Ep. 36: An engineer’s approach to entrepreneurship (Darryl Cheng, House Plant Journal)
Meet Darryl Cheng. He’s always had a love for plants, but when his full-time job as a software engineer abruptly changed, it was his motivation to start his now thriving online business, House Plant Journal. In today’s episode, you’ll hear all about Darryl’s business journey. This includes how he scaled his business that helps hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Also, you’ll learn the stellar video tips that launched him to success.
Today’s guest: Darryl Cheng, House Plant Journal
Darryl Cheng is the creator of the incredibly popular blog and Instagram account, House Plant Journal. Darryl’s passion for plants and engineering approach has turned him into one of the most trusted resources of the internet houseplant world. What was initially a hobby Tumblr page has turned into an Instagram account with over half a million followers, a foundational houseplant care book entitled ‘The New Plant Parent’, a game-changing online course, and plant time-lapse videos that have gone viral around the world.
Where to find Darryl
- Website: https://www.houseplantjournal.com/
- Courses: https://courses.houseplantjournal.com/p/essentials
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/houseplantjournal/
- YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/houseplantjournal
Read the full transcript below.
DC: People want to consume content in different formats. So if people really, you know, want to have a physical book, look at your book, if people want to have an E book, well, the ebook is available too. If people want to watch like a long format video, like a series of you talking about your house plans, then that’s where the online courses whereas if people you know, want just your free content, but they don’t mind small little bite sized things, then you know, you have YouTube channel, right? So having yourself on all these different formats, is sort of like giving people the most options to find you and interact with your content.
HF: Hey, friends, it’s Haleigh from Team teachable. If you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to make a major career switch. You won’t want to miss today’s episode. Meet Darryl Chang. He’s an engineer turned plant expert and entrepreneur. In today’s episode, you’ll hear all about Darryl his business journey, how he scaled his now thriving online business that teaches people how to care for their plants and so much more. Let’s say hello to Darryl.
Welcome to everything is teachable. The podcast that takes you behind the scenes to learn how everyday creators have transformed their skills and passions into online courses and businesses. Darrell Chang is the creator of the incredibly popular blog and Instagram account houseplant journal, Darrell, his passion for plants and engineering approach have turned him into one of the most trusted resources of the internet houseplant world. What was initially a hobby Tumblr page has turned into an Instagram account with over a half a million followers, a foundational houseplant care book entitled The new plant parent, a game changing online course and plant time lapse videos that have gone viral around the world. Hi, Darryl, how are you doing today?
DC: Hi, how are you? I’m good.
HF: I’m great. I’m so so happy that you are on today. It’s such a pleasure. And I’m really excited to chat all about you and your business.
DC: Thank you. Thank you.
HF: Yes, let’s go ahead and get started. I would love to just know more about you and what you did before starting houseplant journal.
DC: Yeah, so my name is Darrell Tang, before doing houseplant journal I was in software engineering. So my background is engineering and then I worked at a software company and you know while I was there I still living at home because I was you know saving up for my first kind of apartment and my mom said you know there maybe you should help me decorate the house with some house plants. But she also added you need to figure out how to take care of them because she claimed to bad with plants. Now this was confusing to me because she taught me how to do outdoor gardening and she seemed pretty good at it. So I was wondering like what could be so hard about or different about indoor plants. So I just bought a bunch of plants and tried to Google the information and when you sort of see the same patterns of the ways that people explain things about especially with house plant care, you know, I was just like Well, I didn’t really feel like this was precise enough or very helpful is often really vague. So I just decided I would start house playing journal just really really simply on Tumblr actually just documenting why I was doing with plants and that’s how how’s my journal begin
HF: Oh, that’s amazing. So would you say like your passion for plants kind of started because of your mother and then the more you learn about it the more interested you became or was it something that’s kind of been around for a long time?
DC: Well, I mean, I always loved walking around my garden like my parents garden and then just looking at the ways that the plants grow and like one of the I think a lot of gardeners can can attest to like springtime being their favorite time when everything starts to come out of their winter dormancy right and so just getting to witness that in my garden was was always nice so then naturally when we started having plants in the in the house, you know the so called house plants, then I was experiencing the same thing where I would see Oh, new growth that’s really cool. But I think what happened was I think a lot of times when you read online about houseplants it’s more often a sort of sense of, of doom and despair like Oh, why there’s a lot of mystery as to why is this happening or what’s this the leaf yellowing could be this could be that. And I don’t know I think it felt like the the narrative was always just doom and gloom when it came to houseplants and I just wanted to share that it’s not all bad. It’s like you know, these things happen but also lots of new cool things happen. And so just being able to incorporate also my photography into the telling of Okay, what’s what’s happening with my plants and show it in a nice way. I mean, that’s sort of what made Perfect for Instagram.
