In this episode, Adam and Carlton are joined by Bryan Clayton, the CEO and Co-Founder of GreenPal. Bryan talks about the rise in sweaty startups, how to use content to grow your company, and the importance of authenticity.
Highlights from the conversation:
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Transcription generated by Otter.ai
Adam Vazquez 0:06
All right, we are back yet again, another episode of Content Is for Closers. This one has been a long time coming, Carlton. As always, the audience loves it best when you describe who our guest is in terms that they can understand. And remember, if you do a bad job, this person will never achieve another sale in their life. Ready, set, go.
Carlton Riffel 0:25
Okay, so Bryan, he’s got lawn mowing experience and he’s great. Oh, sorry, Bryan. You will no longer have a sale because I screwed up. Yeah, really interesting. Guests. Today, we’ve got a few different episodes where we’ve dived into the sweaty startup or kind of this like idea of not your average tech startup. And this, this week’s another one. And it’s really pretty interesting because he started by growing his own lawn care company. And that’s what I identified with him. Once he said that I was like, “Man, this guy’s awesome,” because that’s where I cut my teeth in the business world, as they say. And so he started there, grew a massive lawn care company. What was it? Over 10 million.
Adam Vazquez 1:08
We should contextualize it. It wasn’t just a normal kid with a truck and a push mower. I mean, maybe that’s how he started.
Carlton Riffel 1:14
Adam’s just throwing shade at me.
Adam Vazquez 1:16
No, no, I just— It’s like Michael Jordan and Rex Chapman played the same sport, but like it’s student gangs there. But yeah, that he expanded that thing massively. Sorry to interrupt, just had to add that.
Carlton Riffel 1:29
No, that’s alright. So he grew that huge, and it was eventually acquired. And your lawn business is big when it gets acquired. So he basically goes on from there starts a platform. And I know everyone in the software world likes to say my app is an Uber for x. And it doesn’t always match. But this really does. It’s an Uber for lawn care. So when you need your lawn mowed, I got news going out, GreenPal, and find the person to come and get it. Take care of your lawn.
Adam Vazquez 2:01
Yeah, a couple things stuck out to me from the interview. This, to me is the prototypical example of betting, betting on the jockey and not the horse. Because yeah, I think a lot of times I do this, I fall prey to this, you can believe as an entrepreneur as a business operator, well, I’m just not in a great business, or I’m not in a great industry, I’m not trading stocks, or I’m not selling one thing for a million dollars every day or whatever, there are all these different things, you can kind of fall into the trap of mentally. And then you meet guys like Bryan, who are taking the most basic business model. And I don’t mean that in a demeaning way at all, but like you said, your first thing was to mow lawns, right? That was that’s the way a lot of us started. And it’s such a gifted and, and hardworking as well, but such a gifting, gifted entrepreneur and operator, that it just doesn’t matter. Like the device, the model itself doesn’t matter, he would have been successful, probably doing anything. But he chose this specific niche and has taken it to the absolute maximum. So if you’re somebody like me, who sometimes can get down on whatever specific industry, you have no excuse, I have no excuse because this guy took cutting lawns and made it over $10 million business, and now is doing the interesting, cool stuff that so many of us want to jump into too early. Now. He’s building apps now. He’s building Uber equivalents, etc. So that was just a huge challenge, personally.
Carlton Riffel 3:39
Yeah. And everyone in the software world talks about two-sided marketplaces being the most difficult types of services to and companies to build. That’s no joke. That’s, that’s been proven time and time again, that it is difficult. And so it’s really interesting how he’s taken an amazing approach with PR. And he talks about some of the strategy around it and content specifically to build his audience. I think a lot of these companies start by just giving stuff away, right? Like Uber, when they first started, they were offering drivers a certain Max, and they needed drivers on their platform. And then they started like offering free rides and discounted rides, like all everywhere you because you have to get both of those sides of the marketplace there to be able to build it. And so I think just the model that they took and how they grew it, he said it was kind of an overnight success had been in the works for 10 years. Yeah, I think that’s true for so many of these businesses where he played the long game, he used building content, he said he wrote an ebook for almost two years. So there are all these pieces that from a content perspective, once you put into place, they help you long term and so definitely for all of our listeners who are maybe in that more local space where you’re trying to grow something that’s local and then and then grow beyond that. This is is a great episode for you. Alright, let’s get into it
Put that content down. Content. The close is over. What’s your name? Content. That’s my name. You know why, mister? Because you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That’s my name. Content Is for Closers.
