Interview with AskGarden

Ask Garden

Apparently DoLeaf is making waves across the Atlantic and striking a chord with our fellow gardeners in Great Britain. Sarah had a chance to speak with Josh of AskGarden about the germination of DoLeaf and what our growth plans are. The obvious question, considering where Josh is based: Would DoLeaf consider expanding to include other countries besides the United States?

Well, we’d love to, but we’re still trying to navigate the byzantine laws and issues with shipping live plants inside the same country. International shipments are an order of magnitude more difficult. Still, one possibility would be for British nurseries to get involved and sell their plants within their own borders. We’d have to see about any currency conversion issues involved with our Amazon Payments backend system, plus upgrade some of our US-only shipping controls, but it’s not totally out of the question. We just need a brave British nursery to help us blaze a trail. If you are or know of such a nursery, please contact us.

DoLeaf reviewed on Urban Gardens

Urban Gardens

We got a nice write up today, over on Urban Gardens. The highlight for me (besides being credited with the idea, when it was actually Sarah’s…) was this quote:

DoLeaf enables the urban gardener, who may live far from the farms, to get out of the big box stores and stay connected to the land by supporting smaller independent retailers and family-owned establishments such as Krieger’s, run by Andy Krieger; The Wilham’s farm, run by the Wilham’s family; and Green Sunshine, run by Hedy and her nephew.

It’s really a pleasure for us on the DoLeaf team to work with passionate small business owners. Family owner/operator nurseries have been a tradition in the United States for many years, and we’re proud to be a part of it.

Thanks to Urban Gardens for the write-up!

DoLeaf gets reviewed by Life on the Balcony

We here at DoLeaf have been huge fans of Fern Richardson and her Life on the  Balcony blog for the past months. Fern offers fantasctic tips and design suggestions for everyday container gardening that anyone can do. Plus her posts really can help young gardeners with limited spaces and budgets. Ryan, Micah and I have all tried our greenthumbs at apartment container gardening over the past decade with varying results.

You can imagine how thrilled and surprised we were when Fern became interested in DoLeaf and posted a review, calling it “A great way to find more interesting plants” and saying how impressed she was with the size of the plants DoLeaf ships.

Thanks Fern for trying out DoLeaf and taking some of DoLeaf’s over 400 mailorder plants into your container garden. She got a Ruby Ficus shipped to her from Studley’s and was quite pleased with the large size and unique leaf color. As the happy owner of a pair of Ruby Rubber Plants myself, I can understand why. Check out her post to see snapshots of her other DoLeaf plants.

To keep up with Fern and learn more about how to garden in your condo,  apartment, dormroom, or house, check out her blog, Facebook page, or Twitter profile.

DoLeaf presents at Startup Riot 2010

Note: This is a bit of a deviation from our usual theme of gardening, so browse around if you’re looking for gardening tips or DoLeaf updates.

DoLeaf was proud to present at Startup Riot 2010, an Atlanta event for showcasing local entrepreneurs and businesses who are getting off the ground. It was a lot of fun, plus we met people from all these great companies:

CitiSync

CitiSync keeps you in sync with all the events and specials in your city making it easy to make plans with friends. They’re getting started in Florida and slowly branching their way out.

Learn it Live

Connect with top experts in many fields. Sid mentioned that perhaps in the future, DoLeaf sellers might want to list themselves as expert botanists on Learn it Live. An interesting idea…

Less Accounting

Dedicated to ending the tyranny of Quickbooks by making accounting simple. These guys were simply hilarious, and well deserving of the prize they won at the end of the day.

Looxii

They’re trying to simplify social media analytics, which is a very hot area right now. They’re also part of Shotput Ventures, a local Atlanta incubator program.

Make Small Talk

Get a quick summary of a subject so you can have a watercooler talk about it. Makes perfect sense to me, since I never watched sports and could never be part of a conversation about “the Big Game.”

Mobilization Labs

Zach of Mobilization Labs was on hand to present about The Wildfire Platform. Wildfire allows you to manage and mobilize a disparate supporter base. A great example is managing a political campaign or a band’s fanbase.