HF: Oh, definitely. And I’m sure also taking, like you said, taking your photography and kind of showing each step of the process makes it really accessible and relatable. And people who are becoming plan parents for the first time can take a look at this and be like, okay, I feel good about where I’m at in my plant journey. So that’s really great to do that.
DC: Yeah, I think one really critical thing that’s different about how we take care of houseplants now versus decades ago, when most of our, our parents and grandparents had probably some houseplants. But what was different? What is different now is social media and the fact that we all have mostly have very accessible and good cameras, right? Which means no longer are we just hearing tales of yellowing leaves, and oh, no, maybe I overwater the plant, but rather well, now we can document that and say, like, what’s actually happening with my plant. And I think that’s on the sort of like diagnosing negative side. But on the positive side, now we can share the little joys that we see, like I’m looking across the table here, and I see a new leaf coming out. And that brings me so much joy, and I can take a picture and share it with the world. And I think then we kind of share, I guess, a more faceted approach to house mycare. Seeing that it’s it’s not all just, what’s this problem? How do I fix this? What am I doing wrong, but rather give them a good enough environment, kind of except that plants don’t always have to look perfect. And you’ll also get to witness these little, you know, moments of joy.
HF: Oh, definitely. I mean, the visual journey is, so I feel like it’s so critical for something like this. And I completely relate because I actually bought a mini monstera, about two months ago, and I’ve seen so much growth, and now I have another new leaf that’s coming in. And please correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s this particular leaf has one of the holes in it, though, yes, bigger monstera time. So I am I just discovered this the other day, and I am absolutely thrilled. so thrilled. So just all that to say, everyone experiences that joy, and it’s so awesome to be able to share that with other people.
DC: For sure. And I was gonna say to like that feeling of like, so for example for you with a mini monstera. Like those little holes and little cuts on the side, they’re called fenestrations. And it is really like, I don’t know, if you’ve played Pokemon, but like when when, when everyone levels up, and it evolves into the next, the next evolution that’s happening with your with a lot of plants all the time, right, which is, especially this group of plants called air roids, like porthos, monstera, anthuriums, like they, they grow leaf, and then reaches like a kind of maximum size. And then the next one, if the previous conditions were really favorable, then the next leaf will kind of exhibit more complexity. So for monstera, that’d be fenestrations. For anthuriums. It’s like lots of patterns on their, on their leaves. And it’s just like, you get to witness this right in front of you. Right? So it’s, it’s such such a joy. And again, with social media, like you can share this. And now when I share, for example, my monstera like the huge one, people are like, well, how did you get to leave so big? And then I just say, Well, no, you know, it’s not it’s not necessarily me doing it, it’s just, I’ve had this plan for, you know, X number of years. And then it’s sort of like, it helps to give people more realistic expectations about how their plants will grow, right? Because without seeing what other people might or might not have, then we just kind of maybe stick on our own idea that so called proper care will give you perfect plants wherever but then the moment something different happens. It’s like, Oh, it’s not perfect, therefore Something must be wrong. And we might then beat ourselves up and say, Oh, no, I’m killing it, or it’s dying or something like that. Right. But I think it’s important to to share, like what the real experience looks like with plants. And that is yes, cutting off yellow leaves. Every every week I’m cutting like because I have hundreds of plants. Like every week, I’m cutting off yellow leaves, like on maybe 10 or 20 of my plants. And that’s just part of the cycle, right? And if we say that, then for someone else who maybe is has their plants for the first time, when that happens, inevitably, then they won’t be so disappointed. And they’ll realize, Oh, this is just part of the process, right?
HF: Yeah, I love that so much. It’s so great. And it helps create such a tight knit community, which we’ll definitely jump into more later. But I want to hear more about the very early days of houseplant journal. So you said that you started on Tumblr. What was kind of your strategy there is that where you started, more of your blogging and just sharing pictures was Really just a way for you to just get out there a little bit more.