Adam Vazquez 5:28
And we’ve got Bryan Clayton here on Content Is for Closers, Bryan, thank you so much for spending some time with us.
Bryan Clayton 5:34
Awesome. Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
Adam Vazquez 5:36
So we’re just mean, you were just talking offline about no in similar places in Nashville. And I think that’s where your story starts and where your company started. The thing about Nashville is now I guess it’s becoming more of a concrete jungle. But it was one of those cities where you could have a house with some land and still be in the city for a long time. So tell us how did that affect you? How did you start your company? Why did you start your company? Give us the background there.
Bryan Clayton 6:06
Yeah, yeah, so born and raised in Nashville lived here all my life. And I’ve ran both my businesses here. I guess I’m kind of lucky to have grown up in Middle Tennessee because for as long as I’ve been alive, Middle Tennessee has been growing and has been thriving and prospering and which really helped me in both my businesses. Today, I am CEO, co-founder of a company called GreenPal, which works like Uber but for lawn mowing services. So if you’re a homeowner and need to get your lawn mowed, you just put your address in our app and then you hire somebody to come do it for you. GreenPal’s a 10-year overnight success. But at this thing for almost a decade. Now the app is nationwide all over the country, several 100,000 people using it, doing multiple eight figures a year in revenue. But we started off very humbly, 10 years ago in Nashville, Tennessee, and spent just three years in Nashville, getting the app to work well to figuring out how it needed to be built, figuring out all the workflows and working out all the kinks. And then we went nationwide. But Nashville was a great place to launch it. So very fortunate to have, I guess, kind of that testbed in my backyard. But before, before GreenPal actually had a landscaping business, I started mowing grass in high school as a way to make extra cash and stuck with that little lawn mowing business all through high school and all through college. And over a 15-year period of time built one of the largest landscaping businesses in the southeastern United States, eventually getting it over 10 million a year in revenue 150 employees, and in 2013, it was acquired by a national company. And that took some time off and started GreenPal. So 22 years in the landscaping industry and starting it all in Nashville, Tennessee.
Adam Vazquez 7:49
I love that. So talk about that transition because you went from being an operator building a sweaty business or a lawn care, maintenance business, whatever it might be, and then flipped to essentially, what you may have previously saw as a threat to that business, kind of making that a commoditized service that anyone could access. How did that flip happen for you mentally? Or what prompted that for you to go from operator to GreenPal founder?
Bryan Clayton 8:19
Yeah, it wasn’t like part of any kind of grand plan that I that I architected I, I built up my landscaping business and built it to a point where it was just, I wasn’t like, I wasn’t being challenged by it anymore. And like I had reached a point a plateau for like, from like a personal development standpoint. And that bothered me. And I thought, well, maybe I should sell this company. And from the moment I had that notion to the moment I sold it, it was like two years and it was excruciating. Like I had to reverse engineer a lot of stuff into the business to get it sold. But got it got acquired. And then it was my plan to retire. I will but I was only like 34 years old. And but it was my plan to just not work anymore. And to like invest the money and manage my investments and as does travel around and, and live the good life, so to speak. That lasted like, three months, maybe four months, I just got started crazy. I was like, Man, I’m really, like, there’s something missing here. And what I realized was that my business was the thing that always made my life interesting. It always caused me to be taking on challenges and overcoming obstacles and growing and learning and that was gone that was missing. And I thought well I need to start another business. And here’s literally what I thought well, the last company was really tough and I don’t want to do anything that hard again. So now I just want to start a simple business. I want to easy business. I should start a software company because all these tech guys do is just write software and they don’t have to deal with employees or pissed-off customers. reserves are all this stuff that I just spent 15 years dealing with almost killed me. I don’t want to do that anymore. So I just want to like write software because that sounds easy. And for me, I didn’t know, boy, I didn’t know what I didn’t know it was as an asset. The I had an idea that an app should exist, like Uber or Airbnb or Lyft, or Postmates. But for the industry I knew, and I thought somebody’s gonna build this and might as well be me. And how hard could it possibly be, and recruited two co-founders and we were quickly confronted with the reality that this is actually a lot harder than it looks in. And actually, this is going to be a lot more challenging. And as it turned out, like 10 times harder than my first business. And what I didn’t know was there’s a big difference between running a traditional, as you said, sweaty startup, like a blue-collar business, traditional type of business, there’s a big difference between that, versus inventing something brand new from scratch, that does not exist in the world. And that’s what I didn’t understand. When I was building GreenPal, we were inventing a new product, people weren’t pushing a button and hiring a lawn mowing service, lawn mowing services weren’t running their whole business on top of an app. And so we had to, like, figure this stuff out as we went, and also teach ourselves how to code, teach ourselves how to build software, it was really challenging took us three, four years to get anything going. But we just stuck it out. Now, here we are, we’ve got a good growing business nationwide, the United States, and self-funded, we didn’t take on any capital. So my two co-founders and I own all of the business which is, which is a good place to be having fun doing it. And I’m glad that we stuck with it.
