The minimal jungle of horticure founder, Deborah Choi
The home of horticure founder Deborah Choi, is a tranquil space bathed in sunlight, with plants reaching all the way to the ceiling. Earlier this year I had the absolute pleasure to pay a visit to the home she calls her minimal jungle. It was a joyous morning filled with stories of plants and travels, of finding a home in foreign places and of creating value for others. Here’s a peak into all that transpired on that beautiful morning in August.
Tell us about horticure and the idea behind it.
“horticure is a consumer platform for plant care, connecting you with the knowledge, services and products that keep your houseplants happy and your indoor spaces green.”
Where did the idea for horticure originate and how did you go about shaping it into a business?
“I got the idea for horticure after years of bad luck with my own houseplants, and having gone through the hassle numerous times, to find the plants I want locally and get them into my flat. I wanted convenience, I wanted access to expertise, and I realized there was an opportunity to create that for myself and others.”
Tell us a little about Deborah.
“I was born in Nigeria, though grew up in America as my parents immigrated to the US for better education and economic opportunities when I was three years old. Although I didn’t grow up there, I consider New York City to be home; I moved there a few years after university and it was this city that really formed me as an adult and also as a professional. I now have lived in Europe for a little over 4 years, and in Berlin for 3. But that’s just the geographic stuff! 🙂 Professionally, I’ve been an entrepreneur and business owner for the majority of my career: in this way, I’ve learned a lot of what I know about recruiting, branding, marketing, partnerships, tech and sales by doing (as I studied political theory at uni). Horticure is my 4th business, after first launching a fashion e-commerce brand, a media company and an innovation agency for venture-backed startups.”
What are the values you bring to your business and professional practice?
“I’ve had the privilege to work as a consultant to improve the ideas and strategies of others, within corporate environments as a marketer, within media as a strategist, and also as a founder going from “0 to 1” a few times. These diverse experiences help me understand and know how to work with the influences, stakeholders and ecosystem around my newest venture much better than I could have, even 5 years ago. I view experiences as cumulative, and seek the ways to weave in what I’ve learned in the past, into today.”
What are your ultimate long term goals for horticure?
“We envision and aspire to a world filled with healthier, greener indoor spaces. For us this means thinking flexibly about the channels in which we deliver knowledge, services and products. For now, it’s via in-home services, video consultations and messaging. In the future, it could be via AI integrations, voice assistants, etc.”
What are some of the biggest setbacks or challenges you face?
“We’re a marketplace business, which means we have to manage the growth of the supply (i.e. our horticulturists and plant suppliers) vs. the growth of demand (i.e. plant owners and plant shoppers). Generally speaking, managing “liquidity”, or having just the right amount of supply and demand is hard, and it’s hardest at the beginning, which is where we are!”
Are there any other brands, or companies who inspire you or where you draw inspiration from?
“I am really inspired by the service platforms that have nailed the user experience, and deliver a feeling of ‘ultra convenience’ for their users. I love using apps like Uber and Deliveroo for this reason: the experiences provide very little friction for me, simplify my decision-making and save my valuable time.”
What does sustainability mean to you as a business founder and what would you say are the biggest challenges business owners are facing with regard to the topic?
“For our users, we focus on keeping their houseplants happy and alive, so they can feel good at home and draw more of the well-being effects from having greenery indoors. The alternative–buying plants, killing them, repeating that–is wasteful. Nearly a billion euros is wasted each year in the UK in this exact process by people and companies.”
If you could give yourself some advice in your twenties – what would it be?
“Take the risk: failure often isn’t failure, but regret is real.”
What brought you to Berlin, and what keeps you here?
“In a way, family brought me here. I first moved to Zurich, Switzerland four years ago from NYC, and I gave birth to my daughter there (her father is Swiss). But I knew I couldn’t be a happy me there, and also that staying in Europe would be important for my daughter to grow up with both her mother and father. My daughter keeps me here, but now three years in… there are exciting, other roots that root me here too: friends who are family, a nice quality of life, and now also this business venture.”
How would you describe your home, what influences your style and where do you draw inspiration from?
“I like to call my home style “minimal jungle”. Form and function, only having what I need, these ideas go into the furniture choices I’ve made. But I’ve also been very inspired to bring a lot of greenery indoors, as well as unique pieces from my travels to Marrakech, one of my favorite cities in the world. You’ll find a lot of natural materials in my home: bamboo, rattan, jute, cotton.”
Do you have a favourite piece of furniture or artefact? Tell us the story behind it.
“It’s always something with a story. Maybe the first that comes to mind is the new Berber rug in my flat, which I got the last time I was in Marrakech over the summer. I and the shop owner spent several hours bargaining; jotting down a number and pushing it back and forth across the table, over several cups of tea. At the end we shook hands, even snapped a photo together. Some find that process of buying in a market like the souqs as stressful. For me, it’s incredibly fun!”
There seems to be a rising trend of indoor plants and people filling their homes with plants. What do you think motivates people to bring greenery into their homes?
“We spend such a small amount of our time outdoors and in nature, less than 10%. Plants reconnect us, and can create a sense of well-being in any room with even one.”
Your number one tip plant-care tip for someone whose thumbs aren’t particularly green.
“Get watering right, and you can kind of ignore everything else… Over- and under-watering your plants is what leads into the bigger problems that then require more of your time, like pest control.”
Name 5 of your favourite spots in Berlin for:
Breakfast or coffee: Lekkamokka Cafe in Mitte for their flat whites.
Spending a hot summers day: Out in the northernmost spielplatz in Mauer Park, picnic packed, with my daughter.
Spending a cold winters day: I love to go to Oderberger Hotel’s swimming pool on cold winter mornings with my daughter. They keep the water temperature at a nice level, and their space lets in incredible light — you can forget it’s super cold and winter outside for an hour or two.
Finding inspiration: I live in Prenzlauer Berg, and a walk through the nearby Humboldthain Park is always a great way to clear my head, and allow the space for new ideas and inspiration.
A night out with friends: A great night out for me is often a social night in: I love to host friends for dinner and cocktails at mine, or attend the same at theirs. Home cooked meals, the intimate space where belly laughs are completely acceptable, I love these kinds of gatherings with my friends.
If you’d like to learn more about horticure and the services they offer, take a look at their website: horticure.com.
Text & images © Barbara Cilliers