Netparty

Netparty hosts social networking events for young professionals. Network with other business professionals from your area in a local nightclub hotspot.

NinjaPost

NinjaPost, a Shotput Ventures company, is aiming to drag forums and message boards out of the web antiquity bin. They feature real-time AJAX updating, Twitter and WordPress integration, and lots of customization.

oBo Games

With a couple iPhone apps released and a whole slew in development, these guys are looking to storm the App Store.

Rank ‘Em

Allows music enthusiasts to pick out and rank their favorite artists.

Savont

Savont aims to bring ROSCAs to social networks. Borrow from and lend to your friends using a simple, proven system.

TransactionTree

Do you like how an online transaction results in a receipt being emailed to you? What if the same were true for transactions at brick & mortar stores? No more paper receipts to fumble with and lose. Instead, just check your email and it’s there. This was my favorite business idea of Startup Riot, and I can see retailers loving it.

UVestor

The real estate world is a confusing one, and UVestor is looking to clean it up. Their system allows all parties in a real estate transaction to interact through a simple system, doing away with the spaghetti snarl of communication that accompanies real estate.

Viral Prints

Another simple-but-awesome idea, Viral Prints lets you get a YouTube star on a T-shirt. The video makers set up a store and upload the designs. Then, all they have to do is direct their fans to the store from their YouTube channel. Brilliant!

That’s It!

It was a great day, and I really enjoyed meeting everyone. I wish all the other companies the best of luck and look forward to hearing more about them in the future.

If you’d like to read more about Startup Riot, I’d suggest the following:

Gardenology

Gardenology LogoThanks to Shirley Bovshow, I found out about Gardenology today. It’s a Mediawiki site (like Wikipedia) devoted specifically to plants.

Copious Information

Browsing randomly, the first thing to notice is that there is a lot of information about each plant. Take the Rose entry for example. There’s a ton of information to browse through there. It seems as though a good portion of it was imported from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture.

On the downside, all of this information makes things very text heavy. Gardeners love good pictures, and for many of the Gardenology articles, there is a lack of photos. It’s really a shame, but they have a plan for that…

iplantification

In the iplantification section you can find photos that have been uploaded by users. The purpose of this category is to allow users to tag and categorize photos.

This answers a very common need amongst gardeners of “What is this plant?” Just upload a photo, mark it as unlabeled, and hopefully someone will be able to figure out what it is. Then, they’ll link it to the plant article on Gardenology and you can go see what it is you took a photo of.

It’s an ambitious plan, and I wish them the best of luck, but it’s a pretty monumental task, and this message makes me skeptical:

5,113 unlabeled photos...ouch!

It will be tough going through a backlog of over 5,000 unlabeled photos.

What about folia?

My first thought when hearing about Gardenology was, “Hmm, sounds a lot like MyFolia…” They both seem to be angling toward building an online database of plant information.

However, the approach seems to be somewhat different. While folia is focusing more on social networking (such as with their Folia Faire), Gardenology is taking the more Wikipedia approach where the plants take center stage and the users are more of a buzzing background that “tends the garden” so to speak.

It’s good to see more and more online resources appearing for identifying and classifying plants. We here at DoLeaf will definitely be keeping an eye on Gardenology to see where it goes!

Book Review – Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own

Book Cover

After seeing it reviewed by MrBrownThumb, I knew I had to get a copy of Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own by Bob Flowerdew. For the past couple years, I’ve done a decent job of growing fruits and vegetables in my garden, but I’ve always been pretty bad at keeping the surpluses. My hope is that with the instruction and guidance provided by this book, I’ll be able to do a better job of preservation.

Basic Advice

The book starts off with some very practical advice about raising your own fruits and vegetables. Recommended tools, basic practices, and amenities are all covered. The tools include things like old french fry baskets (for washing produce) and discarded refrigerators (for cramming in a shed and using to store picked fruit). These suggestions are an example of the refreshing charm of the book. I’d characterize it as more economical hobbyist than hardcore environmentalist or political activist. The book seems geared toward people that view their garden as a delicious diversion and not a political statement. I consider myself an environmentalist, but not everything I do has to be measured in carbon.

