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Driven & Co. Ep: 22 – Suddenly a CEO: How One Man Planted the Seeds for Growth

Host Justin Gray welcomes Chad Corzine, Founder and CEO of Urban Agriculture. They chat about Chad’s side hustle that sprouted into a successful startup and what it’s like to get the thumbs up from Oprah – all on the latest episode of Driven & Co.


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Can you give us background on Urban Agriculture?

We manufacture grow kits and DIY sets to introduce people in urban environments to organic gardening.

The company started as a problem I faced myself, trying to grow produce from my small balcony in Los Angeles. We started manufacturing grow kits about a year and a half ago, went to market in January 2016 and it has snowballed into a consumer brand since then. As a manufacturing startup, we go in everyday and figure out what inventory is like, review our sales and then get cracking on making sure that we can make the goods and get them out the door.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an advertising guy, like in “Mad Men.” I remember taking a class my senior year of college with Paul Orfalea – the man who founded Kinkos. It was 2009, a terrible time to graduate, and he emphasized we weren’t too good for any job. After graduation I landed an interview at my dream company, Ketchum, to be an assistant. The morning of, I went on a practice interview at a liquidation house called Via Trading and ended up falling in love with the management. That’s what lead me to sales and product development.

And then you ended up working for your father’s company?

Yes. His company is Archipelago Botanicals. That’s where I was introduced to the gift and consumer goods world. I started out pouring candles for them and sweeping floors in their warehouse, then I did a little project management to understand the infrastructure of the system. Eventually, I got into sales and product development. By the time I left, I was the director of business development.

How did you develop the Urban Agriculture product?

I Googled “urban gardening.” There are raised beds, hydroponics and vertical gardening accessories. What really hit home to me was the grow kit. There were grow kits on the market, but when I’d use them, I kept killing them. I was getting so frustrated with myself so as I sat down and looked at failed experiment after failed experiment, I realized that the roadblock was having to move the plant. That’s where we came up with the idea of a grow kit where people would get the bag, actual soil and organic seeds all in one spot.

What was the turning point that you decided to quit your day job?

We ended up running a little Kickstarter. We got funded enough for us to buy our first production run of 1,000 bags, soil and seeds. Over a week and a half I made them at night in my living room. Then I loaded up a U-Haul and drove out to the Rose Bowl swap meet in Pasadena, California in November 2015. We set up a booth and four hours later we sold 525 of these things at full retail. The next day, I walked in and I quit my job. A month and a half later we scraped up a little bit of cash with some private investors and went to market. We ended our first year in about 2,800 retail stores. We sell anywhere from Williams-Sonoma to Nordstrom to Target to Anthropologie and all the way down to mom-and-pop shops. We are in all 50 states and we’re breaching into three new countries this year.

How was your business impacted by receiving a recommendation from Oprah?

In December, we were number three in her list of 110 things for “Oprah’s Gifts of the Year.” We saw another swing this spring when she included us on a list of gardening products she endorses. It really forced us to develop the department of eCommerce and do direct-to-consumer business. The end result was phenomenal because she essentially kickstarted our B2C business, which continues to thrive and grow on a monthly basis.

How have you gone about cultivating talent in the company?

I really take time to make sure that our staff knows that Urban Agriculture is not anything without the 40 people that make it work everyday. Even though I run the product development side of it, our office is like a Pinterest wall. If anyone brings in an idea they like, they can cut it out of a magazine and tack it on the wall. We’re very linear with our responsibility. Clearly there’s a few managerial breaking points with who has to answer to who. But I do my best to kind of keep it flat and tell everyone we’re a big family. If I win, we all win. And if I lose, we all lose.

Do you have a favorite interview question that helps you determine if a person will fit in with the team?

It depends on what we’re doing. The stuff that I need out of someone that’s going to run my web department is different than someone that’s going to run my production department. We really make sure that I’m not the only one interviewing and everyone gets to meet the team. I like to give people a day or two to if they want to come in and see what we’re all about, and shadow around and talk to everyone and get their feedback. You can tell in the first five minutes if they’re jiving. As we start building out, I have people that come in and question us and ask why we are doing things, so that’s a good sign for me.

To find out more about Chad Corzine and his journey to becoming an entrepreneur, including what he wishes he’d known about manufacturing, click here to listen. Contact Chad directly at chad@urban-agriculture.net or connect with him on LinkedIn. Plus, visit Urban-Agriculture.net to learn more about their products.

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