For Wills Mahoney and Andrew Englander, snow is money. And so is an untended or overgrown lawn.
The two former Syracuse University roommates are the creators of a pair of smartphone apps – Plowz & Mowz – that, as the names imply, are aimed at simplifying your life when it comes to snow plowing and lawn mowing.
Here’s how they work: Using the apps, customers tap “schedule a plow” or “schedule a mow.” The app then sends the request to providers logged into the platform, and the software awards the job to the closest provider who wants the work. The customer then gets an estimate of when the work will get done. Typically the work is done the same day, often within just a few hours. (The record is three minutes from request to arrival.)
Once a job is completed, your credit card is billed and you receive a picture of the freshly plowed driveway or nicely mowed lawn. The price of the job is calculated by the app based on the work’s size and scope.
The whole process functions almost like a remote control for lawn mowing or snow plowing. Your lawn is mowed or driveway plowed with just the touch of a button.
The concept and business model are straightforward, and are taking the country by storm (pun entirely intended).
Not only are the Plowz & Mowz apps now in 36 markets, the company and its founders have been the focus of countless media stories – from The Boston Globe to Mashable, Gizmodo and Bloomberg Businessweek.
That may be because Mahoney and Englander are yet another example of thirty-somethings who are seizing on the intersection of technology and micro economies to make their names and their fortune. They were inspired by and follow in the footsteps of such companies as Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit.
What’s more, their timing couldn’t have been better. This was a good year to be in any business connected to snow removal. Boston alone is on track to receive a record level of snowfall.
“The last three months have been exceptional for Plowz & Mowz. In the month of February we booked as much business as in all of the previous 12 months,” says Englander.
“In the Boston area we did thousands of orders,” adds Mahoney. “It’s amazing because every weekend they kept having one storm after another. Boston will go down as our most successful market for Plowz.”
In addition to good timing and a lucky spate of early media attention, reaching this level of success has been an endeavor fueled by many things — the pair’s fascination with technology, their focus on customer service. and their penchant for fixing a problem in the marketplace.
“I have always been obsessed with on-demand technology,” says Englander. “And there were some pain points with plowing – from the consumer end and the business end.”
One of those “pain points” Englander is referring to is actually what inspired the business.
The idea was born during the winter of 2012, when Mahoney’s mother was stuck in her Syracuse, N.Y., home and couldn’t find anyone to clear the snow from her driveway.
One plow after another, Mahoney recalls, was simply driving by his mother’s house, going about their usual routes, with no idea that a new customer in desperate need of service was right under their nose.
Mahoney later shared his frustrations with Englander and the pair realized that plowing was an industry in need of updating – 2015 style.
“The plowing industry is kind of antiquated, technology-wise,” explains Mahoney. “If you call a snow plow company while it’s snowing, the phone is just going to ring and ring. When it’s snowing, they’re out, they’re not picking up their phones.”
Not long after that, the pair got to work on developing their app.
Mahoney and Englander spent about four to five months brainstorming and designing the first version of their app, working with Lamplighter Labs, a product development and design company in New York City.
The pair funded the company’s start-up entirely on their own, but have since obtained angel funding to keep the business going.
The business initially launched in Syracuse in December 2013 with about 20 drivers. Two months later, it expanded to Buffalo, Rochester, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. And the rest is snow-plowing and lawn-mowing history.
While reluctant to disclose current user numbers for their apps or the initial cost to start the business, Mahoney and Englander do talk a great deal about factors that have contributed to their success thus far.
In particular, the two entrepreneurs say, their apps solve some fundamental problems in the marketplace.
They are helping to connect consumers in need of services with service providers. Meanwhile, they are also introducing service providers to a whole new segment of customers. And finally the apps facilitate the completion of a burdensome chore for clientele, with just the touch of a button.
“We’re really extending the market for providers and increasing their route density,” says Englander. “These drivers have been driving around on their current route for years, and we’re now introducing them to an entirely new type of customer, someone who wants to pay as they go and only pay for what they need.”
In addition to eliminating the burden on small businesses of marketing their services or finding customers, the apps also streamline the payment process for everyone involved.
“We are paying providers within 24 hours. We’re reducing their need for working capital and we do all the marketing on their behalf, so they can concentrate on doing what they do,” says Englander.
Adds Mahoney: “These guys love the app because they’re making thousands of dollars more than they did ever before. On top of it, the money is in their bank accounts the next business day.”
Providers can list their services through Plowz & Mowz for free, but Plowz & Mowz takes a 25% to 30% cut of every transaction.
