Meet The Business # 18 | Gartenzwerg

We all tried growing our own food at home at some point of life. Some succeeded, others failed miserably. But let’s be honest, it’s not an easy task. You will certainly need enough space, time and knowledge to keep it natured and growing properly. I have failed this task for years. Then, I heard about Gartenzwerg and became genuinely curious about this product.

Gartenzwerg is a fully automated and beautifully designed indoor gardening system with which people can have small fruits, vegetables and herbs year-round right from home. It only uses water and nutrients to grow plants. No soil, no pesticides, no chemicals. Meaning: it provides plants with everything that nature does.

Intriguing to say the least! I have chatted with the co-founders of Gartenzwerg, Sabrina Palme and Andre Quintanilha, to know more about their business that just reached their crowdfunding campaign goal and is now prepared to launch it to the public.

Midlands Trade: To start with, I’d like to know a little bit about your professional background.

Sabrina Palme: I have a 5 years background is in Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Communications. My family owns a bar in Germany and I grew up learning how to manage the business, do projections and inventory, lead a team and deal with all sorts of people.

I have studied for my MBA at HULT International Business School in China where I have met also Andre. Before and after I worked mainly in Communications and Marketing positions such as Unilever, GREY and TJX Europe (who are mainly known for their brand TK Maxx) managing and delivering marketing campaigns from brief to completion in Europe.

Andre Quintanilha:  I’ve worked for 6 years as Senior Consultant for Accenture (management consulting) back in Brazil, where I’ve helped Fortune 500 companies in a variety of sectors to improve their operations and increase profits.

In 2013 I moved to Nissan to support the implementation of their first plant in South America. In 2014 I decided to have an international career and went to China for my MBA at Hult where I met Sabrina. Since then I’ve started 2 companies and worked with 4 different start-ups developing their business models.

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MT: How and when did you come up with the idea of business?

SP: During our studies in China we learned in one of our courses that NASA was using a method called Hydroponics to grow food without soil in space. After some researching, I quickly found out that this method already exists for a long time but that there is no solution for the end customer to use at home unless they build it themselves.

Loving the idea of enabling people to grow their own food from home and also wanting to make an impact for the better I told Andre about the idea. He loved it right away, especially the sustainable side of it and the potential it has to make cities more self-sufficient in the future. That was when the idea for Gartenzwerg was born.

MT: What is the concept of your product?

SP: The three main reasons why people don’t grow their own food from home is lack of space, lack of time and lack of knowledge.We take those hurdles away, making it fun, easy and possible to grow your own food.

Gartenzwerg is a fully automated personal indoor garden with a design inspired by nature that empowers people to grow small fruit vegetables and herbs anytime, anywhere from their home effortlessly.

The garden controls water level, pH level, light intensity, temperature and humidity and as an IoT (Internet of Things) smart home device, communicates with you over an app to let you know when the plants need anything.

MT: What are the benefits of growing your own food from home?

SP: Using hydroponics, our system can grow plants up to 3x faster while saving up to 90% of water in comparison to soil-based production.

Additional benefits are:

–       Super fresh from garden to plant, the food is very nutritious

–       No waste

–       No pesticides

–       No food transport – reduction of food print on the environment

–       Grow some of your favourite veggies, fruit, herbs year-round

–       No green thumb required

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MT: What are the biggest challenge of a business like yours?

ST: Building an IoT solution that consists of an aesthetic physical product and app is very complex and there are so many areas that are involved. Testing and building a prototype is much more lengthy and costly than developing a solution that is purely digital.

This also makes it more challenging to raise funds and test the market. You have to get very creative on how you get your product to a stage that you can present it to investors and show them that it is not just all ideas and bubbles.

Further, we are operating in a very new and quite untapped market, it can be tricky to understand and estimate the market opportunity and to find ways to get people on board from an early stage on. The whole process I would say takes 2 – 3 times longer than to products that operate in an existing market and have a digital solution which allows much faster prototyping.

Andre and I both aren’t tech people. Andre has studied Industrial Engineering but he has never worked as an Engineer. However, his knowledge in this area and expertise in Operations, Strategy and Finance and my experience in Business Development, Entrepreneurship and Marketing has helped us massively to understand what we need to do when and who we need to get on board to build Gartenzwerg.

MT: What is the type of clientele you want to reach with this product?

SP: Anyone who loves the idea of having fresh-food from home but fails terribly to even keep their basil plant alive or doesn’t even consider it as possible to grow food from home because of space and little time they have.

This is also for anyone who has a favourite herb, veg, fruit they’d like to have year-round but who also care where food comes from and what it does to the environment (with the limitation that the food you grow is small.. can’t do mangos and bananas.. yet J. Watermelons can be grown well in hydroponics, but we keep that for later).

Essentially, we want personal indoor gardens to become as normal as having a fridge in your home. People will wonder why they didn’t grow food at home before.

MT: How did you end up in the final products that are available now? Design, size etc.

SP: Coming from a creative background and Andre focusing very much on functionality we didn’t start with the technology although we are a tech company. And I think that is our advantage that we approach things from a customer view first.

We started with the design and what we wanted it to be able to do for our customers. I knew I wanted the system to fit in any living environment, to look aesthetic and not like a futuristic tech product.

