Lawrence Hanley of Desk Plants: “Be Persistent ”

Say No — When you are starting out or when you are trying to find new avenues for growth, it can be very easy to end up drowning in opportunity. It is important to respect your capabilities and limits (and time, your most precious resource) otherwise you risk burning out or diluting your mission/brand. As a part […]

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Say No — When you are starting out or when you are trying to find new avenues for growth, it can be very easy to end up drowning in opportunity. It is important to respect your capabilities and limits (and time, your most precious resource) otherwise you risk burning out or diluting your mission/brand.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lawrence Hanley.

Early on in his career, entrepreneur Lawrence Hanley spent time working in countless corporate offices surrounded by a backdrop of shades of white and grey that to him, felt stale and lifeless. Inspired to bring personality and wellness to the workspace with live plants, he launched Desk Plants in 2018. Now in its second year, the retailer was named “Best Plant Purveyor” in the city by Austin Monthly and with a brick and mortar location and digital storefront, Desk Plants offers hard-to-kill indoor plants delivered to your doorstep, nationwide. Seeing a gap in the market with an increased demand for high quality and more personal employee care packages as a result of the pandemic, Hanley launched Desk Plants’ corporate sales program in 2020.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in Massachusetts and lived in Boston for five years after college before moving down to Austin, TX in 2017. I spent about five years in the advertising and marketing tech world working with a large variety of eCommerce brands helping to build their sales volume online. I really enjoyed working with these businesses and began to seed different ideas for starting a business knowing that I wanted to be in the world of eCommerce. I noticed that a lot of companies and employees were spending money on small desk accessories, many of which were potted plants. I also worked in countless offices that with varying shades of white and gray that all felt stale and lifeless, I really wanted to help bring a little life to those spaces. And after diving a bit deeper into the opportunity I saw, Desk Plants was born in 2018!

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

As a result of the pandemic and the global shift of employees working from home, we found a huge growth opportunity in the market that was relatively untapped. We have taken on a new approach with a new product category in the corporate gifting space. I noticed that a lot of companies were redirecting their previously allocated budgets from catered lunch and work perks to more personal employee appreciation packages. Instead of buying the table stakes stickers and t-shirts that no one wears, we are offering companies a much more thoughtful and valuable alternative for their employee gifting programs. With our Hard-to-Kill potted plants, everything is customizable from the pots to the greeting cards to the packaging itself. Plants have proven benefits of improving productivity and creativity as well as reducing stress which allows companies to give a welcomed gift of wellness to help improve their team members’ work from home stations. Companies now have the option of sending a gift that is much more meaningful and helps to improve their team’s mental health. It is something no one else is really doing on this scale and in the first three months of the pandemic, we saw an increase of 500% in enterprise revenue and order volume. While it was not necessarily a part of our initial growth plan, we’ve been able to disrupt the market in a positive way and have had the opportunity to work with big companies like Apple, WeWork, Deloitte, UnitedHealth, Walmart, and many more.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the first mistakes I made starting out was to think I could use my small Mazda hatchback to shuttle materials, product and other necessary items that were used in different business activities. The nature of this retail business requires that I carry around a lot of different items to different locations, even today. This greatly hindered a lot of our potential in the first couple of months. For example, we couldn’t get as much product to different events which limited sales volume. I made sure to solve this issue pretty quickly! One of the biggest lessons that I learned through that experience was to plan ahead better. Whenever I look at a new opportunity or a new project, I now take the time to consider all necessary costs, materials, or tools, that may be needed to complete what needs to get done.

Overlooking one small issue, or assuming you have something covered without giving it second thought can be quite detrimental. Preparation can be the difference between a successful new venture and an idea never truly getting off the ground.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I have a few mentors who have helped me along the way but the one I will highlight helped me in the most impactful way. She is my financial advisor and she has fundamentally changed the way that I look at business which has allowed me to make more informed decisions that have resulted in growth during the pandemic. I meet with her quite regularly so I don’t think I can come up with a specific story, but what I can say definitively is that she has helped me view business as a series of levers and buttons on a machine that can be leveraged in different ways to help increase output. When you see a business like this, it makes all the noise of the little fires, projects and requests a lot more manageable which then allows me to be a better, more organized leader for my team.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I think on the whole, disruption is always important with varying degrees of “good.” Disruption promotes new trains of thought; it forces industries to evolve and keep up with product and service developments. It helps to progress everything as a whole. An example of good disruption would be Tesla creating a fully electric car. They certainly weren’t the first ones with this idea and there were hybrid vehicles in existence before Tesla came to market, but no one had gone so far as to create a 100% electric car. Since then, nearly every major car manufacturer has come out with different eco-friendly alternatives to keep up with the change in consumer demand.

An example of where being disruptive may not be as good would be companies creating new ways for flavored tobacco products to be consumed. Not to get political about anything but it’s a known fact that flavored tobacco is used as a way for young people to get addicted to nicotine at an early age, this comes with all sorts of moral issues and also creates a lot of waste/pollution along the way. Are these companies being disruptive? Sure! They are creating never before seen products with new ways to consume an ancient product. But is it good? Very debatable.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Say No — When you are starting out or when you are trying to find new avenues for growth, it can be very easy to end up drowning in opportunity. It is important to respect your capabilities and limits (and time, your most precious resource) otherwise you risk burning out or diluting your mission/brand.
  2. Be Patient — Success does not come overnight, growth doesn’t happen after one or two months. It has taken us nearly 3/4 of the year to grow our corporate sales channel to be our leading growth stream, but after a lot of sustained time and effort we are growing exponentially heading into the holidays.
  3. Be Persistent — You are going to hear a lot of “no’s” and “maybe laters” when you begin any new venture. For me these have been great learning opportunities. Instead of fighting every no, I ask why not. Not to identify a new angle to approach, but to learn why the idea may be rejected so that we can adapt and better prepare for our next conversation with our next prospect.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

First you have to learn who a good lead is to you. There isn’t a better way to do that than to stick your nose out there and talk to real people in your market. Once you have identified the key characteristics that make a qualified lead for your product or service, it is important to develop a way to speak to specific needs and questions that you anticipate hearing. With customers I have a good relationship with I also make sure to ask specific questions around how they make their buying decisions so I can put myself in the shoes of a prospect to help myself better qualify someone.

The best strategy I have found so far is to do a lot of cold outreach to drive people to our website. I can see who has gone to our site, what actions they have taken and from there, how many times they have come back. It is quite easy for me to spot someone who is genuinely interested in our products and thus a good person to set up a conversation with.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I have some really good ideas brewing, but my main focus is on the holiday season for 2020. While we have made it through what I see as the worst of the pandemic, we have a lot of ground to make up in about four months. That’s really my main focus for now. Beyond that, I can’t share my ideas just yet, otherwise they may not be available when I can get to them!

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I do a lot of reading and I enjoy reading about successful founders and leaders, but I really run to the beat of my own drum and it has brought me to a good place so far!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Fail Fast, Fail Often. There is no better way to learn what is going to work and not work. You have to gain experience and when you get rejected or told no, it stings, so you learn VERY quickly how to change your approach and even change the type of people or prospects you are talking to.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement of empathy. No one is perfect in this life, no one is blameless in anything. We are all a part of a much larger equation going on. I would like to inspire a movement of coming to terms with our failures and mistakes and using that to accept others for their imperfections. Sure, there are things that are bad that should be condemned, but I think a more forgiving society would lead to a much healthier population that prospers more and provides much wider opportunity to those that want to chase their dreams, whatever they may be.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can visit our website, or follow along on social media @desk_plants

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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