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Nicolas Bartoli and Ron Radu are the founders of Léon & George, a company whose aim is to make it easy for people to find and care for beautiful indoor plants. Through their website and their first retail location in San Francisco, the company guides you through selecting the best plants in relation to your light, style and space. All plants are paired with handcrafted ceramic planters, detailed care instructions, and delivered straight to your door. In addition, the company offers lifetime access to a digital Plant Doctor service so you can keep your plants healthy. From the start, Bartoli and Radu set the intention of building a socially-conscious business, and therefore have partnered with the National Forest Foundation to plant a tree for every plant they sell.
Both founders started their careers in tech, as software designers. In the tech world, they learned how to build products and tell stories that excite people. They knew the principles of SEO. They were able to apply this experience to building the internal software tools and e-commerce site for Léon & George. But as startup founders, they also find themselves leading customer service, coordinating deliveries, procuring supply, and taking product photos. Sometimes they even end up preparing and delivering orders.
“Pivoting from tech to selling plants was a fun experiment that got serious fast,” adds Bartoli. “We joke that we should have stuck with developing software. Growing, storing and shipping living plants involves far more than coding.”
Radu and Bartoli offer this advice for successfully pivoting industries:
- Tap into skills you already have.
As a founder, you have to draw experience from wherever you can. Running a successful company is mostly just convincing people to do something, whether buying your product or working for you. So, if you’ve been a manager, worked in sales, or are a skilled negotiator, you can tap into these already learned skills.
- Be prepared to take action—even on decisions you don’t know anything about.
You may be tempted to punt decisions, but the buck has to stop with you. Letting an issue simmer by not taking action is certain to make it worse, so you have to just buckle down and deal with it. If you’re short on supply, but already took customer orders—you better act fast and figure it out
- Get ready to make mistakes.
While setting up a website to sell plants was relatively easy for us, we had zero logistics and operations experience. We had to learn everything. We apply common sense where relevant, but only mistakes teach us how to improve the product, packaging and customer experience. For example, at first, our consumers kept opening our boxes upside down. So, quickly we had to rework the box design.
- Stay true to your team.
One of the hardest challenges is building a team. It’s your responsibility to keep people happy. Your team relies on you to bring in new customers, stay on top of needs and regularly report updates. And yes, you report to them. Your team is your boss—you need them as much as they need you! Also, even when you have no clue where you’re headed, you have to give direction. Hold strong to rally others to follow you.
- Build strong relationships with your suppliers.
Software or plants, the most important thing is nurturing relationships. The first time we bought plants from our supplier, we didn’t even have a business, but he believed in our vision. He trusted us, and we were able to build a company that is now growing and giving opportunities to help others grow.
Radu says that while building a company has been a lifelong desire, he is surprised to be working with plants. “Plants are awesome. Homes and offices are better with plants, so it seems like a worthwhile thing to be doing. The fact that people enjoy what we offer and that I can contribute to bringing comfort and warmth to people’s spaces keeps me motivated daily.”
Bartoli, who coded his first game when he was 10, always had a side hustle. In addition, he is from France, where “being thoughtful about your style and interior decor is a big part of our culture.” So, with Léon & George, he enjoys getting to see how a space transforms once all the fresh greenery comes in.
To aspiring entrepreneurs, these two founders say the key is taking tiny steps forward. “It seems daunting to start something big from scratch, but a hundred tiny steps are easier to accomplish than one big leap. So, start walking in the direction you want and at some point, you’ll look back and be surprised by how far you’ve made it.”
April 11, 2019 at 11:21AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs