Making a career change is a difficult step for many, especially when it involves leaving a high paying job to follow your passion. However, a city banker has called the decision to quit his job as the best decision of his life.
Whilst working in finance, James Folger, who was 26 at the time, developed severe anxiety. In search of an outlet, he launched an online plant shop and has since gone on to make a fortune.
James recalled working such long hours he’d often finish work in the morning, get a taxi home, get changed and then get the same car back to work, reported The Mirror.
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(Image: The Stem eventually expanded into its own warehouse on the 2nd floor of a Victorian warehouse building in Wembley)
He said: “After school, I went to UCL to study economics and followed the well-trodden route of interning and working at a number of investment banks like Goldman Sachs, Jefferies International and lately at Rothschild & Co.
“I was working around the clock trying to climb the ladder as an investment banker. But I quickly learned it was an unfulfilling life of chaotic hours, no social life and stress.
“I often worked overnight into the early morning, and on several occasions even had to get a taxi home, ask the driver to wait outside while I showered and changed only to get straight back into the cab to work again.”
James said at times it felt punishing. The entrepreneur, who grew up in Dulwich, said he knew change was needed – it was just about finding the courage to take a leap of faith.
After acing an interview for a new city job in 2019, he was placed on gardening leave.
“That’s when I decided to start The Stem,” he said. “Over my three and a half year career, I developed increasingly severe anxiety and used holiday time to travel into the wilderness to escape from the city.
“That year I was preparing to join a new bank in Canary Wharf and was placed on three months’ gardening leave. I continued travelling during this time and while out in nature decided I had a lightbulb moment.”
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The Stem is about reconnecting people with nature through plants and gardening. He says grounding yourself with nature could have huge benefits amid all the turbulence in the world.
“I started the business with savings from my job, and also got a £25,000 start-up loan. This was enough to launch the business in earnest in March 2020,” he said.
Initially, it began from his house and later his family home. “We began with a soft launch on Shopify before expanding to a full launch with our own website in March 2020,” said James. “In February 2021 we launched our first external funding round with a Crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube.”
The Stem then expanded into its own tiny 150 sq ft warehouse on the 2nd floor of a Victorian warehouse building in Wembley. James said he wanted to create a shared community and give his customers the chance to be a part of the business.
“We liked the idea of building a business in partnership with our community, giving our customers the chance to shape our future and share in our success,” he said. “We had a target of £150,000 and blew this out of the water, overfunding by 341% and raising more than £500,000 from 900 investors.
“We enjoyed our crowdfunding campaign 1.0 so much that we launched again on Crowdcube for our campaign 2.0 almost exactly a year later. We’re currently live on the platform with over 400 new investors and £440,000 with the campaign at its halfway point.”
In its first year, The Stem’s revenue’s exceeded £240,000. That same year, it sold 1,000 Christmas trees. Last year it reached £1.1million and quadrupled its Christmas tree sales. This year it’s on track for £2 million, James explained.
“Working non-stop to deliver 4,000 trees last Christmas when our delivery partner ran into issues was tough,” James said. “We worked 24/7 for two weeks to get through the situation.
“In the first year, all of the trees were stored at my family home in Essex as we had no space to keep them. I had to drive up and down the A12 each night to restock in the electric van!”
James says his vision is for The Stem to become one of the UK’s leading digital garden retail brands. He said: “We launched UK wide in January this year, so we’re executing at pace. We have delivered to so many incredible clients, including musicians, celebrity chefs, sports stars, musicians, actors, the Royal Family, and leading business people. I feel so grateful for all the support we have received and that I have the opportunity to create a business like this. Creating a business with a mission to help others to connect with nature has transformed my life. My anxiety has gone and I have a new focus.”
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