Event Recap

Event Recap: Unfiltered with Andrew Shearer, Founder and CEO of Farmshelf

May 18
Aug 19
Alley Team
Event Recap

Event Recap: Unfiltered with Andrew Shearer, Founder and CEO of Farmshelf

May 18
Aug 19
Alley Team
Event Recap

Event Recap: Unfiltered with Andrew Shearer, Founder and CEO of Farmshelf

May 18
Aug 19
Alley Team
Community Over Everything

Event Recap: Unfiltered with Andrew Shearer, Founder and CEO of Farmshelf

Andrew Shearer, Founder and CEO of FarmshelfAndrew Shearer, Founder and CEO of Farmshelf
Photo by Farmshelf

Our UNFILTERED series is a way for us to candidly sit down, connect & reflect with founders who are changing their industry. We’ll dive into their story together – exploring what drove them to start their business, discuss any trials & tribulations they’ve faced along the way, and how they hope to positively impact the industry they are in. In this intimate conversation, we talk to Andrew Shearer, Founder & CEO of Farmshelf.


  • Farmshelf Home - Farmshelf Home will replace trips to the grocery store. Save up to $2,500/year on your produce bill. Grow as much or as little produce as you need without wasting a single leaf—harvest only what you need while the rest keeps growing.
Noelle Tassey
Andrew Shearer


Noelle Tassey 0:00  
For those of you who haven't joined us before, I'm Noelle Tassey CEO of Alley. This is one of our— part of our Unfiltered series, which is a series of fireside chats with founders who are doing really exciting work in the social impact space in some way through their businesses. So I'm really excited to welcome Andrew back. We had Andrew on a panel a few weeks ago, which you can check out on our site Alley.com. And then also obviously, feel free to join any of our upcoming events next week. We've got some really exciting stuff coming up on VR and AR. But anyways I'm so excited to talk about FarmShelf with Andrew. Andrew, I guess I'm going to hand it over to you, let you introduce yourself, and just tell us a little bit high level about the business and then we'll jump in.

Andrew Shearer 0:45
That's great, and thanks for having me back. My name's Andrew Shearer and the co-founder of FarmShelf. FarmShelf started with a simple idea. I wanted to grow my own food where I lived and it was just too difficult— so set out to make it possible for anyone to grow food where they live, work, and eat. What that now looks like is what you see behind me. Which we have over 175 of these indoor farming appliances across the United States. Working with corporate cafeterias, hotels, schools, and restaurants and our launch into home product early next year that is now available for pre-order. So it's been a crazy four-year journey, but a fun one and with lots of amazing people will come alongside during that. Yeah.

Noelle Tassey  1:33  
I love that and whenever we're able to get back in the office definitely need one of those for Alley HQ. I feel like that would really— that would up our lunch salad game by so much. So super, super cool company. Could you just tell us a little bit about you know how you got started with this idea? You know, you said you wanted to grow your own food, but you know, at what point did that turned into, okay, I'm going to build indoor like hydroponic farms that people can have in their homes? But was— how did that journey happen?

Andrew Shearer  2:02  
So it kind of the genesis story was I was working at Pinterest, doing ad sales and business intelligence, and started collecting Pinterest boards on how to grow my own food. Then went out and bought a few things, tried them and they didn't work. And then went kind of— diving deeper and deeper into the problem really became obsessed with it, seeing that there was an opportunity to take technology from different spaces, you know, the LED overhead lighting industry, the IoT industry, medical devices, and bring that all together in a way that could change how easy it is to grow your own food and kind of the quality and the output. And just seeing that no one else was doing it and that this could really change our relationship and ability to produce food in cities. And so with that level of naivete, I decided to leave Pinterest and start up FarmShelf first in a garage in San Francisco. You know, like every classic San Francisco startup stereotype. Before then getting into a startup accelerator out here in Brooklyn, called Urban X, which is a venture of BMW/Mini Cooper. And from that, you know, spending three months here and then deciding to relocate the company here. We've been in Brooklyn now for well— over four years, which is crazy to think about. And so from that point, it was just looking at kind of how do we build the Lego blocks to enable, you know, anyone to grow food? And while the technology was super interesting, and is interesting, and what is important, at the end of the day, it's like people care about that high-quality food and produce every day feeling empowered, like they grow— like they're growing their own food. And so by really focusing on that from the start, that's how we got in got our start of, you know, first working with these professional customers. And then looking at how do we make this available to more and more people and what that kind of roadmap looks like.

