It’s ok to take a break and take care of yourself, your family, friends and team. Because the work at a startup can sometimes be relentless you may forget to take care of yourself. Remind yourself to make your physical and mental health a top priority. Having a healthy body/mind is not only good for you and everyone around you, it also gives you more energy to spend on your work goals. I remember for the first few years I was working 16 hour days and doing that I lost so much weight and strength and it affected my health for many years to come. Nowadays I always try to eat healthy, go spend time in nature or just have a coffee with friends and I have never been happier.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Abhi Arora.
Abhi is the CEO of HealingGardens.co. He also invests in various startups as an angel investor. He has been a tech enthusiast and entrepreneur for many years.
In addition, he is a total Nature nerd. He grew up dreaming about traveling into the woods as a nature photographer. Before Healing Gardens, Abhi co-founded a $350MM startup that he was able to take public on Nasdaq.
In earlier work life, Abhi was a software engineer and worked on creating products such as FillSkills that helps people find careers etc. When he is not working, he spends time with his family traveling, birdwatching and catching up on nature documentaries.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
For a long while, in the back of my mind, there has always been a push to work on something more important than the daily routines, something that helps others. Many years ago I created an app called iPlantTrees that connected people who wanted to plant trees with resources. With the climate emergency growing and becoming increasingly important, I wanted to do something about it before I die. I had just grown a startup successfully. And I was going through some major anxiety issues. To take a break and to recover from my anxiety I started going to Rishi’s farm and home garden. They look and feel like a healthy forest ecosystem or a botanical garden. It’s like having a bit of Hawaii in the middle of a concrete jungle. And immediately I started feeling better. Anxiety would just drain from me every time I visited these healthy forest ecosystems. Rishi explained that this is a very common occurrence and is well known in the farming community. So we started meeting other urban farmers and gardeners. We ended up meeting 20+ people. Based on the community feedback we decided to start Healing Gardens.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I was always scared of trying new things, especially when I thought others would judge me. But over time I have learnt to do the opposite and it has yielded really positive results. I try to say yes to things that make me nervous. So now I have flown planes, done scuba diving, given a recorded lecture to a large audience, created a publicly listed company, met amazing people and travelled a lot. In short — don’t let others define who you are, take small steps and try things out of your comfort zone.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Climate emergency is at our doorsteps. We are all scared of how we will survive through this. People have started acting on it through various solutions. HealingGardens, which is mine and my friend Rishi’s company, is trying to solve this problem by enabling gardeners to earn income from their gardens. When gardeners have money, they plant more, more trees, more shrubs etc. Trees and plants in turn consume carbon dioxide and store it in various forms.
In addition to the Climate benefits, healthy gardens provide proven anxiety relief. I have personally felt this. Just before starting HealingGardens, I was going through a lot of anxiety issues including being in an ambulance. By simply visiting healthy ecosystems, my body and brain have completely recovered. Being in a healthy ecosystem gives immediate relief, as if anxiety is being drained from your body.
With Healing Gardens, we want to bring both this potential world changing aspects of gardens to others and the world.
How do you think this will change the world?
When you are visiting or buying something at HealingGardens, you are supporting planting trees. There is an estimate that if 50 billion trees are planted, all the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be taken out. That’s just a few trees per person. Our hope is that in the next 5–10 years people through the Healing Gardens platform will be accelerating tree planting and ecosystem creation all over the world
In many many tree planting strategies and implementations, we see a huge problem — once the trees are planted, no one is there to take care of the tree. Or even before a seed is planted, no one spends time review the soil it is being planted in. There is a really important piece of the puzzle — training the people to maintain and manage healthy ecosystems. This is what Healing Gardens is doing from day one.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story? What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Just like Airbnb had to convince people that staying at other’s houses could be a good experience, same way we have to convince the general public that going to beautiful organic lush gardens exist near you and are accessible easily.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s ok to take a break and take care of yourself, your family, friends and team. Because the work at a startup can sometimes be relentless you may forget to take care of yourself. Remind yourself to make your physical and mental health a top priority. Having a healthy body/mind is not only good for you and everyone around you, it also gives you more energy to spend on your work goals. I remember for the first few years I was working 16 hour days and doing that I lost so much weight and strength and it affected my health for many years to come. Nowadays I always try to eat healthy, go spend time in nature or just have a coffee with friends and I have never been happier.
- Find people who are as passionate about the problem as your are. Don’t hire for talent only. Talent is just one aspect of what is needed to work at a problem successfully. At my last startup, we hired people who were experts in their fields and also people who were not experienced at all but very hungry to learn quickly. In the end when you look back, after 4 years, the people who made the real difference are the ones that were passionate and hungry to learn. At HealingGardens we have been hiring gardeners who have been building and caring for beautiful gem-like gardens for years. Their input and passion for nature has been critical to our success.
- Learn when to say no. While running a startup, you already have a lot to do. You have limited resources and many many things to do. In the initial stages the founders are building software, building a team, building community, raising funds, doing accounting, working on the legal stuff and the list goes on. So learning to focus and saying no to distractions is a must have skill that you need to develop quickly. Sometimes that means saying no to media interviews, other times it means focusing on your core product and core customer. For example, in the beginning days of HealingGardens, we were building an iOS app and I was a big part of that effort. But after trying for a few months I knew that it was not working out. Me and my team had put in so much effort into the app that we didn’t want to let go. But finally we took the decision of starting from scratch and said no to our ego that wanted us to hold on to the effort we had put into the app.
- Build fast, but not alone. There is a famous quote that says “If you want to go fast, go alone”. I feel that is taken out of context a lot. Building in a vacuum is dangerous. I once spent 3 months building a very technical product that never saw a single customer. Instead the approach that has works better is to work closely with your customers. Be their best friend. Understand their needs. Show them things that you are working on that are supposed to help them. This will get them excited! They will learn to trust in you and give you honest feedback. This way you can iterate on your product ‘fast’, but not ‘alone’. And you make amazing friends for life on the way.
- There will be ups and downs. One of the hardest things that I had to learn was to not take failures of business as personal failure. There will be days when you are super excited about the business and there will be days when nothing seems to work. Sometimes both these things will happen during the same day. A wise person once told me to enjoy the highs and lows equally. I asked how can I enjoy failure? The answer was simple — You failed because you tried. You tried because you cared. enjoy the lessons you learn and iterate. This still gives me motivation when things are rough.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
I have just one thing here that really opened my eyes to the possibilities — Almost everything you see around you and interact with daily, including planes, roads, buildings, bridges, video games, internet, laws, companies, elevators, money, religion etc are all built by humans. Humans that were just like you and me. By working together and working on our passions we were able to make all this happen. You too can make anything happen, create anything you set your mind to. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, will and some luck. You can’t control luck but you control the first two! Take your shot.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
HealingGardens lies at the intersection of mental health and Climate change. Being in lush healthy gardens is associated with improvement in mental health. I felt that personally and its a very commonly known thing in gardening circles. At HealingGardens, you can book dreamy gardens for workshops, events, or a space to host your own experience. When you book at HealingGardens, you are paying to affect the climate crisis. Our gardeners use their income to use regenerative and sustainable practices. We launched this year (Jan 2021) and are already all over Los Angeles with 40 gardens and 1200+ visitors! Our plans are to be planet wide in the near future.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow HealingGardens on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/healinggardens.co/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.