how i got this business

The Plant Doctor Whose Hobby Grew Into a Main Gig

Maryah Greene, Greene Piece founder.
Maryah Greene, Greene Piece founder. Illustration: Rachelle Baker

When Maryah Greene started an Instagram account dedicated to the care and keeping of houseplants, she wasn’t fostering any grand entrepreneurial dreams. She was enrolled in grad school in New York City, pursuing a career in teaching. “I just wanted to help people pot plants,” she told the Cut. But as the account, Greene Piece, started to draw attention — from worried plant owners with mealy-bug infestations and Good Morning America alike — Greene’s ambitions changed shape. Now, three years after she started Greene Piece, she’s a self-described “plant doctor and consultant” whose side hustle became a full-blown business largely operated out of her Brooklyn apartment. One day, she might be hauling bags of soil into her storage unit and repotting a struggling philodendron; another day, she could be helping clients select the most suitable plants for their living space. And while Greene Piece has long been a one-woman operation, Greene recently heeded her friends’ advice to grow her team and hired her first employees. Here’s how she came to run her own business.

On falling in love with plants:
After graduating from college, I was accepted to grad school for education in New York. At which point, I was like, Oh crap, I’m moving to New York — a place I never had the desire to move to. I remember thinking, I’m going to get all these plants and all this furniture and make the cute Pinterest room that I’ve always wanted. So I went to some plant shops and bought all these plants — and within four to six weeks, they all died. I was so heartbroken, in part because I didn’t have any money fresh out of undergrad, and I spent around $60 on those plants. I felt so defeated, I went back to the individual plant shops and I started talking to the owners.

I remember one of them told me that I didn’t necessarily do anything wrong — rather, I didn’t have the right plants in my space. That’s when I realized that there was this whole world of houseplant knowledge that wasn’t common knowledge. I fell really deep into studying it — that became my hobby before school started.

On realizing her side hustle had potential:
As school started and I made friends in New York, people began asking me for houseplant advice. Then, fast-forward six months, when one of my friends, Sean, was like, You have something here, you need to make this legit. He had just moved into a new apartment, gave me a $500 budget — which was huge to me at the time — and told me to do whatever I wanted. So I went and got all these plants and decorated the space. He posted about it a ton, and somehow the New York Post heard about it in early 2019, which is when things took off.

I don’t think it really started to hit me that what I was doing was a business until I went on Good Morning America in the summer of 2019. Right before I was scheduled to go on the show, they emailed me saying they were putting together my title card and wanted to know what to call me. I was like, Oh my God… like, Maryah? At that point, I was teaching, so I thought of myself as Ms. Greene.

On how she got off the ground financially:
Money is my favorite thing to talk about with running a business. Basically, I didn’t get any from anyone. For my first 20 or so projects, I was either breaking even — that was the best-case scenario — or dipping into my savings account. But I was in grad school at the time, meaning I had scholarships and loans. Now, if you’ve ever had a scholarship or a loan for school, sometimes, at the start of the semester, you get a refund — if your scholarship covers more than what tuition is, for example. If you’re smart, you pay that back toward your loans. If you’re me, you get someone to create your website or business cards. I remember, in the beginning, charging $20 an hour because I thought that’s what every successful person charges. That rate obviously grew over time. This became my full-time job in June 2020, when I could say that it was paying the bills.

On the best advice she’s received:
Sean, my initial client and friend, said that in life, you’re either moving toward your goal or you’re not. It sounds so, so simple, but that’s something I tell myself every day. It just simplifies everything. When I’m trying to decide if I want to take on a client or anything like that, I just have to ask myself: Am I moving toward my goals by doing this or am I not? And my goal is very simple: to run a successful business and keep everyone’s plants alive.

On feeling like an imposter:
The day after the Post article came out, I got all these emails and inquiries from people asking me to do their space. That’s when I started to feel imposter syndrome. I was the first in my family to go to college, and so I thought, You go to undergrad, and then if you’re really good, you go to grad school, and then you get a job based on what you studied. Meanwhile, I had zero training for what I was doing.

I constantly got asked if I went to school at the botanical gardens or if I studied architecture, and whenever I got those questions, I felt like I had no business doing this. I also kept getting written off as an Instagram business, which really bothered me. So, to fight that imposter syndrome, I decided I just had to make the business real. It’s easier said than done. But my background hasn’t stopped me from getting to this point.

On adjusting to a lifestyle with a little less stability:
I was used to receiving a paycheck — albeit small — every two weeks. I had also envisioned that I would be a teacher and have a salary, which was the dream for me. I still love teaching and I see myself going back to that at some point, but I knew my loans were going to be due at the end of school, so stability was already out the window. But also, things started ramping up for me during the pandemic, when so many people got laid off from their jobs that were supposed to be stable. That actually ended up being sort of an affirmation for me — like, thank God you went this route.

I also had to lose a lot of genuine connections with the people I love. Sometimes I just don’t have the time to go to so-and-so’s happy hour or be the friend that I want to be. Sometimes I have to be up until 4 a.m. perfecting something that only I believe in, meaning I can’t always be present in all my relationships. And it’s really hard.

On learning how to delegate:
For so long, so many of my entrepreneurial friends kept telling me, “Maryah, you can’t be 50 places at once, you need to get a team and delegate tasks.” But I was coming from a place where I would’ve rather fucked something up and apologized as opposed to seeing someone else do it all on my behalf. I’m now trying to move into a place where I can acknowledge that you can have a team and be collaborative and that level of trust can exist. I hired someone to help me with the day-to-day of running the business, whether that’s going to consultations or inspecting someone’s plant that might have mealy bugs. I’ve also hired a representative to help me schedule appointments, because when I’m potting plants, I’m not checking my email. And then the goal is to give those two people all the tools so they can hire who they need.

On what she loves most about her business:
I’m facilitating relationships — that’s the biggest thing. I believe in education, and I like seeing things grow, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be something that’s mine. When I walked into a classroom, I would think, I have nine months to get these kids from their third-grade level of knowledge to fourth grade, so they can keep going. It’s the same with plants. I come into your space, we do a consultation, and I have a few weeks to get you to understand how to care for these plants. I just want to give all of me to this one person or thing in this one space.

On why she’s uniquely qualified to run her business:
I think I have a responsibility to make sure that the next Black person that wants to do this doesn’t face the same challenges and experience all the “nos” that I got. Or, if they do get a no, they know how to take it as a maybe. That comes before my own success — it’s bigger than me. It’s not about plants. That has to be the right answer because I’m kinda crying now.

The Plant Doctor Whose Hobby Grew Into a Main Gig