Noelle Tassey  4:00  
I love that, that's such a cool story. And obviously, like so happy that you guys are in New York now. Just kind of one of those dense urban areas that need solutions like this the most. Can you talk a little bit more about kind of the journey? You were talking a little bit about the human impact side of this, right? So it's— half of it's the technology and you know, your passion for the product, but also the impact that it's going to have out in the world and just what your vision for that is and the problems that you think can be solved through giving people the power to grow their own food.

Andrew Shearer  4:36  
So with kind of the vision and where we see that kind of intersection of almost like, what does it look like for human flourishing to happen with our food system. And we think that's, you know, increasing access, increasing quality, the nutrient density of our food as well as its impact on the world from a sustainability perspective. And with FarmShelf, backing up and kind of looking at the food system, on a U.S. level or even a global level, about 50% of our produce is wasted globally due to supply chain, you know, and bad timing and kind of when the food gets to us and it not being able to be utilized. Sometimes even the logistics of it being so complicated that it's just left to rot in the field. And so with FarmShelf, what we're doing is focusing on highly-perishable, highly-nutritious foods and growing it where it's consumed, so that we're shipping our feed feet and not the average in the U.S. of 1500 miles. And the kind of vision that I have for what like FarmShelf is heading towards and kind of what indoor farming you know as a whole has the opportunity to create has a parallel in the ice industry or the refrigeration industry. If you go back to the early 1800s we were shipping ice from the north via trains and barges. There was even a company that shipped ice from Michigan to India. Which if you go to— if you went and told someone, hey mom, guess what I'm starting an ice shipping company, they'd be like, you're crazy. And then we got centralized refrigeration and compressor-based refrigeration, and that led to centralized Cold Storage. And then it became cost-effective and reliable enough to then the point where, you know, coming out of World War II, you know, the adoption of the refrigerator was just unlike any other technology that predated it. And so, you know, we went from shipping ice thousands of miles to, you know, 10 to 15 miles to not shipping that just having it, you know, where it's consumed. And I think that like my kids will look back at us shipping our food thousands of miles the way that we look back at people shipping ice, and be like, "what are you thinking? Like why didn't you just get your lettuce from your kitchen or your backyard?" Like strawberries in the middle of winter fresh, no pesticides, that's the standard. Strawberries that taste so good that Skittles tastes bad in comparison. And getting it to expose kids to a whole new variety of foods with that kind of technology component, enabling that, but at the same time getting out of the way so that we can really focus on the plants and the people connecting with that. I remember, an advisor of ours brought his two kids into our office in kind of our R&D lab, and we were about to harvest a bunch of different crops. And so we gave both the kids bags it was November, that— during that year, and they started running around the office just, you know, harvesting whatever was available. And the boy that was maybe six years old grabs this Portuguese soup kale, and his dad turns to me and goes, sorry, yeah, he doesn't like greens and really doesn't like kale. And then his son just takes a bite of it. And then I'll never forget the next words out of his son's mouth, which were "this is better than trick or treating." Like when you drive that flavor, that connection and like that ownership of your food like you can change— change how we relate to it and how we even you know, are able to approach it. Making sure that kids want to eat it. And this Portuguese soup kale, whenever it's available, regardless of whether you're six years old or 60 is the number one thing that we fight over in the office when there's extra available. It's so good.

Noelle Tassey  8:21  
Okay, so now I have to visit your offices, obviously. And I love that you know, because at Halloween, obviously like the house that gives out the healthy snacks— (inaudible) or the healthy snacks is always kind of the one you want to miss. But I kind of love the idea in the future of that not being the case. And this is such a futuristic piece of technology like in the way— I love your ice analogy because you can imagine, you know how revolutionary an icemaker probably was to the first people who got them. It was probably pretty mind-blowing. And then this sort of incredibly futuristic piece of technology sitting behind you is, you know, to me, like completely— the sort of thing you think about and you're like, why doesn't that exist? You're like, probably really hard to build. What were some of the hurdles to building this? I'm especially curious about kind of the Internet of Things aspect of it, right? Because it's a connected device, correct?

