Grow Computer 2020…a year in review
This time last year, I was writing the Grow Computer 2019 year in review, and was enthusiastic about the amazing things that would come in 2020. 2019 was our ‘pivot’ year, where we were rebounding from our focus on hardware and GrowStrips in 2018, and the pivot to the ‘IoT Operating System’, and 2020 was designed for our big release.
But…like the rest of the planet, 2020 didn’t quite work out like we had expected. This year has been one of the most challenging years I can remember, adding in a global pandemic, our entire team moving away from NYC, compounding tech issues, and my family having a baby, 2020 was nothing short of a slog. Frankly, my biggest accomplishment is that I can look at the team, our direction and what we are building and say: ‘We are still here, and the best is yet to come’.
2021 is still the future, and as long as the team remains together and committed, there is no doubt we will deliver what we are working on early next year. Once we deliver, the power and possibility of our platform and technology we have built will fundamentally change the lives of Growers around the world.
Below, please find some more details about our Wins & Accomplishments, OneGrow Introduction, IoT learnings and some Management reflections.
Otherwise, thank you all for a ‘memorable’ 2020, and I’m hopeful and excited for a better 2021.
Wins & Accomplishments
While I wish we could have thousands, or even dozens, of things to list out here, we did accomplis a few big things this year.
Growers Connect & Kickoff
This year we started building our community of Growers that are committed to being our beta partners for kickoff. We have assembled about 40 folks from 8 different countries that are committed to testing out the early iterations of our tech. While we didn’t fully utilize this crew, we were able to have a AMAs on key topics like hardware strategy, and able to to know these passionate growers.
We have continued to speak with and learn from growers, farmers, and entrepreneurs around the world. Just last week, I had a chance to speak with Growers from Rwanda, Congo, Nigeria and Lebanon. This trend is GLOBAL and we still believe that our solution will be revolutionary to all growers around the world.
Speaking and Media Tour
While not quite last year’s conference blitz to Amsterdam (twice), Austin, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Toronto, Utah and more, we still figured out ways to communicate and tell our story to new audiences. It’s crazy to think of the amount we invested in these conferences last year, and how much time, energy and effort it took to do them right. While we definitely missed them this year, I think that 2021 will be more like 2020 instead of 2019, and we will be doing much more zoom conferences, and less auditoriums and convention halls.
In January, I had an amazing opportunity to go back to Ann Arbor to speak to my alma mater. I was asked to come back to the econ department at UM, and was even able to present in my old lecture hall at Michigan (Lorch 140). While not specifically about Grow Computer, the presentation was inspiring enough to some students, that they reached out and we built OneGrow.org as a result.
In March, I had the chance to participate in the Agritecture at Home Agtech Conference, and present one of our thesis: The Internet of Plants. While just the beginning of our story here, it’s a fun look at some of the origins of Grow Computer, and introduced some of the things we had hoped to have launched in 2020.
This fall, we were bummed to see that our favorite conference of the year, NYC Agtech week, was digitized due to the pandemic. Luckily, we were able to have Monti present his insights and updates for the Startup Showcase that more deeply spoke to our product and platform, and even walked through a live demo…
Lastly, I was able to participate in a few other recordings of podcasts, at Ambition Today, Conversations with Celeri, and the Urban Farming podcast, which though not live yet, I've been assured will be launching at some point…
One of the most exciting things we accomplished in 2020 is the creation of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the OneGrow Foundation.
The organization is a partnership between Grow Computer and the University of Michigan Net Impact team to create a new world of tools for schools to use to teach Hydroponics to students.
Our team even wrote two USDA grants for $685,000 for this program (originally ‘DEEP Hydrosense’). While we didn’t get either, we were able to build an amazing coalition of schools, educators, non-profits, thought leaders and more.
Originally, we strived to to create an ‘educational x-prize for hydroponics’, but after not getting any of the grants we had hoped, we had to pivot to something more attainable in 2020. While our big dreams are still alive with a current pitch to NASA underway, we are excited to deliver a new tool to educators in early 2021.
For a full debrief, check out the OneGrow 2020 year end report here
IoT: Local vs. Cloud
Holy crap, IoT is a hot mess.
However, these challenges aren’t just ours. We have spoken to experts from all over the world, from private companies to public labs and have learned we aren't alone. While the space is chaotic and organized, it also is keeping many of our potential competitors away from the space for now.
We will be talking about this a lot more in 2021…
Managing with Empathy
The last thing I wanted to address is perhaps my biggest learning and take away from 2020. Starting and building a company is HARD, but managing a totally bootstrapped company, is definitely even harder, especially when combined with a pandemic, a recession, a new baby, and our exodus from NYC. Just looking at the fact we are still working, still attacking, and still meeting is probably my biggest win.
Bootstrapping is not for everyone. There are challenges everywhere. As the CEO, the biggest challenge is the allocation of time, effort, and energy. However, when the whole team is scattered to the wind, in new (or temporary) living situations, moving their entire lives from state to state, or whatever else, how can I keep the team’s attention focused on our work? Without consistent income during a pandemic and recession, it s really hard to ask for that type of ‘all in’ commitment while everyone’s life is in the spin cycle.
The only way I’ve learned how to manage this is to work with people, listen to their needs, understand their constraints, and try to solve as many problems as I can to keep things moving. It’s not easy, and is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (next to learning Japanese in college). One day, when I have a chance to sit and look back, I’ll remember 2020 will go down as a total shitshow, but also one of the most instructive and important years of my life.