The Right Problem

When I mow my lawn, I spend five minutes putting on mowing clothes and walking out to the garage to grab the mower, and this experience has influenced the productivity solution I think the lawn care industry needs. The pain I experience involves pushing the mower. Lawn care companies, on the other hand, experience pain in a whole host of other areas. The two situations are worlds apart, and the comments on my last post made that crystal clear. Thank you to those who shared their thoughts!

As I think about these ideas, I’m starting to realize the problem I’m solving really isn’t the right one. The tag line on this blog is “a project devoted to an autonomous lawn mower.” But the real goal is actually increasing lawn care productivity. An autonomous mower is only a means to accomplish that goal.

Greenzie and Mowbotix haven’t succeeded yet because they haven’t built a system that increases lawn care productivity. While they have successfully removed the operator from the mower, they’re making a mistake by trying to sell it to lawn care companies. Integrating an autonomous lawn mower with the way lawn care companies operate today actually makes them less efficient.

Lawn care companies are just as much about logistics as they are about mowing grass. Successful lawn care companies are able to quickly ferry workers and mowers to multiple job sites throughout the day. But to do this they use expensive tools: a truck and a trailer. And beyond the cost of the truck and trailer, they also waste a lot of time travelling between job sites.

These are major costs that get baked into the price people pay for mowing services. Which is great: it means that there is a lot of waste in the way lawns are currently mowed, and that it’s possible that a new way of mowing lawns can exploit these inefficiencies for profit.

2 thoughts on “The Right Problem

  1. When we did customer discovery early on at Greenzie, our customers did tell us that the big issues holding them back were logistics. When asked if we could wave a magic wand to fix their problems it would be finding people to work, finding good drivers, traffic/routing efficiently to jobs, and a lot more on logistics side. They didn’t want another robot mower, and they definitely didn’t want more equipment (they love their current mowers).

    So you’re right about it being a logistics problem.

    But, I beg to differ on Greenzie not increasing productivity. Where our customers are, we’ve got some big lawns, and not enough crew to do it, so our customers are actually creating two crews: one to do large areas, and one to do finishing work. I think this is inline with how you’re thinking. We are reducing the cost of labor for lawn maintenance, and I can tell you that our customers are very happy. And they are some of the best landscaping companies in the nation.

    There’s a lot more room for logistics improvements, though!

    It is hard problem, and you’re doing great work, so keep it up!

    — CBQ at Greenzie

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    1. Hi CBQ,

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment! I really admire the work you guys are doing, you and your team are grabbing the bull by the horns when it comes to the autonomous mower problem.

      What is it your customers like about their current mowers? The familiarity? The ability to operate them manually if they choose?

      The more I think about the lawn care productivity problem, the more it seems like autonomous mowers are very well suited to large open areas, like you mentioned. They’re fairly predictable environments with few obstacles and good GNSS reception. The economics work better, too, because you can worry less about wasted effort transporting the mowers between sites. And you can get more bang for your buck if you run multiple mowers on a large job site. I imagine it takes a job site of a certain size before running two autonomous mowers starts to make sense.

      Somewhat creepy of me to mention, but I think I saw on your Twitter feed that you had a baby boy this summer. Congratulations! We’ve got a 13 month old boy ourselves. He’s a hoot, but juggling the little one and this project is very challenging (well, to do both well is challenging, doing one or the other poorly is easy). Any advice on how you pull it off?

      Sincerely,

      Drew

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