Andrew Shearer  9:13  
Yeah, it's a connected device. Where to start? So interesting fact, actually, we started off for the first few months with the idea of building a consumer version first. And then in talking with advisors, and getting feedback from Urban X and SOSV, we got this feedback that it made more sense to actually start with a pro user, like a restaurant, or a corporate cafeteria. And so really starting with that, where you're able to spend more money, build bigger systems, and, you know, get faster feedback loops than you might with a consumer. And this is the way that Keurig did it, you know, they started with hotels and office buildings, refining the technology. And then getting to the point where when you hit the button on a Keurig, it didn't take, you know, two seconds for you to hear any noise, it took like half a second; because those little things on a consumer level make an even bigger difference than those little interactions on a B2B level. And when setting out it was, you know, making scrappy prototypes, the first one was made out of wood and I with a— with a degree in finance and accounting, and a background in ad sales and banking was the one that like cadded up and designed our first frame, which is terrifying. And even for, like some of the early units, learning to weld so that we could, you know, make some tweaks. So I think it's just being scrappy was one of the things that you know, I think everyone knows, you have to be in startups. It's just interesting to do it with a hardware company. And one of the difficulties with FarmShelf was we bit off a lot with the different types of technology that we had to integrate together. And, on top of that, figure that you know, if you look at a Fitbit, for example, you have an accelerometer— some other, you know, hardware that's about that big. You build it, you test it, you walk outside, you take three steps did it measure three steps? Great. And obviously more complicated than that, but the test cycles are, you know, can be done in a day in many cases. With FarmShelf, it's like build a prototype that has LED lights, fans, can— like a compression-based refrigeration system— or cooling system, peristaltic pumps, it— managing airflow and all these things. And then have to go through an entire growth cycle and sometimes multiple to test certain parts of your product meant that the testing cycles take longer. You have to be just so detail-oriented because you have a product that has to be up and running 24/7 to keep those plants alive, and providing those plants what they need. And so just obsession, and testing and finding whatever way you possibly can to get that test done faster, better, and cheaper because hardware is expensive. And so I think that was one of the things that I jokingly say that no one would have started this company if they had a background in hardware, because no one's that stupid, or insane. But in kind of having that lack of knowledge about the space, it enabled us to think differently and be a little bit more aggressive in areas where others wouldn't have taken risks. You don't look at it the same way that people say no one in the search— the search space would have ever invented Google because the way that they went about, you know, doing that was just so antithetical to the way it was done. And when you don't know the rules, it's pretty easy to break them.

Noelle Tassey 12:57  
I love that especially you know, it's such a complicated piece of machinery and you— so I think you so rarely, at least in my experience, meet founders who don't have like a hardware background who started a company successfully. Run it for four years, building a product, being product-focused, and kind of developing that on the fly, which must have been kind of like the most exciting but I'd also imagine terrifying journey. What was like the hardest piece of the tech to get right? I mean, and I think that the test cycle thing is so interesting. That's, that's so unique. Like, you can't just grow lettuce overnight. But what was like the kind of most surprising challenge?

Andrew Shearer  13:35
Yeah. Once we hit a certain point, and it was pretty early on. Like, it was a, you know, a few technical people, but we didn't really have expertise on the team of hardware. And so when hearing, you know, and thinking about that question, what was the hardest part. I think it's getting the right team in place. And team and people are everything. And it's just the integration of everything together. Nothing on its own in our system is, you know, rocket science. But bringing it all together is plant science meets electrical engineering meets designed for manufacturing, design for assembly, supply chain. And the complexity of bringing that all together I think was, you know, some of the more difficult things. The automatic dosing system, both from a programming perspective and a design perspective in the way that we wanted to make a certain level of reliability and like automation, I think that was difficult. There are auto-dosers out there but not ones that are able to, you know, accomplish some of the things ours can. And so making sure that we were focusing on the right parts and then really diving deep into, you know, making that kind of our areas of unique intellectual property. But on the other side, you know, while the technology is important, the user experience is just as important. And you know, in— when you think about it long-term, like the tech will be table stakes, like the physical technology. And then it's about the software, the experience, the partnerships, the brand, the community that you build on top of that. That is really where you define, I think a lot of the value of the company. And that as you create this more and more valuable product and can scale it more and more, you're able to bring you know, increased efficiencies, add additional crops, make it available to more and more people and through that the actual revenue from the company funds expansion, which then is an efficient way of driving like impact on a large scale. So really thinking of, you know, a company as a tool to kind of see the change that you want to see in the world.

Noelle Tassey 15:52  
Yeah, and I love that. We're going to talk a little bit more about that later. What was the hardest crop? I'm just I'm really curious. I know you can actually grow like a really wide range of things, hydroponically, what was the hardest one to nail?

