We interviewed founder and CEO Cam MacKugler, who applied to the Shark Tank through the show’s online casting process at the end of last summer. “We had just finished our first gardening season in business, and had grown in one year from a Kickstarter campaign to placement in Home Depot stores,” he said about the Vermont-based business.
Here’s what else he told us about…
How the Idea Came About
I majored in architecture in college, and after graduating, worked at a design-build firm in Middlebury, Vermont, designing sustainable elements for buildings, oftentimes including vegetative elements like growing walls and roofs. One summer, I was asked to house sit for a co-worker. Because it was Vermont, his house was actually an 80-acre dairy farm, and I was paid with full reign over their gigantic garden. One evening while harvesting dinner in the garden, I noticed how all of the plants were meticulously spaced, how different plant types were organized in specific locations, and in my mind I saw a blueprint. I wondered how I could combine architectural precision with agriculture, and then dropped my harvest, sprinted inside the farmhouse and using my co-worker’s kids’ crayons sketched out the first drawing of the Seedsheet.
Experience With Kickstarter
Kickstarter was a phenomenal way to market test the product, demonstrate consumer demand, and start cultivating brand awareness through media coverage. We were featured in Fast Company and Motherboard the very day our Kickstarter campaign launched, and 30 days later we successfully surpassed our $30,000 goal. Kickstarter literally started my company with a win, which provided the traction necessary to immediately thereafter close a $500,000 Angel round, and help get Seedsheets picked up by wholesale buyers like Zulily, Gardener’s Supply and Home Depot.
One in three American households already grow some amount of food, be it a veggie garden outside or a basil plant on the windowsill. While gardening is fairly common through much of the country, it has only in recent years started to flourish in urban areas. The majority of our web sales have shipped to cities like San Francisco, LA, Austin, Houston, New York City and Boston. Our customers are predominantly millennials who have a genuine interest in knowing where their food comes from and what chemicals were used in its cultivation. Young parents especially love Seedsheets because they not only engage and educate their children on the growing process, but also helps them feed their kids with confidence. There’s a budding desire for food transparency in the country, and for a better understanding of what “good food” really is; from taste, sustainability, and ethical standpoints. Right now the average bite of food travels 1,500 miles, 40% of food is thrown out, and plants are being genetically modified to prioritize pesticide/herbicide-residence and stability in packaging. Our customers are people that want food transparency, want to know where their food comes from, and want to feel confident that they’re feeding themselves and their family the healthiest and most nutritious food possible. By making it easy for them to grow their own food, we can provide that confidence.
Advice for Future ‘Tank’ Contestants
Be memorable, and flirt with ridiculousness. I read articles prior to pitching that stated that sometimes even great products that receive deals don’t make it to air because they lacked entertainment value. Shark Tank is a TV show at the end of the day, and its the producers’ job to make exciting TV. This is advice that is applicable outside of the Tank too, especially in trade show environments where you are one of 2,000 vendors trying to grab the attention of a few big-box buyers. You can have a phenomenal product, but if you can’t convince someone to stop and learn about it, you’re going to be fighting a losing battle.
Plans for the Future
My plan with Seedsheet is to continue to make gardening easy, and increase our product offerings to include larger sized gardens, and eventually commercial rolls. By removing the barriers to gardening, the time it takes to plant, and the maintenance and upkeep of weeding, I hope that we can again return to an era of abundant homegrown harvests. We can transition away from eating plants that are modified for their ability to withstand chemicals or ship across the country without spoiling, and instead eat plants that are naturally bred for nutrition and taste. I plan to put a farmers market on everyone’s windowsill, stoop, yard or rooftop.