on a budget versus actual for efficiency and you’re talking about that a lot, and even if you’re not kind of totally beating the drum on it, there’s not bonuses around it, but you’re talking about kind of its importance and its impact on the business, well then everyone could start optimizing for that, being very efficient on properties and at risk of going too fast. And now you’ve kind of sacrificed the service quality you’re delivering. And then you could shift back and say, hey, we also got to focus on the service quality thing. And then all of a sudden, you’re kind of going slowly. Now, it’s not that anyone’s necessarily doing this deliberately, but people are responding to the feedback loop that’s there. And I think figuring out that balance of there being accountability but not overoptimizing the organization to those specific associated metrics from the standpoint of the metrics are not the goal onto themselves. The goal is what that metric is attempting to measure. So, for example, take a service call rate. So again, this is the rate at which a customer has voiced displeasure for the number of services we’ve performed overall. So, we’ll look at it on a technician level. Now, there are certainly instances where a service call might not necessarily be fair. It could be an instance where someone took their dog to the woods, that dog got ticks in the woods, they came back to the lawn, and now they’re calling us that the dog has ticks. But again, to a degree, the customer is always right. So, if they’re worried we didn’t do a complete job on the last application, we’re going to come back out there. If you’re optimizing for keeping- holding people accountable for a low service call rate and just kind of making noise when a service call rate is spiking, there’s a chance that they might not go out there. They might, hey, this isn’t really a service quality issue, you shouldn’t go to the woods. And now, you’ve done the exact opposite of what the service call measuring stick was supposed to do, which is hold us accountable for the service quality we’re delivering customers. So, you introduce a metric, and all of a sudden, you’re risking the over optimization of that metric and not the actual thing you were trying to do in the first place. So that’s something we’re thinking a ton about – how do you have a culture of accountability where the metrics are really like guardrails on a bowling lane and not the answers unto themselves. And I think related to that is, if you think about something like service call rate, that’s not just one behavior. That’s a training thing. That’s an education thing. That’s a putting out the right amount of product thing. That’s creating a great culture where a technician really cares about those outcomes. So, if you go, hey, my service call rate’s bad, I want to improve it tomorrow, it’s never going to work. It’s all about working on those building blocks that are going to drive great outcomes, like Rome was not built in a day. So, from a similar standpoint, if you’re really putting heat on people about some of these metrics, it’s going to be hard for them to play the long game of it because the feedback loop is the metric on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis. It’s harder to see the intangible progress that’s being made potentially in between. So, there’s just so many times where you want to talk about like the spirit of the metric but still having a culture of accountability that’s not just kind of like good vibes. He’s getting better, he’s trying his best. So that balance of just specificity while playing the long game of it is something we think about a ton and are always trying to get better at.

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah, it’s definitely a little bit- quite a bit more nuanced than just the surface level metric. And I imagine that goes back to our earlier back and forth about repetition being really important and that constantly instilling the goals and spirit of these metrics.

Edward Coady:  That’s right. So, I think that’s a tension that I’ll be working on this year, the year after, and like decades to come. I think it’s something that’s always really tricky. Because again, you don’t want- because particularly if you as a CEO are kind of setting the tenor and the accountability, and if every month, you’re talking about these metrics, and even though you’re saying the words, guardrails on a bowling lane, people are like, man, I don’t want to be in last goddamn place. Like, I got to fix this thing. And it’s going to be easy to try to kind of do the shortcut solution of it versus kind of taking the long road to drive that large improvement, particularly because we’re a seasonal business. You can’t go back in time. So, the season runs, we shutdown, the season runs again. I was joking with someone the other day, they’re like, I wish I could have a lawn care time machine, particularly with the marketing stuff, where it’s like you get to the end of June, you go ha, this did not work. This process could be drastically better. Let’s go back to February again, and let’s have at it. Because it’s tough now because our sales season is mostly March, April, and May, that there’s so many learnings I have from those months, but I got to wait for those months 12 months from now to have at them again. So that’s certainly part of it that like the loops are long.

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah, from those loops you have to wait for, I imagine some process improvements and changes could be made today. What sorts of changes would have to wait and you can’t implement until the next season comes around?

