Growing your own food can save money. It can empower consumers to know more about the origins of what they eat, and what types of herbicides and pesticides are used on the plants. But it can also be a hassle to find space, time and gather the tools needed for more than nurturing a simple potted plant or two. The idea behind Seedsheets is that anyone can take more control over their food, even if it’s just some basic herbs to start.
Seedsheets are sold as container gardens that will fit in just about any space. A Seedsheet is an actual sheet of weed-blocking fabric that contains evenly spaced pouches of seeds, which slowly dissolve when watered. The Seedsheet sits on top of the dirt, so there’s no planting required. Water daily, and within a few weeks, the chosen variety of colorful flowers and edible plants will bloom.
The Caprese Seedsheet, for example, helps you grow the sweet basil and fast-growing glacier tomatoes you’d use to make the salad of the same name, or you can select a kit to grow cocktail garnishes or the greens you enjoy on top of a taco in a 12-inch pot. Amateur gardeners can customize their own array of edible plants to grow and enjoy, selecting options such as arugula, radishes or lemon balm.
Seedsheet founder and CEO Cameron “Cam” MacKugler explains why this relatively simple startup idea has grown like a weed.
Where did you get the idea for Seedsheets? How long did it take to germinate into a growing company?
The idea for Seedsheets quite literally sprouted in a garden. I graduated from Middlebury College's architecture program in 2009 and immediately began working at a design-build firm in the town of Middlebury [Vermont]. While there, I was given the opportunity to marry my passions of architecture and the environment and attain my Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Professional Accreditation. I got to work on amazing projects and design growing roofs, living vegetated walls, and rainwater catchment systems.
One summer, I was asked to house-sit for a coworker, and because it was Vermont, his ‘house’ was actually a fully functioning 80-acre dairy farm, complete with cows, chickens, guinea fowl, and an expansive garden. I was paid with the garden's bounty and enjoyed farm-fresh meals sourced just feet away from the front door. One evening while harvesting dinner, I noticed how meticulously designed the garden was, how every plant was appropriately spaced, flanked by helpful companion plants, and in my head I saw a blueprint. I dropped the kale that was bunched in my folded t-shirt, sprinted inside the farmhouse, and using my co-worker's kids' crayons, I sketched out the first drawing of the Seedsheet.
One year and one summer of beta-testing later, I incorporated the company and launched our Kickstarter campaign in December 2015. Immediately after the successful campaign, I closed a small angel investment round, which allowed me to build a team, design and manufacture our own machinery, fulfill our Kickstarter orders and launch our website. By the spring of 2016, our first gardening season actually in business, we launched in 46 Home Depot stores. One year later, here we are in spring of 2017 with [appearances on ABC’s] Shark Tank, and we're shipping tens of thousands of units each month!
That’s an incredible trajectory. What's your elevator pitch?
The Seedsheet is the Blue Apron of agriculture—an easy and intuitive gardening product that helps anyone take control of their food and enjoy delicious homegrown harvests. With our innovative technology and materials, we remove the barriers from agriculture and help anyone become a gardening guru.
People want to eat good food, but the only way to really know that your food was grown safely, sustainably, and without harmful pesticides and herbicides is to grow it yourself. By making it ridiculously easy to grow your own, we help you feed yourself and your family with confidence, while growing your gardening skills in the process!
What did the original Seedsheet prototype look like? How has it evolved over time?
As LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman famously stated: ‘If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late!’ The very first prototypes of the Seedsheet tested seeds trapped between layers of newspaper, paper towel and toilet paper. Embarrassed is an understatement!
I experienced successful germinations in all of the first tests, and after iterating the product with new materials, I unveiled the beta test version in the summer of 2015. That version featured two layers of dissolvable film with seeds spaced appropriately between the layers, but needed to be physically buried with half-inch of soil, and did nothing to stop weeds or help customers identify where their plants would sprout. After constructive feedback, the product was iterated to include a weed-blocking fabric, and the dissolvable ‘blanket’ was replaced with dissolvable pouches, which contained soil and removed the need to bury the sheet.
