Do the hardest things first. There’s a book called “Eat That Frog” and the principle is basically figure out the most challenging tasks of the day and do those at the very beginning; otherwise, you’ll just push them off and either not get them done or finish them late. You also want to perform the more challenging tasks early in the day when your energy is high.
As part of my series about “companies and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vess Pearson. Vess is the CEO and co-founder of Aptive Environmental, a provider of environmentally responsible residential and commercial pest solutions. Pearson founded Aptive in late 2015, and within just three years the company has rocketed to $137 million annual revenue. Today, Aptive services customers in more than 3,700 cities across 26 states. Prior to Aptive, Vess was instrumental in building Alterra Pest Control, the sale of which allowed him and David Royce to build the fastest-growing pest control company in the industry. Aptive now ranks as the 8th largest pest control firm in North America out of more than 20,000 competitors.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Vess! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I didn’t plan on making a career in the pest control industry, or even becoming an entrepreneur — I just kept following the opportunities in front of me until I found myself in a place I was passionate about. I started in 2006 as a sales representative at Moxie, the first company started by my now-business partner, David Royce. I performed very well that year, as well as the next couple years as a sales manager, but planned on leaving to law school after graduating college. David convinced me to stick around and “build something,” and laid out a vision of how we could work together to expand the business.
David eventually decided to sell Moxie in order to jumpstart his next venture, and I stuck around because I believed in that vision and knew what we could build. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot as entrepreneurs and leaders. We started Aptive in late 2015 as partners, and our plan is to grow the company to be the largest privately-held pest control company in the nation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
A few years ago, a competitor started making a concerted effort to draw away my top salespeople by offering them six-figure sign-on bonuses, and then matching what we were paying them. At the same time, my young son was in the pediatric intensive care unit with a serious medical condition. I had to split my time between being with my son at the hospital and keeping my sales organization together.
During that time, I was determined to not lose people to a competitor. This pushed me to do whatever it took to retain my top sales talent, including holding meetings in the middle of the night, because that’s when I was available. I would be with my son at the hospital and my employees would have meetings with this competitor until 1 or 2 a.m., and I would then tell them to come over, even at 3 a.m. I was committed to keeping our talent and making sure they were happy staying with our organization. In the end, my son pulled through and we only lost a couple of people out of three dozen targeted by the competitor — and one of them came back the following year. That was a challenge, and a testament to me about the power of having strong relationships with your employees and how determination can help you overcome almost any obstacle.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on, we didn’t forecast our cash needs properly and as a result I woke up one morning needing to find $1.5 million to fulfill my side of the partnership’s needed capital call — by the end of the day. With the help of a great money manager, I was able to obtain the needed cash to fulfill my capital obligation, but it was stressful! Lesson learned: always understand your company’s cash flows and make sure you have a “go-to” resource if you find yourself in a bind!
Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?
One of our biggest goals when starting Aptive was to give back to our community and the world as we grew larger. Last year, we donated nearly $450,000 to various organizations in the US and around the world. Our biggest single contribution — $250,000 — was to the United Nations’ non profit Nothing But Nets, which sends repellent-treated mosquito nets to areas suffering from malaria. We’ve contributed to that organization for 10 years now and we plan on increasing our donations in the future. Last year, we also went to a school in a remote part of Ecuador and donated our time and money into making significant improvements to the campus and roads that lead to the school in order to improve education and access for students in that region.
Closer to home, we were saddened to see the destruction caused by the wildfires in California and Utah last summer, especially considering how many of our employees consider those regions home. We donated money to buy and plant 5,000 new trees to help rebuild the environment in affected areas. Every year, we also provide Christmas for 100 families in need in the community around our headquarters in Provo, Utah. It’s so gratifying to be able to see first-hand the need that exists in our own backyard and do what we can to fill it.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?
Our work in Ecuador has been extremely rewarding, and it’s been touching to talk to the principal of that school as we’ve supported his efforts. His job is not easy — he gives nearly 100% of his time to providing this educational experience to students who otherwise would not have a chance at getting an education. The families in the area live at 14,000 feet in humble homes on the side of a rural mountain. Without this opportunity, they would be resigned to a life of labor. Instead, this school is sending kids off to college with scholarships.
