Ben Zlotnick wants Chicagoans to order lawn care and snow-removal the same way they can order from a ride-sharing service like Uber. His company, Eden, already is operating in Toronto and launches in Chicago and the suburbs in November. Its app lets home-owners order the company’s first-available contractor to mow their lawn, trim their trees, plow their driveway, shovel and salt their sidewalks and even brush the snow from their windshield. Zlotnick, founder and CEO of the company, spoke with the Chicago Sun-Times’ Sandra Guy. An edited transcript follows.
Question: How does Eden work?
Answer: Anyone in Chicago and throughout the metro area can download the app for free at https://edenapp.com and book a service for that day. Or, if you are at work or out of town, you can order remotely.
The technology sets prices for each job the customer orders.
Our contractors get the order notification on their smartphones. They can see the price associated with the job and a photo of the property.
Similar to Uber, the closest contractor will grab the job and go to the property immediately or let the customer know the estimated time of arrival.
Once done, the contractor grabs the next request.
We see people where we already operate, in Toronto, gifting the service as much as using it themselves.
Q: Pricing? And how many people are you hiring?
A: It’s about $40 to clear a two-car driveway and an average of $60 to clear a two-car driveway and clean and salt the sidewalk.
At the end of a job, customers pay by credit card. Eden takes a small percentage.
Once we receive payment, we send the payments to the contractors within three business days.
We will have close to 100 snow-plowing trucks available throughout the Chicago area. We have contractors doing very well — some making $500 to $600 a week.
At the end of a job, the customer and the contractor rate each other.
Q: You started the INcubes Technology Accelerator in your native Toronto — similar to the 1871 digital hub at the Merchandise Mart. How did that lead to Eden?
A: We’ve had 35 companies go through the three-month-long accelerator program. We’ve had one exit — Hovr.it, acquired in 2013 by Slyce.it, both visual-search companies linking online images to similar goods that retailers are selling. Slyce went public in July 2014 on the Toronto stock exchange. The accelerator takes a small equity stake in its startups with the aim of building them into large, successful businesses.
I combined my creation of the accelerator with my interest in a service business. My accountant said, “Lots of people own houses and buildings. Why don’t you start cutting grass?” So I started the business doing the simple work — mowing lawns, pruning shrubs, planting garden beds and cleaning up leaves.
Q: Talk about your family’s role in your entrepreneurial drive?
A: I grew up in a relatively tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community in a family of nine kids. Our community is very oriented around business. My dad still runs an appliance distribution and wholesale business. My mom, who stayed at home to raise us, is now a teacher. Business was always something I wanted to be involved in. What business? I had no idea. If you have a positive outlook in life, there is always opportunity.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I come to Chicago often from my home in Toronto. My wife’s family lives in the Peterson Park-Lincolnwood-Skokie area.
We’ve been married almost 15 years. We have five children between 4 and 14. I’m home by 6 or 6:30 weeknights. There’s lots of homework, then dinner and bedtimes.
Since I’m Orthodox, I’m offline on Saturdays. Otherwise, I check email 24 hours a day.
I play baseball and ice hockey. I’ve been playing hockey for nearly 20 years every Thursday night with friends from high school.
I’m also heavily involved in synagogue and not-for-profits, including delivering food to a food bank and working with day schools and high schools and underprivileged kids.
Life is life. Opportunity is opportunity. Helping is helping.