How exactly do Seedsheets work, either in a home or office or on a larger scale? What's the step-by-step setup process for a typical customer?
Now, Seedsheets feature a weed-blocking fabric embedded with the optimal strategic arrangement of dissolvable pouches, which contain organic and non-GMO seeds. You simply need to place the Seedsheet seed-side-down directly on the surface of soil, secure with the included stakes to prevent wind damage, and gently add water. Once watered, the pouches will dissolve, the seeds will sprout and emerge through the aligned openings in the weed-blocking fabric, and the result is the perfectly designed and spaced weedless garden. For small-scale gardens, we also sell kit packages, which include a fabric container, made from recycled plastic bottles, as well as high quality soil. As we like to say, we're not meal delivery, we're farm delivery.
While we are not offering larger Seedsheets at this time, we have in the past, and we plan to re-introduce bigger ‘family size’ Seedsheets for raised-bed and backyard gardening. The larger Seedsheets feature a wider assortment of plants and ultimately larger harvests, because of the additional space for plants to grow to fuller sizes. The benefits of the weed-blocking fabric are noticeably greater on larger Seedsheets as well, because as any gardener knows, keeping weeds out of a raised bed garden is an exercise in futility.
Did you encounter any unexpected hurdles as you were developing and distributing Seedsheets?
When we were originally focusing on large Seedsheets, we struggled with the challenges of capitalizing on the relatively short gardening season, as well as convincing first-time gardeners to commit to a large garden from space and cost perspectives.
We actually didn't launch the current Grow Your Own container Seedsheet product line until September of 2016 at an agricultural expo in Massachusetts, obviously not the ideal gardening season for New England! What we saw in that launch completely surprised us, as customers loved the small urban-friendly size and compelling $14.99 price point, and purchased over 1,500 units in a two-week period. We realized that we could combat the inherent seasonality of gardening by building smaller kits that could be grown indoors, as well as marketing them as gifts. Now, as we are selling tens of thousands of units each month, we are seeing a real gardening revolution occurring with our products, and novice gardening urbanites are converting their stoops and fire escapes into their own farmers’ markets.
Do you have or have you applied for any patents?
Yes, I had a provisional patent application underway prior to our 2015 Kickstarter campaign and have utility patents going through the process currently.
Why do you think what you're offering has been such a runaway hit?
Because food is personal. There is a huge disconnection right now between the food consumer and food producer, and while many rural and suburban communities have farmers' markets and co-ops, that level of food transparency isn't as readily available in urban locations. There is also a pretty stark contrast in the AgTech world between simplification versus automation. Our mission is to remove the barriers to gardening and simplify the process so that we can introduce new customers to growing delicious food and building their gardening skills. Our competitors are focused on complete automation with hydroponic app-integrated systems, and in our opinion, they have overused technology in a way that takes away from the experience of actually growing food. We strive to teach our customers how to successfully cultivate homegrown food, and impart the tips and tutorials to build a community of foodies who genuinely care about the quality of the food they eat and the story and transparency behind it.
Any personal favorite Seedsheet plants you love having in your home or office?
Personally, I love our Cocktail and Hot Sauce Seedsheets the most. Our office is in a small kitchen that we have outfitted with LED grow lights and is loaded to the ceiling with prototype Seedsheets. It is probably one of the best smelling offices in the world! I really love the Tulsi (aka 'Sacred Basil') in our Grow Your Own Cocktail Seedsheet because it has this amazing lingering fruity smell of blueberries. I am also a hot sauce aficionado and really love the kick of the Ring 'O Fire cayenne peppers that are the mainstay of our Hot Sauce Seedsheet.
Each week we host a Facebook Live gardening tutorial to help customers through the growing process, and in a few weeks, we will be having a Hot Ones-inspired video where our team will eat hot peppers as we get peppered with customer questions. It should be fun.