Insects don't respect business hours, so pest-control companies hire Slingshot to handle sales and service calls day and night. Co-founder and CEO Taylor Olson's unusual odyssey from Mormon missionary to bug-bomb scheduler.
--As told to Leigh Buchanan
In Utah, we have this weird cottage industry of companies that sell pest-control services door-to-door. Typically, they employ young LDS [Latter-day Saint] people who are recently back from their missions, where they spent a couple of years knocking on doors every day. That develops a massive amount of muscle tissue for rejection.
I was 19 when my cousin got one of those pest-control jobs. He expected to make $10,000 in four months. I was making around $6 an hour, so I asked if I could join him. Before going on my mission, I made 100 sales in four months. After I came back, I made 100 sales in four weeks. My people skills had accelerated that much. I understood how to build rapport.
I started several companies in my 20s, including a kind of Airbnb for parking spaces and a StubHub for digital coupons. But I couldn't give them much attention, because I was studying to get into law school. After about a year at UCLA, I started to think the law wasn't for me. But I'm not a quitter. So I determined to finish my degree while working on a new business. If it failed, I would bite the bullet and become an attorney.
Two friends and I had already started a company creating websites and blogs for pest-control companies, using connections from those door-to-door sales days. We also did some lead generation. It struck us that some businesses were losing out on leads because more than a quarter of pest-control calls come in after hours. Let's say you have cockroaches in your kitchen. They're gross, and you want them gone. If that happens tonight at 11 o'clock, your instinct is to call someone. But most businesses shut down between 5 and 6, so you get voicemail. You might hang up. You might keep calling around. But your likelihood of buying from that particular business goes way down.
So we started representing pest-control companies at any hour, using phone, text, or web chat. At first, most of our work was at night: We took turns sleeping on the couch in our 600-square-foot office and responding to calls. Now we do a lot of daytime work, as well. Some businesses have made us their entire inside sales team.
Two of us came into this with pest-control experience, so we didn't need much additional education. We could already tell the difference between a fleabite and a bedbug bite, or whether your home has been invaded by carpenter ants or termites. (Carpenter ants leave wood shavings.) We also handle clients with large corporate accounts. Sometimes people will call in a panic and say, "My toddler or my dog just ate the bait in this rattrap or the gel you left for the roaches. What do we do?" Those calls are pretty intense.
For a while, I didn't think we were going to make it. About a year and a half in, I was still funding payroll on my credit cards, which were maxed out. We were down to our last $5,000. We used most of that to get this dingy little booth at a big trade show in Nashville. After four or five hours of talking to people, I was on the biggest high I've ever had. We probably got 30 new accounts from that, almost tripling the business. It saved the day and saved our morale.
When we started, my whole perception of the industry was these door-to-door businesses coming out of Utah. That's what I thought pest control was. Now I know that's just a small segment of a very large industry. Today, almost a third of the 100 biggest U.S. pest-control companies are Slingshot clients.
I want us to get to where, if someone sees a termite swarm or a carpenter ant and calls their pest-control company, no matter where they are in the country, there's a good chance that we will answer.
From door knockers to bug busters.
Started paying myself this salary after one year: $32,000
The biggest danger in growing too fast: Running out of cash. We have had many, many times when we have cut that dangerously close. The second danger is that you grow quicker than your operations, or your employees, can keep up with. You let clients down, or you don't have good management and processes for your team members, and they start to feel neglected.
Number of vacation days I've taken in the past year: 4
Biggest business splurge: When we moved into a new space in February, we spent $3,000 on a 10-foot, 3-D sign with the company name for the lobby.
Hour my alarm clock is set for: 7:30 a.m.