Vera Kutsenko and Hayley Leibson have incredible tech pedigrees, but their latest venture involves as much digging in dirt as it does digging through lines of code.
The two women raised $4.7 million for Neverland, a startup for the home gardener that aims to be a marketplace connecting mom-and-pop gardening shops with the explosion of amateur horticulturalists that have sprung up since the pandemic began.
Gardening businesses were among the big winners during the pandemic, with sales at home and lawn care and gardening businesses shooting up 9% in 2020, according to data from the 200 year-old flower retailer, Breck’s.
It’s that surge in business, and the co-founders’ passion for home plants, that led to the launch of Neverland, they said.
Using customer data, Neverland prompts users on how to optimize their gardens and horticulture activities based on their geographies and what plants customers would want to grow. The company also looks to connect would-be green-thumbed growers with companies in their regions.
“The educational piece we’re pulling from is the USDA agricultural APIs,” said Kutsenko. “We take and translate the super science-y terms into language that [customers] would understand. We’re pulling this from existing government resources and aggregating it and making it accessible to folks.”
For the founders, Neverland is a change of pace. Kutsenko studied computer science at Cornell, worked at Facebook on the Internet.org initiative and led teams working on the mobile app at Uber. Meanwhile, Leibson founded LunchClub and served as that company’s chief operating officer.
Kutsenko and Leibson first connected through a women’s tech networking group in San Francisco and bonded over a shared love of plants. Leibson has roughly 24 plants in her apartment while Kutsenko had a plant nursery that she tended to herself.
“We really view the opportunity for Neverland to be the sustainability focused marketplace,” said Leibson. “The power of what we’re doing is we’re able to create a really consistent support network for the consumer.”
It’s a huge market. Kutsenko said that globally plant and gardening spending is roughly $52 billion and $28 billion of that market is indoor and outdoor gardening.
It was both the CVs of the founders and the overall size of the market that convinced investors to throw their financial weight behind the company — and it’s an impressive roster of consumer-focused and sustainability minded investors including: Obvious Ventures, Maveron, Kimbal Musk, and Y Combinator, which had Neverland in its most recent cohort. In all, Neverland managed to bring in $4.7 million for its marketplace and gardening community.
And since everything starts with community, the company has managed to amass a healthy following on Instagram even before its scheduled launch this summer. Already 140,000 people follow Neverland’s posts. And the company has signed on 50 sellers in the Bay Area and beyond.