Meet Shubber Ali, CEO of Garden for Wildlife, a company on a mission to combat biodiversity loss. They’re empowering individuals to positively impact the environment right in their own yards by making locally native plants more accessible. Learn about their innovative approach to environmental conservation and how they’re using capitalism to drive positive change for communities and ecosystems.

Funding Round Details

Garden For Wildlife logo
Company: Garden For Wildlife
Security Type: Equity - Common
Valuation: $21,437,500
Min Investment: $250
Platform: Dealmaker Securities
Deadline: Apr 29, 2024
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In your own words, how would you describe your company?

Garden for Wildlife is a business focused on enabling individuals to have an impact on the environment IN THEIR OWN YARD, to help mitigate the massive decline in biodiversity – specifically pollinators and songbirds – that has been occurring over the past few decades here in North America. We are a business that does well while doing good – in that, we are focused on using capitalism to increase the positive impact for our customers and communities in need (through our 1:1 plant donation program).

How did you get involved with Garden for Wildlife?

That’s an interesting story. When we moved here four-and-a-half years ago, my yard was just a lot of lawn.  As a gardener, I wanted to change that – to add flowers and plants so we would get more birds and butterflies.  Then I read a book that had just come out, “Nature’s Best Hope” by Professor Doug Tallamy.  And it changed my life.  I became aware of the difference between locally native plants and invasive species. I realized that all the plants I had been putting in my gardens for the past two decades were hurting the biodiversity, not helping it.  

The problem is that big box stores don’t carry locally native plants for the most part, and my own personal pain was what got me to contact the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and start talking about this. So I started doing pro bono work with NWF and the Garden for Wildlife (GFW) program while at Accenture in 2020. We focused on the fact that while education has been great, it’s hard for people like me to find the native plants for their area. I went to the big box stores to find native plants, and that’s when I discovered the challenge faced by consumers.  I picked up one plant after another, then I’d look up the native range of each plant, and EVERY SINGLE ONE was an invasive species from elsewhere in the world (e.g. East Asia or from the Mediterranean or South America, anywhere but here). It was a pain, so I said we needed to make it easier for people to find and buy those plants.   To do this, NWF was in a unique position to curate plants and, with all the education and science they had built over the 50 years of the Garden for Wildlife program, it would be easy for people to get every bit of information they need. Not just get the plant, but how to plant it, how to take care of it, what species it impacts, and how it works with other plants around it so someone can have multi-season pollen producers for the monarchs and other pollinators. 

NWF liked the result of the project so much that they agreed to launch the business, and Garden for Wildlife Enterprise was built.  I stayed on as an advisor, and they slowly grew it inside of NWF.  During that time, I even created a GFW Certified Wildlife Habitat® in my yard (I was customer #1 for the business!).   But after a year, it was clear it needed to be a standalone for-profit business (and run that way), which the Board of NWF agreed to.  They asked me to come in and be CEO, which I did in late October 2022. The past year has been about building the process infrastructure, improving the supply chain and operating model, and completing the actual spinout from a program within NWF into a stand-alone, for-profit business.  We’ve also started to build an amazing advisory board, which includes Prof. Tallamy as our scientific advisor!

Which metrics or events are telling you that there is demand for your product?

Well, in our first full year (2022), we sold about $1 million in products to customers across 35+ states.  That’s pretty good for a new business. But that’s barely a drop in the gardening market ($50 billion) and the native plant segment (about $13 billion). We’ve had a great response from our initial customers (many came back in year two to buy more plants to expand their gardens). 

What is your strategy to grow the company?

Garden for Wildlife started as an e-commerce B2C business.  We are building channel partnerships to get us broader market access – whether it’s through retail presence (like with the hundreds of Wild Birds Unlimited stores in this country), more B2B2C through a partner platform that enables groups to use us as a fundraising platform (launching in early 2024), and through vertical partnerships into major channels that we can’t disclose while still in negotiations, but that we hope to announce in 2024. 

A couple of companies are offering native plant delivery services like you do. Why should investors back you?

First, we benefit from decades of science and research of the National Wildlife Federation behind our products.  We also leverage their work on the Native Plant Finder database, which allows us to make it super easy for customers to shop for plants that are SPECIFICALLY native to their zip code (after all, everything is native somewhere, but making customers have to do the research is a huge friction factor).  So when customers put in their zip code, they only see curated plants for their area, both curated collections of species and individual plant species.  Also, we are proud of our “Plant Bank” program, where we donate a plant for every plant we sell. So people know that they are making DOUBLE the impact while enabling pollinator gardens to be established in places that might otherwise not get them (like disadvantaged communities, schools, community gardens, Veterans’ facilities, and houses of worship).  And, of course, we also have the backing of NWF (our biggest investor), which brings us access to their millions of members across the US. Finally, we have an amazing leadership team with many decades of combined experience and strong networks that allow us to forge partnerships much more quickly than traditional startups.

You have a successful career behind you working for large consulting firms and building thriving startups. What are the learnings that you are now using to grow Garden for Wildlife?

I feel like everything I’ve done in my career has led to this point.  From all of the basic things that startups need to focus on – how to tell the story, how to stay focused on the core mission (it’s so easy to get distracted with shiny opportunities!), raising capital (and of course, managing that capital), forming the right strategic partnerships to get scale quickly, and probably as (if not more) important than all of these – hiring the right people who know what to do and have the startup mindset (we work in hours and days, not weeks and months like traditional large organizations). This is a key reason why we spun this out of NWF: We could operate like a startup and grow much faster than as a department within a not-for-profit organization.

How do you measure the impact of Garden for Wildlife?

While revenue and profits are important, we have a saying that we measure success “yard by yard.”  This is because we are on a mission to restore habitat and protect biodiversity using capitalism.  We track all of our metrics on impact – from square footage of habitat created to numbers of pollinator and bird species we support and, soon, how much carbon we are sequestering.  But on the profit side, I like to point out to potential investors that, unlike many startups that are raising round after round because they aren’t profitable, we are already making margin on every product we sell – it’s just that as a new business (last year was our first full year of operation and we did approx $1m in revenue!) we need to get to slightly larger in scale to be profitable as a business overall (which we anticipate achieving late 2024).

If we talk again in 12 months, which milestones will you have achieved?

Profitability as a business, increased margins on all of our products (from approx 30% to closer to 50%), more states served, and a doubling of our grower network (and thus supply and capacity) from what we have today.