An interview with Jess Saumarez, Co-Founder of Hedira

Hedira, What is it?

Hedira is an app that allows users to keep plants alive by analysing the species of plant and the space in which the plant is put in the home. We engage with plant retailers as our main distribution channel of the app, by providing them with a communication channel with their customers, and attract new footfall in their shop.

Where did your business idea come from?

I noticed that I loved having plants in my home but that they kept dying on me! There were no tools out there that could help me keep them alive (I was going through blogs and books, then putting calendar reminders in my diary) so Hedira was created!

What’s the most exciting thing about what you’re doing?

We are creating a knowledge bank of plants (mainly houseplants) with specific care information from watering and repotting to pest control and their ideal placement. With this data, we can recommend to users where in their home they should put a specific plant, or what care they should give a plant, based on its location in the world. It’s super geeky but I love it! Another exciting thing has been seeing people using it and getting excited. I get messages every day from our users thanking us and telling us that the app is working for them which is a great feeling!

What is your proudest moment so far?

Exceeding our targets in the first months of us going live! When we had over 10,000 plants registered onto the app when it had only been live in the app store for 3 months we knew we were onto something great.

What was your biggest challenge when you started your business?

We had to evaluate exactly what we needed to prove in order to know whether Hedira was an idea worth investing in – not just in terms of raising finance, but whether it was going to be worth our time! I think there is a combination of “validation markers” that can show an entrepreneur whether an idea is worth pursuing, from looking at the market to gathering feedback from potential users. Each business’s validation markers will be different, depending on the type of product and service the business is. As an app business, we looked at things such as our cost of acquisition (A/B testing Facebook ads for example) and spent a good amount of time analysing our competition. This all takes time, but it gave us a great footing to get Hedira started and have conversations with potential investors – this analysis also fed into our product plan and marketing so is difficult but essential for any startup to do.

What would you do differently if you started now?

With the current crisis, I’ve finally started upskilling myself to learn the Adobe suite. I think this would have been really practical in the early days, as our first wireframes were built by me on Canva (not ideal). It also feeds a lot into our branding: Although there are so many free stock images and tools out there, being able to create bespoke imagery that really fits the brand you are creating helps a lot. Especially in the early days when there is no money in the bank to outsource! Branding for me is really important when you are looking to start a business – it’s the window you are creating that will make people want to shop (especially for B2C businesses).

Does your original business plan reflect where you are now?

If I’m totally honest, the Corvid-19 crisis has put a spanner in the works for us… A key proposition for Hedira was working with physical plant businesses, and these are now in a huge crisis. We don’t know what post-coronavirus is going to look like for the retailers so we have had to put a pause on our fundraising so that we can figure that out and keep an eye on the market. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because there may be more opportunity for us (or things may go back to normal!) but at this point in time, we just don’t know what’s going to happen. This is why we are currently focussing on our users and building our plant datasets. So when I look at our business plan, we don’t have the finances there to really accelerate our product development like we planned, but what we have done is exceed all targets in user numbers, engagement and plants registered. Our usage is up and downloads are pouring in. So actually I’m really happy with the progress!

What’s your vision for the next 12 months?

The vision is growth. With users currently in the UK and North America, we are looking forward to opening Hedira up to the rest of the world in the next months. Off the back of growing our userbase, we will be completing our fundraise.

Do you have any advice/tips for founders considering raising investment at some point?

As I mentioned before, we were fundraising just before the coronavirus hit and have now put a pause on it. This taught me something really valuable when it comes to fundraising: It’s really easy for entrepreneurs to be caught up in their idea, have endless enthusiasm and constantly want to shout about the business. But when fundraising, you are taking someone else’s money and you have a responsibility to that person (and the business) to use the funds to grow and execute a plan. If there is a slump in the market (like we are experiencing now) or something changes with the idea, it’s really important to be 100% sure that you know what you are going to be using the funds for, and that the funds will allow you to get the business to the next level. If you are not sure, or you are fundraising solely on the belief that you have a good idea, then that isn’t responsible fundraising. Entrepreneurs always have to be passionate about fundraising, but it’s also a time to look at the numbers and be rational.

Who motivates you the most to do what you do?

I’m not sure about there being one person who really motivates me… I most certainly love hearing about people’s stories who have built and sold their businesses and continue to be entrepreneurs their whole lives! I am most motivated when I hear about successful women who have disrupted the businesses they work in. It really inspires me to make a difference, speak up, keep going and enjoy the ride.

Can you recommend any useful tools/networks /services to someone looking to start a technology business?

I normally have very Bristol-centric recommendations, but I think it’s important that we talk about tools and networks that are accessible to all entrepreneurs, no matter where they are located. So with that in mind, I think that finding a mentor (or several) is essential when starting a business, because they will come with their own networks, experiences and skill sets. It’s really important to strengthen your network because you would be surprised how often you may come up in conversation with other people!

What’s the one event you make sure you attend every single year?

Despite what I said before about not being Bristol-centric… The Sparkies! I love a celebration of small businesses and the waves they create in their industries. It’s also a great event for meeting like-minded people outside of a networking environment – you get to meet the person, not the CEO.

Can you give one top tip for effective networking at events?

Just have a chat and don’t see networking as a sales pitch. You’re there to strengthen connections not throw your business cards around the room!

In your opinion, what’s the number one thing founders need to look out for when growing a business?

The team. Allow people to grow, allow your team to be involved in the areas of the business they love and create a company culture you want to scale. From the get-go, think about diversity and accessibility, think about how you want your team to communicate, think about what flexible working hours looks like. Growth can happen quickly and I’ve seen many scale-up founders struggle to create a strong team culture, or don’t realise that they’ve only hired one type of person into the team.

Where shall we go to find out more about you?

Go find out more about Hedira on our website (www.hedira.io) or on our social media channels! The links are on our website.