Vera Kutsenko and Hayley Leibson have incredible engineering pedigrees, but their latest endeavor is digging as much dirt as digging through lines of code.
The two women founded Neverland, a home gardening startup that aims to be a marketplace that connects mom and pop stores to the explosion of amateur horticulturists that have sprung up since the pandemic began, each with whom someone (or something) needed to talk.
Horticultural companies were among the big winners during the pandemic. According to 200-year-old florist Breck’s, sales in the home care, lawn care and horticulture sectors rose 9% in 2020.
It is this burst of business and the co-founders’ passion for native plants that led to the launch of Neverland, they said.
Using customer data, Neverland prompts users to optimize their gardening and horticultural activities based on their regions and which plants customers want to grow. The company also aims to connect potential green thumb growers with companies in their regions.
“The educational piece we draw from is the USDA APIs for agriculture,” said Kutsenko. “We take and translate the super-scientific terms into a language that [customers] would understand. We pull this from existing government resources and aggregate it and make it available to the people. “
Neverland is a change for the founders. Kutsenko studied computer science at Cornell, worked at Facebook on the Internet.org initiative, and led teams working on the mobile app at Uber. In the meantime, Leibson founded the LunchClub and acted as the company’s chief operating officer.
Kutsenko and Leibson first connected through a tech networking group for women in San Francisco and connected over a shared love of plants. Leibson has around 24 plants in her apartment, while Kutsenko had a nursery that she tended for herself.
“We really see an opportunity for Neverland to be the sustainable market,” said Leibson. “The strength of what we do is that we can create a really consistent support network for the consumer.”
It’s a huge market. Kutsenko said that global spending on plants and gardening is around $ 52 billion, and $ 28 billion of that market is for indoor and outdoor gardening.
Both the founders’ résumés and the overall size of the market convinced investors to throw their financial weight behind the company – and it’s an impressive list of consumer-centric and sustainability-minded investors, including: Obvious ventures, Maveron, Kimbal Musk, and Y Combinator that Neverland had in their youngest cohort. Overall, Neverland managed to raise $ 3 million for its marketplace and garden community.
And since it all starts with the community, the company has managed to reach a healthy fan base on Instagram even before the planned launch this summer. Already 140,000 people follow the Neverland posts. And the company has signed 50 vendors in the Bay Area and beyond.