Edward Coady:  Well, I would view more from like a tradeoff perspective, a bandwidth tradeoff perspective, where there’s so many parts of the website that like make me cringe where we’re like we got to fix this. But fixing the website’s non trivial from the standpoint of we kind of want to figure out how to do some of those changes ourselves. We want to set up more infrastructure on the analytic side to be able to look at all the pieces of it to figure out exactly what’s broken, but massive time suck, massive rabbit hole. And the reality is like a lot of our volume to the site is not coming right now. So, it’s a question of like is that the highest priority today where we want to allocate bandwidth? Or is that something that we can, if we did it today, we’d sacrifice something else that’s more time sensitive? So, I think the waiting piece is more a function of kind of what the situation requires and what’s the most important thing to do in that moment and just kind of like swallowing your pride on some of this stuff and being like this other thing can wait because the volume is not there for there to be a justifiable ROI for us to try and fix this right now.

Alex Bridgeman:  Maybe on a micro basis, I’m reading this prerelease book that Dave Dodson is writing called The Managers Handbook. We’re going to have him on the podcast here fairly soon. But one thing he was talking about in the chapter I was reading yesterday was the like daily process of okay, wake up, he’s most productive in the morning. Some people are, I am; some people are in the evening or afternoon. And he would write down from like a priorities and importance list, like what things do I need to do today that are most important and least important. Like okay, do the least important things when you’re tired, or you finished a bunch of meetings, you just need to have a cooldown period until you ramp up later. Do you find that planning out your day is helpful? Or maybe the better question is to what degree are you planning out your day and tasks and priorities maybe compared to your CFO role?

Edward Coady:  Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely a forcing function that like you’ve got to get more organized in a hurry, particularly because you wake up each day and in front of you are like ten not hammered in nails. And it’s like which five do you want to go after today? Because you can only do five. Now all those ten are important to some degree. Like, they wouldn’t be on the list if they weren’t important, but you can only do five. So, that unto its own is a forcing function of like I have to be very thoughtful about how I’m allocating my time because there’s an infinite number of things to spend time on, infinite, infinite, infinite every day. But I also think related to that is understanding that each day is just a day. There’re some days that I come home, it doesn’t matter if I’ve worked eight hours, 12 hours, 14 hours, and you’re like, God, I just wanted to get this done. I wanted to like give it a little more today. You’ve got to understand it’s like, well, it’s just day, you got another day after that. And I think particularly with some of these projects that do take more time, and taking comfort in the incremental progress even if you didn’t go buck wild that day and get that entire thing done. So, you have your own feedback loop as a CEO. You want to do an awesome job. So, you have to kind of be patient in terms of like that awesome job might not show up today or next week or next month. But we’re here to do great over the long term and making sure you’re kind of internalizing that long term mindset for yourself from a feedback loop perspective, I think is a big deal about it. And I think from that prioritization perspective, I often joke, but I really think I should do it is like sticky notes that are just like your five priorities on a very high level, where I saw some tweet one time that I loved where some guy’s like, I don’t know why all you kids are making it sound so complicated to run a small business. You just need to retain your employees, retain your customers, and be smart about getting new customers. And you read that, you’re like, man, that’s really right. So I think kind of like having those three stickies up, and it’s like what are you doing today to move the ball forward on those and just quickly draw the line of like I can’t do that. Particularly as a new CEO, you want to do everything, and you want to be helpful to everyone, and you want to be informed about every single thing and be helpful to people. And there are certain cases where just like that is not an important thing. It would feel good to me to do, but is that really beneficial to the organization?

Alex Bridgeman:  What do you think you’re most excited to do for the rest of this year? For the last six months of 2023, what’s a goal or skill you’re trying to build as a CEO that you’re excited about?

Edward Coady:  I would say, for me, and folks might cringe hearing this answer because it’s like a little bit kind of a case of is this the highest leverage use of time, but I really, really enjoy spending time with the branches, with the technicians, and as well as kind of with the account managers. So, a big thing for me that I’m excited to do is, and I did it when I first joined as the CFO, but to go out with a technician, shadow them for a day. I want to be an account manager for a week taking calls, updating the system. And given that I’m new to the organization, in a lot of ways, I wasn’t part of building some of this kind of like building block infrastructure. I didn’t come from the lawn care industry. So, in a lot of ways, I want to make sure that I’m really ingrained in the organization and working alongside the folks that are here and better understanding all the elements of what we do. Because while that seems like not a high leverage activity, I think it ultimately leads to very high leverage activity, having a much deeper understanding of all the elements of the business, as well as kind of building relationships and rapport with everyone across the organization.

Alex Bridgeman:  What’s a strongly held belief you’ve switched your mind on?