Before starting the Plowz & Mowz business, Mahoney was running his own IT company, which provides computer setup, networking, and security. He still runs the business on the side. Englander, meanwhile, was a political science major who went into the revenue side of business and digital sales.
The early success of Plowz & Mowz was helped along by a lucky stroke of early media attention.
“We captured lightning in a bottle from a PR and press standpoint,” says Englander.
In addition to the early media ride, their app’s design hit a sweet spot with service providers working in an outdated industry. There is a whole backside of the Plowz & Mowz app that the consumer never sees, but is yet another part of the duo’s brilliant creation.
“There is a whole provider side,” explains Mahoney. “There are jobs coming in on their routes and the app tells them how many miles away that job is, how much it will pay, and provides a picture of the house. The provider gets all that info.”
Not a bad deal for providers who in the past were sometimes driving right by customers in need of service.
The company’s goals for the future, meanwhile, are simple – expansion and more expansion.
Mahoney and Englander hope to have Plowz & Mowz operating in 60 markets by year’s end. Increasing the profile of the Mowz app in particular is also a big focus.
But so far, the Plowz & Mowz business model appears to be a win for everyone involved.
“The huge support and acceptance we’re receiving from our providers (plowers and landscapers) is validating our business model,” says Englander. “They recognize that their route efficiency and density broaden dramatically when they sign with us. They appreciate the benefits of being paid the next business day by Plowz & Mowz, with no bad debt or late pay. Ever. Ditto for the lawn mowers. And consumers enjoy that they can have their driveway, or even grandma’s, plowed from a lawn chair on the beach in Florida.
“Our immediate priority is to aggressively ramp the upcoming Mowz on-demand lawn-mowing business,” adds Englander. “We are seeing hints of an early spring in some Western and Gulf states and that will play well into our expansion plans.”
And if spring is as favorable as winter was for the two young entrepreneurs, the pair has yet another prosperous season ahead.
Here’s a bit of advice from Mahoney and Englander about successfully operating a business like theirs:
Customer Service Is King
While a great deal of the success of Plowz & Mowz has to do with the ingenuity of the app, Mahoney and Englander also stress that business success is built and maintained on good customer service.
“You really have to listen to your customers and make sure they are receiving an adequate ETA of when a plow or lawn mower was coming,” says Englander. “It’s still an old-fashioned business at heart, people are letting us onto their property, and while technology is doing a lot of the heavy lifting, customer service is everything.”
To that end, one of the functions built into the apps is a customer rating system, so that Plowz & Mowz is constantly receiving feedback about the quality of work being provided and the customer’s experience. This information is critical to growing a successful business.
“Since we scaled so quickly, we have to make sure the job is done properly. We monitor the rating system very closely,” adds Mahoney.
Identify Something That Generates Year-Round Revenue
It may seem like stating the obvious, but just plowing snow would not generate income 12 months a year. Mahoney and Englander were well aware of this fact and designed a business that would sustain them through more then just winter. They advise all business owners to do the same – carefully think through your plans and make sure not to limit your revenue stream to just a few months each year.
“We are a year-round business. We’re making money 365 days a year. That’s obviously important for a business,” Mahoney says.
Adds Englander: “It’s important not to be a seasonal business.”
Developing an App – What’s Involved
Time, money (lots of it), creativity, and patience. Oh, and continual work and refinements because an app is a living, breathing thing.
“We storyboarded the idea. We did a wire frame on how we wanted the app to look. And from the first version of the app to what it looks like today is completely different,” explains Mahoney of the initial work to develop Plowz & Mowz. “The app has evolved considerably. It’s a significant undertaking to build an app.”
What’s more, after every storm the Plowz & Mowz team sits down and looks at what worked in the app and what did not work, so that they can improve its functioning. The moral of the story – be prepared for continual work.
“There are always updates involved,” says Mahoney.
Solve a Problem With Your Business
Englander and Mahoney identified what they called “pain points” in the plowing and mowing industry. Those pain points existed on both the consumer end of the business and the provider end. In other words, the pair identified a business in need of improvement and set about designing that improvement. If you want to start a successful business, find a similar scenario.
“The whole idea of this app is to give people one app to take care of two of their most burdensome chores – plowing and mowing,” explains Englander. “It all comes down to the fact that we were solving a problem, a fundamental problem that everyone goes through several times a year.”
“We definitely found a market that is in great need,” adds Mahoney.
To which Englander adds one final thought: “Companies that succeed are the ones that are solving fundamental problems. We are solving problems. And if we continue to stay customer focused, we will succeed.”