As a successful landscaping business entrepreneur, chances are you don’t spend a lot of time writing out carbon copy invoices by hand. You probably don’t peck out proposals on a typewriter, and it would certainly be odd if your office computer dominated 1,800 square feet of space.
Your landscaping business would certainly look and feel a lot different if these technologies from the past were still the status quo. From archaic paper filing systems to the classic Rolodex for keeping contacts straight, landscape entrepreneurs sure had their hands full in years past. In this post, we’ll have a look at landscape business technology trends from the 1920s to today and explore just how different your business may have looked in another era!
Philo Farnsworth, a technical prodigy from an early age, made his first successful electronic television transmission in 1927. It would take years of financial wrangling and negotiating deals for the technology to go mainstream, and even longer still for the TV advertising industry to begin.
Bulova was the first advertiser on TV, and it wasn’t until 1941 that the brand’s 10-second spot aired. In it, you can hear NBC staff radio announcer Ray Forrest’s voice proclaiming “America runs on Bulova time!”
That commercial cost the company a grand total of $9—five dollars for station charges and another $4 for airtime charges. Today, you can expect to pay a minimum of $5 per 1,000 viewers for a 30-second commercial, if you want to get your landscaping business on TV.
We often think of the 1970s as the advent of computer technology, but physicist and mathematician John V. Atanasoff and his student Clifford Berry actually designed the first electronic digital computer in 1937.
Encouraged by his father, Berry (pictured here in 1942) tinkered with electricity as a child and became a brilliant student. Berry and Atanasoff both left Iowa in 1942 for defense-related jobs. Courtesy of Iowa State University Library, Special Collections Department.
The Atanasoff-Berry Computer solved differential equations using binary arithmetic, in which all numbers are expressed with 0 or 1. Today, you can run all aspects of your landscaping business — from CRM to budgeting and estimating, and right on through to invoicing—on your mobile device. Just imagine having to contend with a computer like that earliest iteration!
The 1930s also brought us the first version of walkie-talkies, the two-way radio. Canadian inventor Donald Hings created the first two-way radio for his employer and before long, it became a critical part of the military’s communications system. Landscaping businesses everywhere still use this technology today to communicate with team members on large sites.
Although earlier patents were filed for the transistor (first by Austrian-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld on October 22, 1925, then by German physicist Dr. Oskar Heil in 1934), it wasn’t until the first public demonstration in 1947 that the technology really gained traction.
John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain at Bell Labs, 1948. Photo credit: AT&T; photographer: Jack St. (last part of name not stamped well enough to read), New York, New York. Photo in public domain.
The inventors went on to win the Nobel Physics Prize for “their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect.” Even so, it took years for the transistor to gain commercial appeal and on October 1, 1951, the world’s first commercial transistor line went into production at the Western Electric plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Early uses for the transistor included hearing aids, telephone exchanges, and transistor radios. Today, the MOSFET or MOS transistor technology developed by Mohamed Atalla in the 1950s powers all kinds of electronics you might use in your landscaping business, from pocket calculators to computers and smartphones.
Before you could scan a business card with your smartphone or connect with a potential customer on LinkedIn, you still needed a way to keep track of contacts. People kept address books, but they were messy and difficult to maintain. Every few years, as friends and customers moved, you had to rewrite the whole thing out again.
Enter the Rolodex, brainchild of Brooklyn inventor Arnold Neustadter. This simple but wildly popular piece of office technology enabled people to simply add or remove contact cards at will. It was a small but impactful revolution in business management; in fact, your Rolodex became a valuable commodity, depending on who was in it.
The Rolodex gave landscape business owners and other entrepreneurs an easily accessible way to organize and maintain contact information. Photo: Public domain.
Rolodex wasn’t his first crack at office organization; Neustadter had created the Swivodex to keep ink bottles from spilling, and the Clipodex to secure stenographers’ pads for them.
Today, you probably manage most of your landscaping business contacts in your CRM software, a contact database on your device or in an email program. But for decades, you would have kept your customer information, landscaping vendors and more in your Rolodex.
Until the 1960s, your options for transmitting visual information were extremely limited. If you wanted to review landscape architecture drawings with a customer, you were almost certainly going to do it in person. And when suppliers wanted to send you an agreement or contract, it was either in person or by snail mail.
Xerox disrupted business communications in 1964 when they launched LDX (Long Distance Xerography).
1964-Long Distance Xerography. Photo credit: Xerox archives.
Although facsimile technology spans all the way back to inventor Alexander Bain’s first transmissions of imagery over a wire in 1843, Xerox was responsible for making the technology a business management staple over a century later.
Two years after the LDX came out, Xerox introduced the Magnafax Telecopier. It could be connected to any telephone line and could transmit a letter-sized document in six minutes! There’s an awful lot more you can do today in six minutes using modern landscaping business software than wait for a single page to transmit.
