Interview with Natalia Valle, CEO and Co-Founder of Plant on Demand
Plant on Demand is one of the projects that has made its way through Social Nest Foundation's ‘Raise for Impact’, which trains impact entrepreneurs to prepare for their first round of investment.
Geared for organic farmers, distributors, cooperatives and local retailers, Plant on Demand is an online platform that helps stakeholders in the value chain improve productivity by cooperating, digitizing and automating management and marketing operations.
Since deciding to set off on this adventure in January 2019, this SaaS integrated management platform for direct sales and short channel marketing has received numerous awards for its innovation and social work.
We interviewed Natalia Valle, its CEO and Co-Founder, to learn a little more about this amazing entrepreneur, the challenges she has faced when it comes to entrepreneurship and what she gained by going through our Raise for Impact program.
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur? Were you born one, or did you make yourself into one?
I consider myself a non-conformist. I feel a need to question every element given to me and as an extension of that, how I make a living and contribute to society. I have never felt compelled to work in companies that maintain the status quo. With our work, we all have the capacity for co-creating the world of tomorrow, and I feel the need to build tools and networks that will make for a more just and environmentally-friendly future. This naturally leads me to develop new projects, though it does not come out of any need for entrepreneurship, but rather from a drive to provide solutions to social or environmental problems.
How did you come up with the idea to create your project?
It came about progressively. At first, we sensed an urgency to improve the situation for small producers and to promote agroecology by improving efficiency in the chain and by introducing technology.
We then started doing technological consultancy work with cooperatives and organic producers, which provided us highly valuable, first-hand information on the challenges and needs of the sector. We likewise came across an unmet demand for technology, which was preventing thousands of small producers from scaling up and was cutting into profitability. At that point, we started doing more in-depth market research and developed the technology that is Plant on Demand today.
What are the biggest challenges you've had to face while leading your own project?
Managing a growing team (we have gone from 5 to 12 in a relatively short time) has been a challenge. How to transmit the company values and mission, manage each person's needs and ambitions and inspire our team members to flourish in their own right is not something taught in school and not what you might have mind when you decide to start a business.
Another major challenge has been (and still is) finding ways to keep calm and inspiration when surrounded by constant intensity, stress and uncertainty.
What do you think has been decisive to growing your company?
Staying true to our purpose. We have known from the outset what our goal is for the next 5 to 10 years. In the process of growing the company, thousands of siren songs come along promising you the world but make you lose focus. Knowing how to say no and keeping our eyes on the prize has been crucial to getting where we are today.
What would you recommend to someone thinking about starting up a business?
I would recommend taking the plunge via an incubator or accelerator where they get help laying down the foundations right from the start. For us it was absolutely key and allowed us to go from concept to reality smoothly and decisively.
What did the Raise for Impact program provide you as an entrepreneur?
It gave me crucial knowledge about the fundraising process, both private investment (structuring rounds, documentation prep, strategies, etc.) and alternative investment (debt, grants, etc.). This knowledge really boosted my confidence in terms of approaching investors and preparing our first round of investment.
It also connected me with brilliant women entrepreneurs who have inspired me and taught me ways of female leadership unknown to me before then, and have helped me to lead my project with greater confidence.
What did the program provide to your project?
Initially, it gave us a solid structure for getting funding, bringing together the required documentation and the first contacts with investors and high-level advisors. It then connected me with Social Nest Foundation, who are doing a brilliant job connecting ecosystem agents, gaining visibility and presence in international forums.