Andrew Shearer 16:05  
So hardest one to nail?

Noelle Tassey  16:12
The great white whale of hydroponic farming, if you will.

Andrew Shearer  16:15  
I would say— so we offer right now to B2B customers like leafy greens, edible flowers. And for the consumer unit, we'll be offering you know, all those leafy greens and herbs, edible flowers, tomatoes. But then you know, we've done some research on strawberries, and I think strawberries are kind of that white whale if you will. There's a couple options that then come up where like, are you growing it from like, just seed all the way to harvest? Or are you growing it from like a plant plug and kind of what most commercial growers do? And I think what gets so much more interesting is that there are incredible you know, plant genetics companies like— and breeding companies like Plant Science Corp out on the West Coast that have, you know, certain strawberry varietals that currently aren't available commercially where we eat four varietals. But as we're able to enable people to grow these crops and kind of solve that strawberries one, it's a crop that has so many pesticides. And so I think that's kind of the white whale that like, kind of the big challenge that a lot of people in the industry are trying to solve, and that we hope to offer someday.

Noelle Tassey  17:32
That's really cool. Strawberries are definitely one of those foods like you know, you have like a really good strawberry and it kind of redefines what a strawberry tastes like. Compared to I think what a lot of us grew up eating.

Andrew Shearer  17:43
The first strawberry that we grew, I remember it was like the middle of winter, an investor was coming in. It was like getting ready to like harvest and we're like, hey, we haven't tasted this yet so we're gonna have you taste it but you have to bite halfway through so we can see like a side profile. And just like to see like the joy on her face. Like it's snowing outside, you're eating a strawberry that's fresh, no pesticides, that tastes amazing, was so much fun.

Noelle Tassey  17:44
That's super cool. And, you know, I'd love to talk— so you were talking about kind of the— some of the social impact which we touched on and like control over what you eat as well as you know, everything from supply chain disruption to eliminating pesticides. It feels like there are so many different ways to change the world through food. What for you is the most exciting one for what you're doing and like the most, I guess, core to your day-to-day?

Andrew Shearer  18:09
I think the core to the day-to-day is like so much— so often our food is out of sight, out of mind. And we're looking for that connection. I would argue that it's something that's almost core to like the human experience. It's this desire to grow food, almost like— Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you know, this idea of a lot of people's dream is you know, live off the land, grow my own food. It's this connection that we're looking for that brings so much joy and sustenance into our lives. So I think that's a key one that we never want to lose that kind of that aha joy moment that we provide to so many customers, both in like a business setting and in a home setting. And then, with that, I think it's this idea that this technology really empowers an experience in certain things that otherwise would be impossible. So whether that's restaurants, you know, being able to have higher quality, more cost-effective crops or that same thing in the home, or long term, you know, being able to, you know, purchase say 10 Farm shelves and be growing 3000 heads of lettuce a month and selling that to actually provide a job for someone. Creating systems that enable people regardless of where they are to have cost-effective and enjoyable food by rethinking the kind of cost equation and logistics of our food for highly perishable and highly nutritious things. That gets me really excited.

Noelle Tassey  20:08  
Yeah, I mean, it really is like the imagination is— our mind is just like so excited by all of the ways that this could change the world. And so one of our kind of team favorites is a book that's on the Alley team bookshelf like three different times is the Omnivore's Dilemma. We love Michael Pollan. And he has the famous quote, of course, "eating is a political act." Which, you know, I would ask, do you agree or disagree? It feels like you probably agree. But what do you think, you know, I guess from your experience, like what's the most political aspect of what you're doing? So it is a little bit—