Adam Vazquez 11:40
Incredible, I love that you took something that is was difficult and then decided, “Let’s do something harder as a break.” Do either of your co-founders code? Where did you guys find the technical part?
Bryan Clayton 11:58
So here’s how we did it. Ideally, when you’re starting a tech startup, Paul Graham, the guy that invented or founded Y Combinator, which is an accelerator out Silicon Valley, he says that you should have a hacker and a hustler. And so basically, somebody who’s good at driving the business forward, who’s naturally geared towards sales who’s naturally like motivated to get something going. And then a hacker, which someone who’s good at the technical side, maybe they were coding up websites in high school, maybe they are tinker and like their engineering focused and those two types of people come together and can start a start-up. That’s, that’s ideal. We had three hustlers, no hackers. And so we had that kind of had like a chip on their shoulder that wanted to build something that were motivated, but none of us knew how to code. And so here’s what we thought we thought, well, we don’t know how to write software. But that’s probably the easiest part of it will just like pay a development shop to do that. And then we’ll market it. And we’ll be often going. And so we did that. And we pulled together, like 150 grand of our own cash, pay to dev shop to build what we thought GreenPal should be, and took them like nine months. And we released it launched it and it was, it was a total failure, like unmitigated disaster, the app didn’t have the features that needed, we didn’t really know how it should be built, we didn’t really know how it should be architected. It didn’t fulfill the promise, basically, a push-a-button lawn mowing service shows up and does a great job mowing your yard. And so we were quickly confronted with, okay, if we’re going to be at a tech business, we’re gonna have to learn how to build software. I mean, that’s all there is to it. And so I became the world’s crappiest front-end engineer. And my co-founder went to a bootcamp in Nashville and became a decent enough backend engineer to where we come Wow, lately rebuilt the whole thing from scratch. Baked, baked in the feedback we were getting from the first, I don’t know, 50 people that used our terrible product, we were getting enough feedback to where we can rebuild it right the second time, and we rebuilt it ourselves. And then we were able to build out a team of engineers around us, because we had some sort of basis, some sort of, like 80/20 mastery of software development, which that took a long time took like two or three years to get up and going.
Adam Vazquez 14:28
Yeah, I love how you called it a “10-year overnight success,” like having to go through that iterative process. And I mean, that is tough building it for nine months and then having to go back and realize it all overfit the customer need or Yeah, yeah, that’s brutal, but it’s a testament to you that you all work continue to endure and we’re able to continue on to where you are today.
This is kind of a sidebar, but I’m curious what you think about it. It seems like there’s been this renaissance a little bit in those blue-collar, home service, sweaty, whatever you wanna call it, based businesses. More and more, you’re seeing people who are like, “Yeah, I’m gonna go start a landscaping company,” or I’m gonna go buy an HVAC company,” or et cetera, et cetera, and then just try to store up these cashflow businesses having been in it for the last 20 years or but plus that you have been, what do you attribute that to? Why do you think there’s been this revived popularity and those types of businesses?
