When was the last time you had a salad made of a tomato that was just picked off the vine? If you’re a native New Yorker perhaps never. Thankfully, GROW’s smart planter is changing all of this. The smart gardening company enables users to grow organic vegetables and herbs in the comfort of their home without any roadblocks associated with traditional gardening. The company’s GROW Duo smart planter is app-enabled and even recommends what to grow providing reminders on how and when to water.
AlleyWatch chatted with CEO and cofounder Idan Cohen about how their Seed round of funding is helping them grow.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
GROW raised $2.4M in seed funding led by Resolute Ventures with participation by Bolt and Hardware Club, selected for their expertise in hardware products and direct to consumer offerings.
Tell us about your product or service.
GROW is a smart gardening company, building products and services that make growing your own food dirt simple. In fall 2017 the company launched the GROW Duo, the first outdoor connected self-watering planter. GROW Duo and its accompanying app take the guesswork out of gardening, providing an all-in-one solution for growing a wide variety of 100% organic produce from herbs and leafy greens to berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, eggplants and more.
As an enthusiastic cook I was always in pursuit of the best ingredients. A few years back, when I moved to a New York apartment with a large rooftop, I was inspired to try to grow some of the varieties of vegetables and herbs that I missed from my childhood in Israel. I wanted to build a garden, but quickly realized it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I had to frequent the hardware store and sourcing quality supplies was not easy, not to mention learning how to take care of the plants. There were just no high-quality, easy-to-use products for building a garden, and there was no single resource that could answer all of my questions on what, when and how to grow.
How is it different?
GROW’s smart, sensor-equipped planter is the first to market in outdoor gardening. The GROW Duo couples tailored growing guidance and the home delivery of consumables (soil, seeds nutrients) to the planter, which creates a unique integrated service. Other players have individually provided connected sensors that provide gardeners with data streams on their garden conditions, pots that alert you when they need to be watered, online growing advice, simple seed sowing formats, but none of these products are an all-in-one, simple experience, with an automated watering system. Compared to smart indoor gardening systems, the GROW Duo allows for growing a complete garden beyond herbs and leafy greens, producing greater variety and output at more accessible price points.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
GROW is a part of the $30 billion industry that U.S. consumers annually spend on their lawns and gardens. While the GROW Duo is great for all types of consumers, GROW is particularly great for novice gardeners. The GROW Duo provides all of the materials that a consumer would ever need and the app is a source of knowledge, full of expert advice about how to care for your plants, offering years of learning experiences.
What’s your business model?
GROW is a direct to consumer business that makes money by selling smart, modular planters. GROW is also a marketplace for seeds and other growing consumables, packaged in bundles and seasonal packages as well as a la carte offerings, which are accessible directly in-app.
Is there a sustainable demand for people who want to produce their own organic food rather than just purchasing it?
Oh yes! It’s real. People are looking for meaningful outdoor experiences and putting their backyard into a good and productive use. Most people who grow their own food aren’t replacing their grocery store runs or farmer’s market visits – they become more educated shoppers seeking better produce and consuming more vegetables. Growing your own food is an enriching experience, it exposes you to new flavors, through old and new varieties, and teaches you what real fresh food is.
What was the funding process like?
Fundraising has never been easy for me. It takes time and requires a lot (if not all) of your attention as a CEO. You need to identify investors that really care about the problem you’re trying to solve and can see the market potential and the behavioral changes or generational shifts. We were lucky to find several of those that are helpful and supportive.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
We’re building a product most suitable for suburban homes and I think that’s an overlooked category among investors. Most investors and journalists are based in dense urban environments making it hard to see beyond, into habits and behaviors in other cities with suburban neighborhoods and single family homes. Finding investors that understood that, or were even looking for that, was the hardest challenge.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
I think it was a combination of two things. With 70% of American households having an outdoor space and living in a single family home, consumer gardening is a $30B industry that has seen little innovation or a move into ecommerce and direct brands. Combine that with millennials settling down and starting families and their obsession with food, health and experiences and you’ve got a perfect market ready for a new type of product experience and services.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We just started pre-sales and entered manufacturing and plan to start shipping after New Years. Those are all huge challenges for a small team with complex operational and logistical tasks. At the end of that we will need to delight and surprise our customers with a magical gardening experience – that’s the most important thing.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Focus on things that move the needle. Build your minimal product experience that let’s you learn from your customers while still providing value and have your team laser focused at creating growth.
Where is your favorite fall destination in the city?
I live in the East Village and have a family, we spend a lot of time in Tompkins Square Park and I know the flora and fauna there well. I love the large trees starting to shed their leaves, the squirrels stashing winter supplies and the Red Tailed Hawks circling above. I try to spend as much time outdoors as possible.