NYC Startup The Sill Does Gardening the Millennial Way

Home Depot, but make it Instagrammable

Millennial-minded startups are redesigning and streamlining everything we use, from toothbrushes to vitamins and dinnerware. The Sill, an NYC-based startup, is making buying and caring for houseplants easier, more affordable, and dare we say, sexier. Founded by brand strategist Eliza Blank in 2012, The Sill capitalizes on millennials' smaller and more urban homes by specializing in beautiful plants that don't require tons of natural light or room to grow. They've established three retail stores and a thriving online business backed by a recent infusion of $5 million in venture capital. Read on for our From the Founder’s Mouth Q&A with Blank below.

How would you describe The Sill in 1-2 sentences?

Eliza Blank: The Sill is a first of its kind plant brand that aims to help millennials and beyond earn their green thumb. Our focus is on education and customer service; we want to be sure our customers have our support every step of the way from purchase to plant care.

If we were potential investors or brand partners, what would you tell us about your business?

Blank: Our mission is to modernize the retail garden center by integrating commerce with content and community, and connecting people with plants—because we believe plants make people happy.

Since our launch in 2012, we’ve grown from a one-person bootstrapped operation into a company that offers nationwide delivery alongside our three bricks-and-mortar retail stores in New York City and Los Angeles. We are now a team of 75 and growing. In 2018, we sold hundreds of thousands of plants.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from running this business?

Blank: There is really no limit to what you can do—if you want to do it, do it.

What's one aspect of your business you knew nothing about when you started it and how did you solve for that?

Blank: How to ship a plant was a tough one! We’re working continuously to improve the experience for our customers.

What do you consider this biggest milestone or breakthrough moment in your brand’s history?

Blank: We didn’t necessarily have one single breakthrough, but it was more of a slow and steady growth. Before we launched, we ran a Kickstarter where the goal was to raise $12,000 to validate the idea. Hitting that goal made me realize that there was something here, and the vision to bring a plant to every windowsill has been validated as we’ve continued to grow and expand throughout the country.

What mistake or challenge have you gotten through and how did you prevail?

Blank: One of the challenges we face is that plants are a live product and most of our business is nationwide delivery. Plants aren’t something you can just toss in a box and ship across the country—they’re both delicate and perishable. We do our absolute best to ensure that our plants are carefully shipped, which sometimes will mean shipping delays due to weather, like the most recent polar vortex. It’s a tough business to get right operationally. Luckily, our customers are awesome (plant people usually are) and have been very understanding as we solve these issues.

What important projects or business challenges are you currently grinding on? Why do they require your time and energy?

Blank: We just opened our first retail shop on the West Coast, in Los Angeles. We’re planning a larger retail expansion there, and looking at another outpost in LA as well as our first store in San Francisco. It’s really exciting to be able to interact with our West Coast customers who have been shopping with us via our online store; we want them to feel immersed in the brand and welcome. That said, the challenge is to have part of our team so far away. Of course, technology makes it easier, but it’s tough when you realize you can’t fit your whole team in a single room anymore.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a similar business to yours?

Blank: Go for it. Be bold. It’s cliche, but sometimes you just need a kick in the pants to get started.

How much money did you start your business with and how much have you raised?

Blank: The Sill launched with a Kickstarter campaign which earned about $12,000 to get the company off the ground. Then it was bootstrapped from 2012 through 2017. Not an easy task. A lot of our growth was from an early team that was driven largely by the company mission. I had to ask my mom to co-sign our first store lease! In 2017, after crossing $1M in revenue two years in a row, I was determined to grow more quickly and with the right resources. Since then, we’ve raised a total of $7.5M in venture financing.

How does your background—whether educational, professional or otherwise—contribute to your ability to run this business?

Blank: I grew up in Western Massachusetts which is a fairly rural part of the state, so I was surrounded by nature. My mother is not only an avid gardener but also has a ton of houseplants indoors. I didn’t realize how growing up in that environment had impacted me until I moved to New York for college.

In terms of business background, I worked for Wolff Olins right out of school in brand strategy. I was on the team that created the initial brand identity for a client, Living Proof. I ended up joining Living Proof as the first Marketing hire under the VP, and during my four years at the company was able to experience what it was like to work at a scrappy, high-growth startup. That experience gave me the tools to start The Sill on my own.

What do you look for in people you hire, other than the basic “good employee” traits?

Blank: I look for people who are genuine and genuinely excited by The Sill. Our values are not just words on the wall—they are a part of our hiring process and our performance evaluations. It’s not just about the work you do, but how you do it.

How do you take care of your mental and physical health as an entrepreneur?

Blank: I’m a new mom, so finding balance isn’t easy. Luckily for me, I love what I do, but in order for me to be at my best for my company and our employees, it’s important that I take a step back now and again to recharge and reset, and I encourage everyone on our team to do the same.

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down