How did you come up with the idea for AquaTree™?
That’s actually a funny story, I will spare you all the details, but I have always been a problem solver. Probably to a fault, if you ask my wife, sometimes I just need to listen. Well, one of my good friends had an old well at his house that he wanted to use to create a pond and hydroponics system. It was almost 10 years ago at a party at his house. Definitely some beers involved. He kept telling me how simple he wanted it to be, maybe a couple of raised beds and a few floating rafts. Well, I thought he was trying to get moving on it. I came back to him a few months later with the first designs of the AquaTree™, commercial system. He didn’t even remember telling me about his idea. I proceeded to show him drawings of how he could maximize his space and have a few thousand plants growing. Needless to say, it was way overkill for what he wanted, and besides that, none of these parts were available in the marketplace. He never even built the system, but he really got me thinking of how to make the system more compact for tabletop versions, and then could it be expandable if people wanted to grow more plants. All using the same interchangeable parts. Over the years I became an expert in Hydroponics, Aquaponics and Pure Ponics. Just immersed myself in all of it. I loved it. I loved learning.
What made you take on such a project?
Honestly, having a good wife who pushes me to achieve. I genuinely wanted people to be able to easily grow food in their home. After researching like crazy all the grow systems out there, there just wasn’t a system that checked all the boxes.
Launching a new product is a major undertaking. When you involve the risks of water, electricity, and living things -especially when it is food- it only complicates that equation. What was it like to bring this product to market?
You’re telling me! My wife was so patient with me as I took myself to online school to learn AutoCAD, so I could design the parts myself. She then pushed me to get a 3D Printer, back when they were not the friendliest devices. I had to assemble the 3D printer out of 1000 pieces. It was grueling. We printed the first AquaTrees in our home and started experimenting. We came home so many times to leaking parts and floods in the kitchen. 3D parts leak! Getting through the 100’s of iterations was painstaking. Everything from the tight fit between the spouts, water flow, tray sizes, heights, water pumps, device proportions, materials, plant testing and so many more things, all had to be perfect. I had no idea how exhausting it would be. Honestly, again, without an amazing wife and great friends to carry us through the years, it wouldn’t have happened.
In researching AquaTree™, there were two Kickstarter videos. It seems there was an early campaign that was pulled and another that ended successfully. Congratulations on the successful campaign. Firstly, what happened to the initial Kickstarter campaign? Secondly, was Kickstarter a major part of bringing the product to market?
Thank you very much. We were very proud of that. The initial campaign was probably premature. We tried to go to market too soon. It was great though because I was able to see an initial interest in the AquaTree™. We were well on our way to fully funding that campaign in the first couple of days, we just felt that we could do better, so we decided to halt it. We got great feedback and used that for our second launch. The second campaign really helped us understand more fully how excited people were to get the AquaTree™. It gave us some major wind in our sails. We felt more confident in the order of the $200K of plastic injection molds that would allow us to produce the AquaTree™ in quantity.
The market has expanded considerably since you started working on AquaTree™. How does that make you feel?
It’s great to see so many products out there now. Anyone that can help get the public excited about growing their own food, or just bring more education to growing food is pretty awesome in my eyes! It is so good for everyone.
Where did the name AquaTree™ come from?
I’m not exactly sure. It was so long ago. I have the worst memory sometimes. Two kids under age 5 will do that I hear. I’m sure it had to do with the shape and the flowing sound of water. It just captured my imagination. I would come home and look at it every day.
Is the AquaTree™ that exists today what you thought it would be when it started?
It’s basically the same concept. The general design of vertical farming was always the key, but the shape of the trays, the water delivery, the sizes, and the light system integration has changed considerably. Let’s hear it for good ole trial and error! Thank God for 3D Printers!!
Did you ever feel like you were stuck and wanted to give up at any point in the process?
You know life is a series of some pretty important moments thrown at you. You don’t really plan for them; you just live them. You have to live in the moment, wife, kids, work, friends, God, free time, all of it is more important than the AquaTree™. I wouldn’t call it stuck; I would call it slowed down.
How did you overcome that hurdle?
Being patient and letting things unravel in their own time. My wife was a huge help. Over time people on our team really started making the AquaTree™ their own, inventing and bringing concepts to help improve it. The group mission became clear, we were all going to make sure it was the best product that we could make. That drove us all, we had to be successful. It was almost as if the world was depending on us.
What was your biggest takeaway from the inventing process?
Honestly, I learned that I truly love inventing. I love improving things. Making new things. Overcoming the naysayers is probably part of it, but more importantly, trying to change the world for the better. I also really love the ideation part of brainstorming. Chasing ideas to dead ends and then turning on a dime to evolve a thought. I love collaborating with people, the worst ideas spring the best ones. I spend so much time daydreaming, I have the worst ADD!!
You’ve said previously that you want to change the world. Can AquaTree™ do that?
I believe that technology can solve most of our problems in the world. Not all, but most. I’ve never been in this for the money for myself. I see the AquaTree™ as a springboard to bring about a great change in people’s basic knowledge of nutrition and then be able to do something about it. Financially, I believe it will catapult our company’s ability to bring some truly world changing inventions to market, devices that will change the way the entire world grows food, as well as produce clean unlimited energy. God has been good to us; all profits will be used for the betterment of our planet and empower people to have a better quality of life and overall improved mental health.
What does the realization of AquaTree™ as a product mean for you?
It is one heck of a step in the right direction! I have so many goals for it. New trays, filtration systems, nutrient intake systems. It is so good right now; I just want to make it better and better.
What is your biggest fear concerning the AquaTree™?
As simple as we have made the system to use, we hope that everyone follows the directions on how to use it. Water changes and cleaning the system are important amongst other things. We have made that process easier than any other system on the market.
What advice would you give someone who wants to take an idea and turn it into a product?
My brother gave me some good advice. Which is: “Never miss the opportunity of a lifetime, during the lifetime of the opportunity.” More often than not, there is a short window to get an idea out, or to help someone get their idea out. Not making a decision on what to do is bad. Self-reflect like crazy, ask for advice from your trusted friends. The hardest thing to do is to “GO IT ALONE.” Hopefully your friends or mentors will be honest.
Also, not all ideas or companies need to change the world, there is a lot of opportunity in keeping this house of cards from falling. What is most important is that each individual looks at their gifts, talents, and resources (time/money) and makes the best decision for how to facilitate their idea to get out into the world. In the end we can’t take anything with us, the most important thing is that you have family and friends, and if you choose, hopefully God.
Can you talk about any new developments, add-ons, or improvements for AquaTree™?
I can’t wait to bring out new trays that the AquaTree™ family can use to grow even more varieties of plants and even rooted vegetables. Our newest lighting system is almost complete, which is amazing! It is really easy to add on between levels. Better yet, all the advancements will work with the existing system, which means, everyone can keep evolving their passion for growing right along with us. I’m crazy excited about that ability! I check on my AquaTree™ every day, first thing I do when I wake up, so I’m always thinking about it. If anyone has any ideas out there, please share them with us!!!!
What’s next for you?
Basically, trying to stay centered. Try to remember to take one step at a time. Try not to overload the system. I wake up each day at 5am and reflect on how grateful I am to be able to “Get To” work on such a fun project with great people. To remain thankful during challenging times and to spend as much quality time as possible with my family and loved ones. Whether it’s trendy or not, I try to stay in connection with God. He really helps me bring meaning to all of this and to stay mindful to always give back. You can’t take it with you. God Bless yall! Thank you!