Andrew Shearer  20:46  
Yeah. When— the second you said that the thing that has come to mind in the past is like, eating is a communal act. In many ways, our politics are about like, how we govern and how— in what we believe, but it's really about our communities and, but, like the thing that like changed, mankind was going from hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society, literally coming together around food. To then looking at kind of where the few areas where, you know, what breaks down barriers more than anything else? Sharing a meal. You know, it's how people do business, it's how people, you know, solve conflicts, it's so crucial. And so by coming around, and, you know, not just consuming but growing food, it's really about focusing on the community and the people that— making sure that we can get as many people as we can and backgrounds at that table by making it available to more and more people and having open ears. And in some ways, just creating tools that enable people to realize their own ideas on that not being too prescriptive. Things that are political about indoor farming as a whole. There's a few things I'd go one is it's really sustainable. And then that gets into a much bigger question of what is really sustainability? Two this question about organic and three a question about like GMO. And then in some ways price point for kind of hydroponic crops as a whole. First one— is it sustainable? If you look at indoor farming, according to like Cornell and a study they did in 2015, it had like 2.3 times the footprint or something around there of crops grown in California verse in an indoor farm. LED improvements and improvements in climate control and kind of all these other aspects of the business now have a lot of the industry leaders saying that it's like 60% to 80% of the CO2 footprint in terms of, you know, decreasing carbon emissions, and that's only going to continue as LEDs get more efficient, and just overall systems get more efficient. But I think it's this other aspect of, you know, less water and really measuring that and being more transparent. Taking that bigger picture of what's actually going on. The problem with a lot of those kind of challenges is that you have to do it in a cost-effective way. And that kind of gets to point four, which is that, you know, indoor farm crops typically cost more, because they still have a lot of the same logistics challenge by growing it where it's consumed. That's how we kind of solve that problem. But as a whole with this industry, it's still pretty early on and so it just takes time to get to the point where it's really affordable to everyone. Not that this is affordable to everyone, but if you think about a Macintosh when it came out in the late 80s, or mid-80s by today's dollars, it was $6,000, a $6,000 computer, it's kind of crazy to think about. And, you know, now, you know, a MacBook is like 1000 bucks. And so when looking at kind of that comparison, looking at that, you know, technology adoption curve and how it comes— improves over time in not just the quality of the technology, but the cost. And then— it just gets me really excited in general. Organic, there's a big debate that kind of always goes on is hydroponics truly organic? And then these larger companies that want to control a certain definition of organic. So what a lot of indoor farming companies have decided to do is really talk about what is it like— it's what goes into our food. It's what's put on our food, there are organic pesticides and organic herbicides. And a lot of our food is dumped in bleach baths to be washed. These things are— fall under that great marketing definition, but really don't speak to the actual nature, which is why in many ways, locally-grown has grown so much faster than organic did because it makes so much more sense to consumers. It just kind of inherently— and then GMO. Some people say GMOs are fine. The New York Times had a great article about how there's actually no scientific evidence that like— (inaudible). And I think there's a big distinction between like, selectively breeding for like better-quality plants, absent of pesticides, and then there's the other path of like Monsanto, where they breed a crop that's hey, you have to use our pesticide and but this plant's like resistant to it. And that— they've been bucketed together and I don't think that's great. To the point where, you know, relatively liberal governments like the Swedish government have decided to declare that like CRISPR modified, you know, plants are not considered genetically modified even though it essentially is. So I think those are like the list of things that are controversial in this industry. But, you know, there should be controversy because if everyone agreed, then we're really not pushing the envelope and not saying that that means taking undue risk, but that it's challenging assumptions and asking the tough questions. Looking in the mirror and being like— we often say this thing is like, we're not here to play camp startup, like, tell us what we're doing, right, tell us what we're doing wrong. Because that's the only way that we're really going to drive impact, drive change. And, you know, we don't just want to like run around and be like, and do the media thing like we actually want to drive that change. And I think there's a lot of great companies in this industry that feel the same way.

Noelle Tassey  26:50  
Definitely. And that's something I think tech overall is moving towards. That's certainly something we talked about a lot at Alley is like, you know, how do you kind of sit at that intersection of like tech as a vehicle for you know economic growth and a capitalist sort of system, but then also using that system to make the world a better place in certain ways? And I think you know, the interesting thing about food is not only is it so universal and it touches so many aspects of our lives, but also, you know, so many major food movements have been kind of inherently countercultural. So it's pretty interesting. We were going to talk about urban farming, diversity, and inclusion and kind of your vision what you hope to see FarmShelf achieve in that space. And we had somebody write in with a question that was related to this. So they're asking: the cost of your home product is very high and outside budget for most people living in lower-middle-income communities, which I think is what you're touching on with the MacBook example. Have you thought about creating a less expensive product for instance, so that it would have an impact in food deserts and other at-need communities? I know that this is something you guys have thought about a lot. So I would just love to hear your thoughts.

