As Sheldon Zhang reflects on selling Yardly after seven years of grinding, bittersweet is the word that comes to mind.
He and Terry Song started building what they saw as "Uber for snow removal" in 2015 with visions of something that could go big. "We had high expectations," Zhang said. "We both quit our jobs fairly early on, and started both working on this full-time, quickly hired a couple of employees, and put a lot of personal savings into it."
It soon became clear, however, that Yardly was not going to be a $100-million company that revolutionized the way yard work and snow removal were done. "There was a little bit of sadness that we couldn't really accomplish our original goals," Zhang said.
After pivoting and restructuring a few times, they stopped trying to build a world-changing startup and focused on making a successful business. That allowed them to sell the company, which they left in July.
Zhang would not reveal the owner's identity or disclose the selling price, but he said Yardly is profitable, and the new owner has the resources to make it grow.
"Even though we didn't get a 20x exit, we still were able to sell it, and it was still life-changing for us."
Zhang is still adjusting to his new-found freedom from the day-to-day cares of keeping his business going. Getting used to his new identity has also been a challenge, he wrote in a post about his future plans.
"Everyone we knew really knew us as the Yardly guys," he told Taproot. "As I started to change my email or change my LinkedIn description, I started to think, 'Hmm, what am I? Am I just like a startup enthusiast now? How do I define myself?'"
For now, he is the principal at Zalis Ventures, a "side project" to provide advice to a few early-stage founders who could benefit from the lessons that Zhang learned the hard way.
He's calling it a side project "because I don't anticipate I want to run this very long," he said. "I want to really take a year's time, help a few companies, and then I can focus on my next startup."
That company will be in fintech, he said. Though he remains friends with Song, he's looking for a new co-founder, someone with complementary skills and experience in banking or lending.
He has no interest in leaving entrepreneurship behind. An engineer by training, he realized after four years of working for someone else that he couldn't make the impact he wanted to make. A few months into starting Yardly, he wrote to APEGA to renounce his designations, he said.
"Even at our most difficult time, when we had to work very long hours and deal with a lot of crisis, I never really regretted for a single second taking this journey," he said.
And though he contemplated relocating, he has decided he wants to continue that journey in Edmonton.
"Even though I wasn't born and raised here, it's really home to me."
Learn more about the lessons Zhang wants to impart to early-stage founders on the Sept. 15 episode of Bloom, Taproot's podcast about innovation in Edmonton.