Vinay Rawlani’s entrepreneurial spirit was detectable from a very young age. Since childhood, his grandfather would tell him repeatedly, “You, Vinay, were made to be an entrepreneur.” Perhaps it was his grandfather’s encouraging words that planted a seed in young Vinay’s mind. Regardless, it took him no time at all to spring into action with his first entrepreneurial pursuit.
At thirteen years old, like any other teen, Vinay decided it was time to start making some extra cash. He turned to a neighborhood friend’s older brother John, who offered local lawn mowing services, to show him the ropes. While his time spent with John was certainly valuable, Vinay’s analytical nature quickly took over. Although John’s customers seemed mostly content, Vinay saw room for improvement… and more importantly, an opportunity for growth.
John had set his prices at $10-15 per lawn, depending on the size of the lawn. While this pricing structure was fair, Vinay knew (even as a young teen) the importance of competitive pricing. But he knew it would take more than low rates to attract customers; to retain them, he’d need to offer a better service, too. This proved to be an easy task for Vinay, as he had witnessed a few fatal flaws in John’s lawn care performance. (Sorry, John!)
For starters, he noticed that John never used a lawn mower bag, leaving behind a mess of freshly cut grass throughout the driveway and sidewalk, which he wouldn’t take the time to clean upon completing the job. He also didn’t edge the lawn. Vinay, being a business-savvy young man, saw this as a chance to better serve his community while making some cold, hard cash… which, sweetly enough, he intended to save and surprise his mother with a nice car stereo.*
*An unnecessary, but adorable detail.
Moving On Up
Vinay already owned a gas blower, so cleanup would be a breeze. Literally. It was edging that presented a challenge. He’d need to invest in a machine that he couldn’t afford at the time, as well as learn how to properly get the job done. A perfectionist in nature (and avid researcher), Vinay hired a professional landscaping team to see for himself. As they worked, he stealthily spied on them, taking note of their technique. The pros, he discovered, could get the job done with a simple weedwacker, spinning it over their shoulders so that the blade sat perpendicular to the grass, positioned just in ahead their toes. It was quick, and the end result looked even better than if they had used an edger blade.
With his knew knowledge in tow, Vinay was ready to get to venture out on his own. He set his price at $7.50, regardless of lawn size. Affordability made it easy for him to acquire his first few customers, but it was the glowing reviews he received via word-of-mouth marketing that kept them coming. Although he spent 2-3 times as long on each yard as he had while working with John, he consistently produced perfect results. There were no residual clumps of grass left on the lawns, no grassy mess left behind on the concrete, his tracks were clean and precise, and the yards were lined with beautiful 90º angles each time. To say that his customers were impressed was an understatement, and the $7.50 pricing that originally attracted them was rarely upheld. Most customers were happy to offer $15-25 after seeing what a great job he had done.
Upselling and Expansion
That’s when Vinay’s salesmanship kicked into overdrive. “You know,” he’d tell them, “I’m even better at washing cars.” About 70% of the time, the upsell worked, and nearly all of these customers signed on for a weekly car wash. After all, Vinay only charged $4 for a basic car wash, or $10 for detailing. Once, he was presented with a crisp $100 bill for his above-and-beyond services – far from chump change to a thirteen-year-old boy… especially in 1994!
Vinay’s father was so pleased by his entrepreneurship and work ethic that he offered to begin paying for his gas. He also purchased a warranty on the lawn mower, allowing Vinay to sharpen his blades regularly at Sears. The folks at Sears, it turned out, would be seeing a lot of him. By mid-summer, Vinay had racked up 73 weekly mowing gigs; nearly his entire neighborhood, which consisted of several duplexes and subdivisions. One by one, John’s customers flocked to Vinay for their lawn care needs. Before long, he had nearly every lawn on every block of the community to care for, with the occasional customer of John’s interspersed between them.
In the interest of efficiency, Vinay devised a plan. Being a relatively cookie-cutter neighborhood, the lawns aligned neatly on each block. “It would be much faster,” he thought, “to mow straight across all six lawns on the block, rather than stopping and starting each lawn individually.” Initially, the problem was that the first three and last two yards on the block were his customers… but smack dab in the middle was a regular customer of John’s. It was time to get strategic.
By now, Vinay knew all too well that time is money, and if he could cut down his time spent mowing, it’d only help his flourishing business and give him more time to enjoy his summer vacation. In an effort to make his workday shorter and easier, Vinay went door-to-door, offering a deal even John’s most loyal customers couldn’t refuse: 100% free lawn care. He explained to them that it’d benefit him to mow their lawns, even at no cost to them. Not surprisingly, it worked, and Vinay went on to successfully repeat this process another 30 times. The best part? All but one of his newly acquired customers happily paid him at John’s rate or higher, despite his offer for free service. By summer’s end, Vinay had even offered to mow John’s yard for free, as it fell within his route.
Passing the Torch
As you can expect with any business, the problems didn’t stop there. Vinay had another hurdle to overcome. You see, it was tradition in the Rawlani family for Vinay to spend 8 weeks in Chicago each summer, enjoying quality time with his cousins… and it wasn’t a tradition he was ready to leave behind. On the other hand, he’d been enjoying his newfound entrepreneurship and wasn’t prepared to abandon his landscaping business. For the first 3 weeks, he spent every other week in Chicago, returning home intermittently to mow all of his lawns in a 4-day window. Finding this solution both exhausting and unsustainable, Vinay reached out to John, offering to split the money evenly in exchange for his help.
With the shoe now on the other foot, Vinay trained John on his techniques and quality standards. Once he had seen what John was capable of, Vinay knew that this was his ticket out. After just one week of working together, he asked John a rather bold question: “How much money do you make in a summer?” It turned out that in just the first half of the season, Vinay had doubled John’s average earnings. With this in mind, Vinay, at 13 years young, made his very first business proposition.
He offered to lease Xtreme Lawn Care to John – $3,000 for the remainder of the summer and $5,000 for each following summer. In exchange, John would take over his entire route; a community of happy, loyal customers. And while Vinay would continue to wash and detail their cars, he assured John that there would be no more competition from him on a landscaping front. John agreed, and for three summers in a row, until Vinay eventually moved, John single-handedly maintained the lawns of Vinay’s hard-earned customers, Vinay was paid handsomely for his entrepreneurial groundwork, and Mrs. Rawlani was gifted a pretty awesome new stereo system for her car.