Q&A: MowMagic founders on the complexity of code, not chasing perfection

MowMagic is a mobile app that provides on-demand lawn care service by connecting homeowners with lawn care providers. The service, which went fully live in May, is currently available in the greater St. Louis area.

St. Louisans Mike Braun and Ryan Leffler founded MowMagic. They first met while working on another startup.

Braun said the idea for MowMagic came to him when he was out of town and hadn’t been able to mow for some time.

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe there’s no kid knocking on the door trying to make 20 bucks,'” Braun said.

MowMagic offers two apps — one for homeowners, and one for mowers. Homeowners set the location, price and whether equipment is provided. Mowers set the distance they’re willing to travel. When a request appears, they receive an image and location of the home, the time of the request, and the payment rate. Once a job is completed, both sides of the transaction can rate the other.

Braun and Leffler recently talked to Missouri Business Alert about their new app. An abbreviated version of that conversation was featured in an episode our entrepreneurship podcast, Speaking Startup. Audio of the full conversation is available through the player embedded above.

Topics covered with Braun and Leffler included:

The catalyst for creating it

Braun: “MowMagic was something that Ryan and I just kept talking about. It kept coming back into our conversations, and whenever that happens you eventually have to stop and ask why. The startup we used to work at together called Bridge was reaching a point where we felt like we could start working on other things. Also the relationship between Ryan and I had developed. I first hired him as a developer for Bridge Software. But over time it became a much more equal relationship. He could tell me when I was being an idiot and vice versa. Once I realized this, I asked him to step outside with me one day and proposed that we start MowMagic. He said yes, and a week later we had the contract drawn up.”

Developing an app

Braun: “There is so much that goes into the back-end work. And that’s where everything has to start. You have to build that before you can build the user interface, the front end side of things. I would say to Ryan, ‘Well, let’s just put this button here.’ And he would say, ‘You realize that changes literally a thousand things in the back end that I’m going to have to do.’ It’s just really complicated stuff in the background that you don’t realize until you get into it.”

Leffler: “Some things that seem so small, like where to put a button, you can end up arguing over. For example we had to figure out whether or not homeowners should be able to pick their own mower, or if we should allow multiple providers to accept the job and then you pick from the top three highest rated people. We’ve always been very stuck on keeping it as simple as possible.”

Forgetting perfection

Braun: “Everyone says this, so I’m going to sound like a cliche, but it’s so unbelievably true. Get your product out! Do not try to make it perfect because it’s not going to be. Whatever is perfect to you is not going to be perfect to somebody else. Your users are going to have different views of what perfection is than you do. That was the biggest thing we had to keep in mind when we released this about six weeks ago. If Ryan and I had everything in it that we had wanted we’d still be developing for another year or two. You just have to get it out and get feedback.”

Leffler: “When you’re developing something you’re going to think of it one way. But the people who are actually going to use it will have a completely different perspective. We wanted to try and get MowMagic out there quick so we can really listen to the people who are using it. They’re going to run into stuff that we’ve never even thought of right off the bat.”

Standing out from the competition

Braun: “There’s two big differentiators. The first is that our competitors only use companies. If you want to sign up to mow for one of our competitors apps you need to be a lawn mowing, or landscaping company. Our argument is, you don’t need a pro when you just need a mow. You don’t need a big company. You need a 19-year-old kid who’s home from college to mow your lawn, or a 35-year-old who’s looking to make a few extra bucks. … Then the second big one is that we’re really trying to take advantage of the sharing economy. This hasn’t fully taken a hold with the app, but one of the things that consumers can do when they download the app is they can mark whether or not they have their own equipment. … If you’re using the homeowners’ equipment, then there’s less expense for gas and things like that. So people can get their lawn cut at a lower rate.”

A version of this interview aired during the July 6 episode of Missouri Business Alert’s Speaking Startup podcast. Find that episode wherever you get your podcasts, and get more Speaking Startup from the show page.

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