Startup Interview

  • [Startup Interview] Communicate with plants. CEO of ‘Dearplants’, a data-based plant interaction service startup, Jeong Hye Kim
  • 창업원
  • 2022-10-30 20:23:18
  • 224

Today we will meet an award-winning team from 2020 Fall E*5 KAIST, ‘Dearplant’. Dearplant provides ‘Plity’, a service that allows communicating with plants using smartphones by detecting the surrounding environment (water, temperature, etc.) through IOT devices and the interaction between plants and objects.

The number of people growing plants is increasing due to the increased time spent at home nowadays. Let’s meet Jeong Hye Kim, CEO of Dearplants, who is leading a company that helps grow and communicate with plants.

Can you briefly introduce Dearplants?

Dearplants is a startup created by plant-loving KAIST students. We are creating a service that allows communicating with plants by giving them sensation. Through this, we hope to ultimately develop plants into ‘companion’ plants. Dearplants is at the center of the groundbreaking challenge of sharing daily life and harmonizing with plants.

As CEO Kim mentioned, the number of people growing plants is increasing to the point where the word ‘companion plant’ has been coined. However, it is difficult to grow plants, and it will become much easier if people know what plants really need.

How did Dearplants decide on this service as its startup product?

I always wanted to do research on healing people through computer science due to my major in computer science and interest in psychology. Last spring, I received a few plant presents for my birthday and often found myself talking to plants. I shared this experience in a plant community, and a lot more people than I thought agreed with me. During this experience, I thought plants as a medium of communication and that they had great potential in the role of communication and healing. If I could bring this potential out through my computer science major, I believed I could do research and provide a service that heals people. That’s why I decided to start a business.

There are many student entrepreneurs who research solutions to the problems they face and actually execute the solutions. This seems to apply to CEO Jeong Hye Kim as well. CEO Kim started Dearplants based on her hope to heal people, her major in computer science, and interest in psychology.

A plant growing application will be helpful because it is difficult to maintain the optimal environment for plants. It’s also interesting that plants talk to users. Do plants talk like AI? Or is it like IOT? What kind of technology did you apply?

We use both technology. First, IoT sensors sense the plant-human interaction and the surrounding environment of the plant. Using this information, our algorithm figures out the state and feelings of the plant. Then, through an AI-based chatbot in the application, a user can have a conversation with the plant depending on its situation. The application analyzes the condition of the plant, so it is easy to see what the plant needs (water). Our service will make growing plants fun and easy.

There might be limitations to Dearplants as an application service. It is important for businesses to earn profit, so where do profits come from?

Our service consists of an IoT device that connects to the application Plity. So, we can generate profit from device sales and in-app services. For in-app services, we plan to introduce various gaming services with plants, like a plant Damagochi, and add a few paid contents. There are about 300 users on our android application a day, and if this figure exceeds 500, we plan to activate a community to recommend various plant-related products and charge commission fees. Lastly, we plan to launch a premium care services to users who grow expensive orchids.

It is important to help people with the app service, but it will be difficult for businesses to continue without profit. If there are more users, the company will be able to generate profits in different ways.

How did the team get together? How do you overcome difficulties in coordinating with team members?

We started with 3 team members. In the beginning, my friend was preparing a startup with another friend, and I joined the team as a developer. When I joined the team, we started on a blank page and to decide on a startup product. During the process of deciding on an item, I took on the role as a leader and recruited a few of my acquaintances. Some team members joined through Ara’s recruitment board.

As more team members joined, it was difficult to create a team culture. In fact, we are still in the process of forming the culture. In the beginning, there were only a few members and not much to discuss, so there were no big disagreements. If there was a disagreement, it was easily solved after a few words. However, as the team got bigger, there were a lot more disagreements.

So we first decided to define the company’s mission, vision, and core values. Basically, we were setting the standard for decision making. When we have a disagreement, we don’t simply express our opinions, but explain that “this is more correspondent with our mission and core values”. Doing this makes us more cohesive that we have a common goal, and there is less disagreement.

