- Founders: Sam van der Zanden & Tom van Ruitenbeek
- Founded in: 2020, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Employees: 15
- Money raised: -
- Ultimate goal: Greener cities across Europe with help from Upperbloom
Spring is beginning, the sun is shining, so you go and sit on your balcony. But then you see it – that one brown plant in the corner of the balcony. It’s been an eyesore for a while now. But to replace it, you first need to go to the garden center to pick out a nice plant. Only to discover that you don’t have enough potting soil to repot it properly. If it were up to Sam van der Zanden, that would be a thing of the past. His company Upperbloom, founded in 2020 with Tom van Ruitenbeek, offers a complete service for greening your balcony. Sam tells us more about it in this instalment of Start-up of the Day.
How does it work exactly?
“We call ourselves the outdoor planting service. You basically buy a planting solution from us. We have noticed that one of the biggest sources of frustration for customers is having to repot plants. Putting a plant into new soil at home is also simply very bad for the quality and longevity. of the plant. The plants then have to get used to all the new conditions all over again. What we do differently is that we take cuttings from plants and plant them directly into a container. You buy that container together with the plants. Then our balcony gardeners, gardeners specialized in balcony planting, bring the plant to your home. We have noticed that this service is greatly appreciated. Oh yes, and we also do plant exchanges.”
“The term actually says it all. We change the plants for you. We don’t just want to make your balcony green, we want to keep it green. Some plants simply do better in winter and others in summer. Besides, people just like to look at something new every now and then. Our system with our own planters means that once people have an outdoor planter from us, we can easily change plants that we have cultivated in our own indoor planter.”
And what happens to the old plants then?
“I think that’s perhaps the nicest thing about the whole concept. You can compare our concept a bit to Nespresso. The plants are the coffee cups. But we don’t just take old plants, we also do something worthwhile with them. We process annual plants into sustainable compost and we give winter plants to Groene Bouwhekken. That is an organization that makes sustainable construction fences out of planters. That way the system is as closed as possible.”
Hoe How did you come up with this idea?
“Actually thanks to my mother. She gave me a planter four years ago. She completely prepared it, so that all I had to do was hang it up. When at some point I wanted to add another planter, I noticed how much of a hassle it was to repot and find the right balcony hooks. I thought: ‘there has got to be another way to do this’. Then I made just about every rookie mistake an entrepreneur can make. I even stopped working on the original idea. It wasn’t until I met Tom, my co-founder, that everything fell into place. We just complement each other really well.”
What makes you better than other companies?
“We try to approach everything in an innovative way, especially for the sake of the customer. A good example of this is a comparison with a garden center. Plants you buy at a garden center are looking their most beautiful at the time they are there. After all, they have to be attractive to the customer. Then you take that thing home and are happy with it for a while. After a few weeks the leaves start to turn brown. And the crazy thing is, the customer then thinks it’s all their own fault; that it’s down to poor care.”
“We talk to growers. Then I want to know what that lavender will look like in eight more weeks. Moreover, the plants of garden centers are grown in a greenhouse of 20 degrees. That temperature is usually not always present on a Dutch balcony. That is why we grow plants in as cold a temperature as possible, so that the plant is already accustomed to balcony conditions.”
Where will you be in five years?
“Well, the future of housing is about to take off. Soon you’ll have a garden on the fifth floor as well. That’s where we want to make a big impact. Greening a city is crucial for cooling it down and making it liveable. We also have ambitions to expand throughout Europe. We have already taken the first steps in that direction. I’m not too worried about competition, even though our concept can be copied, because we are not ‘heavy tech’. But our service is just really good. Customers really appreciate us and in the end that is perhaps the most wonderful thing of all”.