Andrew Shearer  28:07  
Yeah. So with that, it's kind of starting with this low-volume premium where we have all the features, you know, there's so much effort not just put into how it functions, but how the aesthetics look— how the aesthetics are on the outside. That it's, you launched that premium model first, where you get to put in kind of all the most advanced technology that you currently have. And looking down the road as you scale manufacturing, you know, increase the amount of like kind of data that you have it enables you to then, you know, pull out certain features and make the manual that then long term make it accessible to kind of lower-middle-income groups, I think also around that, it's, as you increase kind of your overall scale you get to— if you— I think there's a right and wrong way to do this. Financing as an actual tool and part of your product for people of a certain income level, I think should be a way that companies start thinking about impactful products. So, you know, usually, it's, hey, I can get zero percent APR on, you know, a $2500 exercise bike if I have a credit score of "x". But what does it look like to try and rethink that of the financing cost something but having a more blended rate that makes it more available to kind of a lower income group? And providing if you make below a certain amount, a more flexible return policy or certain financing that's only available to kind of people of that income level because it does make a huge impact on kind of their financial situation. And so it's complicated in terms of how to get there and the tough part is that it does take time. And I think another part is, when people look at certain technology, especially in its early stage of the industry, there is absolutely an impact that it could have on people that have less means. I think one of the tough things that I think a lot of companies need to ask themselves, though, is like one: can I afford to do that for the business model? Where it then sacrifices the actual overall long-term impact that they can have. But two: is it ethical to take technology that's still in its infancy, and experimental and as a result has, you know, a slightly higher or sometimes drastically higher failure rate and put that into those communities where they might become more dependent on it and have less other options, and therefore take focus and funding away from say, other programs that would be in place of that for the time being? It's a tough question. There's no perfect answer, but it's one that we, you know, have a variety of thoughts on in terms of as we scale, what that looks like to really not just create a product and a version of it that can work well for low-income or food desert communities. But I think, be a company that does a better job of listening, and instead of saying, here's a solution, like, take it and use it the way we tell you. And more as like, hey, we want to work with you to create something that you're going to love. And we're not the experts on your community, on your food system, on the way to drive, you know, change to a healthier diet in your community. And I think that's important to look at when you're looking at new markets. Whether that's a different customer segments in the same country or internationally.

Noelle Tassey 31:58  
Yeah, for sure. And you know the— I would love it if we talked again in like five years and it turned out in your quest to democratize access to fresh produce, you also revolutionized like consumer lending, you know, to lower-income communities. Truly something that really needs to happen and lots of people have tried this without success. So kind of loved the idea of potentially backing into it. This is a pet issue of mine if you couldn't tell.

Andrew Shearer  32:28
It makes me think of things like food bank, and whether you could redefine that term.

Noelle Tassey  32:32
Yeah. That'd be great. That's really cool, I love that. I also, you know, I hope someday obviously, to be touring an apartment building in Manhattan and like walk into whatever the communal lounge area is and see a wall of these. I'd sign that lease. But, you know, we have a lot of questions about funding and your sort of journey to starting the company. Which I think also ties into what you're talking about— about which products you prioritize, who you sell to first? Like these are all linked to the challenges of scaling a business. So somebody asked, you know, how you got your initial funding, so you could give up your day job. And then, you know, also who helped you in the process of raising money? And what was that journey like? And you're, I mean, you're also a really interesting story because you've got a lot of high-profile angel investors.