Bryan Clayton 15:36
A lot of it has to do with there’s a market need try to hire a plumber, try to hire a lawn care service, try to hire a home cleaning service and see what you pay. Really hire somebody to come and do a service for you at your home? You’re gonna pay them $50-75 an hour? I know some lawyers that don’t make that. And so it’s like, are you going to go to school and take on $200,000 and credit card debt, or Gore, go start a trade business, and make $100,000 a year free cash flow? Your contemporaries will never catch up with you. In my business, GreenPal, we have 32,000 contractors that use the platform and why I mean, I hear so many stories over and over again of, hey, thank you, GreenPal for helping me grow my lawn care business, because now I just, I just bought my third rental, or I bought another truck. And I have three crews going and my business just crossed the half-million-dollar mark, or the million-dollar mark. I mean, wait, there are several contractors doing multiple millions on our platform? Is it a get-rich-quick scheme? Hell, no. It’s hard work. It’s full contact. But it is one of the crispest ways in this country to go from zero to two, life-changing like wealth in a decade if you’re willing to work hard and run it well. So I think the first reason might be because of a market need. The second reason is it’s probably easier to get distribution for these businesses than it’s ever been. You can pop up a Facebook ad campaign, you can pop up a Yelp ad campaign, you can run a Google AdWords campaign, you can advertise on Instagram, you can join an industry-specific platform like GreenPal, and you can go from no customers to 250k a year in revenue in a year. That used to take a decade. And so that might be another reason. And the third reason might be is that people have more disposable income to spend on these services than they ever did. When I started in the lawn mowing business, having your own gardener was seen as a luxury. Whereas now our platform 80% of the people that use it to hire a lawn mowing service, or working class, like they work full-time jobs, but they understand by the time they go mow their own yard themselves and pay for a lawn mower and do all that they’re making less than minimum wage, they might as well pay somebody else to do it. And so it’s probably a combination of all those things, more disposable income, easier to get, get clients sell than ever. And there is a market need? And why would you go spend four years at school to get a degree and I don’t know, like philosophy, make 40 grand a year when you could go start a pool cleaning service and have three employees and make half a million dollars a year in five years.
Adam Vazquez 18:43
That’s pretty good. It’s a rising trend, I see more and more people doing it. We have some, definitely some people in the audience who have done it and are very successful because of it. So it’s a really cool trend to see.
You kind of touched on it there, but obviously, that’s a two-sided platform, GreenPal. So you just talked about having to build the user experience having to change it because of the customer desire and the customer journey and what they were going through. But what about on the supply side? Obviously, that would be I would think a strength for you coming out of that industry. What were some things that you were able to do to get those 30,000 contractors or something that you have on there? How did that process work?
Bryan Clayton 19:22
Yeah, it is a two-sided kind of marketplace, we have two sets of users. And so for homeowners, it’s a nice convenience, to push a button and just get somebody to do this chore for you. And then set it and forget it. For contractors. It’s an entire platform to run their entire business. So everything from getting all the customers they need to organizing and optimizing their route to be as efficient as possible to one place to have all of your clientele and all of their information like a CRM. The next thing getting paid quickly getting paid within 24 hours for all the work you do. Whereas normally you’d have to mail out an invoice and hopefully they send you some money in 30 days, whereas all your GreenPal clientele you get paid with 24 hours. And in marketing automation, making sure that your homeowners book with you ongoing throughout the rest of the year, add on other services like seeding bold shrubs, it’s a one, it’s like one place for them to run their entire business. And so it’s because we built it that way do we then have them able to be ordered off the shelf, so to speak, almost like an Amazon type of experience, because they’re locked in. And they’re using that the tools for all of the other things to run their business. And so that’s why it works on both sides, you can’t, you can’t just have the solutions from one side and not the other. But it started off really, really, really humbly. I personally knew the first 500 contractors that used the platform. They all had my cell phone number. We didn’t have those tools back then it was like we were focused on the consumer experience. And we kind of hand crank the supplier experience because we didn’t have the bandwidth to build out all of the suite of tools that they needed. And the way we kind of paint crank that was I offered them free coaching, free mentoring on how to run their lawn mowing business. Because I had just sold an eight-figure landscaping company, I kind of know everything there is to know about running a lawn mowing company. And so I was able to coach them on how to grow their business. And that was kind of like the honey and the Glue to keep them locked in while we focused on a consumer experience. Then after about a year, we came back to the supplier experience and built that out based on what our contractor is telling us.
