Terry Song admits that he had no idea what he was getting into four years ago. A self-described “physics guy” who studied aircraft engineering in Xi’an, China, before moving to Alberta for his master’s degree, Song nonetheless dreamed of being an entrepreneur. That drive led him and Yardly co-founder Sheldon Zhang to develop a snow shovel app that would eventually turn into the online year-round yard-maintenance service it is today.
Now, Yardly is preparing for its next big step — the company announced in September that it had secured $1 million in seed funding that will allow it to take root in cities across Canada.
“In the past, there [were] always a lot of things we wanted to do but our hands were tied because we didn’t have much money,” Song says.
“If there were a hundred things I wanted to do, we could only do 20 to 30 per cent. Now we can do much more.”
The lion’s share of the funding will go to marketing, both in the places that Yardly currently operates and to attract customers in seven new cities — including Vancouver, Ottawa, Hamilton and Windsor.
It isn’t Yardly’s first go at expansion. Two years ago, the company branched out into Calgary and six months ago into Greater Toronto as a test to see if the platform could be scaled up. With that success, they’re ready to grow more aggressively.
“Our current plan for the next year is to expand across Canada [and] launch our service in all markets that have more than 300,000 people,” Song explained.
The remainder of the seed funding will go towards improving Yardly’s technology. The platform acts as a bridge between customers and lawn care contractors. Song stresses that they aren’t looking to replace the yard care industry; instead, they want to make it more efficient.
Lawn care and snow removal contractors can have customers spread out all over a city, which leads to a lot of time on the road driving between jobs. That’s time that isn’t generating any revenue. Yardly instead charges customers a monthly subscription fee and splits the jobs among its participating contractors. The aim is to get contractors to work on jobs that are closer to one another, which means less travel time.
The company also handles much of the administration and customer service for the contractors. Song says most of the people they work with are small operations that can’t afford to hire workers to handle that side of the business.
“Most of the time, they’re working in the field and they can’t even answer a phone call or email. Or they have to wait to come back at night and then reply,” he said.
“You do the work during the daytime and then you have to come home at night and do the paperwork, that’s challenging.”
Right now, Yardly’s technology handles the assigning. However, as the company grows, Song says more of the process will have to become automated to keep up with the volume. As well, they are working on implementing new features to the platform for both customers and workers, like the ability for contractors to easily calculate how much they make per month.
As for the customer side of things, Song hopes the platform will inspire a shift in how people hire services. Shopping online has forever changed the retail industry, but the service industry has been slower to adopt that approach.
“Now we are moving the service industry online so you have the same digital-age experience, that is our goal. And to deliver that experience to the homeowners, we need to change the way the industry works.