Lawn care startup Sunday’s founder on customer retention for a seasonal brand
This is an installment in a special series, Startup Year One, interviewing startup founders about the major lessons they learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.
It would seem just about any home product sold directly to consumers would be customizable these days, and that includes lawn care. Spring and summer spell warmer temperatures, and thus peak season for gardening and lawn maintenance businesses.
But Sunday, a Boulder, Colo.-based business founded in 2019, hopes that its “smart lawn plans” based on a given home’s soil, climate, and lawn will keep customers subscribing to its nutrient products year-round.
Fortune recently spoke with founder and CEO Coulter Lewis to learn more about the startup’s first year in business, the lessons learned, the hurdles overcome, and plans for the next year.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: Lawn care isn’t exactly the most exciting of businesses, but it is critical for homeowners and building managers. What inspired the launch of Sunday?
Lewis: My “a-ha!” moment came with the house, so to speak. As a new home buyer with little gardening or lawn care experience, I had never taken care of a lawn. I turned to the internet for guidance but instead of finding instructions, I found products with labels like “WARNING!” “DANGER!” “HAZARD!” I realized that if these chemicals were on my lawn, they were also in my home and around my kids. I found myself at the home improvement store, and looking at the shelves, it all felt like it was from a different era. There was so much room for improvement.
After that, I did some digging and learned that our lawns add up to 40 million aces, making it our third largest crop. The antiquated, brute force approach we’ve been told to use has us laying down about 90 million pounds of pesticides on our lawns annually, five times the rate used on industrial farms. The lawn care system is broken, and as a mechanical and aerospace engineer with a background in agriculture, I was inspired to do something about it. We’re helping transform lawns into a space that’s smarter, safer, and more sustainable for people and the environment we all share.
While it does require year-round upkeep, lawn care seems ideal for summer months. How do you develop customer retention for a seasonal brand?
Sunday customers pay for an entire year’s subscription up-front, which autorenews at the start of the next season. Through this, we build loyalty throughout the peak and off-peak seasons by delivering on our promise for a better looking lawn. Once you experience how easy and effective lawn care can be, it’s hard to imagine going back to the guesswork and waste of the old way. Throughout the process of growing a greener lawn, we feed customers more information about their ecosystem to build confidence and an affinity for caring for their land.
We were ecstatic to see that a vast majority of our first-year customers renewed their subscription for year two this season; they’ve seen the results and know that we can continue to deliver year-over-year. We’re also gathering real time feedback from our customers throughout the process, and working on developing a wide range of add-on products like patch products for pet stains.
What kind of feedback have you received from your customers, and have you (or will you) apply that feedback to how you sell your products in the future?
Since launch, our feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. Our first year in business was one long hold-your-breath moment to see what customers we’re going to say. It’s more than the fact that people get Sunday in their hands, and it works on their grass. We have thousands of testimonials that are just downright heartwarming, often attached with photos of picnics, kids, pets, and life outdoors. Our customers have reaffirmed that safety and sustainability play an important role in purchasing decisions as well, which we anticipate will increase with the next generation of ultra-informed homeowners.
In addition to the testimonials—which make our day—each Sunday customer actually mails a soil sample from their lawn to our labs. We evaluate everything from organic matter to micronutrients to determine the best treatments for their individual properties, and in turn are on track to become the largest aggregate of location-specific soil data in the country. We have soil samples from backyards in all 50 states, so in addition to the advanced agricultural and climate data we’ve used to develop our core products, we’re using customer samples to inform what’s next.
Looking beyond the post-pandemic era, which could be anywhere from a year to a few years from now, how do you plan to grow Sunday and what do you want the business to look like five years from now?
There’s an estimated 40 million acres of managed lawn in the U.S. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and it won’t happen overnight. For 2020, we’ll continue to build out our team, our tech, and our product line to make Sunday a complete solution for your property. We look at each product development not just as an opportunity to sell something, but as an opportunity to have a major environmental, even cultural, impact.
Launching Weed Control wasn’t just about getting rid of invasive species for the sake of aesthetics; it was about educating people about the fact that the number one-selling weed killer in the U.S. pollutes our water supply with toxic chemicals and is linked to cancer and birth defects. We want to recultivate people’s relationship with their land, and watch environmental stewardship take foothold in our own backyards.
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