Adam Vazquez 21:31
Very cool. And so you’re obviously a very dynamic personality. You’re a marketer, you know how to grow businesses. I’ve seen you’ve been on a ton of podcasts over the last several months. What have you found from a content perspective, whether it be for the supply side, or the demand side that has either helped you get in front of the right people and in terms of customers or just brand building for GreenPal? Anything specific that you found?
Bryan Clayton 21:57
Yeah, it’s like, there’s a saying that first-time founders worry about product. Second-time founders worry about distribution. If you’ve never done it before, you worry about the product or service and you obsess over that. And if you’ve done one and sold it or maybe done one and failed the second time around, you worry about distribution, you worry like okay, that’s awesome, but how are we gonna get people to find out about it, how are we gonna get people to sign up for it like, none of that matters unless we have this figured out. For us, we really have focused on organic traffic as the main way people come to find out about GreenPal. So if you’re looking for a lawn mowing service, lawn mowing service nearby me Wichita, Kansas, or Lincoln, Nebraska, Nashville, Tennessee, whatever, we need to be there on the search engine, as part of the options for you to consider when you’re looking for somebody to solve this problem for you. And that’s how we, that’s how we have focused and gotten probably 75% of the homeowners that use our platform, that all the rest is word of mouth. And so unless you’re thinking about how you’re going to get people to find out about what it is your offer is and then how you’re going to get them to sign up and, and market to them. Like the solution and the product almost doesn’t matter. And for us content is a big part of what we do. We write guides on the best lawn mowing services in Alpharetta, Georgia or Panama City, Florida or, or Columbus, Ohio. And we interview contractors, we talk about what makes them different, we talk about what makes them reliable, and what kind of equipment they have. And, and then we surface that in content. And so when people are searching for a lawn mowing service in Columbus, they may come across our page, and then they may try out GreenPal if we’re not able to generate demand for vendors that it doesn’t matter how good our vendor tools are, we have to, we’re only as good as how much consumer supply we can bring on to the platform. And I think a lot of new founders kind of overlook that. And they under index on that. And it really is as important or more important than what you’re doing in the first place. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s like, every business is in the content business now. Or at least they should be. Half of what you do is being a publisher. And as weird as that sounds, that’s kind of the name of the game, to get people to find out about what you’re doing and expose them to how you might solve their problem.
Adam Vazquez 24:33
You talked about it first-time founder, second-time founder, you had the benefit of having run a company for many years. And so obviously, distribution was top of your mind, but you could see how you’d fall into that trap. You’re learning how to code overnight to try to make the experience better. Your business partner is doing the same. And so distribution can kind of fall off. But I mean, a million users is incredible. That’s what Silicon Valley startups are trying to build towards was there Anything specific that you saw an influx of users come through? Or was it just a drip over time? Well, how did that process work in terms of growth?
Bryan Clayton 25:09
Yeah, there wasn’t any, like, one move on the chess board that caused us to just blow up mainly because we’re self-funded. If we had raised maybe 10, or $20 million, and below and all that out and 18 months, maybe we would have seen that big inflection point. But for us, it’s been like a 20-mile march, just slow and steady, and doing more and more of the things that are already working. So for us, it’s two or three things that we really just focus all of our time on it is creating really good content around lawn care services in every single small city in town and big city throughout the United States. And then, and then really focusing on what are the things that go into a good organic SEO search strategy and is executing on those. And then the third thing that dovetails into that is, is PR, my co-founder, all he has done for the last eight years is PR for the business. I mean, we have taken everything off of his plate, all he does is goes is is is reach out to journalists, makes TV appearances, appearances, does newspaper interviews, and he’s been on TV just in the last 12 months, probably 65 times throughout the United States for NBC, ABC, CBS affiliates, newspapers, like anything from like the Sacramento Bee to the LA Times The Chicago Tribune. And it’s not like, Oh, this guy is busy. Making these media appearances. That’s awesome. No, it’s like 90% of the hard work is reaching out to these journalists and pitching them he pitches, he pitches at least 100 journalists a day and has done it for less, less five, six, seven years. And so that does two things. One is it, it draws an audience at a local level to the platform, which is more important. Like it’s more important for us to have like a local PR hit in like the Atlanta Journal than it will be to be on USA Today or something like Right, like, like, it’s more important to do it at a local level. And, and so it draws it draws an audience to the platform at a local level. And then also, it reinforces the SEO strategy, because we get those mentions, we get the link pointing to the site, which tells me that tells Google, Hey, this is an authoritative site, not only on a national level but on a local level. And so we’re really just doing those hard things over and over again, is what we do. We don’t worry about TV ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, Facebook, ads, or Instagram ads. We just do like those two or three things and spend all of our time doing that.
