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A Startup, Two Amazing Women and A Christmas Miracle

Who can forget the inspiring story of Sam Walker, Founder of Social Greenery (formerly Green Tree Project), a social good company promoting sustainability by renting and delivering living, potted Christmas trees.

You may recall, Sam fostered and adopted five beautiful children. After one of her toddlers pointed out how wasteful the Christmas Tree industry is, relating his own experience of moving from home to home before his adoption to discarding trees, Sam realized how often family traditions and celebrations didn't align with their values to nurture, love and sustain.

Thats when Sam decided to bring a cultural movement towards minimalism, mindfulness and intentional parenting into the realm of family traditions, home and office decor.

We fell in love with Sam, her family, grit and passion for sustainability when she participated in Batch 3 of our Accelerator, two years ago. Unfortunately, as life often does, a big curve ball was thrown at Sam when she was diagnosed with Covid-19 which led to several health complications and the announcement of plans to shut down the company.

"The decision to close SG is an act of love for self and for family, and as a community of people with shared values, we're sure you understand."

One of those loyal customers, Sue Ringus, had fallen in love with the concept and company values so much she decided to buy the business to keep it going.

Fascinated by the story of two women coming together to save the company's mission and Christmas, we decided to check in with both of them and this is what they had to say.

Q&A with Sam Walker

What led to this decision?

Sam: Like many others, I caught Covid. However, afterward I never fully recovered. I experienced months of memory loss, stuttering, exhaustion, shortness of breath, confusion and worse. I developed great coping strategies to help me manage Social Greenery while I sought answers, but it was a losing battle. I was finally able to be seen at a Long Covid clinic in Dallas, and it was there that I learned that my condition is more serious than a I realized. The path for my recovery is incompatible with owning and operating a business, and for myself and my children recovery, not business ownership, is the right path.

What was the hardest part?

Sam: The hardest part of making this decision was overcoming the idea that choosing my health over my business was quitting. I had a narrative in my head that choosing rest, recovery and wellness instead of trying harder and grinding more was weak, that it would disappoint the people who care about me and obliterate the value of the work I had done up until this point. It was so so hard to overcome the idea that I should literally sacrifice myself, my very health, to my business.

How did I find a buyer?

Sam: We told our friends, family , stakeholders, vendors, etc first that we were immediately closing. We had no plans to try to sell. At the behest of a dear advisor, we decided to include one simple line in our letter to our customers just in case someone wanted to pull off a miracle: "If you're interested in continuing the legacy of Social Greenery, reach out to us here." To my profound surprise, I got four inquiries that day about purchasing SG. Sue Ringus wanted to meet within 24 hours of hearing of our closing, and she persisted through 6 days of rushed negotiations. She came from a place of earnestness and goodwill. It was a win-win deal made to save a business from the heart with great potential more than it was crafty boardroom negotiation.

How did we manage the transaction?

Sam: Once I realized I was actually negotiating the sale of my business and not the closure of it, I reached out to my incredible network. It was a dream come true that Social Greenery could live on, and I wanted any scrap of advice or information to make the deal work in the best possible way for Sue and myself. Through texts, emails, phone calls and hasty meetings, we cobbled something together that she and I (and all our friends and advisors who helped us) thought was a good deal.

What is my hope for the company?

Sam: Social Greenery was not founded because I wanted to be a business owner. It was founded because we had a really big idea and I was the only person I knew who was willing to carry it out. Now Sue has come along and she equally, or maybe even more so, believes in this dream. My hope for the business is that it thrives for many years and is transformational in the way people consume and the way small businesses are created, with community good and environmental impact baked in from the beginning. I would like Sue to build a huge legacy and make a lot of money. I believe she will. I really believe in her.

What is your advice for entrepreneurs or someone thinking of launching a business?

Sam: There are many established paths through entrepreneurship and business ownership, but you don't have to follow any of them. No one had really done what I had done before I did it, and it worked out, is still working out great. Social Greenery is poised to be huge. I never really settled on the scale of my business in the early years (whether it was a community small business or ready for expansion to other territories through licensing). And since I was stuck in a VC mindset that growth had to occur along a fairly prescriptive path in order for a business to be viable, I constantly felt insecure about my own path. As a CEO mom of five, a founder of an eco business in the midwest (hah), and a slower-but-steadier growth business, I want women to know that we do not have to subscribe to any of the prescribed paths or formulas in order to have a successful business, and we don't even have to subscribe to anyone else's idea of success. My customers love Social Greenery, and Sue is constantly blown away by the enthusiasm and loyalty of the SG customers. Maybe that's what success is.

What's next?

Sam: My main priority now is doing the prescribed protocols and therapies to recover from Long Covid. It's a huge regimen, and it takes a lot of focus. I'm hoping to be cleared to return to a more normal lifestyle in February, and I'll be looking for another great big idea to put my energy and enthusiasm toward.

Q&A with Sue Ringus

What drew you to Social Greenery?

Sue: I first learned of Social Greenery about 2 years ago, when it was Green Tree Project. I loved the idea of really easy choices that involve less waste and more joy!

What is your vision for the company?

Sue: The Social Greenery mission has really resonated with people. I think we’re all looking for ways to have our actions and our purchases reflect our values, and to do so in ways that don’t feel like a sacrifice but a really fun, joyful experience. I’d like to grow Social Greenery’s reach so that more people in OKC and beyond know that there are thoughtful, convenient options for traditions. SG gets requests from all over the country to expand the living Christmas tree rental business to their communities and I’d love to make that happen.

How has the transition been?

Sue: It’s been fast! Sam Walker, Social Greenery’s founder, and I first talked on Nov. 5 and we came to an agreement less than a week later. We worked really hard to ensure that Social Greenery was able to fulfill its orders to customers. I delivered Social Greenery’s first batch of Christmas trees on Nov. 20. The main hallmark of the transition has been Sam’s graciousness and helpfulness. I have so appreciated how open and helpful she’s been while she navigates what comes next for her and her family.

What is your advice for entrepreneurs or someone thinking of launching a business?

Sue: I’m a week into my entrepreneurial journey – check back with me! If I have any advice, it might be to learn as much as you can from others, and then jump in with both feet.

Is SG now your full time gig? What you were doing before?

Sue: I’ve been with OU’s Irani Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth for 10 years. Every semester we have student teams working with start ups and early stage ideas so I’ve been able to learn from the experience of many terrific folks in Oklahoma as they built their businesses. Prior to that, my background was in management consulting. I like to joke that I’ve been full of good ideas for other people for a long time… so now it’s time to be on the other side. I’ve had an interest for some time in acquiring an existing business, but it wasn’t until I read Sam’s email about closing Social Greenery that I had a sense this was the time. My other full time job is my family. I have two sons in grade school and a daughter in middle school.

What can customers expect from SG moving forward?

Sue: I’ve been really moved by the response from SG customers. People are supportive of the mission and the products. Social Greenery has the best customers! They really love their trees, or the experience they have at the succulent potting bar, and find that it’s so convenient is a real bonus. They appreciate something tangible that’s beautiful and meaningful- and I intend to continue with Social Greenery.

Support Social Greenery

Rent a Christmas Tree for this season!

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