Skill, Luck, and Ingenuity

When discussing the gardening and storing of foods, Bob often mentions that certain techniques take skill, luck, ingenuity, or some combination. The simple descriptions that he gives make everything seem possible, and this is a bit of a danger for casual folks like me. I think it’s important to recognize your own limitations up front and don’t fall into the trap of believing you have the time or skill to try everything in the book. Instead, commit to trying one or two things each season and find out what works for you.

Beware Overconfidence

With all the great advice in the book, it’s easy to get overconfident. There are so many ways to jam, jelly, pickle, freeze, or smash up pretty much any fruit. It’s important to balance this against what I’ve discovered in the past: Don’t grow what you don’t eat. If you don’t eat squash from the grocery store, what makes you think you’ll eat it from your garden? It’s important to try new things, but before you plant a whole row of something and dream up all kinds of big plans for canning it, ask yourself: Will I ever actually eat any of this?

So Little on Peppers?

One nitpick I have with the book is the tiny amount devoted to peppers. While there are roughly four pages devoted to growing and preserving apples, there is barely 1/4 of a page for peppers, half for sweet, half for spicy. Considering that jalapenos are a big part of my crop each year, and I love spicy food, this is a bit of a disappointment. I’d love to see more advice about canning or pickling peppers, but I suppose I’ll have to look elsewhere.

Buy or Not Buy?

I’m definitely very glad I picked up this book (or glad that Sarah got it for me). The simple advice makes me believe that I will be able to accomplish at least some of the preservation techniques described inside. Considering the great sense of satisfaction I got from making my own crushed red pepper, I’m eager to try something more advanced, like pickled peppers, canned tomatoes, or raspberry jam. Uh oh…I think I’m getting overconfident again…

Tutorial Video – Setting up your DoLeaf store

To prove how easy DoLeaf is to use, we have created a short tutorial video showing the signup process. Even with detailed explanations of each step, we still get all the way through store creation and uploading a new listing in under 10 minutes.

Enjoy!

Seed to Sprout in Under 10 Minutes from DoLeaf on Vimeo.

Why Amazon is the Best Choice for a Marketplace

amazon_payments_logo

People are often surprised to learn that DoLeaf relies (exclusively, for now) on Amazon for our payment processing. In the world of small, person-to-person transactions, PayPal is the dominant leader, and it’s well established on sites like eBay and Etsy. However, due to several innovative features, we’re convinced that Amazon is the way to go. The reasons all revolve around multiparty transactions and how they revolutionize online marketplaces.

Multiparty Transactions

By far, the most innovative feature that Amazon offers is the ability to execute 3-way transactions. This is what happens every time you purchase something in a marketplace. The buyer sends money to the seller, and the marketplace takes a small cut of the sale. However, prior to Amazon, there was no way to execute this all at once. Instead, it usually took multiple transactions. In most cases, the seller would pay the buyer directly, and the marketplace would send the seller a monthly invoice. Or, the buyer would pay the marketplace, and it would cut a check to the seller. In either case, at least two transactions have to occur, incurring additional overhead and fees at each step.

With Amazon, the entire transaction can be executed instantly. Amazon will take the money from the buyer, cut out a portion for the marketplace and deposit the rest directly into the seller’s account. Only one transaction occurs, and everyone receives their money instantly.

Lower Fees

The most direct benefit of all this is lower fees. With every transaction there are fees to be paid. With the old way, you had to run multiple transactions to pay everyone, so you paid the transaction fees multiple times. Bundling transactions together, like with a monthly invoice, was a way to keep costs down, but it was still pretty expensive. With a single transaction, however, the fees are only paid once, greatly reducing the amount of overhead that goes to pay for simply moving money around.

