Sep 28, 2020
4 Tips For Entrepreneurs Getting Started In AgTech
Written By: Albert Lin
Scared of failure? Selling yourself short? Impostor syndrome? The list goes on. Do any of those sound familiar to you? Well, I’ve been battling this mentality my whole life.
I see lots of success within my network and I am genuinely super happy for them, as some of these people are my good friends. I want them all to succeed. But then I end up comparing myself and thinking that what I’ve done isn’t as good (or noteworthy).
But you know what? I’m really proud of what I have accomplished working on my hydroponic growing medium business these last 2 years.
Some of you may or may not know, I’ve failed a lot. I tried starting up a vertical farm a few years ago after getting obsessed with hydroponic growing. The project never came to fruition, but I still wanted to start something in the space that I could bootstrap myself.
I started exploring the world of growing mediums and quickly saw that rockwool was the industry standard and dominated hydroponic farming. However, I wanted to create something better and different - and thus VegBed was born.
The original idea behind VegBed was to bring a new growing medium to the market that hydroponic farms haven’t used yet. I had tried an array of different mediums, but was never completely satisfied with any of them.
The first VegBed product that launched was a foam grow cube for NFT hydroponic systems. The performance of the cube was great. It didn’t turn mushy or breakdown like other growing mediums. It had mild success with farms and also universities that used it for testing in their horticulture departments.
This eventually led to the development of a foam mat for microgreen production after customers started inquiring about the possibility of offering it. I spent many months getting samples made from multiple factories. Trying to find a balance between thickness and density so that water absorption would be high enough for microgreen production was difficult.
Over time however, the same customers started to increasingly ask me if I could offer a more sustainable product. There is a key point I want to make here that I think could help others:
Listen to your customers’ feedback and/or problems that they have. It’s OK to PIVOT your product or idea and that’s exactly what I did.
Being different is good, but it can’t be your ONLY differentiating factor. I’m constantly learning and evolving from customer feedback.
The current iteration of VegBed’s core product came from the determination to come up with a new growing medium that was sustainable, biodegradable, clean and performed well. It was definitely not an easy task, but after much trial and error, I had something I was happy to take to market.
During the trials, I had sourced microgreen seeds from True Leaf Market. I remember visiting their website and thinking WOW, they are the Walmart of gardening, seeds and hydroponics. I vowed one day to have my product listed on their site.
My initial attempt actually failed. I reached out to the company with a cold email soon after I had launched the bamboo fiber mats. I touted how a great sustainable alternative they were to what was on the market, sent samples and got great feedback. I thought for sure I had a chance!
But alas, I was one of thousands of other SKUs vying for valuable stock space. After weeks of back and forth discussion and waiting for a decision, nothing ever panned out.
Fast forward almost 2 years later and through a serendipitous acquaintance, I was able to connect with one of the co-owners of the company. They really liked the product and that I was now manufacturing in the US. Plus, the demand for at home growing had been skyrocketing during the pandemic.
To see this all come full circle has been nothing short of amazing and gratifying. Like they say, this is just the beginning.
I’m hoping my story can help others to not be afraid of celebrating their accomplishments. It took me awhile to have the courage just to write about my experience building this company, but I also wanted to offer these 4 tips for those that may be struggling with a similar mindset:
Sometimes a “no” can turn into a “yes” - I think that most people want to see instant results. Sometimes it happens, but usually it’s rare. If you are a farm trying to get into a restaurant or supermarket, bring samples and show them you did your homework and know the market. Even if they initially say no, there’s nothing that says you can’t go back a few weeks later and try again. At some point you will capitalize on a situation (your first sale, first PR piece, etc..) which will launch the business and motivate you to continue the momentum.
Networking - obviously because of the pandemic it is much harder to make in person connections. But a lot of people I currently know in the industry are ones that I met at conferences, talks, and meetups. One time I noticed that a potential distributor/partner was attending an event. I wasn’t planning on going, but I decided to make the 3hr drive to introduce myself. I went in with an open mind to learn more about their business and discuss how VegBed could possibly help diversify their product offering. Later that night we ended up discussing terms to carry the product!
Do things that don’t scale - All the stuff you hate to do and want to automate, don’t worry about that in the beginning. I used to want to think big and figure out what step #100 looked like before I even made a sale yet. Don’t “play business”. Just see if people are willing to pay for your product/service first.
Celebrate other people’s accomplishments - Get rid of the negativity/jealousy/hatred. Successful entrepreneurs don’t have time to hate on others, they’re too busy trying to build their dream.
I’m hoping my story can add value to anyone that has made it down this far. Until next time, keep on pushing and thanks for reading!
Albert Lin is the founder of VegBed, a company which develops sustainable and biodegradable solutions for the hydroponic farm industry. Their bamboo fiber microgreen mat is one of the cleanest and easiest to use on the market. VegBed is headquartered in New York, NY. Further questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org