Blunt Q&A: Cloudponics CEO Pepijn van der Krogt
By Jeff Klingman, theBluntness Feature Writer
Pepijn van der Krogt and Nicolas Ruiz started Cloudponics in 2014 with the simple idea that growing high-quality cannabis should be easier, and enough Chilean government grant money to test that theory.
A two-year research and development process led to the GroBox, a fully automated, WiFi-synced, wonder cabinet that aims to take all the guesswork (and botany degrees) out of cannabis cultivation. With a true beginner in mind, the GroBox arrives fully formed, ready to plug into a living-room socket and enabled to update via smartphone app. It also comes ready to quietly, odorlessly produce around 8 to 10 ounces of weed with every 3-month grow cycle. That is, in layman’s terms -- quite a bit of weed.
Eventually, the team hopes their apps will foster a robust online network of home growers, sharing tips and best practices alongside selfies snapped in front of their towering plants. For now, they are focusing on out how to best introduce a high-priced tech box ($2690 bucks at checkout) that counts as an entirely new category of home appliance.
We talked to van der Krogt about the eureka moment that brought Cloudponics to their flagship product, and the social strategies they hope will get the world used to growing weed at home.
When you and Nicolas started Cloudponics, was it always with the idea of moving towards a automated, fully contained product like the GroBox?
Pepijn van der Krogt: Our original idea was to develop a controller that focused exclusively on automation for existing growers. But experienced growers are always a little bit more reluctant -- essentially saying: “I already know what I want to do and I have my methods!” We realized [that our opportunity was] with people with no experience.
We had one girl testing, she had never grown anything, not even a cactus. She started doing this and loved it, because you could just see the plants getting bigger and bigger every day. She would play music to the plants and they would grow to the sound. She was completely in love! It opened our eyes in a sense.
Do you envision that more of your customers will be coming to you from a medical need or as recreational users?
We are seeing a lot of patients, ranging from veterans to post-trauma to post-traumatic injuries. Also cancer patients and people who are growing for family members who are patients. Even people who have been or are still opioid addicts to see if it’s the solution to get off it.
If you are a frequent user, you’re spending at least five-to-six thousand dollars a year, and there are no real alternatives to lower your cost. You’re seeing people fed up with not knowing exactly what they are using, where it’s sourced from, whether there are pesticides. For medicinal patients there’s the issue that specific strains have specific properties for treatment which may not always be available at your local dispensary. Growers will supply where demand leads them. The only solution is to provide your own production.
In themarketing for the GroBox launch, you were forced to be a little tongue and cheek, dancing around the explicit mention of cannabis. How tricky is it to work within changing standards in regarding what platforms, words, and images you can or can’t use?
You have to be thoughtful. Facebook was pro-cannabis for a long time, allowing vaporizer ads and stuff like that. Just at the moment when we were launching our campaign they decided to not allow cannabis [marketing] anymore, getting worried about national legal consequences. We were left with one option -- to do our campaign without direct cannabis mentions.
Our system is hydroponic grow equipment, which is completely legal for growing any type of plant. It makes very good tomatoes! Of course if you only used it for lettuce it would be a little expensive. But people get it, and it’s funny.
How much will your business strategy going forward rely on spreading awareness via owners posting about the GrowBox on social media?
It’s very important. Big grow systems with a high price tag, there’s no real history on it. Of course people would be reluctant to spend almost $3000 on the Internet without knowing what you are buying. It’s been difficult to get the message out.
When people started to do YouTube channels— videos like “Unpack the Box” or “Our First Grow” —we saw traffic coming to our website and thought, “Whoa, what is happening?” We found out it was coming from one of our customers. We told him, “Do you want an affiliate link, you can make a 10% commission.” With a couple hundred views per video, he sold 10 or 15 units already. It’s been very successful.