Between the golf balls and loan sharking, I had some pretty fruitful years as a young entrepreneur. Times were changing though. I knew loan sharking wasn’t something I could keep up and still have respect for myself, and my young, boyish charm couldn’t sell golf balls forever. My next venture was all about that green. I think you know the kind I mean.
Living on a golf course required that everyone in the neighborhood maintain a beautiful lawn – it was part of the HOA. Given that the average lot was close to an acre, this was a lot of lawn to mow. As with most of my other businesses, mowing lawns wasn’t something I naturally sought out, but instead something that found me.
“While mowing a lawn might not seem like any real feat in itself, it taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur: do more than what you’re paid to do.”
I had been mowing our own lawn for the better part of a year and it was part of my weekly allowance. Even though we had a decent riding lawnmower, this was still a two to three hour job every week just due to the sheer size. When I first started, it didn’t really look that great, or at least not “manicured”. I started paying more attention to my neighbors’ lawns, many of whom had them professionally maintained. For instance, the lawns professionally maintained always looked like they had stripes on them (it had to do with the direction the grass was cut), and the ultra high-end “look at me, I love my lawn more than my children” lawns had diamond patterns through them. While I knew I didn’t have time for diamond patterns, I could at least get the stripes.
After awhile, our neighbors started approaching my dad saying how nice his lawn looked, and they were somewhat taken aback when they found out his 14-year-old “didn’t even own his own landscaping company” son was the one responsible for mowing it. This quickly led to them asking if I was available to mow their lawns, something I begrudgingly accepted (it was WAY more time and effort than loan sharking after all).
I negotiated with my dad (a common starting point for young entrepreneurs) to let me use the lawnmower to mow our neighbor’s lawn since I was most comfortable with it. I ended up taking a small dock in my allowance to cover my gas charges to do other lawns, but aside from that I was good to go.
The first time I mowed my neighbor’s lawn was SO damn grueling. It was overgrown which led to the engine bogging down over and over, plus I was overly meticulous because my reputation was on the line. Thankfully, by the end of it his lawn could have been mistaken for Torrey Pines Golf Course. My neighbor was instantly amazed and this lead to a weekly a contract, $40 each time I mowed it (still well below the going rate or a landscaper on a lawn this size). I was now cutting the green to make the green, feeling like a 14-year-old baller with my amazing $120 of extra income each month.
While mowing a lawn might not seem like any real feat in itself, it taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur: do more than what you’re paid to do. An entrepreneur can’t just meet the status quo and hope that will be enough. They must go above and beyond what their customer is expecting to truly distinguish themselves from the competition. This applies to the kid who mows lawns with mesmerizing artistry, to the CEO who started his Fortune 500 company from the bottom up.
Was there a memorable time you did more than what you were paid for? Please feel free to share in the comments below.