Baton Rouge-based startup Block is using a high-tech approach to disrupt the traditionally low-tech industry of lawn care while also making a positive community impact.
Block is a landscaping technology startup that is centered around an on-demand lawn-care app. With Block, homeowners can select the lawn-care services they need, get clear pricing, schedule service and pay, all within the app. The service is set to officially launch this summer.
“We provide on-demand lawn care so you have more time for what matters,” says co-founder and CEO Matthew Armstrong.
The idea for Block blossomed after Armstrong and his wife, who both helped start Antioch Community Church, decided to move to a north Baton Rouge neighborhood and look for ways to make a positive impact in the area. “We said ‘Let’s move and just see where we can help,’ ” he says. “ ‘Let’s observe, let’s get to know people, let’s build relationships — and then let’s just see what happens.’ ”
One of the ways Armstrong found to make a small positive impact in the lower-income neighborhood was to start mowing overgrown lots. Eventually, he started pondering how he could make a similar impact on a larger scale, which led him to the concept of on-demand lawn care in early 2018.
Armstrong reached out to Jacob Jolibois, a designer who was the director of digital at MESH, a branding and advertising agency in Baton Rouge, to pitch the company idea. The duo started kicking around the concept, writing up a business plan and tinkering with design ideas in their spare time. “We just started playing with the idea,” Armstrong says.
Later in 2018, Armstrong left his church position and convinced Jolibois to leave his job to work for the startup full time as chief product officer, luring him in part with the company’s key tenet of dedicating a portion of revenue to community improvement.
“For us it really falls back on a passion to show generosity, which is one of our top values the company was founded on,” Armstrong says. “The companies that I view as the most successful, and the ones I respect the most, have a purpose behind what they’re doing.”
Block will offer lawn mowing, trimming, blowing and edging in the Baton Rouge area although Armstrong says the company could expand its service line in the future based on demand.
The company plans a soft launch at the end of April in a few Baton Rouge neighborhoods, followed by a hard launch the following month. The founders are banking that the convenience and reliability of scheduling and paying for lawn service via a mobile app, as well as the value proposition of supporting a company that invests a portion of its proceeds into the community, will attract customers.
They say they will build the customer experience around three key values — generosity, service and joy — to set it apart from other lawn services. “That’s what gets us excited: We can inject fresh life and joy into such a mundane task as getting your yard cut,” Armstrong says.
“From the time you download it to the time you request your first mow, if we’re in your area, it’s less than five minutes,” Armstrong says. There are no contracts or minimum number of mows, and customers can choose what types of services they need. “It’s really putting all the power in the customer’s hand so they don’t have to do anything more than they want,” he says.
The company has hired four mowers, who have all been interviewed by the founders for culture fit and character. “We’ve had over 40 people apply and we’re pretty picky about who we’re going to let service our customers,” Armstrong says.
Interestingly, Block differs from the typical gig company in that it’s employing its mowers rather than making them independent contractors. “We wanted to bring them into our culture, make them family and then allow them the safety of being an employee, but allow them the flexibility of an independent contractor,” Armstrong says.
Armstrong says the typical Block mower is someone who may not have the ability or schedule to operate their own lawn company full time. For example, he says, they may need the flexibility to service five accounts in one week and jump up to 25 the next week. That’s all possible as a Block employee.
“What we’re doing is addressing a major industry pain point right now, which is there’s a labor crisis,” he says. “Many of the larger companies are really banking on these H-2B visas for seasonal workers to come in, and we are bringing into the workforce a completely untapped group of people.”
Employees, who must mow at least five hours a week but can go up to 29 hours a week, are paid a commission for each job. “Mow when you want,” Armstrong says. “We’re basically eliminating all the admin, all the business side of owning your own lawn operation. They just have to provide their own equipment, maintain that equipment and mow. We drop the job straight onto their smartphone, we carry general liability insurance, workers’ comp insurance and eliminate customer acquisition for them.”