Tech Firm Builds App to Help Busy People Succesfuly Grow Organic Food
April 18, 2014 | Abbie Stutzer
Smart Living Studios, Inc. was co-founded by Kristee Rosendahl, chief product officer, and Carl Alguire, CEO, in 2012. This was the same year the company introduced its first product, Smart Gardener, a free online application that’s designed to help people plan, grow and harvest their own organic food.
Since the company’s inception, private individuals who care about the future of the food system have funded the business.
“They learned about us through word of mouth, presentations or press about what we were doing and then reached out to us,” says Rosendahl.
Smart Gardener keeps gardening simple and makes recommendations for the right plants, where to plant them, how many to plant, and then sends a list of what to do that week. Tasks can include planting, mulching, feeding, thinning, watering, and more. The planner keeps records, too.
The garden planner works well for all climate types and regions, all year, says Rosendahl.
“We have worked hard to be able to be as specific as possible about each person’s growing conditions within a region throughout the year,” Rosendahl says. “Our weather and data analysis works to provide a growing seasons profile for each user.”
The company continues to research new geo-location and predictive technologies to help recommend plants for each user’s microclimate. While the company currently is focusing on helping users who live in the United States, they have users from all over the world.
Rosendahl says Smart Gardener works for gardeners of all backgrounds and gardens of all types.
“Our planner is being used by individuals with balcony apartments, families in the city and the suburbs, community gardens, and even CSAs and small farms,” she says. “In addition, we now provide a business version, Smart Gardener Backyard, that allows landscapers to design, build and maintain 10 to 60 gardens a week for clients that want the benefits of a backyard garden, but want a service that does it for them.”
The majority of people who worked on the planner had backgrounds in gardening. The company wanted to consult people with experience to build the app and populate the system with high-quality data.
“We also licensed two great books about organic gardening from our resident author, Frank Tozer,” Rosendahl says. “We utilized all the data we could from our partners and then did hundreds of hours of research to make sure all the data on the site was validated. Given how much information is out there about edible gardening, the challenge was how to curate, cull and generate high-quality content that could present the right information at the right time for the user via a ‘smart’ application.”
So far, the company is doing well and currently has paying customers and a revenue stream.
“With the addition of the b2b platform for landscapers, we are now able to build a two-sided business model, much like Open Table or Grub Hub,” she says. “The business model allows us to scale and service a need that is now going mainstream: the ability to get trusted and great tasting food from the most local source possible, your own backyard.”
Rosendahl says that 43 million households out of the 78 million that have gardens are growing something edible, and those numbers are increasing every year.
The company’s DIY online offering, SmartGardener.com, is now one of the top two digital edible gardening products in the U.S., according to Rosendahl.
“We’ve gotten there by word of mouth by our users who have been early adopters and ongoing advocates for us,” Rosendahl says. “We currently host over 200,000 registered users on our site, which we are delighted about, given our startup has done almost no marketing.”
The company keeps growing and sees a consistent 40 percent of its total users returning every year.
Rosendahl says that most people who run into gardening problems are first time growers.
“Planning a garden, buying the right plants or seeds, and planting it all out can be quite exhilarating,” she says. “It can also be very frustrating for people. There’s so much information, many times conflicting, that it can get overwhelming, particularly for most of us who have very busy lives, but really want a great garden.”
She also says that to some, it’s a big surprise that a garden still needs constant tending after it’s planted. “This is where many people flounder and then get disappointed by their less than bountiful or healthy gardens.”
Rosendahl says the public has only seen the first of a number of large initiatives the company has planned. The company already is getting requests for services for managing chickens, fruit trees and bees.
“Since the beginning, we have been planning for this ‘smart homesteading’ movement and are delighted to be in a position to leverage our platform to do that for both DIYers and the garden care service industry.”