Today on Career Memos, I chatted with Allison Messner, the Co-Founder and CEO of Yardzen, an online landscape design platform. Allison’s career journey has taken her from PR to a budding tech startup, where she witnessed their growth from 10 to 200 employees.
In partnership with her husband Adam, Allison’s mission at Yardzen is to make landscape design beautiful and affordable for the everyday homeowner. She shared the wild way she came up with the idea, and what it was like to build her startup from the ground up. Hint: it was a lot of bootstrapping at first!
Her advice and wisdom about raising capital and working with VCs is absolute gold, and there are so many takeaways in this conversation. Listen to Episode 29 now on The Career Memos Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
Leap when an amazing opportunity presents itself, and leave when you’re ready for a new challenge.
After working for a lifestyle magazine in the Bay Area and later navigating the world of PR at one of the leading tech PR firms, Allison landed an incredible leadership opportunity at OpenDNS, a startup that was built in an incubator, later acquired by Cisco.
Being a founding member of the team, Allison managed anything and everything that wasn’t coding or engineering. She juggled sales, marketing, PR, and business development. Despite wearing multiple hats, her schedule was surprisingly structured, and over the next seven years, she saw so many different iterations of the company. By the time she left, the company had grown from 10 employees to 200.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “when is the right time to move on?”, for Allison it was knowing that she was up for a new challenge. There was somebody else out there who was going to be far better at taking the company to the next level, from 200 employees to 800, and then to 1,000 and so on. It was an emotional decision that had to be made.
She recalled someone sharing with her this idea that there are two different kinds of people who work at startups: the ones who “build the wheel” and get it moving, and those who keep the wheel moving and get it moving even faster. Which one are you, and how has this shaped your own career journey?
The way we live in outdoor spaces has evolved.
Today, Allison runs Yardzen alongside her husband Adam, and it’s so fascinating to hear the inspiration for the idea, which came to them after a harrowing close call with a wildfire in their home state of California. Realizing they needed to rebuild their outdoor area, they were surprised at the prices when they reached out to various landscaping companies.
People crave outdoor spaces that are reflective of their interiors. They want the outside to have a relationship with the inside, where there are distinctive spaces for eating, cooking, relaxing, and playing.
Landscape architecture is often only an option for commercial spaces or those with larger budgets, so their mission at Yardzen is to create a welcoming, affordable way to bring landscape design to the everyday homeowner.
So how does it work? Homeowners sign up on their website and get paired with a landscape designer and a horticulturist who will create a beautiful plan for your outdoor space. Their expertise will create a design that includes plants, hardscape, pergolas, swimming pools, furniture, and accompanying decor. At the end of the process, Yardzen connects the homeowner with a contractor who can bring the finished vision to life.
Growing a startup from the ground up isn’t always glamorous.
Never in a million years did Allison think she’d be running a business with her husband, but the timing aligned perfectly. She admitted the early days were the opposite of glamorous. They had a simple SquareSpace website, and they didn’t even pay themselves a single penny in the first year.
Three months in, Allison leveraged her background in PR and pitched the New York Times, landing a glowing review that landed them orders from all over the country. After a year, they decided to raise capital so that they could move faster and hire a team.
If building a startup is something you’ve long dreamed of doing, Allison’s best advice is to have self-awareness. Is this something you really, truly want? Do you want to build a public company or something different that provides value in your life?
“I firmly believe if you have the right company, and you have the right economics, and you have the right vision, and you have the right team, the rest of it should take care of itself.”