DC: Well, so Tumblr, when I first started, I decided I wanted to document my plans. Right. And it was a matter of keeping it like a as redundant as this sounds a houseplant journal. Right. Yeah. So, like, you know, I wanted to be online. So when I was kind of like surveying the different social media platforms that were available at the time, this was, like, 2013, I think Instagram was only one picture. And you had to take it at the moment, right? So then I was like, Well, no, I have many little things that I want to talk about, about, you know, this particular monster right now. So Tumblr at the time was, was what’s called a microblogging. So it wasn’t like a full out blog where you had to go on your computer, and like, you know, upload the photo there, but rather Tumblr, it was like, I could just take the pictures, you know, four or five pictures, put them into like a little, mini little gallery thing, and then just type out a little caption that was just sort of like saying, What’s going on? What am I seeing what’s cool about this? What am I worried about? And that was the easiest way to keep it back then. And then I think around 2015, that’s when I joined. I started putting me on Instagram. And at that point, it was really just a matter of thinking like, okay, I should expand this because I’m feeling like it’s growing quite a lot, right? Then, I’m not sure how many more years later, but Instagram released the ability to put video clips 15 second video clips. And so at the time, I had already been making these time lapse videos, where so a timeless video is basically you take a picture of something that doesn’t move very fast at a regular interval. And then you kind of compile it together, almost like a flipbook animation, right. In fact, even during this recording, if you hear a little shutter clacking, it’s because I’m, I have a timeless running, and it’s awesome. But you know, things like I say that humans, we experience our moments in seconds and minutes, right. But plants, when they look at them, they just look like they’re sitting still. But their moments are in fact, in the span of hours, days, and maybe even weeks, right. So by doing a timeless video, I’m compressing the hours and weeks into just a few seconds, so that we can actually see, like, what are plants doing. So some plants are, you know, opening and closing between day and night. And then like that shutter clock was watching them a leaf, it’s watching a leaf growing, which means I’ve been looking at this leaf for the past week. Wow. And so when you compress that into, like just a few seconds, meaning Instagram 15 second video clip, you turn that moment into something like kind of more viral, right? So that’s when I started sharing those on Instagram. I mean, very fortunate I was at the time, the only person doing that sort of thing. So it was picked up by a lot of these news outlets and it was shared a lot and I think I can attribute my growth a lot to, you know, making those time lapse videos.
HF: Yeah, that is incredible. And it’s I mean, I’ve seen so many of not only your videos, but other similar videos of compressing like you said that growth and movement with the plants and it is so it’s so beautiful to see that happen. And it kind of just expands it a little bit to be like wow, okay, these my plants are actually doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Yeah, that is so cool. I actually would, I’m really glad you brought up video because, you know, we’ve talked about this in previous episodes with other guests, that video really tends to be a pain point for a lot of creators, whether that’s knowing the right equipment to have, knowing how to set up a shot, or most importantly, getting in front of the camera and talking. And you know, from your Instagram, you are just so skilled at producing really beautiful, amazing video content of course. So what are some key things that helped you get started with video, especially with feeling more confident of like, Okay, this is the kind of content I want to produce. This is how I’m going to do it and all of that.
DC: Hmm, yeah, the video is a interesting topic because I mean, for time lapse, that’s, that’s more like, almost like a cinematography type production. Like I kind of frame it as if I’m just almost like art, right? I’m just like seeing the plant as Okay, it’s movement as like art. So I’m going to frame it that way, right? But then we have the talking video where you talk to people right? And I’ll be honest, I I wasn’t always very comfortable in front of the camera, because I always felt like I had to say it perfectly the first time when in fact, we have to remind ourselves No, no you can you can edit things and even today on YouTube people are used to seeing fast cut like or fast cut meaning you know it kind of jumpy when you can even like splice between a sentence or something right? Like people are okay. Seeing that so you kind of have to keep reminding yourself that you know there’s no pressure so that was one side of it but the other side was that I had been doing a lot of like live speaking engagements and the weird thing is I was actually more comfortable doing that with slides than I was trying to make a video of the exact same thing so I feel like you first have to find what you’re comfortable at whereas you know my wife for example is the opposite she can talk in front of the camera easily and just kind of edit together after the fact but for me when I when I kind of freeze up in front of the camera then I kind of I don’t know it like I get that feeling of freezing up and I think you have to you have to be like kind to yourself and let yourself you know make those make those little slip ups here and there and just keep going with it right
DC: yeah so i think that’s that’s the part about being in front of the camera that is for me is is challenging still.
HF: Yeah, yeah. And I think it’s really important to note too that there are so many aspects of creating video content you don’t have to be perfect at every single one. Maybe you’re really skilled at setting up a flatlay for an aerial shot or something like that. But you like you said maybe you feel a little bit more nervous to be in front of the camera that’s okay. It’s just like practice makes perfect so I’m glad like it’s very valuable to hear your experience with certain things like them
DC: I would even say like we don’t even need to go with the notion of of practice makes perfect but maybe just practice makes good enough like yeah, you put it out there and there’s a certain threshold where it’s good enough and when people are listening or watching they they know they’re not there to you know judge your cinematography and your and your video quality right, like right at some point they know they’re there to consume the information so as long as that comes through good enough then you’ve done your job right? And you know of the two things like the things that I’ve really noticed is like we have the video which is like your video camera inside right and then there’s the audio it’s actually the audio that if you have that really really nice and clear then people can forgive a lot of audio or video quality issues. So it was kind of a realization and of course so many you know youtubers they talk about this right? So as you know you and I are both using these you know nice separate microphones and when people listen to it once that once the audio is nice and clear then you know your video if it’s as long as as close to you knows HD quality then that’s good enough which again your phone can do right
HF: right exactly I was just going to say there’s so much you can do with just your iPhone or whatever kind of smartphone you have. So that’s that’s something that we try to tell fellow creators you can get started with just what you have already you don’t have to spend tons of money to create awesome video content. And that’s something I wanted to ask you though what kind of equipment Do you use for audio video just content creation in general.