Andrew Shearer  33:28
Yeah, so the finance— or the funding story is interesting. And like for everyone it— fundraising is tough. It's really tough. It's one of the things that I jokingly say I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy just because it's a very emotional process, at least for me and for many people. When you're basically building a category you have to educate so much and get so many nos. Prior to working at Pinterest, I worked at Twitter, pre-IPO and I didn't make a ton of money on the initial public offering, partially because I was 23 when I started working there, so not necessarily like the— and I think there were 1000 employees. So, had some savings from that, that I used to fund the company for the first— what was that, like six to eight months. And then after that we had gotten to a startup accelerator, and that was Urban X. I think, for example, now it's a— you get $150,000 from them for— I think it's like—don't quote me on this— 7% to 8%, or maybe 10? Pretty typical for a startup accelerator. And then we started fundraising. And our fundraising story is unique in that like, I knew that we were early enough on and having like, we had a prototype— a works-like and a looks-like prototype and an initial customer signed up to be our first ever public installation. But beyond that we didn't— you know, our team was four people. Me, a co-founder, and then an intern. And I was the oldest at 25 or 26 at that time when we started fundraising, from angel investors and kind of friends and family. And our first check actually came when I went to ask someone for advice, and then through that process of asking them for advice, they decided that they wanted to invest. And it was really just sharing like, here's what I'm seeing. here are the things I think that are gonna be challenges, here's what I'm worried about, and this is where I think we can go. And just being very open and honest, I think a lot of people you know, I have done sales before, but if you sell someone you know, ask for money, get advice, ask for advice, get money. It is something that I've heard numerous times, and that's actually been true for us. Because if you really let them in and show them like kind of the whole picture, they're able to then evaluate the risk evaluate where they think they can help where they can lead you and provide advice. And through that, you know, really decide is like is do I see this being successful? With those early conversations, I think, one piece of advice I have for people with asking money from angels and family and friends, is tell them how risky it is upfront. Don't hide that. That's the worst thing you can do. I multiple times will ask people if they've bought a lotto ticket before to get them in that frame— that mindset because so many startups fail and saying, I believe in this fully and I think this is gonna work like with all of my heart, but the numbers on that if you just look at the industry as a whole aren't great. So like, know that this is a risk. But that's why there's like that risk-reward return of like a 10x multiple and things like that. And at the end of the day, I think it's just like, you know, pounding the pavement, asking for advice. And showing like the passion and the obsession that you have for the industry. Like you need to know everything possible from what type of LED chips you're using in your unit and why that's important, to what the competitors are doing and what their methodology behind that is, to who you need to recruit next and why it's going to be difficult. And then what the industry looks like in you know, 3, 5, 7 years and educate, invite them into that story. Show them those challenges, and you'll get so much further. We're interesting in that we've raised over— a little over 8 million and don't have any large investors that are venture capitalists. Mainly real estate developers, Fortune 500 CEOs, celebrity chefs, appliance industry experts, sustainability kind of experts, from you know, places like Solar City. And so it's been unique in that way. We have pitched VCs and gotten pretty far with them. It's just never been the right fit for what we're doing at the time we were raising, which has been interesting. And in some ways, I think selecting your capital structure will select how fast you have to grow. And kind of what approach you need to take often. But— and it's hard to mix family offices or wealthy individuals and VCs, sometimes they don't— VCs don't like to be in rounds with family offices or individuals often they kind of want you to go one or the other. And so it's just— I don't know— that might be what some— that's some of the story on us fundraising. It was— It's a crazy journey and there's way too many stories of like, you know, so-and-so introduced me to this person, who introduced me to this person, then I flew over to like Scotland like met my third cousin's husband, who then introduced me to someone else, who then introduced me to another person and then that person was the one that invested like $300,000. Like you just gotta pound the pavement. Always be like, pitching and really inviting people into that story, having your information together, being obsessed and being able to keep the spirits high, because you're going to get more nos than yeses. Say about 75% if not more are going to be nos. And that's if you're really, really good. It's probably more going to be around like the 90% to 98% which is crazy to think about, but especially if you're building something that's like a new category. Where it's like what are you? Food tech, agriculture, halfway between an appliance and furniture. And they're just like, great so there's no equation to evaluate you on. Totally.

Noelle Tassey  40:12  
Yeah, awesome. Sign me up. You've— so you've got some super-famous investors that you've kind of alluded to and I know a lot of people have you know, tried your product. Who's like the most— what's the most exciting like, Oh my god, I can't believe like, you know, Barack Obama is like eating my kale or whatever. Like, who was like— what was the most exciting moment for you like that you know, somebody really famous had eaten something from FarmShelf?

Andrew Shearer  40:39
Hmm, famous...

Noelle Tassey 40:44  
Or not, it could just be like a personal hero.

Andrew Shearer  40:46  
Yeah. Jose Andres, you know, putting one in his home and just the way that he talks about it, and the way he talks about it, you know, and sees the future. He's one of our investors and has a FarmShelf in his home. He's actually the only other person besides me that has one in their home. And was tweeting at Chrissy Teigen the other week of like, you need to get one of these when she was tweeting out that she would trade some bread for some romaine lettuce. So that's been incredible. As well as just hearing feedback from like— I think Katie Couric called it the Garden of Eden and was like, okay, awesome. Guy Fieri, just talking about how excited— like how cool it was and sticking his head into a unit. Which was just funny. To— I think one of the most like shocking moments was really early on in the company. And it was just— our first ever public installation was in Grand Central Station. And with that you have to move in— and the number of hurdles that we had to go through to get approved, the number of people that had to like help us to like to install in that space to the special rubber feet that we had to put on the unit because the marble is a historically-protected landmark that Jackie Kennedy made sure happen, was just crazy the number of things. And then it comes down to the day of install, and you have to install the unit between 2 am— or 2:30 and like 5:30 when Grand Central is completely closed. There's bomb-sniffing dogs. you're rolling these units through the middle of Grand Central Station, and it's empty. And it just is one of those New York moments where you're just like, this is crazy. Like, there's a FarmShelf in the middle of Grand Central Station right now. There's no one here, hey we need to move it like 100 feet that way, but that's awesome. And then just seeing like the reception and like even like a kid walk up and literally hug the unit one day. I think those are the moments that really stick with me.

