My first basil plant: Journey of an early stage start-up

By Pallavi Malviya Gupta

1. The Why: Problem and Concept
I love pesto, and use it in different recipes at least once a week. I’d usually order the basil from Redmart or go buy it at the super market. This had its challenges, including freshness, cost and availability.

This was not the first time I had an urge to plant something of my own, but this time the desire was stronger than ever. I had a clear need and vision. Every weekend I’d be working on some report or another for my boss. I decided to put the work on the back-burner and set out to research THE solution for my basil supply.

I googled to check if the basil plant is conducive to growth in Singapore. Looked for advice from all the green thumbs I knew. I went to the nursery to look at mini basil plants, but questioned the chemicals used to speed the growth. Hence, I made up my mind, it was time to take the plunge. I was going to grow a plant on my own and enjoy some delicious homegrown basil pesto soon.

2. Planting the Seed: Registration, Co-Working Space, MVP, Validation
I got all the materials and followed the instructions to the tee. I mixed the soil, the manure and a cup of water placed it in the mini planter. I ripped open the packet of seeds and planted over 300 seeds. I then found a nice spot to place the plant indoors, with the right amount of sunlight and shade.

I sprinkled the exact amount of water daily as per the instructions. I read blogs and viewed videos. Heck, I even started talking to the plant daily. It became my reason to get up each morning. I created a vlog to track the progress and got a heap of support from my friends and their network. Advice on how to grow a plant, recipes and requests for some basil poured in.

I was sure that because I followed the ‘correct’ steps the plant was definitely sprouting. As per the instructions, it would grow into seedlings in two weeks. I began to plan our future, and even began advising other green thumb aspirants.

3. Sprouting: Launch and Focus Groups
Two weeks passed, no seedling but things still looked promising. I thought this was the correct time to introduce my plant to the outside world. I placed the planter out on the terrace where there was plenty of sunlight. I continued to water the plant every day. I invited my friends to come over and give me their ideas. They took photos with it as well; the word was spreading.

Then it starts to drizzle, and I thought heck I don’t need to water the plant anymore. It can sustain with least resources.

4. The Storm: Product Market Fit, Competition and External Market Forces
There was a storm one night, it poured the entire night. I was so busy focusing on my plant, I forgot to read the weather report. It was inevitable.

5. Clean-up Act: The Team and Iterations
Needless to say, I broke down. The planter had water till the brim. There was no way the seeds or the sprout would have survived that storm. I began questioning myself and the instructions.

I resorted to seek help from my biggest critic – my husband and roped him in to help me fix the issue at hand. I could not bear to look at the mess I had made! We poured out half of the water from the planter, along with the soil and again changed the location. This time we placed it in a well-covered shaded area right outside the main door.

6. The Silence: Dried Out Resources, No More Iterations, Low Self Esteem
For about a week, we would cross the plant every morning and evening. We couldn’t tweak it or water it. All we could do was to let it be and wait. We observed the plant, and stirred the mud every few days. This while tending to my bruised oversized green thumb. As for the vlog – radio silence!

7. Life: First Few Users, Traction
Today, I saw two little seedlings. My eyes filled with tears. It has been over a month since I planted the seeds. We went through so much together. I will persist. Next Step: Seed Funding or Boot Strapping? Do I water the plant or let it grow on its own?

Lessons learnt:
1. Strategy & Resources: The difference between a gardener and hobbyist is the growth planning. Plan for the different stages and set steps in motion to gather the right resources at the right time. Also, always prepare for the unforeseen.

2. Too Much Attention to a Problem can be the Real Problem: Pivoting is tempting when you see little results in the beginning phase. Stand clear of temptation and let things take their time to sprout, while observing with a hawk’s eye. Yet be ready to iterate. A careful balance is important.

3. Ask for Help: Sure, you could drop the ball and walk away. It takes courage to ask for help and even more from someone who may be critical of your ideas. But if you wish to truly grow, you need to let go of inhibitions and be candid about your own weakness.

4. Consistency: It is easy to start a process, but it is tougher to standardise the process. Efficiency planning and standardising basic processes is the magic ingredient for growth.

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