Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
DescribeIt provides a tool for landscapers and other contractors to create proposals for clients, take online payments and track analytics. According to DescribeIt’s leadership team, it could be a massive leap forward for an industry in which many businesses still require customers to pay by check.
The company began when co-founder Ed Barrientos — also the CEO of startup Brazen Careerist, with which DescribeIt shares an office — wanted his yard landscaped. When a highly recommended contractor gave Barrientos a proposal on a sheet of paper and took multiple weeks to give a full plan and estimate, he was flabbergasted and no longer interested in being a customer.
“We thought it was an anomaly,” Barrientos said. “After two and a half years of research, it turns out that’s absolutely standard. Many jobs don’t get done because of a crappy sales job.”
“We felt the problem wasn’t that they don’t want to sell better. They do, it’s just hard for them,” Barrientos continued. “These are big things people pay for, but the sales process is really backwards.”
Barrientos enlisted co-founders Ryan Yanchuleff, who is DescribeIt’s CEO and only full-time employee, and Daniel Sunshine to launch the company in February 2013. From then to this summer, Yanchuleff led the process of designing the platform, which allows landscapers to develop proposals in minutes, incorporating photos of plants, designs and clients’ houses, plus pricing data from The Home Depot and Amazon. The product also lets contractors email proposals to clients, take payments online, track the most popular designs and keep customer records for easy referrals.
DescribeIt launched in beta mode this summer — landscapers can subscribe for the service now — and the team is taking heaps of feedback in the fall before launching its full, alpha version in January 2015, gearing up for the busy spring season.
DescribeIt launched with friends and family investments, but this fall the team is looking to raise $250,000 to make its part-time staff full time and to fund sales and marketing efforts for the spring. The company joined 19 other D.C. area startups, including Airside Mobile and GovTribe, at TechBuzz on Friday, and registered on AngelList to try to spur investment.
Barrientos and Yanchuleff met at their church, McLean Bible Church, and Yanchuleff was looking for a change after his small company was acquired by Rosslyn-based BAE Systems. Now, Yanchuleff is dealing with another challenge as DescribeIt prepares to go full-throttle: convincing landscapers to use it.
“Figuring out a way to coax these guys out of a non-technical shell was one of the challenges,” Yanchuleff said. “They’re not sales or marketing people, and the business side is a necessary evil for them.”
Barrientos said they are targeting newer business owners as customers, since older companies are “not going to change.”
“Ultimately, you have to outlive the last generation,” Barrientos said. “Most of the people we’re targeting are entering the industry more recently. Gen Y is very tech savvy, and a very large segment of landscapers are Gen Y-ers, and that’s who we’re targeting.”
Landscaping will be an $85 billion industry next year, Yanchuleff said, and the industry has almost entirely bounced back from the recession, when the housing collapse brought landscaping to a halt. With more people buying and selling homes, now is the perfect time to try to disrupt the industry, Barrientos and Yanchuleff said.
After the company’s launch in January, DescribeIt will soon hit the convention circuit to target large numbers of industry types. Through the spring, their goal is to have 100 paying clients who use the platform every day.
“We want 100 happy customers after the spring season,” Barrientos said. “After that, the rest is purely scaling.”