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Ocean Beach surfers connect fellow plant lovers through new app

Brian Feretic and Nick Mitchell of Ocean Beach founded Blossm, a plant swap application that connects fans of horticulture.
(Natalie Vorsteveld)

Blossm, a mobile application founded by Brian Feretic and Nick Mitchell, creates a community for the plant-obsessed.

Imagine if there were an application that crossed Tinder with OfferUp ... for plant people. Well, Ocean Beach residents Brian Feretic and Nick Mitchell decided to make one.

Feretic and Mitchell recently launched Blossm, a plant swap application. It aims to connect folks obsessed with horticulture and facilitate meet-ups for plant trades.

The idea stemmed from a friendly visit with an Ocean Beach neighbor in November. After admiring her landscaping, Feretic gave her a ficus elastica (commonly known as a rubber plant). She invited him to pick a plant from her garden.

The organic plant exchange cultivated Feretic’s desire to connect and swap with more plant lovers in the area. He began searching for a website or an app that provided such a service and couldn’t find one.

“I was kind of thinking people want to meet and swap in person — make new friends to nerd out on plants,” Feretic said.

So he enlisted fellow green thumb Mitchell, his surfer and climber friend, and the two got to work developing an app.

Initially, their app was closely tied to community and in-person interaction. The duo wanted to bring large groups of plant people together and planned to host plant swap events to drum up interest in the concept. But as with most plans in 2020, COVID-19 forced a revision.

Instead of abandoning the idea, the Blossm builders decided to channel their energy into app development, making sure to implement elements that provided a strong virtual experience.

Mitchell built the app using his skills and experience as a full-time software engineer. He currently splits his time between Blossm and his day job. It can be difficult to balance at times, he said, but working from home during the pandemic has made it easier.

Feretic, who has a science background, works on Blossm full time and focuses on the operational side. His core tasks include marketing, building partnerships and getting users on board.

When they released the app in late June, they encouraged users to keep initial interactions within the app. For in-person swaps, they urged participants to focus on safety, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Users can upload photos and descriptions of plants they want to swap, which are featured as thumbnail photos on the app’s home page. Though the majority of listings are for swaps, there also are options to list items for sale or offer them for free.

If users are interested in an item, they can give “thumbs up” on the listing and message the owner about a possible trade. That can be done by scrolling and clicking through the available postings, similar to resale or marketplace apps. However, if a user switches to the “Swipe & Swap” option, Blossm’s interface transforms into something that looks like a dating app, letting folks swipe left or right on each potential plant match.

Additional features include a community forum where people can post public threads with questions, as well as a “Like Board” that groups all of a user’s favorite listings in one place. There’s also an extensive index with plant care information, which includes details about a plant’s sun, water and soil needs, along with its official genus, common names and plant type.

Currently, Blossm has more than 1,000 users. Though the majority are from San Diego neighborhoods, the app’s reach is starting to grow. In a thread on Blossm’s community forum, users reported that they lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Albuquerque, N.M., Harrisburg, Pa., and Hollywood, Fla.

“I am utterly obsessed with this community. I would love to see more East Coast users hopefully,” wrote a user named Cassie from Charlotte, N.C.

As plant lovers, Feretic and Mitchell frequently use the app themselves. It has enabled them to get direct feedback from users about the app, helping them fix glitches and optimize features, and has facilitated their own plant dates.

“I’m pretty plant-obsessed … I actually interact with a lot of the users through Blossm, through swaps or just talking to them,” Feretic said.

“Just like using [Blossm] and swapping with people, I’ve met a lot of people that I normally wouldn’t run into,” Mitchell said.

Once the pandemic passes, the duo intends for Blossm to fully embrace its original mission of connecting the community on a larger scale.

“Definitely when it’s safe, I want a whole big plant swap party,” Feretic said. “We actually held one in January — like proof of concept — at a friend’s yoga studio” in Ocean Beach. The event also featured booths with local artisans and live music from a friend’s band, he said.

“I definitely want to do that again in OB, and then hopefully we can do a big — maybe even San Diego-wide — one,” Feretic added. “Just get everybody together and celebrate all their plant babies.”

Feretic and Mitchell’s vision of cultivating a strong community is a driving force behind Blossm’s development and growth. Another reason for the app’s success is their love of plants. It turns out that both of the co-founders’ plant obsessions stemmed from past and present romantic partners.

“Really what sparked [my plant passion] was at the time I had a girlfriend that was really into plants and I basically wanted to create a little workspace for her so she could concentrate … [since] looking at plants is therapeutic,” Feretic said.

Five years ago, Feretic bought a bunch of plants from a local nursery and decorated her desk. But when she didn’t take care of them, Feretic took on the responsibility and fell in love with the process.

“Then you keep buying more plants, then all of a sudden you want to get them all,” he said, laughing. He now has more than 200 plants in his house, which take him about an hour to water each week.

Similarly, Mitchell owned a couple of plants, but his girlfriend was the green thumb of the relationship. When she moved out of San Diego, he offered to hang on to her plants while she was away.

“As I took on full care, I was like, ‘This is pretty sweet.’ Like watching a Monstera spread its leaf — sweet, that’s a new life form in my bedroom,” Mitchell said. His Monstera is the first plant he acquired, and it’s still his favorite years later.

“I’ve just slowly seen it grow into this huge thing. ... One of the reasons why I’ve gotten involved in having plants is that care aspect,” he said.

In addition to caring for his existing plants, Feretic said propagating new ones continually nurtures his passion for horticulture — which he also believes is a vital reason why the app is thriving.

“You can cut a piece off and it will grow — and then you can share that with people,” he said. “I just love how you have one plant and then you can make a bunch of little plant babies from that. And that’s kind of the idea of what makes this app possible ... you can clone [plants] with pieces, then other people can have and share that same joy.”


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