Edward Coady:  I would say the biggest for me in that regard is bonuses around granular metrics. I originally kind of started my career as a huge fan of them from the standpoint of they make perfect sense, you’re creating this immediate feedback loop that incentivizes good performance and good behavior and good results. As I’ve implemented more bonus plans myself, I’ve increasingly found them to not exactly be the case in that regard. I think the first is you create a bonus plan, and you want that bonus plan to incentivize certain specific behavior and results that the company needs but also not do so at the detriment of other things. So as kind of a specific example of this walkthrough, let’s say you have a bonus associated with a sale. So, you have salesperson who makes a sale, and they have a bonus associated with it. And then you quickly realize, hey, maybe that’s not the best way to go about this because they could be setting false customer expectations. So hey, actually, it’s on the sale, but they have to stick around for the year. So now you have another piece. Well, they might be a bad pair. So, we got to make sure that that salesperson is tied to them paying us. So okay, now you’re keeping track of the sale itself. Now you’re keeping track of when they pay you. Now you’re keeping track of like are they with you for the year. And then maybe you’re like, well, we should also give a little bit of a bonus if they stay with us for two years and three years. And you’re down this rabbit hole of trying to find the perfect bonus plan. And I think the reality is, the more you try to build a perfect bonus plan that doesn’t create negative incentives in terms of what the salesperson is focused on and what the organization needs are separate, it becomes complicated to the point that I don’t think it’s as beneficial. And then relatedly, there’s just a lot of brain damage in keeping track of this from an accuracy standpoint. We’ve talked to a lot of lawn care companies that do have bonus comp structures for sales folks, and they are constantly having to audit results from the standpoint of someone saying, hey, I really should have responsibility for that lead, I spent the time on the phone with them, and he just answered the phone and closed the sale. And you can’t blame anybody, like that’s what you’ve created. Like, that’s the result. And I think it becomes a little bit of, despite the original goal, becomes a little bit of an emphasis on the wrong syllable. So ultimately, I’ve changed my mind nearly fully to focus on paying a great high base compensation, holding people very accountable to that high standard and high compensation. And then bonuses are associated with the aggregate performance of the business, but nothing kind of specific. So, I very much switched my thinking there from the standpoint of bonuses seem like this set it and forget it solution to align incentives. But really, it’s about doing that daily work as a manager and as a leader of an organization, driving the behavior you want, and then everyone benefits when the company as a whole does well.

Alex Bridgeman:  I love that. What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?

Edward Coady:  There’s a ton that I like a lot. I would say one that I’m particularly a fan of is Trader Joe’s. I think Trader Joe’s is magical in a lot of ways. The things I think are particularly cool about them are, one, I think a normal grocery store has something like 40,000 products. And Trader Joe’s, someone will correct this, but it’s like 4000, and a lot of it is branded themselves. So, think about like how counterintuitive and how wild that must have felt initially, it’s like we’re going to carry less products. Because if you ask consumers, they’d probably say I need more options, I want kind of a one stop shop. So just that insight and them taking action on that. And then figuring out, if they brand their own products, they can deliver really high-quality products at really competitive prices to customers. Just like that evolution is really cool. And I think another piece of that is, with that, I think they figured out a great way to deliver value to customers without extracting that value from employees. We’re big believers at Mainely Grass that investing in employees is the best way to deliver great customer outcomes. And I think Trader Joe’s has been on the Best Business Top 100 five times. Go to a Trader Joe’s, a lot of people are upbeat and people are unbelievably helpful. The store is full of employees. So, they’ve chased the other side of that counterintuitive equation of clearly investing employees and that being a huge asset and then figuring out really thoughtful ways to deliver their service, to deliver great prices and great products for customers.

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah, that’s a great one. They have a chocolate vodka that’s also really good that I’ve had several times. Yeah, it’s outstanding. It’s like the main thing we go to Trader Joe’s for.

Edward Coady: Now, do you go to another grocery store afterwards?

Alex Bridgeman:  We’ll get most other like main items elsewhere, but we’ll come to Trader Joe’s for like a specific item here and there. There’s some other drink that my wife really likes that Trader Joe’s has, but their chocolate vodka specifically is also really good that we’ll stop in for like one or two things, and that’s usually one of them.

Edward Coady:  Yeah, it’s pretty cool. And there was a study, I think it was in 2016, that found that they had doubled the sales per square foot that Whole Foods did. So, clearly, it’s a model that’s working as well. So I think that’s a very cool organization.

Alex Bridgeman:  Yeah, I agree. Thank you, Edward, so much for coming on the podcast. This was really fun. I love getting to chat with more and more folks from the Chenmark world. So, thanks for sharing your time.

Edward Coady:  Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

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