Plant-care startup Horticure brings a breath of fresh air into homes
When we arrived at the home of Deborah Choi, founder and CEO of Horticure on a stifling-hot Berlin summer afternoon, we almost collapsed in delight when she threw open the door to welcome us into not an apartment, but an oasis. Deborah’s cool, fresh and plant-filled space is exactly how you might imagine the CEO of Horticure, a direct-to-consumer houseplant clinic, herself lives.
Deborah’s lush, leafy home home is certainly a great advertisement for the benefits of having access to on-demand horticulturalists. Deborah describes her plant ownership before she founded Horticure as follows: “I went to IKEA, bought a ton of plants, killed them. So I went to a specialty shop, spent more money, did the same thing.” Determined to find a more efficient way to rear plants, Deborah did her research–and struck out on finding any services that offered hands-on support. She discovered that “there's a lot of anxiety in this plant world–people buy plants and then they kill them. Plants should make you feel good.”
Deborah launched a personalized “plant clinic” service provided by a staff of trained horticulturalists. The service proved popular and until earlier this year, over 60% of Horticure’s clinic bookings were done in-home, in cities including Berlin, London, New York and San Francisco. However, COVID-19 had other plants–sorry, plans–for the company, as the in-home services were effectively shut down.
As well as indefinitely closing the consumer side of her business, COVID-19 also forced Deborah to pivot a product model that was underway. “During service appointments, our customers would also ask for the right plants for their space–but we weren’t in the business of selling plants.” An entrepreneur doesn’t see a problem without looking for a solution, so Deborah pitched local plant sellers an e-commerce opportunity, Horticure Marketplace.
It seemed like a win-win for both Horticure and plant stores who couldn’t manage the infrastructure for online sales; however, when the pandemic hit, the same stores had to close their doors. In the ensuing scramble to take their businesses online, the marketplace opportunity got lost.
As someone who describes herself as a “hustler more than an entrepreneur”, Deborah wasn’t deterred, and turned the opportunity around fast: instead of partnering with local sellers, she went directly to suppliers with a drop-shipping model. Horticure’s indoor plant Flash Sales offer individual plants and starter kits that seemed to appeal uniquely to quarantined customers, and sold EUR25k in the first two months. When the lockdown lifted, Horticulture also launched pop-ups including a 9 day retail store featuring exotic plants, and a plant spa installation filled with plant-purified, clean air.
As well as responding to challenges as they arise, Deborah has also been proactive about pursuing developmental opportunities to take Horticure further. After completing Bosch’s five-month accelerator last year, a close girlfriend sent Deborah a link to the Google for Startups Immersion: Women Founders program. She immediately applied with expectations based on her previous experience in an accelerator. However, she says, she didn’t expect how she would feel: “I underestimated how amazing it would feel to walk into this room with other women, all on this very similar journey. I left the program with an amazing tribe.”
Deborah left Immersion: Women Founders with more than a support system of fellow women founders: she also took away an OKR practice that served Horticure earlier than she expected to need one. “Before the program, I didn’t think we were at a stage where it made sense to introduce OKRs; we didn’t yet have a complex management structure.” Deborah’s mentor helped her use OKRs to outline her vision for the business and break it down into manageable chunks. The practice turned out to be empowering, helping her to develop a muscle for identifying realistic goals as well as opportunities.
Aside from implementing OKRs early, what’s the one piece of advice Deborah would give every founder? “Take risks. Failure, in my opinion, doesn't really exist. Over time you can look back and see the bigger picture and see the connection in how things unfolded. But what is always real is regret; I will always live with my regrets, where I didn't take the risk because I was afraid of failing.”
Founders Book Club
What book are you reading right now?
The Mom Test: How To Talk To Customers & Learn If Your Business Is A Good Idea When Everyone Is Lying To You by Rob Fitzpatrick. “I've read it four times now. It’s based on the premise that if you tell your mom about your business idea, most likely she's gonna say, “That's a great idea! I'm gonna be your first customer”–that's useless if you're getting started. The book tells you how to have customer interviews at different stages of your development that get you meaningful information, as opposed to information that you know you can’t work with.
Immersion: Women Founders is a 12-week, skill-building mentorship program for high potential women-led startups selected from startup communities across Europe, including the UK and Israel. The program aims to address predominant challenges for women founders in the startup ecosystem with the aim to close the gender gap, ensuring more equal access to funding, and leveraging strong professional networks.
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