This woman entrepreneur took a career break, set up a business and is now acing both her career and startup life.

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Have you ever played parent to a potted plant? Turns out, they’re not just pretty to look at, but actually impact well being. A recent study has found that workers with at least one plant in their office or cubicle rated themselves as happier at work and more satisfied with life in general than those without a plant. To our surprise, they were happier than workers who have a window to look out of. So, having green foliage impacts us humans more than sunlight or a view. Impressive!

That’s probably why we see an increasing number of people finding happiness in potted plants. This is especially true in cities, where finding a patch of green is a bit of a challenge. And, because they’re easy on the pocket and don’t really require you to have a green thumb, it’s hardly surprising to see that potted plants have become the go-to gifting option for many occasions.

Gayathri Suresh, Founder of Gift My Plants, One stop destination for corporate gifting of live saplings. Concurs, “We sell thousands of indoor saplings and the demand peaks during festive seasons, pointing to the growing popularity of gifting plants.”

The three-year-old Bengaluru-based venture offers a range of indoor air purification plants, designer pots, mini gardens, terrariums and planters of all kinds. They also have garden accessories like lanterns and miniatures . With a presence in Bengaluru’s Inorbit Mall where they retail products, the venture also undertakes bulk orders for corporate and individuals. Today, the startup also undertakes vertical gardening and balcony landscaping projects in addition to selling live saplings.

How Gayathri spotted this market opportunity and steered a successful business makes for an interesting conversation.

Nurturing both career and passion

If anything, Gayathri, loved her job at a Bengaluru-based leadership talent search firm. “I had multiple opportunities to grow across different roles in my career, starting off as a sourcing specialist and climbing up the ladder to become a business development manager. I enjoyed every bit of my job.” She adds. “In my spare time, I tapped into my creative side as well as my passion for gardening.” As an art enthusiast, she also hand-painted pots and retailed them through her personal Facebook page. Slowly, she began exploring different mediums and the traction for the products continued to increase over the years. “It was during this time that I thought I could use a career break and explore my creative sensibilities. I took a break from my job in early 2016 and started strategizing on my next move.”

Her research pointed towards the rising popularity of plants as a gifting option. “I delved deeper to understand the market, the demand, and the craft of the trade.” With no one in her immediate circle of family and friends having taken the entrepreneurial plunge, meant Gayathri didn’t have anyone to rely on or mentor under. “Be it finalising on the USP, connecting with other entrepreneurs in the sector or reaching out to vendors, I had only myself to bank upon.”

Gayathri put in a lot of groundwork before she could give wings to her dreams. “When I was researching, there were few players in the market, who were into selling garden accessories along with plants. I connected with many of them to understand the challenges and opportunities in the sector. During my research, I also spoke to people around to understand the kind of plants they would like to gift. All this groundwork helped to finalise my USP. I decided to venture into offering indoor plants, mostly air-purification plants, owing to their health and psychological benefits and that they were low on maintenance. I also knew offering unique planters would add to the appeal, so I plugged them in as well.”

Getting the groundwork right for growth

Nurturing her business wasn’t too different to nurturing a plant to help it grow - and with all the right conditions in place, grow it did. “In fact, I came with the brand name overnight and created a facebook page with the name Gift My Plants and started posting the products across various groups in Facebook pages where people where enquiring about eco-friendly gifting options. The results were phenomenal, 99 percent of the enquiries converted to sales and sold hundreds of plants in a couple of days,” she says.

That said, most customer interactions often started with ‘Do you have a store where I can buy the plants from?’. That’s when she realised many of them wanted to have a touch and feel aspect while buying plants. “Even though Gift My Plants was primarily a home-based venture, I began to participate in flea markets, which not only boosted my sales but also gave me an opportunity to interact with customers and forge connections,” adds Gayathri.

It was one such flea market that led Gayathri into starting her own physical space. “One day, I got a call from the Centre Head of Inorbit Mall in Bengaluru. They were eager to let out a kiosk for GiftMyPlants. It was an 8x8 ft space. But, to me, it was a world of opportunities. So in March 2017, I opened my first and only retail space ” Not only has that little kiosk been a phenomenal business driver but has also helped her diversify into vertical gardening and balcony landscaping.

Increasing the green cover of the business

Gayathri had a green thumb and a small but thriving garden in her balcony. “When you make that your business however, it’s a whole different ball game. One of my favourite things about turning it into a business was visiting farms and interacting with the farmers and growers there. It helped me learn how to identify which plants were ready, what was their growing period, their health indicators, etc.”

One of the things she noticed was that a number of ventures in the market, while they had a huge variety of plants, were typically off-shoots of wholesalers. Their plants are mass produced, sometimes at the cost of plant quality. So early on, Gayathri had decided not to take that route. Which meant, every single plant had to be hand-picked. “Once we get a query, regardless of whether is a bulk order or a single plant order, we share the available options and customisations,handpick the plants and planters, do the potting, allow the pot to set for two or three days and ensure it meets the desired quality before delivery.” What’s more, in its early days, , when Gift My Plants was a one-woman army, Gayathri would do all of it herself, with some help from her family. , “My family rallied for my success and even pitched in to help, be it watering the plants or potting them, when there was a rise in demand, they always came forth to help.”

The thirst to be a hands-on learner, helped Gayathri grow GiftMyPlants into a successful and growing venture beyond just gifting plants. “It wouldn’t be wrong to say the GiftMyPlants kiosk has been an eye-grabber at the Inorbit Mall. Plants have a certain charm to them. Sometime last year, I was asked by the Inorbit team if we could work on a vertical garden in the parking area. Even though I had never done one earlier, I decided to equip myself with the know-how and execute the project.” And, as luck would have it, the first vertical garden project was a hit. Given the high footfall at the mall, Gayathri’s first vertical garden project attracted more leads and references not just for vertical garden projects but also for GiftMyPlants. And one such customer enquiry once again helped Gayathri explore a new revenue stream. “A customer asked me if I could work on a balcony garden. I had never done one earlier, but that definitely was not a reason to say no. So, once again, I learnt and executed the project. Today, I have executed over 20 vertical gardening and balcony landscaping projects.”

While GiftMyPlant’s core focus will continue to be individual and corporate gifting of live saplings, Gayathri is also working on strengthening their expertise in vertical gardening and balcony landscaping. “I am fascinated by biotile living walls and leveraging technology to automate tasks like watering. I want to build those strengths for Gift My Plants.” Apart from plants, we will also be adding couple more eco-friendly related products like Biodegradable stationary kits for corporate gifting.

Grafting a hybrid of passion and paychecks

“As a solo and first-time entrepreneur, I had a great time setting up a successful business.” says Gayathri. Having stabilised the operations with the small team, she felt she had it in her to not just run the business but also get back to the job she loved. “So, when my boss asked if I was willing to join back, I said yes. What’s more? My boss even pushes me to pursue my passion and job in equal measure. I have never been asked to prioritise one over the other.”

On the startup front, Gayathri is excited about the future of GiftMyPlants. It took her three years to establish GiftMyPlants in the market. They are now looking for mentors and investors to bring in technology and create new product lines.“There’s a lot of work to do, which is a good thing, isn’t it,” says Gayathri signing off.

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