Adam Vazquez 27:41
Man, I love that this set I mean, that’s such a grind pitching many people day in and day out every—
Bryan Clayton 27:48
As we speak right now, that’s what he’s doing.
Adam Vazquez 27:52
And it’s paid off. A million users is incredible growth and sounds like it’s a lot attributable to that strategy. What about, in terms of you personally, is there anything that’s in the content space that you see that you’re like, man that looks interesting, or exciting to you? Or something that maybe you all are doing that you’re particularly excited about?
Bryan Clayton 28:13
Yeah, I think for us, it’s like authenticity as a competitive advantage. We don’t worry about attracting vendors to the platform because we’ve spent five years writing the best guides on how to run a lawn mowing business. And I wrote them. Maybe I’m biased, but I think it’s the best free book on the internet for how to run a lawn care business. It’s well designed, it’s engaging, and it goes from zero to this is how you get your first 100k. And then there’s an intermediate book after that, that we wrote, here’s how you go from 100 100k to 250k. Whether you use GreenPal or not, this is your free guide on how to run a lawn mowing business. And as you read through this free material that we literally spent two years and 100 grand building for free, you can have it hey, if you want to try GreenPal out great. And so to me, using that authenticity and really just trying to be almost benevolent, does usually pay pay pay itself back when it comes to content.
I was listening to a podcast about this realtor who operates in somewhere in Florida, a highly competitive market maybe like Miami or something. And he created an ebook and he spent like three years writing this ebook on how to do a for sale by owner and Miami Dale. Sure. This is how you do a for-sale-by-owner, step-by-step. Don’t pay a realtor. Why would you pay a realtor two and a half percent when you can do this step-by-step? And the book is like 20 pages and like it’s a ton of traffic and what and what a strategy wasn’t what’s worked is like By the time people read through all of this, they’re like To hell with this. I’m just gonna call this guy. Yeah. And like, and then it works for him. So I think having that strategy with respect to content, like not trying to write the 14th post on the top 1010 ways, but literally just trying to put something out into the world that is helpful that betters anybody. Usually, yes, that’s a better strategy.
Adam Vazquez 30:26
Yeah, it’s so good. We talk a lot about having a content waterfall, though, those assets where you’re spending two years. I mean, you wrote it for two years. Yeah, there are going to be so many different pieces that can be pulled out of that. And you were Lead Magnet attractions with or even just to drive back to that if that piece is going to convert. It’s such a powerful strategy. Well, Bryan, we really appreciate you coming on and sharing a little bit about GreenPal with us. If folks want to check out you or what you all are doing. Where’s the best place for them to follow along?
Bryan Clayton 30:59
Yeah, anybody in the United States who doesn’t want to mow your own yard, just download GreenPal in the app store or Play Store. Anybody who wants to hit me up, hit me up on Instagram @bryanmclayton. Just drop me a DM there.
Adam Vazquez 31:11
Alright, we’ll do it. We will link all of that in the show notes below. I really commend you for the long grind that you’ve been on. And obviously, it’s paying off for you and hopefully we’ll be able to catch up soon.
Bryan Clayton 31:21
Awesome. Thanks, Adam. Have a good one.
Carlton Riffel 31:23
And that’s a wrap. Thank you for listening to this episode of Content Is for Closers. We hope you find this show really helpful as you grow your business with content. Maybe you know of other people who would find this show helpful as well. How about you send them our way? If you didn’t like this show and you want to tell us that, then you can head over to contentisforclosers.com where you can send us a message, give us some feedback, ask questions, or find detailed notes for every episode. Until next time, keep creating and keep closing.