Featured as a Bloomberg BusinessWeek top “25 under 25” for her first startup in e-commerce, Deborah Choi is a serial entrepreneur. Prior to launching the full service indoor plant care business horticure, she spent 5 years advising 100+ startups on their US expansion. Born in Nigeria and raised in the US, Deborah made the move to Berlin in August 2016, shortly after giving birth to her daughter in Switzerland. Get to know more about her:
What inspired you to start horticure?
I launched horticure in December 2018, a platform that helps people and companies select, source, and care for indoor plants. But about 2 years prior, I became obsessed with house plants. Or rather, obsessed with keeping mine alive – given my black thumbs and busy schedule. I had moved into a sunlit Berlin Altbau and after many years living in cramped NYC apartments, I was excited to create the “spacious indoor jungle” vibe I visually followed on Instagram.
Keeping a houseplant alive was not intuitive for me, and the endless research on the appropriate plants for the light I had, the right soil to best retain water (since I travel frequently), and the most ecological way to deal with the onset of pests… this all took time that I really didn’t have. I quickly realized I wasn’t alone, and set out to create a better way to care for indoor plants, blending technology and the personalized, human touch of having a “green thumber” show a beginner how it all works in person.
What is the biggest roadblock you’ve faced professionally? How did you overcome it?
I like this question so much, because honestly it’s something I contemplate frequently. The biggest professional roadblock I face is myself. I have to constantly remind myself of this as I now work on building a new venture. The loudest “no” often comes from within me, and often goes unnoticed while I proceed to act on it! So for me, overcoming my knack at times for getting in my own way, is all about the very conscious work of assessing, with the least emotion, the first gut-heart-mind instinct I have to whatever business decision or situation in front of me.
Now that my daughter is a growing and very observant toddler, it is all the more important to me that I fully step into who I am, which involves pursuing my professional passions as an entrepreneur, respectfully advocating for myself and my boundaries, and modeling kindness as a daily activity.
What do you do when you need some inspiration?
I routinely draw business inspiration for my own projects from unrelated industries and completely different professions. I love to learn how different systems and industries work, what problems exist within them, and how people have found or created enduring solutions. This inspiration comes frequently from my friends, who work in such a wide variety of industries, geographies and professions: lawyers, artists, teachers, technologists, health professionals, film directors, etc. I also regularly read business and tech media, Quora and Medium, and find a lot of inspiration in very human stories of people approaching problems in innovative ways.
What is one thing you love about Berlin and what is something you would change?
I love what a great city Berlin is for being a mother, being an entrepreneur, and finding a healthy time and space balance between the two while living in the center of the city. In many ways, this is incredibly infeasible for likely 99% of entrepreneurs who are also mothers in my former home of New York City. You have space in Berlin, both literally and figuratively, that encourages creativity and gives room to breathe.
That said, of course, Berlin is facing interesting growing pains – which put so much stress on the infrastructure of the city today. There is an unwieldy line right now for everything: a doctor appointment, to register, to get a flat, to get a kita spot, and on and on. I think even more application of tech can help ease these problems, and I know some people are working on these kinds of projects. So I am optimistic more efficiencies will come in the near term.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
A long standing “best one” would be to focus, which I consider often as I juggle a lot as a solo founder of a new startup. And in the last three years that I also became a mom, I have really held onto the advice to “continue being myself”, which can be hard to prioritize when there is a little one needing you so much. But now that my daughter is a growing and very observant toddler, it is all the more important to me that I fully step into who I am, which involves pursuing my professional passions as an entrepreneur, respectfully advocating for myself and my boundaries, and modeling kindness as a daily activity — so that she sees, and hopefully adopts these qualities for herself too.
What events or projects are you excited about in the next year?
horticure was accepted into a great IoT accelerator program operated by Bosch here in Berlin. Alongside the existing business model, and with the help of Bosch, we’re exploring smart, affordable and differentiated IoT applications for indoor plants. It’s exciting, and expands my thinking about our potential impact in a great way. I look forward to prototyping and commercializing our IoT products in early 2020.