DC: So I mean with the timeless videos those are those are special things which I have like a DSLR Actually I have four canon t four eyes which are like an older model canon but the reason I like them is because number one they’re cheap so I just buy all of them they’ve all been like they’re just used cameras right? But then they also have a interesting firmware hack that you can do so that I can get that you know tell it to take a picture every five minutes kind of thing right because before I used to have us have to have a separate remote timer to time it but anyway you know that’s that’s more specialized equipment but in terms of content creation, like like this sort of thing or for like for you know, YouTube videos are online course videos, I’ve really started to see that I can I can actually just use zoom or whatever kind of online video conferencing and just record that because the way that I do the the courses for example is there’s often a lot of slides that have information on it. So it’s like the quality of my picture doesn’t even have to be that good. Maybe just for the opening one minute of introduction. So I mean when I did the teachable course I had like a separate camera on top of my webcam, which was a regular video camera like a DSLR and I was shooting like looking into that for that opening 30 seconds but then once I went into the slideshow I was just looking you know doing that with the like with the the zoom conferencing function that’s where video and then of course microphone you know the boom microphone. I don’t know exactly which one this is. Anyways it’s one of those you know, standard podcasting type microphones and yeah, you know, doing it right into the computer like in terms of USB is is super simple because then all of the audio just gets put right Get into there, you don’t do any kind of, you know sinking like that. And then that’s that’s for recording it. And then editing. It’s your standard, you know, Adobe software like, luckily, I’m pretty comfortable with using them. So like I’ve been able to make use of like premiere After Effects and Photoshop and all those kinds of good programs.
HF: Right? Oh, that’s awesome. I really appreciate you sharing that I know it’s always really great and really accessible to hear what other creators are using for their content creation. So I really want to segue into what spurred you to start doing online courses for your business. So you started out Tumblr, then you kind of transitioned more into more formal blog. What was the moment that made you decide, okay, I think online courses might be for me. I’d love to hear about that journey. Sure. Yeah.
DC: And well, speaking of the journey, there’s a few more steps between doing Tumblr Instagram and then blog. Yes, yes, yeah, there’s like, yeah, like, all of these things. I think. I just somewhat like the exercise of organizing information. And conveying like the story of here’s what I do to take care of my plants. Here’s how I think about light. Here’s how I think about watering. And so that the love of doing that in a nice kind of understandable format, led to a literary agent reaching out to me and saying, Hey, I think you can write a really good book about this. And so I said, Oh, yeah, I would love to that was kind of my dream was when I first started the Tumblr blog, after like, two years of seeing all the blog posts, I was like, this would look really nice, kind of all just put into, into like, a book format, right? So that yeah, it had been in my mind. And so it was, like, just fate would have it that a literary agent came to me and asked me to like she, she helped me put together a proposal, and then we, we pitched it to different publishers, and eventually, you know, I chose to work with Abrams, which is based in New York City, publisher to publish my book. And it was, I mean, when I say publish my book, it’s not as if I written everything beforehand. So I, we made a proposal to say what the book would be about, which is effectively just, I was playing care, right. But of course, in the way that I would like to teach it, right. So that took about a year and a half, it was a very grueling process of doing that while working full time. So evenings and weekends, writing, taking photos, I also took all the pictures for the book. So you know, when it finally came together, it was released. And then that was when I decided, Okay, I’m going to give myself some some time to like visit places and kind of like, you know, book tour kind of thing. And then it was funny that my book was released March of 2019. And then the next day, after that, me and my entire 20 person team, we got laid off from our jobs, because the company was restructuring and they were going to cancel the product that I was working on. So I mean, it wasn’t a surprise, I knew it was coming no months in advance, but it was almost like serendipitous that it’s came at the time, when I was like, you know, I would really like to go on tour and meet the people who are who are reading my book, and people who I’ve been, I’ve been following on Instagram, with the house playing community and stuff like that. So it kind of worked out perfectly, although I was still pretty sad to leave the company because you know, you work with a lot of people and your friends there. But um, so I was going on on tour and meeting and basically talking through what’s written in the book, but in a more interactive format, and I really got the hang of it. And I started liking to do that. So different nurseries across the US were starting to hire me to come and give like a kind of, in a little weekend talk about house planned care. And then you know, they would sell my book and I would sign in, you know, that that kind of nice stuff. So clearly, when when the pandemic struck in early 2020, then I had to cancel all, you know, the rest of my my little trips, and I was thinking, you know, the thing that I love most is to teach about houseplant care. But you see, it’s, there’s something about, like, you know, then the natural step is, well, why don’t you just put it on Instagram, then there’s a kind of thing where people who want to learn will, they will approach you and ask you to teach, right? But if you just put it on Instagram, then it almost sounds a little soapbox and preachy. Right? So and yet