Ocean Beach surfers connect plant lovers through new phone app

Feretic enlisted fellow green thumb Mitchell, his surfer and climber friend, and the two got to work developing an app. Initially, their app was very tied to …

Imagine if there was 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 meetups for plant trades.

The idea stemmed from a friendly visit with an Ocean Beach neighbor last November. After admiring her landscaping, Feretic gifted her a ficus elastica (commonly known as a rubber plant); she returned the favor and invited him to pick a plant from her own garden.

This 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 app that provided this service — and couldn’t find one.

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

So he created this online space himself. Feretic enlisted fellow green thumb Mitchell, his surfer and climber friend, and the two got to work developing an app.

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

Instead of abandoning the idea, the Blossm bros 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; he admits it can be difficult to balance at times, but that working from home during the pandemic has made it easier.

Feretic, who has a science background, now 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 finally released the app in late June, they encouraged users to take advantage of the technology and keep initial interactions within the app. For eventual in-person swaps, they urged participants to focus on safety, including wearing masks and 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 are also options to list items for sale or offer them for free.

If another user is interested in an item, they can give “thumbs up” on the listing and message the owner about a possible trade. This can be done by simply scrolling and clicking through the available postings, similar to resale or maketplace 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 folks can post public threads with questions, as well as a “Like Board” that groups all of a user’s favorite listings into 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 feature, users self-reported that they lived in other California cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as Albuquerque, New Mexico; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Hollywood, Florida.

“I am utterly obsessed with this community. I would love to see more east coast users hopefully,” wrote a user named Cassie from Charlotte, North Carolina.

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

“The kinda nice thing is 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, Blossm intends 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. We actually held one in January — like proof of concept — at a friend’s yoga studio reUnify in OB,” Feretic said, adding the event also featured booths from local artisans and live music from a friend’s band.

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

Feretic and Mitchell’s dedicated vision of cultivating a strong community is a driving force behind Blossm’s development and growth. Another clear reason for the app’s success is Feretic and Mitchell’s love of plants. Oddly enough, it turns out both of the co-founder’s 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 himself — 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 Ocean Beach house, which takes him about an hour to water each week.

Similarly, Mitchell owned a couple plants, but his girlfriend was the green thumb of the relationship. When she moved out of San Diego, he offered to hang onto 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, noting that his Monstera is the first plant he acquired, and that it’s still his favorite years later.

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

In addition to caring for his (200+) existing plants, Feretic notes that propagating new ones continually nurtures his passion for horticulture — which he also believes is a vital reason to 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 kinda the idea of what makes this app possible … you can clone (plants) with pieces, then other people can have and share that same joy.”