Origin stories: Perficut | The kid with a mower

June 19, 2017 -  By
Photo: Perficut

Matt Boelman (right) was an early key hire by Kory Ballard. Today, he’s co-owner of Perficut. Photo: Perficut

Kory Ballard
CEO, Perficut

No. 124

This might be the most common trope in the landscape industry. A teenager with a mower cuts some lawns for extra money and ends up falling in love with the industry. What’s rare, however, is when that teenager builds a company like Perficut, a full-service, mostly commercial company pulling in $14.3 million in annual revenue. This is the story of a high school kid with a mower and a dream—a dream of owning a badass moped.

I wanted a moped, and my dad said, “Well, you better find a job.”

Not too many people were hiring a 14-year-old, so I started going door to door asking, “Hey, can I mow your grass?” I was able to pick up 12 or 15 yards that day. It started that simple, just another neighborhood kid that mows grass.

As I started doing that, I really enjoyed making money. My friends were asking their parents for money every day, and I was making my own. It was exciting and empowering. But I also enjoyed being outside. I enjoyed the flexibility of my schedule, although I had to give up a few things. As my friends were playing baseball, going to the beach and messing around, I was working. But I felt like I had a passion. I really liked what I was doing.

Once I got my driver’s license at 16, I bought a trailer and a commercial mower. I had knocked on enough doors, dropped off enough bids and really just hustled enough that I had maybe 25-30 accounts as a sophomore in high school. I’d get out of school at 3:00 p.m. and mow until dark. I hired a couple high school buddies to help me out. I didn’t feel like a real company at that point, but we certainly had a lot of work to do.

When it started feeling real was probably my senior year of high school. I had two trucks running, and I had three people working for me. I’d get them mowing in the morning and then go to school. School had a work program, so I would get out at 11:30 a.m. or noon. I’d meet up with one of the crews and work with them all day.

Our city was growing and we had a small local paper. I had an ad in there that said, “Lawn mowing, 15 bucks per lawn.” That was our goal, and at the time, we could do them for $15.

It wasn’t like all of a sudden one day we made it. I just knew I had a lot of yards to cut and we weren’t scared to work.

Once I graduated, we were at three mowing crews and had four or five employees. At age 18 or 19, you don’t know what you don’t know, so we thought we were a huge company. The economy was good. Our community was growing. I was able to really focus on getting commercial clients. We thought we were competing with everybody, and the truth is we really weren’t. The truth of it is I didn’t think we were smarter than them, but I knew we could outwork everybody.

I was able to recognize talent and identify some strong partners. One, Matt Boelman, is still my business partner today. Matt was one year younger than me, and he joined in 1995, one year out of high school. He joined as an employee, but I recognized that he was incredibly good at his job.

Most of these small companies struggle with help and growth and have a tough time training, recognizing talent and giving people opportunity. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. I didn’t want to be in the field forever. The only way to grow was to empower some other people and to train them and give them some opportunity.

The other thing isn’t necessarily brilliant, but I wasn’t scared of anything. If I would have done it today, I probably would have done it totally different in a way that might not have been as successful. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so failure really wasn’t an option. I didn’t make the best financial decisions. If we needed a truck, I bought a truck. If we needed a mower, I bought a mower. I didn’t sit down and crunch the numbers like, “How many dollars do we have to earn to get this piece? What’s the depreciation, the return on investment?” I was like, “We’ve got the work. Let’s buy equipment.”

That might have actually been an advantage. I didn’t overthink the things that were pretty simple. We had work. We were priced right. We were working hard. So we bought equipment and made it work.

Editor’s note: And later that first summer, he got the moped.

“My biggest mistake was…”

“(Not) making sure that we set up systems. Our behind-the-scenes systems weren’t in place. We were really good at sales and really good at getting work done, but we were poor behind the scenes—employee reviews, safety and training.” – Kory Ballard


This article is tagged with and posted in Featured, June 2017, LM150

About the Author:

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

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