Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to Marc-Arnold Christophe and Ryan Ferguson.
Their terminations got them fired-up and gave them the freedom to launch their own business, True Green, a landscaping company.
The 23-year-olds met in 2012, at their first job. They were hired by a leading landscaping company primarily servicing gated communities and up-scale properties. The young men brought to the job experience beyond their age. Both spent a large portion of their teenage years working part-time in yard maintenance beautifying the lawns of neighbors and friends to earn extra money.
For Christophe, landscaping was a hobby, a means to drum-up some extra cash while he pursued his dream of joining the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) and ultimately becoming a detective. Ferguson too wanted to join the force. His goal, however, was to save enough funds to invest in his own landscaping business.
When Christophe was terminated from his job in 2016, it shocked him and prompted some soul-searching. “I felt like I did everything right and they let me go. It hurt. That was my first job. I had been there five years and was let go without severance pay,” he recalls. “I thought at the time, ‘So this is what it was like working for someone after all the sweat, blood and tears you put in.'”
Before seeking employment elsewhere, Christophe formed True Green in February of that year. He reached out to his former co-worker and friend, Ferguson to share the good news.
Although he had received two promotions from the landscaping company, Ferguson had left his first job for greener pastures after only a year-and-a-half. Chasing pay increases he had changed jobs twice since then and was working with a company catering to a predominantly Lyford Cay clientele.
“I was happy for him. I was always ready to go big. We had talked about forming a business before, but he wasn’t ready. He thought I was dreaming too big,” said Ferguson. “I told him if I ever lost my job I would come and join him.”
Shortly after forming True Green, Christophe accepted a job with a well-established landscaping company having exhausted his savings purchasing a truck, tools and equipment for the new business. Christophe stayed with the firm for six months before resigning.
In the meantime, Ferguson was thriving working with his third lawn maintenance company. By 2016, he had been promoted to foreman having spent many hours enhancing his knowledge, studying online, then, successfully implementing what he had learnt.
“My boss started to give me bigger yards. Then he took the skilled guys from me and gave me recruits. So he wanted me to train guys and push out these big yards,” said Ferguson. “I didn’t have a problem doing it. The problem was at the end of the day if I didn’t complete a job I was penalized, not the guys. Plus, there was no additional compensation.”
Becoming increasingly frustrated, Ferguson began to butt heads with his boss and was ultimately let go.
The journey from terminated employees to head honchos at their new company has not been easy, said the men. Along the way they have had to work out kinks in their partnership, pursue self-development opportunities and exercise a willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of the business.
Family support was crucial in those early days when Christophe’s mother or Ferguson’s grandmother would provide lunch for the pair and their helpers since money was scarce.
“It has been a learning experience,” says Christophe. When the pair went full-time into their business venture they would head out to look for work around 9am. “We had to learn time management,” says Ferguson. “Now we leave home at 6am.”
Since those early days, the pair has been relentless in drumming up business.
“On weekends we would go to upscale communities hand out business cards, knock on people’s doors, just be a pest, a nuisance, until people got tired and gave us a job,” says Ferguson.
“People saw that we were young and wanted to work instead of being out there doing dumb things. In the beginning, they didn’t have much work for us, but they would find things for us to do to keep us busy, to keep us encouraged, and to keep us going.”
For the young men, failure was not an option. “We were just hungry,” says Christophe thinking back to those early days when the pair went around to local radio stations in an attempt to cold-pitch hosts on letting them appear as a guest on a show.
The strategy paid off at the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas where for two-days in a row, they staked out popular radio show host, Darold Miller. The media personality did them one better expanding their idea into a show centered upon entrepreneurship.
“That was the biggest come-up of our career,” says Ferguson of the April 2016 appearance.
Another milestone occurred that year when Ferguson won a $10,000 grant from OWN Bahamas, an entrepreneurial initiative sponsored by Island Luck. The money was promptly invested in tools and equipment for the business.
What were priceless were the education and mentorship opportunities associated with the grant, the pair said. The men were able to meet with prominent members of society including Paul Major, Ed Fields and Sandy Sands. They were also able to participate in small business development classes offered at the University of The Bahamas (then College of The Bahamas).
The business has changed the young men’s outlook on life. “Other guys are worried about cars, vanity and other expenses. We cut-back on a lot of things in our day-to-day life, like partying. We don’t do that,” says Ferguson.
Christophe echoed similar sentiments: “It’s about living within your means. We’re not sinking profits into our pockets, or our bank accounts. We are investing it back into the business.”
Aside from the owners, True Green has a workforce of two. That number swelled to 20 in the wake of Hurricane Matthew when the restoration effort in New Providence was at its peak.
Presently, True Green has a 40-strong client base although the business attracts new customers daily.
The next step for the business is to expand further, in order to do just that the men are working to secure storage space, another truck and ultimately, a brick and mortar storefront.
“Our goal is to have dedicated crews for maintenance, landscape, irrigation and interiorscape (using plants to decorate inside a building),” says Ferguson. “We believe the sky is the limit.”