The Sill is the first “digitally native” houseplant brand and they’re on a mission to connect people with beautiful plants. Eliza Blank was, in her words, a typical young professional living in a small New York apartment, desperate to make it feel like home.
Going from a communications degree and working in brand strategy on both the agency and client side for Living Proof, to choosing a path in plants was certainly unconventional!
Eliza revealed the importance of resilience on her entrepreneurial journey in a niche she didn’t know a lot about at first, how she navigated early challenges and grew The Sill to over $1M in revenue without any funding, and the benefits and downsides to working with a co-founder. Listen to Episode 35 of The Career Memos Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
You need resilience if you’re going to persevere and keep going.
The first year of running The Sill was a crazy roller coaster for Eliza. Young and full of energy, she poured into her vision for the company, knowing that if it didn’t work out, she was marketable enough to find an alternate career path.
Over happy hour drinks with a former colleague from Living Proof, Eliza convinced her to join The Sill as her co-founder. Unfortunately their partnership dissolved six months in, creating a big hurdle for her to navigate so early on.
Have you thought about bringing a co-founder into your business? Eliza advised that your chosen partner in crime should have a completely different, yet complementary skill set so you can accelerate your business forward, faster. Her former colleague came from the same department as she did at Living Proof, so they weren’t able to divide and conquer as much as they could have had they embodied different strengths.
In the moment, watching the partnership fall apart so soon into her new venture, it was devastating, but it helped her build resilience and push forward.
How Eliza bootstrapped The Sill to over $1M in revenue.
What’s fascinating to me about Eliza’s story is that she didn’t intrinsically know a whole lot about plants as she was building her startup from the ground up. She had so many questions early on. How was she going to build a supply chain for a live product? How would she get potential customers excited about what she was doing?
For the first 3 years, she bought the plants herself from local nurseries and delivered the plants by hand through the mail.
From 2012 to 2017, The Sill was bootstrapped aside from an $80,000 small business loan she received early on. Eliza didn’t even pay herself right away. Cash slowly started generating after she launched an accidental side business outfitting offices with plants and then servicing them. She said yes to nearly every opportunity and found herself working with Google, Twitter, BuzzFeed, and Refinery29. It was grueling work, but it kept the lights on.
Though she wishes in hindsight that she had raised venture capital sooner, she raised her first seed round at the end of 2017. Her investors deeply aligned with her vision and made it a great learning experience.
The importance of showing up every day, even if it’s a side hustle.
It’s so important to see what you can do in those early, experimental days to test your idea, tell people about it, and build momentum. Eliza recalled some late nights and weekends. Even if you have responsibilities at home, don’t let that stop you from making progress!
Some days will be challenging and other days you may be on the verge of burnout with not a productive bone in your body, but you’ll have moments where you experience an exciting win or you’ll hear from a client or customer that they love your business, and it’ll keep you going.
There are also so many vastly different ways to build a business outside of the traditional path of raising venture capital. You can launch a Kickstarter campaign, secure a loan from the bank, or get investment from your friends and family.
When you’re so passionate about the work you do in the world, always come back to your core values. Does your business reflect your values’ system? Is it a reflection of who you are? Love what you do so you can show up excited every single day.
“The challenges may change over time, but they never go away. Your first lesson in resilience is you’re going to have to continue to be resilient, and that’s really what separates those who end up succeeding from those who don’t.”