The 1970s brought about rapid-fire innovation on the technology front that would change the ways we do business forever. On March 8, 1974, Ray Tomlinson sent the first network email using ARPANET.
Imagine running your landscaping business on an Altair 8800 Computer with 8-inch floppy disk system. Photo: public domain.
1974 also brought us Altair, the first personal computer small enough for home use, followed the Apple II in 1977, then the TRS-80 and the Commodore PET. Finally, Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn came out the same year with the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), the foundation of the Internet we enjoy and rely on today.
In 1978, serial entrepreneur Gordon Mathews filed a patent for the technology we would come to know as voicemail (his first Voice Message Express system was sold to 3M).
It’s hard to believe that it took humanity over 100 years to evolve from the steam engine (1765) to the internal combustion engine in 1876, yet in the relatively short span of the 70s we saw the launch of some of the most impactful new technologies of our time. And in the years since, technological innovation has increased dramatically.
Although the first “portable” computer came out in 1975, the IBM 5100 rocked the scales at a whopping 55 lbs. It wasn’t until 1981 that we saw the first true laptop come to market. At 24½ pounds and with a 5-inch display, the Osborne I wasn’t exactly fit for tossing in your bag to do business on the road. Check out this video of a restored Osborne I in action:
The first cellular phones weren’t exactly “mobile,” either. Motorola debuted a 4.4lb handset in 1973, but it took until the early 1980s for commercial cell networks to gain traction in Europe and North America. The Motorola DynaTAC received FCC approval in 1983 and became the first commercially available cellular phone on the market.
Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first publicized handheld mobile phone call on a prototype DynaTAC model on April 3, 1973. This is a reenactment in 2007. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The DynaTAC cost $3,995 in 1984. It took 10 hours to charge in order to achieve 30 minutes of talk time. Can you even imagine trying to run your landscaping business on a phone like that?
With personal computers and cell phones now on the market, companies focused on ways to improve and expand these offerings. New operating systems launched, computers became faster and smaller, and features like Bluetooth (1994) and flash drives (1999) helped consumers make better use of their devices.
Perhaps the most iconic technological advancement of this decade was Tim Berners-Lee’s 1991 introduction of the World Wide Web. For the first time, members of the public could retrieve information from the “web.”
The Apple Powerbook 150 was an early iteration of the line Apple produced until 2006. Photo by Dana Sibera.
The early 90s also saw the launch of Apple’s PowerBook line, a more successful follow-up to its earlier Macintosh Portable (a commercial flop). Olivetti developed the touchpad for laptops, and IBM released the first laptop with an integrated CD-ROM drive.
You may not know it, but the first smartphone came out in the 90s, as well. IBM launched the Simon Personal Communicator, with the connectivity of a phone and the functionality of a PDA, in 1993. Although it could make phone calls, send emails, send faxes and more, the $899 price tag kept Simon out of most smaller entrepreneurs’ reach.
Each of these technological developments introduced new efficiencies and conveniences for landscapers, but they weren’t yet widespread. Not quite yet…
Technologically, our world has changed more in the last 20 years than in the hundred or more prior. Steve Jobs conceived of the iPhone and brought that vision to life in 2008 with the iPhone 2G, the first in a long line of commercially revered Apple smartphones. Its touchscreen changed the way consumers interact with their handheld devices and greatly contributed to the expectations people have of their devices even now. Check out his iPhone unveiling announcement at MacWorld 2007:
The Internet exploded in sheer scope and popularity as consumers and businesses alike became publishers of their own content. Currently, the Internet doubles in size every two years and, by 2020, is expected to have 50 billion devices connected to it. The Google Search index, according to the search giant itself, contains hundreds of billions of webpages and is well over 100,000,000 gigabytes in size.
With all of this connectivity, Jobs saw an opportunity to add functionality and interactivity on the iPhone through apps. Indeed, companies like Blackberry that weren’t as good at the app game and couldn’t keep pace with Apple on user experience have now fallen to the wayside. In July 2008, the App Store launched with just 500 apps. Developers raced to create more and in 2010, when Apple introduced the iPad, it already had 2,000 compatible apps. By the time the App Store for iOS launched in 2011, apps were so wildly popular that there were over 1 million iOS app downloads on the first day alone.
Today, we use apps for all kinds of reasons and as of 2018, there were over 20 million iOS developers catering to 500 million weekly App Store visitors. Apps for time tracking are certainly growing in popularity among landscapers looking to increase efficiency.
Landscape professionals are simply too busy to manage multiple disparate apps or tools that don’t communicate and share information with one another. LMN launched its software in 2009 to give landscape businesses an easy-to-use, mobile-friendly business platform from which to manage and grow their business.
Today, over 85,000 landscape professionals trust LMN for their budgeting, planning, scheduling, invoicing and more.
Consumer expectations have changed dramatically—people are now willing to share their personal and transactional information with companies, but expect more in return from service providers than ever before.
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