because I know that I think about all these things in very much detail. Then on Instagram, I’ll just put the very top level thing, right, which is just the basic tips as you would call it right? But then there’s there’s going to be people who who want to understand more, or they literally just want your help more and such. So for me it was like well could direct in my book, or in a more interactive format than an online course was kind of like the next most logical thing to produce, right? And so then I guess all the summer of 2020, I was working on the course, putting together the content, figuring out, like, what would be where, and then by July 2020, it was really like, I’d release the teachable course. And yeah, it was just really happy with having the two things, the book and this online course, that were kind of like complimentary to each other, right? So you know, the naturally some skeptical people are like, well is your is your course just like you reading your book off? And I’m like, No, no, no, it’s, it’s different. Because I’m talking about it, I’m bringing the content to life. And I’ve come to learn that people want to consume content in different formats. So if people really, you know, want to have a physical book, look at your book, if people want to have an E book, well, the ebook is available, too. If people want to watch like a long format, video, like a series of you talking about your house plans, then that’s where the online courses, whereas if people you know, want just your free content, but they don’t mind small, little bite sized things, then you know, you have YouTube channel, right? So having yourself on all these different formats, is sort of like giving people the most options to find you and interact with your content.
HF: Yeah, and I think it’s really lovely to to, with all those options, you’re kind of hitting all those touch points to make your content and your knowledge super accessible for anyone with any kind of learning style, which is amazing. Yeah, thank you so much for sharing about that. That’s so exciting. And I love hearing all of these different stories about everyone’s like, unique journeys. So I’m curious, you know, like we mentioned earlier, the plant community in particular, I think, is a very strong one, people are super passionate about plans, which I’m getting there, because I had my knowledge is very minimal at the moment. But I, the more I see my monstera thriving, the more excited I get, the more I want to learn. So more plants you want to buy, right? Exactly that especially my bank account is screaming, what are some things that you have done in the past and continue to do, or just new learnings that you find to keep your online community super close, you know, on social media, with your courses, wherever your community is?
DC: So one of the things that I think I like doing a lot is answering people’s questions about houseplants because I feel like when people try and look for answers, just on Google, then they, they find the same few things, right? And those same few things, all inevitably cause more worry than good, usually. So what I what I’ve been doing, and I kind of, you know, change with different formats, is that, like, people can can ask me questions like about their plants, they can send me a picture and those kinds of things. And then what, what I used to do was that there would always be a lot of follow up questions, right? Because if, for example, you know, you see a yellow leaf, and you’re wondering if it’s over or underwater, or if it’s like, you know, none of light and all these kinds of things. And you just you just show it to me or someone, then like Google can’t ask you, well, why don’t you tell me how much you’re watering? Why don’t you tell? Why don’t you show me where you’re putting the plant? Why don’t you tell me how long have you had the plant, all of these things, you know, matter a lot, right? And so, at first, I would just, it would just be a very ad hoc process of back and forth, you know, email or dm or whatever. But now I’ve created like a more interactive survey sort of thing where I ask, you know, what’s, or show me what you you feel is wrong with your plan, but then tell me about your watering, show me your light, all the things that that I, at least for me interpret to be most impactful in, you know, how you’re caring for your plant. And so by doing it this way, and of course, you know, they have to not sign but like, basically acknowledge a disclaimer that, uh, you know, I’m not going to use your name or anything, but I will, if I choose your question, I’ll post it on my website. And you know, having the back and forth so other people can can read and understand and learn to write. And I feel like when you share that more personal approach of you know, basically just saying, like, I hear and I see your plant issues and you know, here’s, here’s my my opinion on it, right? So doing it that way is, I think has been has been good for community growing. And of course, there will be people who disagree and say like, Oh, no, it’s this or Oh, I do it this way. And so that you think I try and maybe I should probably do this more but like explicitly say that like, you know, the way you take care of your plants, there’s no really right or wrong, because the purpose of owning the plant is that it’s a living thing that lives with you. So you have a relationship with it. And that means that it doesn’t have to look like somebody else’s in order to be right. Like, right it has, it’s going to be your plan, it’s going to grow uniquely to your space. So your job is just to give it the best possible conditions, and then accept what nature has in store is what I sometimes say. So trying to be more, I guess, forgiving about it and not, not trying to say that, you know, there’s a strict right and wrong way to do things, and allowing people to do things their way, but at the same time, if they want to know, like, whether this spot over here is good for the plant, then, you know, if they if they ask, then I’ll say, right, but if they don’t ask, and they’re happy with their plant, then I won’t say Right, yeah. So I think that the sharing of opinions is a sensitive thing that you know, you don’t want to you don’t want to come across as preachy, but at the same time, you want to be helpful.