Growing food connects to nature, so the natural aspect has been always very important. Further, the usability should be fun, engaging and easy-going. Trying to live a responsible and sustainable lifestyle can actually be very exhausting, so this should feel like a new hobby and something that relaxes people.

Andre was keen about the usability, how to ship the product and how to set it up. Based on this I knew from a very early stage on how I wanted Gartenzwerg to look like and how the little helper should communicate with our customers.

This is also where our name comes from: Gartenzwerg is German for a garden gnome, the little helper who takes care of your crops. Customers will receive a notification such as “hey I’m thirsty, give me some water” or “I’m grown up now, it’s time for cropping!”

From there we went to see how the technology can fit into our design and what we would need to make it work.

Gartenzwerg at Entrepreneurial Spark London - Copy

MT: What is unique about your product?

SP: There are a handful of start-ups around the world, trying to go into the personal indoor garden market. This is great as this raises awareness and educates people. However, we believe the reason why there is no big player in the market yet is that they focus on the technology of the product, often offering futuristic designs that are quite expensive.

At Gartenzwerg, we strongly believe that the technology is the enabler, however, the focus should be on the experience of growing food. Everything is built around it, from the beautiful designs to the usability, our community and the Gartenzwerg character communicating with you.

MT: What are the pros and cons of having a business like yours?

SP: We are entering a new market with an innovative solution. This means we are one of the first movers and can unlock this potential for ourselves. Having a relatively complex product to build, makes the barrier of entrance for new start-ups quite high.

For large corporations, we don’t believe they will specialise in it as it will derive from their core values and business model. Nevertheless, an acquisition is possibly is in their interest to enter the market at a later stage. On the contrary, it can be also risky to enter and build a new market, since there is little research available that helps you to understand the full market potential as well as customer preferences etc.

Further, it is not for entrepreneurs who are not patient. Developing an IoT solution takes time, including a lot of trial and error. By the time you can do your first beta testing other companies who started their business around the same time are eventually already trading.

We see it as an opportunity, this way we can shape the market and give the direction to where we see personal indoor gardens.

MT: How is e-commerce important to the success of your business?

SP: Very important. We want to push online sales as much as possible. Although the UK is our launch market, we will be distributing Gartenzwerg from the beginning internationally as well.

MT: When will your product be available?

SP: We will run a crowdfunding campaign, either Kickstarter or Indiegogo this April where people have the opportunity to purchase a Gartenzwerg prior to launch. With the sales, we will be able to produce a large batch for our launch Sep/Oct this year and just in time before the Christmas season starts.

So, a very exciting year ahead of us!

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MT: Will it be available in other parts of the UK or just in London?

SP: Yes, within the UK we want to sell Gartenzwerg in-store and online with a focus on larger cities such as London, Manchester and Liverpool. Gartenzwerg can be also purchased online outside of the UK.

MT: What is your advice for someone who wants to start a business?

SP: Hang in there! The start-up environment is a rollercoaster and every business idea bring its own challenges with it. More than often things don’t turn out as planned and you feel frustrated and like throwing it all away.

That is okay, and I believe every entrepreneur has been there and most likely not just once if they are honest. More important is that you are able to get yourself out of it again and continue to work. That is what will differentiate yourself from other entrepreneurs.

I think in these situations it is very helpful to remember yourself why you are doing it, one thought, or experience that made you go for it in the first place and that can bring back your motivation and passion. When you find that passion again, you will find new ways and solutions to bring your idea forward, no matter how impossible it seems at that moment.

As an entrepreneur, you will meet many people along the way. Some will love your idea, others won’t but everyone certainly has an opinion on how to do your business.

It is easy to get distracted and even to doubt your idea if you get someone who doesn’t like it or get it. Of course, it is important to take on feedback and advice, but at the end of the day, you need to decide for yourself if the feedback was valuable to your business or not. Separate the noise of the few bits of quality advice you get. That will also make you stronger against nay-sayers and know-it-all people.

MT: What are the new plans for Gartenzwerg? 

SP: We had a great start into 2018 and with it being our year of launching Gartenzwerg, everyone in the team is on full power mode and highly motivated. In the first week of January, we achieved our funding goal on Seedrs, 21 days prior to the end of the campaign and we have just closed our campaign being 234% overfunded.

We also have been selected by the IoT Tribe programme which is funded by the European Commission. The programme started mid of January and goes for three months.

They support a handful of start-ups who come from all over Europe and even South America to bring their IoT solution to market. IoT Tribe offers the facilities, tools, experts and connections that are very valuable for us at this stage, as we want to build our prototypes for beta testing in the next 2 months.

As mentioned in a previous question, we are also starting to plan our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which will be very exciting and great fun as well.

In addition, we have a trip to Asia planned to visit manufacturers, raise our series A and hire new people to the team who support us in supply chain, R&D and marketing.

We are super excited and motivated at Gartenzwerg for what’s to come and happen!

More info about Gartenzwerb

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I'm a Brazilian journalist based in West Midlands. In Brazil, I have worked with International Trade and Logistics publications. Now in the UK, I keep writing and I dedicate myself to a new project : Midlands Trade - a blog focused on business in Europe and Brazil. It's also supporting small businesses throughout the #MeetTheBusiness.

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