If you’ve ever watched Animal Planet’s three seasons of “Insane Pools: Off the Deep End,” you’ve seen the jaw-dropping creations of Lucas Congdon. His creativity, ingenuity and attention to detail have transformed the pool design industry. His elaborate projects are literally a dream come true for his clients, featuring everything from cascading waterfalls, hidden caves and lush landscaping to state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, stunning outdoor kitchens and thrilling waterslides.
We were lucky enough to sit down recently for a virtual interview with Lucas. During our conversation, he shared with us how his company Lucas Lagoons grew from one pool renovation in Florida to a portfolio of 150 properties around the world with 25 people on his crew and $15 million in annual billings. The award-winning designer and reality TV celebrity dishes on how he got into the business, what keeps him motivated, and why landscaping and pool design is a dream job.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: How did you get started in the industry?
I grew up in Vermont, and after my parents’ divorce, my mom started a landscaping business to support herself. I was around 12 and just grew up helping mom. I started cutting and crafting stone and we did dry-laid patios and walkways. We did a couple of waterfalls but it was mostly landscaping and gardening. I went off to Montana State—I was going to do landscape architecture—but school made me quickly realize I was a hands-on person, so I moved to Florida. I worked for a tree service company for six months, then a landscaper for six months, and knew I had to do my own thing.
Q: Do you remember your first pool project?
I had started my own landscaping business down in Florida and had an opportunity to do a pool remodel. I had the idea to put the natural stone I grew up working with on the pools—all the pools in Florida were all just concrete boring pools. We incorporated the landscaping and the rock work around the pool. The first job came out beautiful.
Q: What do you love most about designing pools?
I love building pools because it’s such an intimate thing. People get in the pool, they have fun, they’re totally immersed in your creation. That’s what really excites me, thinking about how much people will enjoy it. And I just love water. It’s so calming. It’s kind of like building waterfront property for people. Not everyone can afford to live on the ocean, but we can build that environment in someone’s backyard, and it’s really cool.
Q: When you’re doing such innovative projects, how are you able to accurately estimate costs?
It’s always an issue. There are always unforeseen issues, no matter how good you get at it. When we travel for jobs, there are more expenses to consider, the housing costs for our crew for example. A new construction project we’re doing right now got delayed two years. We’d already submitted the contract but now prices have gone up. There have been times we lost a lot of money on jobs, but I don’t ever cut a corner to make up for it. I always make sure the job is credible.
Q: What were some of your biggest obstacles starting out?
One of the biggest obstacles in any business is building the awareness and getting out the brand of who you are. And there’s the struggle of finding big, creative, fun projects, and finding people with the budget to do them. I like to challenge myself, and I’m always searching for the bigger and better jobs. The show has really helped with that.
Q: How did the show come about?
Animal Planet came to me after seeing some of my work on YouTube. I started making YouTube videos about 10 years ago. I was hoping we would one day have a show, but I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would happen. I had actually thought about going to school for film production, so with the show, I’ve been able to combine both my passions.
Q: What have been the pros and cons of filming a show?
We’ve been really proud of the show. But the hardest part was juggling someone else’s production schedule while still getting our jobs done. My guys aren’t actors, we’re just real people working hard to complete projects for our clients. And of course the good part has been the awesome exposure. Even before the show, clients saw my videos online and they were able to see my work, see who I was, how passionate I am, my attention to detail … so when I went in to meet with them for the first time, instead of feeling like I was on an interview, they’d give me a hug, and it felt like they knew me forever. They already trusted me. I don’t have to give them the hard sell because they’ve already been sold. I can really just enjoy listening to what they want and be creative.
Q: What’s been your biggest surprise after filming the show?
Well, one of the best parts has been getting drawings of pool designs from kids who’ve watched and who want to show me their work. I love being able to inspire their creativity and reach a new generation.
Q: Do you have any advice for young people considering the business or just starting out?
Everyone makes mistakes, especially when you’re doing something you’ve never done before, there’s a learning curve. We’re all human, but as long as you put your clients and your projects first, you’ll come out on top. The work is fun and creative but it’s also really hard. I couldn’t imagine having a job where I had to stare at the clock all day. With this, 12 hours goes by in an instant because we’re so focused and having fun. The time flies. Working with your hands and being out in nature, it’s pretty awesome.
Q: How do you recruit and retain good people?
During the years, I’ve been pretty blessed to get great people who work hard and take pride in what they do. You have to treat people right and be flexible—move them around and find their strengths and what they love to do. I think that’s how you get the best performance out of people. One guy started out just mixing mortar, and come to find out he was very talented at photography. So I moved him into managing our design studio and doing our photography and videography. Now he’s excited because he’s doing something he loves.
Q: How many employees do you have?
We have about 25 right now. We had five of us for years and have really grown in the past few years. I had this other company who did subcontract work for me, and I brought them in and made them partners on the construction side of the business. They had talented guys, and we’re so busy, so being able to absorb that other company allowed us to really grow and do more projects.
Q: Is there one thing you love most about your job?
When I turn on the waterfall for the first time and people come out screaming in excitement, that it’s better than they imagined, that feels really good. I’m a people-person and love making people happy. I live for those accolades.
Q: What’s next for you?
My long-term goal is to build a good company that hopefully stays around even after I’m gone. I want to leave a legacy. Now that the show is over, I’d love to one day self-produce and sell it to Netflix. I’ve been traveling more and doing some consulting in Australia and Spain and we’re working all over the country, but I want to balance that with quality time with my young family, too.