HF: Definitely, I really liked that you give not only that personalization, to take them away from Google, and to really have that one on one experience that eventually goes on a wider scale, right? Because you post the question on your, on your blog, but to also allow people to kind of participate in that discourse, I think is really awesome to open up the conversation and for other people to connect with each other. That is such a cornerstone of a strong community. So I really commend you on that for allowing people to kind of connect with each other and talk and you know, open up the conversation about about their plants and their personal experiences with what they have,
DC: huh, yeah, it’s all about I think at the end of the day, like houseplants are our recreational activity, right? We’re not growing agricultural crops because the thing is, I think a lot of plant knowledge comes from having grown like people growing industrial scale like our agricultural crops and so we can’t just like blindly apply the techniques or concerns that they might have to houseplants because ultimately we may not need that level of of number one, like quality standard or number two, like the intensity that they that they need things right so like perfect example is grow lights right? I think we all know that if you if you want to grow a certain type of plant that that you can you know consume afterwards like you need a lot of grow light power which is the reason why they use things that are like 1000 watt crazy bulbs like that. But house plant light requirements are very modest and the technology has changed so much that it’s so cheap to get like a LED light bulb or something right and that is strong enough for you know, these quote unquote low light house plants right? If you’re trying to grow vegetable you will not be able to grow with those lights but these cheaper lights easily can maintain like our you know, most beloved houseplans monstera patos XL is sorry, this may not be very common one but philodendrons I’m just looking around in all my plants and right, yeah, it’s like, they don’t need that much light. So if we think about it from the perspective of the industry, well then of course, the industry is going to tell you Oh, you need you know, maximum amount of light. But from a house plant owner recreational standpoint, standard LED lights are enough. And so trying to help people understand, you know, what, what is enough for your plants is, is something that I’m trying to do because otherwise the market may always feel like you don’t have enough, right?
HF: Yes, yes, definitely. I i think that that approach is so great, because it kind of levels the playing field in a way anyone can unplanned, anyone can tend to them and like it is an accessible thing to do and an accessible recreational activity that anyone can find joy from so I really appreciate the fact that you do that.
DC: Yeah, it’s something that I think when when we all can find the joy and and what makes you happy about watching a plant grow, then that can be attained with any plant it doesn’t have to be quote unquote, rare plants, which is a kind of trend going on now. It doesn’t have to be those types of plants. It’s like any plant that is doing well will make you feel good, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s common porthos that you can find, you know, for $3 or something a small pot at any store but like, just watching it grow and thrive in itself is is such a joy. And it’s something that I think, you know, needs to be shared that way so that people can can derive that. That feeling of connecting with nature and feeling of proud of themselves for nurturing something to grow well, like that can be achieved with with any plan. So it’s something that I’m really focusing on and trying to help people understand.
HF: That’s so great. I love it so much. I would love to know, you know, when you started and launched the online courses, what about that kind of made certain parts of your, of your business and brand a little bit more seamless?
DC: Yeah, I think, because, you know, for myself, I knew that I enjoyed the teaching aspect a lot, right? I mean, and of course, pandemic, because I wasn’t going out to doing these events, then having the the online course, in my kind of arsenal of tools that that I can’t have in terms of what’s representing my brand, then. I know this is a kind of a maybe unique situation. But like, if you have half a million followers, I get a few 100 DMS a week about what’s wrong with my plant. Right? Right, right. So have it First of all, having that survey thing where I can say, Okay, look, if you if you want me to take a look, then here, fill out this, these these forms, and, you know, submit the pictures here. And then here’s where like, when I have time, then I can like take a look at and maybe publish one of the one of the things right? And then second to that is, and if you’re interested to learn more, you know, here’s a really thorough online course. And I think a lot of times, you know, people are hungry to consume something that’s been well put together. Like they don’t just want little tips and tricks they want, like a foundation knowledge, so that they can feel confident when they go and pursue the hobby of houseplants. And I think that applies to almost any, any skill that’s out there. Which is why having that online course is just such a great thing to have in your toolkit, right?
HF: Definitely. Definitely. I love that. And this is actually a question that I asked everyone I just love, every every answer is of course different. So if you’re starting a business today, or if maybe if you’re just getting started, what would you do in the first month or two?
DC: Hmm. I think building the audience is like, I mean, okay, we’re assuming that if I started from ground zero, nothing existed,
HF: ran new entrepreneur? Yes, yes.
