Why Sales are the Ultimate Validation
Hey there! Bet you didn’t expect a second interview so quickly. 😜 Today we have an extremely unique interview with Veronica Head, one of three founders that worked on Aquaponos.
It was a startup based on selling aquaponic gardening kits to consumers.
There’s tons be learned here about pitching to raise funds and more.
Tell everyone a little bit about yourself and about your team’s motivation for creating Aquaponos?
I’m Veronica, a Civil and Environmental Engineer by degree, and an entrepreneur at heart.
I was joined by two co-founders, Nick and Chandler. We were originally inspired to start Aquaponos as a way of addressing issues of food insecurity and sustainability that we saw in our home at the time, Arizona.
We thought that aquaponics could be a useful answer to growing problems of food and water scarcity, as it provides a way to grow food anywhere with about 90% less water than traditional growing.
What goals did your team have with this project?
We were in college— we wanted to learn, experiment, and see how far we could get.
We thought our really cool solution could help people learn not only how to grow their own food, but also how to do it sustainable.
This small but mighty mission was important to us, and motivated us to keep going.
Was there a plan to validate the project and if so, did it work?
In some ways yes, in other ways no. We did a lot of interviews with customers and target customers to get feedback on our prototype.
At the core, this validated our assumptions about what value we thought the product would create.
I now realize that there are a lot of other aspects of our business model that went un-validated—such as how we’d market to our target customers or how we’d manufacture and distribute our product at large.
Who was the target market, consumers or businesses?
We were targeting parents and sustainable minded consumers. Our idea was that this product would be education, so it would appeal to parents trying to teach their kids where food comes from and to people who wanted to know how to be more sustainable.
Were there any competitors and was there a unique selling point of Aquaponos?
There are other home aquaponics kits out there. Our big selling point was that our kit was much more practical and would come with modular components.
This would make the system very education and allow one to experiment with adding onto their system and trying new things.
It looks like you did some pitches for funding, how much did you raise and what did you learn during the process?
We raised about $25k in grant funding through the process.
We learned a lot about how to message ourselves to different audiences and how to explain what we were doing in a compelling yet simple way.
Aquaponics can get very science heavy if you let it, and we needed to communicate how our product worked without losing our audiences. We also lost out on some investor pitches and learned a lot through those experiences too.
The story you tell an investor is much different from others—they’re mostly concerned with seeing the return on their investment and a model of exponential growth.
What was the biggest surprise you ran into along the way?
We were using a local makers pace to prototype and do some light manufacturing of our product.
This particular maker space declared bankruptcy one day, in the middle of a week, without any notice. That morning all of our R&D efforts halted and we had to spend a month or so developing a new plan.
It was totally unexpected and was a huge set back that our team had to overcome.
Were the challenges of a physical product based startup harder than a purely technical one?
We faced that challenge with our maker space and it really highlighted some of the differences with physical products.
They take more specialized machinery and tools to develop, and they can be expensive if you don’t have access to maker spaces and the like.
We also ended up hitting delays or wasting materials during the process too.
Was there a particular moment you realized the project wasn’t working out?
We didn’t sell a single system. We didn’t have a scale-able way to manufacture, and hadn’t made any efforts to advertise our product to our target customers.
When we all graduated college, we realized that we didn’t want to go full time with this project and that was the effective end of Aquaponos.
In retrospect, would you have done anything differently?
At some point, we realized that we were three co-founders with very similar backgrounds—all in engineering and product development.
While this allowed us to cruise through our product’s R&D, when it came time to market and sell that product, we were dumbfounded. Looking back on this, we should have diversified the skill sets between us, and found people that helped fill our weaknesses in things like sales, marketing, and business.
In the end, we didn’t sell a single system and that really led to the downfall of Aquaponos.
What were the most valuable lessons you learned from the project?
I learned so much about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. I also learned a few do’s and don’ts of founding a startup but am by no means and expert.
Personally, the most valuable lessons for me were how to approach failure and pivot quick from it. I also learned that you need a balance of skills on your team.
What are you working on now and where can people follow you?
Right now, I’m working as the Director at a really cool consulting startup for social impact startups and non-profits.
You can always find me on LinkedIn (Veronica Head) or follow me on Twitter @head_veronica. Chandler has landed his dream job in San Diego and Nick has moved on to study patent law at ASU.