Monthly Archive for March, 2015

We’re Launching Plantola in Ontario First (and why startups should stay close to home)

Before someone corrects me, Plantola is actually available to anyone with an iPhone and a Canadian iTunes Account.  That said, the app has some built in features, like the list of independent nurseries and garden centers, that is currently limited to Ontario only.

The fact that it is the middle of March, and Spring has yet to arrive in most of the province makes this decision even more perplexing given that we are a gardening-related app …. or is it?

Validate First

We are big believers in the Lean approach to product development.  Before we invest too much time and energy building out the platform, we want to know if we are on the right track.  Have we found product market fit?  Limiting the geographic scope of the product is one way to cut down on the number of features required in the first iteration of the product, which reduces complexity and development time.

Conserve Valuable Resources

We have bootstrapped development of Plantola partially out of necessity and partially out of a desire to experience the process of bringing a product to market. Doing things yourself can be cheaper financially, but it is not without cost.  It takes more time to do things you are not familiar with, and you end up making more mistakes.  That said, when you have more time than you do money, Bootstrapping product development is the logical choice. Staying close to home (both founders live in Southwestern Ontario) has saved time and money.  Customer development is just one example. Because we are focused on the “Local” market, meeting with a user our potential customer is the cost of a tank of gas rather than a plane ticket.

Make Smaller Mistakes

The total addressable market for Plantola is much larger in the United States than Ontario, or Canada for that matter.  Why not go where the fish are?  In a word … Risk. The product, while functional, is still very much an MVP.  There will no doubt be several bumps along the road, especially since this is the first mobile app we have developed.  Far better to learn those lessons in a small pond that is less competitive, and more forgiving than the open ocean.  You have more chance to recover from your mistakes.  Culturally, Canadians and Americans are more similar than they are different.  We speak the same language, eat the same food and watch the same television shows. Lessons learned in Canada often translate well across the border in the United States.

Home Town Advantage

We grew up in Ontario.  Our social support network is here. We have also made valuable connections with several local technology and business incubators like ThreeFortyNineCommunitech and Innovation Guelph. Being part of the culture makes it easier to establish connections with people that share a similar background.  This includes users, customers, investors, advisers and the media.

First stop Ontario, next stop ……….. stay tuned!

Matt

Download the Plantola iPhone app

The Independent Garden Centre. Where Service Lives.

Garden Centre

There has been a lot of discussion in the garden trade about the challenge independent garden centers (IGCs) have had in today’s hyper-competitive retail environment.  Gone are the days when purchasing plants for your garden meant a trip to your local family owned nursery. Approximately half of the plants gardeners purchase for their gardens are bought from Homedepot, Lowes, Walmart and other national, so-called “Big Box” retailers.

The competitive marketplace, combined with other factors such as the challenges of navigating generational change in family owned businesses, and the dramatic increase in real estate prices in major metropolitan areas, has resulted in the closure of many Independent Garden Centres in recent years. The recent closing of Garden Import, a highly regarded mail-order garden business, suggests that the challenges facing IGCs are not limited to businesses with physical locations.

Not all doom and gloom

Despite these challenges, many Independent Garden Centres are finding ways to adapt, and thrive in today’s retail environment.  In some respects they have faced less upheaval compared to independent retailers in other industries, especially with respect to e-commerce, which has been relatively slow to permeate the “green” industry.  People like to shop online, but it is still hard to ship a 10 foot maple tree across the country, let alone a flat of annuals.

In terms of opportunities, societal changes like the growing appreciation for locally-sourced food, popularity of outdoor rooms and the rise of the “Staycation” have created whole new markets for plants and related products & services.

Service is a Competitive Advantage

Anyone that has spent time interacting with the “Plantsmen” and “Plantswomen” that own and operate the thousands of IGCs across North America (there are 200+ in the Province of Ontario alone) knows how much their character factors into the shopping experience.

Running a garden center is extremely hard work. Like most entrepreneurial pursuits, you really have to love what you do to be successful.  Chances are very high that the people that run your local  garden centre are extremely passionate about plants. When your job is your passion it can’t help but enhance the customer service experience.  Next time you visit your local garden center, make an effort to talk to the staff, you will be glad you did.

About Plantola

Plantola makes it easy to catalog and share your garden with friends and businesses, like your landscaper, or local garden center. Like the look of that tree down the street? Take a picture and share it with your plant guy. Captivated by the rose growing in your friend’s garden? Look it up while you are at the garden center. Plantola lets gardeners spend more time in the garden, and less time looking for plants.  For more information visit www.plantola.com.

Download the Plantola iPhone app