An unfulfilled Kickstarter campaign usually marks the end of the road for entrepreneurs seeking funding to get their ideas off of the ground.
Though for Jen McGuinness, the mind behind Greenthumb Technology, this isn’t the case.
Her Kickstarter campaign wrapped up on November 6th and fell a ways short of the goal, but McGuinness, alongside her partner Matt Mei, were unfazed by the setback.
“Sure, it would have been easier if the Kickstarter came through, but we’ve still validated the market for the product,” she says.
The funds being raised via the Kickstarter campaign were for production of the VeggiWall, an indoor vegetable garden (hydroponic vegetable garden meets living wall). They came up some $33,000 shy of their $50,000 goal—which means that McGuinness and Mei received none of the pledged funds from the crowdfunding.
However, three quarters of the people who signed up to buy a VeggiWall still wanted to buy one and have rerouted their orders via the Greenthumb Technology website.
“Our Kickstarter backers (customers) overwhelmingly requested to still be able to buy the VeggieWall. We made the transition to selling pre-orders on our website.
It’s a bit more work, making that transition happen, and we did lose some sales, but overall it has been very positive,” explains McGuinness.
McGuinness and Mei have secured more funding from the bank and private investors too. The resilient duo will continue with their production of the VeggiWall in spite of this challenge.
“What really keeps us going is knowing how large the need is for our product, and how much we believe in our mission: to empower people to grow food.”
An Unlikely Entrepreneur
She always knew that one day she wanted to start her own company doing something that was good for the environment and good for people.
This notion was with her from childhood until one day in 2004, while McGuinness was trying to find a little more room for plants on her patio garden in her Valleycliffe home, she ran across the idea for living walls—ways to grow plants on vertical surfaces.
“They are gorgeous, why not put food in them instead of just plants? You could still have the art, but you could also have functionality.”
The seeds of this idea were sewn with McGuinness as a child. “I grew up with a single mom and we didn’t have a lot of money and at times our cupboards were pretty bare. It seemed empowering to grow your own food rather than have somebody else provide it for you.”
In her youth, Jen also internalized the importance of eating healthy food. Eating well can prevent or at least mitigate the risks of a lot of diseases, she says.
“My dad had cancer, he changed his diet and was really healthy and lived a good six extra years that they weren’t expecting him to live. I know from personal experience how powerful food is.”
McGuinness spent most of her youth on the Sunshine Coast and ended up in the ski industry for her first career. She worked as a patroller on Whistler, and taught courses with the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association alongside her furry four-legged companion, Neve.
Growing Plants, Growing a Company
The VeggiWall was inspired by McGuinness’ classic lightbulb moment in 2004. It’s a way for people to grow vegetables in their houses, encourages healthy eating, and reduces the environmental and financial costs of transporting produce from far off places. Her realization drew on some of the values instilled in her youth.
She signed on her long-time friend, Mei, and the duo have been persevering through the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurialism since.
“Matt [Mei] and I built all of the prototypes in either one of our backyards at one time. He’s in construction so he has all of the tools. Our first manufactured prototypes are made in Coquitlam and we assembled them ourselves in our backyard.”
For McGuinness and Mei, an unreached fundraising campaign is all a part of the story.
“I always knew that I wanted to create a company that was good for people and the environment. It’s been a dream of mine since 2004, that I could potentially make enough money that I could live off of it, versus it being a hobby,” explains McGuinness.
“When I had the idea for the VeggiWall, it was the lightbulb for me.
I never let go of that dream, I was just waiting for it to mature.”