It seems difficult to create a team. Although the team members came together with one goal, each one has a different opinion so it is important to have a define frame. Good job on defining the company’s mission, vision, and core values!

What were some difficulties starting a business and how did you overcome them?

I always wanted to start a business, but I never knew I was going to start like this. I jumped into this business without knowing anything about startups. Everything about startups was unfamiliar, and I felt pressured to study and produce results.

Thankfully, I received a lot of help and was able to quickly adapt to the startup ecosystem. When starting the business, I received many advices from Professor Jae-Min Koo from K-school. Professor Koo helped us in the overall aspect of the business and how to approach customers, so I was able to successfully establish the company. We have been able to grow further thanks to our investor Bluepoint Partners and representatives who I met while doing business who actively helped and taught us. There’s still a lot to learn and business is still difficult.

Why did you participate in E*5 KAIST, and what did you learn from it?

Our biggest motivation to participate in E*5 KAIST was mentoring. As an early startup team, being able to receive mentoring from the best ACs and VCs is a great advantage. As I expected, I learned and developed a lot from mentoring. E*5 has a total of 3 missions, and in the first and second mission, we were able to receive mentoring from one of the 5 mentors. In the final mission, we received specialized mentoring from our own mentor. The program was divided into two stages, so in the beginning we were able to receive various opinions and advices from different mentors. At the end of the program, we received strong and specialized support from our mentor.

창업에 대한 어려움을 E5 멘토링을 통해 극복하는 데 도움이 되었던 것 같네요. 처음 창업을 하면 아무래도 압박감도 오고 힘들 것 같은데 그럴 때 함께하는 팀원들과 도움을 주는 사람들이 필요하다고 느낍니다. 때에 맞게 E5에 지원하셔서 이미 창업을 경험하시고 스타트업 생태계를 잘 아는 멘토분들께 의견 및 조언을 구하신 부분이 좋았을 것 같다고 생각이 됩니다.

When was the most rewarding time when starting Dearplants?

It is really rewarding when we receive comments that users healed and got consoled from our service. Especially these days, there are a lot less healing moments due to COVID-19. I am proud that I can provide comfort and amusement during this time.

Starting a business is difficult, but it is rewarding to receive nice comments and see many users using the company’s service. As CEO Kim said, the Plity service is especially a healing at a time like this.

What is Dearplants developing next?

Before any further development, we are looking for ways to expand our current service. We are positively reviewing the introduction of our service in botanical gardens or preschools, where our service can give positive impact.

In addition, we are planning various projects to provide a fun plant growing experience for people in their 20s and 30s. Many people have grown plants in the past, but they became reluctant to grow plants because plants die easily. It’s easy to grow plants once you become close to them, and we want to introduce the advantages and methods of growing plants. We will try these things within the first half of the year.

It seems like a good idea to provide the service to daycare centers. If children can learn how to grow plants and become accustomed, they will also learn about the value of life. I myself am uncomfortable growing plants, and if I can grow them properly, I want to try again. The service is currently available on Android, but I will wait until the service is also available in the App store.

What is the ultimate goal of Dearplants?

Dearplants’ mission is ‘Creating the most comforting life partner’. Our goal is to comfort people and create a life partner. I believe plants will play a huge role in accomplishing this mission. Plants are just quiet, green creatures, but its simple presence makes you feel refreshed and healed. We believe plants have great healing potential and will try to maximize it.

Dearplants started from a small idea to comfort people, and is creating a world that plants can coexist in the Corona era. The service ‘Plity’ will comfort people by bringing warmth to and allowing communication with plants. Using IOT sensors and AI will make Plity services more common and collaborating with flower and plant industries will create great synergy. We look forward to Dearplants’ future!

This was CEO Jeong Hye Kim of Dearplants.