Just shortly after graduating from Georgia State with his Bachelor’s in Economics, Nathan Foster found himself facing many entrepreneurs’ toughest question: What’s my exit strategy? As the founder of tech-enabled gardening kit startup Enrich Gardening, Foster incubated his startup from seed stage — quite literally — at his school’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute.
“That’s where a lot of entrepreneurs fall short, because they’re not thinking of “in the now,” but in the future. You only get to that if you take a step forward and keep moving,” says Foster.
Since its founding in 2017, Foster’s goal for Enrich has been to make the farm to table movement more convenient and affordable for urban consumers by pairing a mobile application with grow kits. But when his personal finances could only take the bootstrapped company so far, Foster focused on “developing an exit strategy to sell the company in order to bring it to the next level.”
Foster shares his insights as a student-entrepreneur from founding Enrich to bootstrapping it, developing the software and physical product, and then selling his startup in June 2018.
What inspired the idea behind Enrich?
After working in politics and handling a lot of tax-related assignments, I had met several people within the city of Atlanta that were working on urban agriculture projects. I immediately began asking questions and I discovered huge pain points within that consumer market. I turned to my co-founder, who had more gardening expertise, with the idea of grow kits, for him to confirm that the idea was feasible. I then took the idea, built a team, constructed the product, did three iterations of it and developed the software on both Apple and Android.
What challenges have you experienced along the way? What inspired you to keep going?
From the team aspect, we lost a key co-founder and had ineffective consultants making us less productive as a business. Along with my responsibilities as CEO, I found myself developing the product, dealing with customers, and coding the app. That combined with my responsibilities as student can become very burdensome.
[I was inspired by] seeing those customers that always wanted to grow something regardless of whether they had a “green thumb,” take that leap of faith to purchase our product, to then get an email four months later praising our plants and even reorder! That was such a rewarding process.
What kinds of experiences did you have with investors?
Most angel investors and more established investors don’t want you working for anyone else; they purely want you working on your startup 90 hours a week. It is intimidating because that’s their investment, their money. I’ve worked extremely crappy jobs, so I know what a dollar is worth. When I see that large of a number, I know that they’ve worked really hard to get that money. That being said, we never took any investments due to that level of pressure.
Why did you ultimately decide to sell the startup?
It was a big decision, but that opportunity called. I wanted to see my dream live on. I realized that we did not have the finances to support Enrich. I joined the military to go through college debt-free and I was not comfortable taking out large loans to support the company’s growth, especially having just graduated college. We were at the perfect point to sell because we created the product, validated the product and validated a customer base that would buy the product over and over again.
What things did you consider in finding a new CEO to take over Enrich after selling?
I wanted to find somebody just as passionate about Enrich as I was. It was never about the money. We actually received some higher offers; the one we accepted was purely based on the fact that I know the gentleman will bring my idea to the next level. It’s going over to the UK, which has a strong target market for this kind of product.
What did you learn along your whole entrepreneurial journey?
This is going to sound cliché, but the best business lesson I learned is to “Do good business.” It is extremely easy to take shortcuts, especially in startups. There will be moments where you question yourself. That was something I struggled with when encountering those rough patches with our co-founders and consultants. I could’ve taken the shortcut and played dirty, but that would have hurt the company greatly. It is like a baby in a custody battle, and therefore, was both emotionally and financially taxing.
With all of these experiences behind you, where do you see yourself in the future?
It was so rewarding to build, scale and exit being only 21 years old. I want to continue this kind of drive at the speed I went through with my startup. I recently accepted a position as a Financial Analyst at Trimont Real Estate Advisors; I see myself returning to the entrepreneurship grind once I’m a little older and wiser.
Lexie Newhouse is the Social Media Coordinator at Georgia State University’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute.