Home CompaniesB2C Meet Fred! The First Switchyards-Supported Founder Startup That Takes On Landscape Design

Meet Fred! The First Switchyards-Supported Founder Startup That Takes On Landscape Design

by Holly Beilin

Earlier this year, B2C startup hub Switchyards Downtown Club announced its Founder-in-Residence program. Select would-be entrepreneurs had the opportunity to work on building a startup from the ground up with support and mentorship from the Switchyards founding team. They shared their interest in exploring consumer-facing industries like vacationing, interior design, and outdoor spaces.

It was this last industry that Greg Kawalek, a former tax consultant for Deloitte, decided to tackle for his first foray into startup land. After months of exploring the market and validating his service, Kawalek launched Fred! Lawn Design Co., named for Frederick Olmsted, often considered the father of landscape architecture. Fred! provides an online landscape design service that pairs you with a personal landscape designer for only $99 — a service that usually costs thousands.  

With a powerful but lean team of four employees (including Michael TavaniDave Payne and Blake Byrnes) and six landscape designers, Fred! has bootstrapped its way to taking on Atlanta’s unkempt backyards. Learn about how they took lessons from successful interior design startups, what Fred! can do for your backyard, and how this corporate founder figured out a startup (with a little help from his friends!)

Elevator pitch? 

Hiring a landscape designer has long been reserved for those with large budgets and lots of time on their hands. Fred! is an approachable, fun, and hassle-free way for anyone to transform their outdoor space, piece-by-piece. Start with a fully customized design for your yard, just $99, in three to five business days, all online!

Talk about the process of validating the idea for Fred! from the ground up. 

We started working on this in early March of this year (2017).  Given that we all had limited knowledge and experience in landscape design, the first couple months were more exploratory: talking with consumers, talking with landscapers and contractors, and researching the market.  Once we were comfortable that there was some opportunity in this space, we began to identify test customers that would allow us to manage their landscaping projects and further our research. 

Are you looking for funding or bootstrapped? 

We have bootstrapped the entire operation thus far. We’ve been very fortunate to have been making money since we started operating our test projects in the spring.  We’ll consider additional capital once we have a good understanding of the main drivers of the business and overall growth potential.

How did you come up with this idea? 

The inspiration came from a couple of interior design startups out of NYC, Homepolish and Laurel & Wolf. Both companies have a ton of momentum and they have both raised large amounts of money over the past year or so.  Essentially what they have done is create a new market for fractionalized interior design online. We looked at these already successful models as a good reference point for doing exterior design (yards).

What problem are you solving?

We solve three main problems:

Currently, undertaking a landscaping project is not very much fun.  There is little opportunity for creative influence and designs are black and white blueprints, which are difficult to comprehend and visualize. Fred! customers get paired with young, up-and-coming designers who will work with you to determine what you would like to achieve with your outdoor space.  Our designers develop customized, color designs for your yard that will inspire you to dream big.

Perhaps the most intimidating part of current landscape design is the uncertainty related to cost. Current quotes for landscape design installations are provided in lump-sum format, meaning that consumers are generally left feeling like it’s all or nothing on a number they don’t understand. Fred! introduces fractional pricing and price transparency to the industry, which means customers can pick and pay for what they want.  Each mini-project within your yard plan includes a full breakdown of materials and labor, so you know exactly what you are paying for. 

Lastly, everyone knows home and service contractors are often poor communicators. Despite the fact that you are paying them, you spend too much time following up and managing the project. Whether you are spending $1,000 or $10,000 on your yard, we believe that you should feel comfortable with where your project stands at all times. We’re building technology to provide convenient communication every step of the way. For example, when a contractor wraps up their work for the day, they provide a picture to document progress and a quick status update, all of which will be emailed or texted directly to the customer.

How big is this market?

Residential landscaping is a $50+ billion industry, with nearly 25 percent of that being related to landscape design and installation (the other 75 percent is mostly related to maintenance). Despite the size of this industry, there is no modern, mass-market residential landscaping offering.

Who are your competitors and why do you stand out? 

The local competitors are traditional owner-operated design/build landscapers. There are some venture-backed startups across the country, but they focus on lower-end mow & blow” yard services.

One key reason why Fred! truly stands out in this space is our unique landscape designers. This business is ultimately about serving the customer and helping them to create the yard of their dreams. The relationship between the customer and designer is a critical part of this process and we believe that our designers can bring fresh eyes to the space. 

What is the revenue model?

Our current revenue model is based on commissions from the contractors who perform the installations. To date, we have been more focused on the consumer experience and less on the financials. Moving forward, we would like to have Fred! employees performing the installations, which would give us more control over the entire business from end-to-end. 

Are you hiring? 

Yes, we’re always looking for talented landscape designers and installers.  

What was your experience like as the first founder in the Switchyards Founder-in-Residence program?

This experience has been really insightful. I enjoyed both aspects of the program — the founder aspect that became Fred!, as well as the community aspect where I helped support SDC’s daily operations. Given that my background wasn’t in startups, the program was a good crash course for me.  

I have been working directly with Michael, Dave, and Blake throughout the entire process. They are all very approachable, so I’ve felt comfortable asking a lot of questions and also learning by simply doing. They each have their own expertise and unique set of skills so I feel like I have been able to learn a lot within a pretty short period of time.  

You pivoted yourself from a corporate career to startup life. How has that transition been and do you think you’ll ever go back?

The transition has been really good.  Overall, I feel like I am back to learning new things and using my brain in a very different way. There are definitely times when I ask myself what the heck do I do next?,” but I have tried to keep my focus prospective versus retrospective. 

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