Not only does the principal have to run a school, but he also has to figure out how to pay for it without the kind of government support we take for granted in the United States. He’s extremely grateful for what Aptive’s been able to do; he can hardly talk about our work without coming to tears. Before Aptive’s help, he wasn’t sure how long the school would last. It’s one thing to look at the results of giving back from a macro standpoint, but seeing the impact we’ve been able to make on a personal level has recommitted us to that work.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The two things in my mind that everyone must have is clean water and education. Recently, I’ve started to shift my passion and attention to those two necessities. We haven’t done a lot with water yet — it’s something that we would jump at doing, but haven’t found the right organization to partner with yet — but we have been able to help improve quality and access to education. Almost every problem in the world can be traced back to people who haven’t had a fair shot at education. That’s why I’m so passionate about the Ecuador project. I’m not an overly political person, but I support the thinking behind most legislation that will make it easier to access educational opportunities for all.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Employees want to be viewed as members of a team that are contributing to something bigger than their daily tasks. Great leaders help the people they lead to catch that vision. Great leaders raise the ambitions of those they lead and open their eyes to an elevated level of what’s possible. Great leaders listen and are not reactionary. Most importantly, great leaders train. They provide the skills necessary for their people to find success and reach their potential. With this principle in mind, Aptive has invested millions into training materials and software that help our people to be more competent and efficient in their jobs. I believe this commitment to training is a large reason why we enjoy such great employee retention, especially with our management team.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Plan out your day in 30-minute increments. I’m much more productive and much less stressed when I take the time to plan this way. I also always use a paper planner — the act of writing a task down as soon as it comes to mind and then having a physical reminder is much more effective for me than setting a reminder on my phone or calendar. There is also great satisfaction when you get to cross off completed tasks.
2. There’s no such thing as a perfect work/life balance. I believe many people fall short when it comes to their true dreams because they’re trying so hard to achieve a mythical work/life balance. Don’t get me wrong — you need to make time for family, work, fun, and anything else you’ve got going on, but I don’t think it’s necessary — or realistic — to be balanced every day. I think of it as more of a “balanced lifetime.” Sometimes your career is going to take more of your time, and other times maybe it’s your family that you’re going to have to prioritize. It’s more of a sliding scale that you have to continuously re-evaluate as new things come up and circumstances change.
3. Listen before you speak or react, and then listen a little longer after that. People jump to conclusions and they’re so reactionary without understanding the whole picture or understanding both sides of the story. Early on in my career, whatever I heard first was what I believed, but I’ve learned over the years it’s much more productive to understand all the circumstances surrounding a situation before coming to any certain conclusions.
4. Do the hardest things first. There’s a book called “Eat That Frog” and the principle is basically figure out the most challenging tasks of the day and do those at the very beginning; otherwise, you’ll just push them off and either not get them done or finish them late. You also want to perform the more challenging tasks early in the day when your energy is high.
5. Embrace stress (unless it’s self-inflicted). Stress is a sign that what you are doing matters. People talk about stress like it’s something you should avoid or work around, but I think that’s a wasted opportunity. You can use stress to help you focus and push you towards your goals. Don’t run from stress, it’s your friend.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I love the saying, “You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day or teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Because of that, I appreciate the idea of encouraging microfinance and giving people the tools they need to form small businesses so they don’t have to be dependent on government aid or other factors. Financial independence makes people self-reliant, and self-reliance fights poverty — self-reliance is freedom. When people have opportunities and mechanisms to become financially independent, they don’t have to rely on things like government aid, and they can help others around them while they’re at it. It’s an upward cycle.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are a lot of life lesson quotes that I live by, but I would say one of my favorites is “Set specific goals and make specific plans.” It’s simplistic, but it provides manageable ways for you to elevate your life. This life lesson has made me comfortable with setting big goals because you quickly realize that achieving big goals is just the product of doing a bunch of small things really consistently and really well. In a nutshell, your big goals will feel less daunting and more achievable.
For example, I remember when we set a goal to build our own custom headquarters, rather than leasing regular office space, which required us to hit certain revenue benchmarks over a couple year period. We completed that goal and purchased our own Silicon Valley-like building that includes an NCAA basketball court, golf simulator, movie room, and other amenities to increase employee morale and show our team how much we appreciate them.
Last year, we set a goal to service our 500,000th customer. That accomplishment required a concerted effort across all of our locations and involved every team member. And it worked — we met the half-million mark in September 2018, and then exceeded it by adding another 50,000 customers by the end of the year. Our current goal is to become the best pest control company in the country. Last year, Pest Control Technologies Magazine ranked us the 8th largest out of more than 20,000 competitors. Every year we close the gap to that number-one spot, and it’s really exciting to all our team members.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’ve always looked up to Abraham Lincoln. He followed his heart and was firm in his convictions, even though the way he viewed slavery was, at that time, political suicide. He was quick to listen slow to speak, and had a thoughtfulness about him that most political figures didn’t have then or now.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn: Vess Pearson
LinkedIn: Aptive Environmental
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!