Instant Payment

Another important benefit is that everyone receives their portion of the payment instantly. This has obvious benefits for the seller, since many would be reluctant to ship until payment is received, and rightfully so. However, there are indirect benefits as well. Since DoLeaf is paid instantly, we have to spend less time invoicing and dealing with outstanding accounts. This allows us to keep costs down and focus on adding new features, rather than tracking down overdue accounts. It’s truly a win for all sides.

Better Integration

One of the most frustrating things about other payment systems is the lack of integration with the marketplace. On many marketplaces, the sale is booked before the buyer actually pays. This is because that actual payment processing is done by a third-party, like PayPal, and the marketplace has no knowledge of this. It all takes place between the buyer and seller, and the marketplace just has to assume that all goes well.

Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t go well. Perhaps the buyer refuses to pay, or the seller needs to refund some of the money. With other marketplaces, the seller then needs to go through a dispute process in order to let the marketplace know that they should not be charged the full transaction fee, since the payment did not execute as planned. With DoLeaf, this is completely unnecessary. Since we are an integral part of every transaction, we know instantly when a payment or refund occurs. Sellers will never be overcharged or need to dispute a charge.

Many Stores, One Checkout

Some marketplaces suffer from the many-checkout problem, where to buy from multiple sellers at the same time requires running the buyer through the checkout process several times, once for each seller. The obvious problem here is that at any time the buyer can get cold feet and decide to quit the process.

Thanks to Amazon’s ability to group transactions, a DoLeaf sale takes only a single checkout, no matter how many stores are involved. It’s a well known fact that making checkout smooth and easy is an excellent way of making sales.

So Only Amazon Forever?

While we at DoLeaf are huge fans of Amazon, we recognize that putting all our eggs in one basket is a terrible idea. Further, not everyone has an Amazon account, and those that do may prefer to use other methods. We want to be as open and inviting as possible, so we would love to offer other options.

Luckily, Amazon’s new system has lit a fire under PayPal, who has announced that they will be supporting multiparty transactions and many other features in the future. So, you can bet we’ll be keeping an eye on PayPal and hoping they come through on their promises. It may be a few months, but as soon as PayPal flips the switch and turns it on, DoLeaf will be one of the first at the door.

At the end of the day, DoLeaf is committed to providing the best experience for both buyers and sellers. We want to make checkout and payment smooth and easy, while also making it simple and straightforward for sellers to manage their stores.

Putting out the welcome mat to Google

One frustrating aspect about running a website is making sure you look good in search results. It can be incredibly irritating to have a beautiful site, but for some reason the text displayed in Google is ugly. Here’s an example from the early days of DoLeaf.

Ugly and is no help to anyone.
Ugly and is no help to anyone.

This is where the art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes into play. By understanding how Google works, It’s possible to “suggest” text that you would like to be displayed in the search results.

It’s all about placement

The key to getting the results to look right is to make sure that the text you want displayed is located near common search phrases. For example, with DoLeaf, it’s common for someone to search for a nursery on Google, say Ohiotraders Botanicals. When Google looks at DoLeaf, it will search for text that is nearby to occurrences of the phrase “Ohiotraders Botanicals” Whatever it finds nearby will be used to make the result that’s shown.

So, we make sure that there is always text nearby that describes the main element of the page being displayed. On a store page, the store’s description is always close at hand. Likewise, on a plant listing page, the plant’s description is used. In both cases, we make sure to have the text as close as possible to the first occurrence of the item’s name so that Google knows right where to look.

It works

Following our initial SEO efforts, the results displayed on Google are much, much nicer. For example, a search on Bannister Creek Nursery will show the following result:

Has a nice description of the nursery in it.
Has a nice description of the nursery in it.

Likewise, a search on Bishop’s Cap Cactus produces the following result:

A nice description of the plant.
A nice description of the plant.

By making sure to keep your desired description nearby to common search phrases, you can extend the welcome mat to Google. They will return the favor by describing your site exactly as you wish. There are many, many more Search Engine Optimization methods that can be used as well, and I’d be happy to explain in subsequent posts. Just let me know what you’d like to hear about and I’ll write it up!