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Starting a Microgreens Business: The Beginning

I’ve been obsessed with something kind of weird for a while now…

Gardening.​

It all started in 2010 when my brother came home from college for the summer. I wanted to have a hobby we could do together and…gardening was what I thought of.

Why? I have no idea.

But I picked up a few books and got into hydroponic gardening. (No, not that kind.)

I got really into it and started to be able to grow super-healthy food super-fast. So I picked up some materials to grow microgreens.

After setting up my growing environment and planting the seeds, eventually I saw this…

(That's an actual picture of my crop)

I took one look at that beautiful harvest and thought...

"I bet restaurants would buy the shit out of this."

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Putting On My Pitching Persona

I'm not a natural born salesman. At least not of the slicked back hair, "coffee is for closers" variety. So I called up my cousin Jon (who now runs a successful startup up in San Francisco).​

Back then he was a mechanical engineer at a small firm. I called him and said, "Hey, take the day off work and let's try to sell some plants to restaurants."​  He was in, so we got ready.

Now I had pitched clients in the past but I was very unfamiliar with how to deal with restaurants, chefs, and produce. This was my very first time ever doing something like this, so I was nervous.​

Here's what I did to prepare:​

  • Got a fresh haircut
  • Dressed in grey khakis, a nice shirt, and nice shoes (despite the 85 degree weather)
  • Slapped myself in a face a few times (it works)

Pro Tip: Looking fresh does wonders for your confidence, which does wonders for your ability to pitch

After I'd prepared myself, I had to prepare the greens. We put about an ounce of each microgreen into clear bowls, then laid those bowls on a bed of ice in a tray.

While this looked nice, in retrospect it was cumbersome to hold because the trays are flimsy. We almost dropped our entire crop multiple times.

The Pitching​

We parked on one end of a long street with great restaurants lining both sides. We made sure to do this from 2-4pm, when restaurants are usually dead.

Both of us were a bit nervous to get started, so we decided to approach some restaurants that were probably unlikely to say yes - higher end chains, pizza places, etc. As predicted they said no, but the benefit was that it gave me a chance to refine my pitch.

As we moved along down the street, confidence grew and so did responses from restaurants. I had no business cards, no sell sheet...nothing but the greens. I left my information with a sushi restaurant that seemed interested as well as a couple other places...but no one had committed to purchasing yet.​

The Big Score

The last restaurant that we were targeting that day was by far the most prestigious on the street and arguably is one of the better restaurants of it's type in the city. Needless to say, the pressure was on.

Both of us walked in and confidently told the girl at the front that we were here to see the chef and we grew microgreens. After a confused look, she walked to the back and grabbed two of the sous chefs. They came out, chatted with us and tried the product.

As luck would have it, this restaurant was one of the most local-focused and also already used microgreens in their cooking, though they were getting them from another supplier.

I pressed them a little bit about what they didn't like about their other supplier. They said that it was more expensive, less fresh, and sometimes was packed down far too much, so only the middle of the package was actually usable.

These were great competitor discovery facts that I could use to market my next restaurant.​

Lesson Learned: If a customer comments about a competitor, poke around and figure out what they do and don't like about that competitor to gain valuable market knowledge.

The chefs really liked my product and put in a large order for delivery in 10 days.

I told them that I could grow anything that they wanted and bring it in, despite not having the seeds.

I had to two day air them in and pay MORE in shipping than the seeds were worth just to make good on my promise.

Pro Tip: Make it happen, regardless of your situation. If you CAN get it done, even if it's not convenient, do it. Under promise and over deliver.

From Idea to Business in 10 Days

The biggest thing I learned from this part of the story is that it does not hurt to market test your idea ASAP. Yes, my situation is a bit easier to test than a SaaS app or a retail store, but there are ways to do it.

Validate early and validate often. I was fortunate enough to get validation from one of the best restaurants in San Diego on the very first day...but it wouldn't have happened unless I got out there and tested my idea.

P.S. At this point, the total cost of starting up my business was $70 for seeds and trays. That's it.