DC: Building the audience is, is super important. And it’s so much easier than it was in the past. Because you have so many different forms of social media, then it’s a matter of you understanding which one’s your, you know, target customer is on and speak to them in the way that that would appeal to them, right? And for whatever service or product that you have, then you have to almost like, well, first of all, it would help it if you yourself, do the thing that you’re selling or talking about, right. So clearly, for me, I did this thing before I started selling a book or pakoras, and all that, right. So then you already have some understanding of what people might be looking for. Right? So the whole marketing research and building the audience is like the first, the first two things, I guess you could say that i would i would really look into. And then the next would be, which I kind of regret not getting help earlier is like having a good online presence. Not only from social media, but just your own website, right. Having a good website. When people land, it’s like they’re already starting to, in some ways judge you, right? So, you know, put your best foot forward. There are good templates if you’re on a smaller budget, but if you can afford to hire somebody to talk them through what you want your brand to look like, I think that’s something that really can can uplift and differentiate your brand. So for me, personally, I you know, use the template and kind of put it together myself. I often thought about this, like sort of, you know, I’m not a professional chef. So that means I couldn’t put together a meal. That is really, really good. Just with my own skill, right? So I’d rather talk to somebody who knows how to do with putting together but then convey to them. Oh, I’m about this. I like these things. I think my customer like these, you know this. This is my style. It’s it’s a You know, I like casual style or like remember more formalized style, like you can convey all these things to them. And then they can put together the the meal, so to speak, in a way that that reflects you, you best. So getting the help with that is is the thing I would do within the first two months of, of having a brand new business
HF: that is so valuable. Thank you so much for sharing. And kind of going off of that with putting yourself in the shoes of someone who is a new creator, a new entrepreneur, what tips would you have for people who are just getting started who want to like put themselves out there, and they want to pursue sharing their knowledge about something they’re passionate about with other people, but they don’t know where to begin? Maybe they don’t feel like they have the competence to get started? What would you tell them?
DC: Hmm, I think it’s it has to start with you understanding what format of communication you’re best at. Right? Because ultimately, all of this is just at the heart of it is communicating your ideas, right. So for me, I, I liked my university experience, and I liked attending lessons, and I’m kind of nerdy, but whatever. But like, I liked the idea of putting together slides and then having a speaker speak through it. So that’s for me, like the the format that I felt like I was best at. But for others, maybe it’s freely talking in front of a camera, right. And so then YouTube would be your kind of ghosting thing. But of course, because all the social media has video, you can pretty much do that on any format. Right? Right. And so first of all understanding that, but then to sort of balance that, you also need to remember, or at least get a sense of what format does your audience most connect with you with, right. And this is something that I’m still working on, which is that whenever I put my face in front of the camera and speak, that inevitably connects people more than just reading things, right. Of course, there are people who connect with the reading as well. But it’s like, because maybe you know, what you write is compelling. But that’s why I say you have to understand for like what you’re good at, right? So for me, I’m better at writing things. So then I try and make my connection through the writing. But if you’re better communicating, just by talking, then do it that way and kind of like, push harder with that. So find find your the way that you like to communicate, but also try and cater it to, you know how your audience wants to hear it or see it or read it, whatever, right? And then as you as you go through that this is almost sounds like just like life lessons, right? Don’t Don’t look at look at other people’s don’t don’t assume other people’s success. Like when you look at them, and you look and you think that they’re xst certain level of success, like the don’t assume that because they’re internally going through their own struggles that you’re probably feeling too. So yeah, the idea is kind of like you You understand yourself, you think about what your audience likes. And then when you push forward with your content, you have to remember that you’ll you’ll win people over not just based on you know, your quote unquote, quality of your content, but just your personality has a lot to do with it. Right? So it’s like, I can consume the same informational content from from two different people. But if I just connect with one person more, then I would go with it right. And so realizing that I mean, even for me thinking of plant influencers or other things like that, I look at us more like like the music industry, right? There’s, there’s no one correct or best musician, you just follow and listen to whoever you like, right. And then I think even for the musician side, they are not thinking oh, I have to make the best song ever. Like, you know, it’s like they, they they produce on on a regular basis. And they understand they’re producing in a community of artists. So the same way, I’m making my plant content in a community of people who are making clay content. So that means I don’t care if if, if you like this person’s way of saying, talking about watering or light better than than me because then somebody else can have the opposite thing, which is they prefer the way I talk about it versus someone else. So it always boils down to some kind of cliche, which is like you know, when you be yourself, you do it the way that you enjoy, then the audience who likes it that way will come to you.
