This interview details Click & Grow, an indoor farming company based in the Estonia. The interview is with Mattias Lepp, founder of Click & Grow.
What is the origin story of Click and Grow?
Way back in 2005, I was impressed by an article about NASA growing plants in space. I asked myself the question: If it’s possible for plants to grow in space, why can’t we develop a way to grow plants in “cold urban environments” where they could benefit so many people? That was the spark that led me on a journey to create the first ever self-sufficient indoor garden, able to care for plants all by itself. After fine-tuning the technology with the expertise of various universities around the world, the concept of the Click & Grow Smart Garden was born in 2011.
In the same way as NASA is revolutionizing our understanding of space farming, here at Click & Grow we want to revolutionize the way people think about food. We believe farming has to become more local. This way, vitamin-rich food can become more accessible. We believe one of the most sustainable ways to tackle food production and consumption issues is to grow your own. Smart gardens have a big role to play in that. Using specially developed smart soil and automated water and lighting, smart gardens help you grow plants quickly and easily while taking up hardly any space at all. We’re humbled to know that hundreds of thousands of people around the world have found success in growing their own food with Click & Grow. All this gives us energy to get up in the morning and continue innovating with new products and to expand our plant collection, making even more food readily available to grow.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing Click and Grow in the future?
One of the most significant challenges we anticipate for Click & Grow is making our gardens affordable and accessible to everyone. This challenge is twofold: technological and behavioral.
From a technological standpoint, we are tasked with developing new, more cost-effective growing technologies. Our goal is to substantially reduce the production costs associated with our gardens and plant pods without compromising on their quality or efficiency. This requires a continuous investment in research and development. We believe that through the convergence of technologies like AI, IoT, and biotechnology, we can create solutions that make our products more affordable and scalable. However, it’s not an overnight process.
On the behavioral side, we are grappling with a society that has largely lost touch with the practice of home-grown food, which was commonplace just a century ago. We’ve become accustomed to the convenience of supermarkets and often overlook the benefits of growing our own food, such as improved freshness, nutritional value, and sustainability. So, a significant part of our challenge lies in changing this mindset and rekindling an interest in home gardening. We aim to do this by educating consumers about the benefits of growing their own food and demonstrating the simplicity and convenience of using our gardens. In essence, the future of Click & Grow is not just about advancing technology, but also about reviving a culture of sustainable living and self-sufficiency. It’s a complex and exciting challenge that we’re eager to tackle, and we believe that by addressing both these aspects, we can make home gardening a norm, rather than an exception.
What is unique about Click and Grow compared to competitors?
I truly believe that one day food can be grown hyper-locally and without any additional cost. However, as I mentioned earlier, we do have a behavioral challenge here. Through urbanization, people have become more disconnected from nature and they don’t know much about gardening or taking care of plants. They can’t even imagine growing their own salad or herbs. To remove these barriers, we’ve designed our products and the whole customer journey to be effortless, requiring no prior gardening knowledge. As a result, our technology is easier to use and maintain and uses less energy and water than many competing technologies on the Market.
Once again we’ve drawn inspiration from NASA and their experiments. In space, low gravity makes water distribution a nightmare to manage so NASA uses a plant growth unit known as ‘PONDS’ (Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System). Similar to the PONDS concept, Click & Grow smart gardens are designed to water themselves. We use Capillary Precision Irrigation (CPI) to control moisture in the soil, distributing water and nutrients in mediated amounts at specific times according to the needs of the plant. Each Click & Grow plant pod is housed in a plant cup with a wick extending into a water tank. Wicks absorb water from the tank and transfer it to the smart soil in the plant pod. Smart soil already contains all the nutrients for each specific plant, so there’s never any need to add liquid nutrients to the water tank. Smart soil automatically releases minerals according to the plant’s growth stage, temperature and how moist the soil is. While doing this, smart soil keeps nutrient levels optimal so the plant can thrive.
One last thing I want to mention is lighting. This is something we’ve been working on a lot - an average smart garden has significant light pollution and despite most gardens using LED lighting, the energy consumption is still notable. We’ve spent years optimizing the lighting of our gardens and reached a level where our most popular garden (the Smart Garden 9) contributes less than 1% to the average US household’s annual energy consumption.
How do you measure the impact of your company so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
There are numerous studies which show that having greenery in your home and dealing with plants (either indoors or outdoors) reduces stress and improves your mental health. While it’s hard to quantify, we do see a rapidly growing community of active users. On our social media feeds and in our community forums we see lots of smiling faces regardless of age, so I guess there must be some truth to those studies.
The more measurable impact comes from reducing food waste, CO2 emissions, water and energy consumption. If we translate the plants grown by our customers last year into these metrics, then we saved 2 million liters of water, 143 tons of food waste and 10 tons of CO2 transportation emissions. And that’s just in one year.
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you started the company?
The first that comes to mind is that nothing goes as expected. But jokes aside, if I had to choose one, I’d say the biggest lesson has been how important it is to truly understand our customers and how they use our products. What problems do our products solve for Click & Growers? We had to listen and truly understand what our community thinks, how they grow, how they spend their time at home, and what they value in the end result or the growing process.
How can people connect with you or learn more about Click and Grow?
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