Plantify is South Africas first "Urban Plantery" - a term this quirky startup created to distinguish themselves from a Garden Center or common nursery. Plantify’s value-add is that they offer exceptional quality plants and more interesting varieties - and they make the matching pot selection easy. They also provide plant care instructions, and deliver throughout South Africa. Heavy Chef spoke to founder Andreas Keller about how the business was conceptualised and the lessons he’s learning along the way.
Andreas, how did the idea for Plantify come about?
I wanted to start an automated online business by dropshipping products in the US and chose a product category that I am passionate about - plants. It was challenging to get the business to work remotely, without being in the US, and I wasn't prepared to leave Cape Town! So through my research in trying to set the US business up, I realised that South Africans were underserved in the realm of indoor plant decor: the plants that we see on Instagram weren't available; you could only purchase plants at large retailers or at garden centers which may have been out of stock when you arrived; the quality left me disappointed and the selection of pots was limited. I thought we could do plants better. I modelled Plantify around the experience that I would appreciate as a discerning and passionate plant enthusiast.
We had some pivotal key moments along the way. In March 2017, I found a grower of Fiddle Leaf Figs, when nobody had them in Cape Town yet. I placed an ad on Gumtree and filled up my spare bedroom and garage with plants. In April that year, I started selling plants at the Biscuit Mill to get feedback from people on what they liked. We launched our online store. Then, in 2017, I was joined by my first colleague to develop content and help with packaging of orders. That July, we bagged our first corporate order by shipping 36 plants to Le Creuset retail stores. By October, we were partnering with Manon Botha in running the Oranjezicht City Farm Market nursery.
The following year, we joined a wellbeing collaboration venue called The Happy Space in Kloof Nek Road thereby adding office space, a greenhouse for storage and brick-n-retail space.
Then, this year, April, we launched our Office line of plants and planters and off-site plantscaping service.
How do you differentiate from nurseries and garden centres?
We differentiate from nurseries and garden centres by offering convenience. Our fans can order plants online, and through our packaging and vetted couriers, we safely ship plants to anywhere in SA. We offer selection. We source plants that people see on Pinterest and Instagram and which you may not find in conventional plant outlets. We ensure quality: We are meticulous in monitoring the quality of plants that we sell. Every plant is hand selected for health and aesthetics. We offer service. Customers can call, email or DM us on any social network and we help our clients thing through their specific application. And finally, we offer comprehensive Plant Care: we offer detailed care instructions for all of our plants, giving our fans the confidence to care for their new green friends.
Andreas, why do you think there's a need for this now?
A couple of factors are contributing towards a growing trend for indoor plants. We live increasingly urban lives and have a yearning to be around nature. Our modern lifestyles may mean that we don't get to the park or nature walk during the week, but we still have the need to see, feel and commune with the natural environment. There's a growing awareness of the tremendous health benefits that plants can offer in terms of air quality, mental wellbeing and simply caring for something. Also, people are having kids later in life, may not have space or the lifestyle for pets, but still want something to nourish and take care of. Plants are ideal for that.
What are some of the challenges you've faced as an entrepreneur? - and how do you aim to solve them?
There are many. Starting a business on a shoestring was important, but challenging. My mantra has been: collaborations, collaborations, collaborations. It’s essential to be open to sharing value exchanges with other businesses.
Then, knowing what not to do. Every day, I'm faced with opportunities which could steer our business in a different direction. I try and be disciplined and follow the Amazon principle of not sacrificing long term value for short term results. This requires discipline and trust in our vision.
Maintaining quality in an omnichannel world without the systems to support it. No clever answer here, except building simple personal and team-level systems and practices that keep track of products and information.
Finally, what are some of the things that SA / Africa entreps need to see happen in order for our ecosystem to be more successful?
My sense is that the South African ecosystem would benefit from some fairly fundamental support services that help entrepreneurs bridge some of the crucial early stage challenges of getting a business going when the pressure can be at its highest. As entrepreneurs, we have several critical needs at this stage.
We need mentorship. We need experienced help through the myriad of challenges that entrepreneurs need to tackle on a daily basis, thinking through a problem, evaluating opportunities and their impact, developing a marketing strategy, and simply providing encouragement with the psychological pressures of having skin in the game.
We need marketing and social media support, assistance on building a brand online and all the components that go into that - design, social media etc. And how these dovetail with an effective marketing strategy which may involve paid advertising. For the uninitiated, this can be overwhelming and very time consuming to learn.
We need systems development assistance. Bad process costs time and money. This could be anything from setting up the accounts on Xero, to simple spreadsheets to manage leads or Task Checklists for employees.
These services are offered in Incubators and Accelerators, but could also be offered by government or donors in a more service-level, less programatic way. Entrepreneur can find the services that they need, at a subsidized price point, for short to long term help. And not just for tech startups... also for businesses selling "stuff".