HF: Exactly. No, I don’t think that’s cliche at all. Is that is universally just amazing advice to know that if you’re being authentic and being true, staying true to yourself, you’re going to attract the right audience. That’s meant To be in your, in your world. And that’s the kind of that’s how you want anyway. Yeah, exactly.
DC: And I think also the, just for yourself too, like, if if you’re constantly trying to do something that you don’t feel like is you, then that’s like, the fastest way to burn out. Right? Right. But I mean, even for me, when I started with Instagram, taking pictures of plants, I thought, well, I don’t like, you know, some bloggers they have if you’re a travel blogger, and you know, you, you take pictures because of traveling, it means you actually have to go to that place to take the picture, right? And I was thinking, Well, I’m having a pretty good as a plant blogger, because then everything is just right in my own home, my models don’t move, and they do whatever I asked them to, or, you know, position them to do. So in a sense, depending on the industry, you’re in, like you, you need to find the most sustainable way, I guess, to create your content, and the one on one that energizes you, which is the reason why I say do it in the way that you like it. So that that way, like, I like taking pictures of my plants here or there. And I like doing the time lapses. So they don’t, they don’t they don’t take up my energy to do it. In fact, it gives me energy to do time lapse and the ways that I do it.
HF: Right, because you know that when you eventually move on to post it on Instagram, your audience is going to respond so well. And they’re going to be so excited because they were drawn to you for a reason. Mm hmm. Yes. Amazing. I love it. Where can Darrel where can people connect with you or learn more about houseplant journal and just everything? all the amazing things that you have going on?
DC: Hmm. So houseplant journal.com is my website. And that’s where I post like longer blog articles. But on Instagram, I was playing journal, it’s all one word, no spaces, or underscores, or anything like that. Yeah. And that’s where on like more on a daily basis, I’ll post, I guess. It’s the it’s still the Journal of my houseplants. Right. So you’re just gonna see updates on how I plans are doing. And I think that’s the thing that, you know, the reason for the for the boom, and the Instagram, plant. Blogging is because people don’t, especially with pandemic, they don’t get to come to your house and see your plants. So when you share it outwards, then in some ways you live vicariously through, you know, somebody else’s experience with that particular plan. Or sometimes it gives you the idea that, oh, I want that one. And then you try and find your own right. Which is sort of like, I guess feeling people’s spending on the plans, but worth it. It’s it Yeah, but but the point is, like, you know, it’s something special that that that social media is doing with with house plans. And I think, generally that’s pretty good. So for me house playing journal, that’s where you can find me, Instagram, and also have a YouTube channel, trying to put out some more videos. But right now I’m focusing more on my online course, which is called essentials of houseplant enjoyment. And, and I think one thing that I should note about it is like, it’s, it’s got a lot of, you know, your standard video type lecture material. But what I like to do is roughly on a monthly basis, I have a zoom call with students, whoever can join. And then I’ll usually talk like a little bit about some particular Hot Topic of plants, and then also answer their questions like, sort of like this, like, right right in front of them, right. And sometimes they’ll bring in material from the Corps and talk about there. And overall, that whole video gets put back into the core, so people can rewatch all of these, what I call office hour sessions. And it’s sort of like just to enrich, you know, what’s what’s already in the course. And I think that’s something that, you know, people might find valuable, and also a lot that I enjoy doing.
HF: Yes, thank you so much for sharing that I’m really, I’m sure that everyone who’s listening right now is going to be so excited to follow you and stay connected. So thank you for doing that. And I have personally been so inspired by everything you’ve shared today. So before we hop off, I’d love to know if you have any last words of wisdom or inspiration for our listeners.
DC: You know, I think my my approach to plant care can often it has often been some people have commented that it’s can be approach to life even right. And so the approach is, is like three parts. The first is you understand your environmental conditions. So these are the things that are set in place that you can’t really control to some degree, right? Then the second part is to just try your best. Well in my way, I say try your best with plant care, but you can just say try your best give your best effort so that you yourself can say, I gave it my best effort. And the last piece is to let nature take its course. And that means that the outcome that happens is never going to be completely in your control. You have some control. That’s the effort part of it. But there’s also the environment part, which is the, the settings. And lastly, just whatever you’re doing that is organic in nature, whether it be building a business, growing a plant, the things that will happen, some will be good, some will be not so good. But the point is, you have to keep going with it. Or you have to decide, you know, whether it’s time to stop. I mean, let’s give it on a positive note. But like, when you let nature take its course, then it’s easier to be so called roll with the punches, right? So I think having that three kind of step approach, understand your environment, give it your best effort, and let nature take its course. That’s sort of the way I would like to, you know, help people with their business.
HF: Truly, what an amazing way to cap off that episode. I am very, very excited for this to be in the horse world. Darrell, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing all of your amazing wisdom and insights. I really, really appreciate it.
DC: Thanks. It was it was wonderful. Thank you very much.