Noelle Tassey  42:51  
That's so cool. Where were they installed? I'm curious. Was that like the Great Eastern Food Hall area?

Andrew Shearer  42:56  
Great Northern Food Hall.

Noelle Tassey  42:58  
Great Northern, sorry.

Andrew Shearer 42:59  
Yeah, no

Noelle Tassey 43:01
I've been out of New York too long. I can't wait to go back. I think I actually saw— I think I actually saw them there because I was like, it looks really— it looks really familiar. That's super cool. So, you know, we're kind of in a really interesting moment as a society right now. Speaking of not being at home or being at home, outside of the city, unfortunately. And you know, so many people are getting really into cooking at home. You know, sourdough starter has been a hot topic of conversation on the Alley team. How do you see sort of COVID and the resulting trends, you know, potentially changing the way we think about food? And you know, it seems like it'd be a great opportunity for accelerating adoption of a product like FarmShelf.

Andrew Shearer  43:55  

Noelle Tassey 43:56  
And that shifting your product roadmap at all?

Andrew Shearer  43:58
Yeah, So we see this future where like, you know, this is as common if not more common than a microwave. But that's the future. And you know, waiting for every— like consumer trends to catch up to that is, you know, at that scale is going to be a few years, if not more than a few years. Events like COVID, and people starting to cook more at home, seeing how stressed our food system is, wanting to have more resilient, you know, kind of— and self-sustained lives has accelerated all those consumer trends where we saw pretty much overnight like already strong consumer demand quadruple. And we were working with only B2B clients, businesses, and schools. And had our you know— we're going to launch our home products at the end of 2021, early 2022. But with a lot of our existing clients being impacted and having a team that's now remote for the most part, deciding to pivot and accelerate the development of the consumer unit. Launch it for pre-order, and just get, you know, all 30 people on the company— or 30-plus people on the team just focused on that to make that possible. And so, you know, with that, you know, pivoting the entire business in a matter of weeks was quite the task it took the whole team but is in some ways a reaction to that— to this kind of opportunity. That is people's changing knowledge, appreciation, desire to know more about where their food comes from. And I mean, even looking back to February, a question I got asked when fundraising was like, are people really cooking at home that much? And now like when talking to investors via Zoom, never a question that comes up. And people see that like millennials now have you know, who were some of the people that went out the most as a percentage-wise now they're learning to cook from home, are kind of proud about that and don't want to lose that. And we see that continuing on post— you know, when kind of restaurants and all that return to more normal rules and when we're kind of past this from a social-distancing perspective.

Noelle Tassey  46:23  
Yeah, definitely. I mean, this has me rethinking my choice to live in an apartment where the kitchen is in the middle of the living room, and not like in an open-floor plan situation. It is just a classic New York "Why is the refrigerator basically in a closet?" So I'm trying to figure out where I'll put the FarmShelf I'm obviously going to order.

Andrew Shearer  46:42  
This one is small— this one is larger. This one's like 40 inches wide, 24 inches deep and like six and a half feet tall. The consumer is 36 inches wide. 20 inches deep, and like five foot nine tall.

Noelle Tassey 46:57  
Okay, perfect. So I'll just— I'm just gonna throw my bed.

Andrew Shearer 47:01  
It's like a chest of drawers or like a bookshelf. It's not that big.

Noelle Tassey  47:05  
That's awesome. I mean, I think this is so, so cool. We had a question. This is a fun question. I feel like we were talking earlier a little bit about how this product really gets people's imaginations going and really engages them. Somebody asked if you could partner with any celebrity, who you haven't partnered with who would it be and what would you do? You know, put it out there. You never know.

Andrew Shearer  47:31  
Yeah, no. Like, the two names that immediately came to mind are some people that are doing some really interesting things around food and access and gardening specifically. So, you know, like Oprah, Michelle Obama, and specifically Michelle Obama with some of her garden initiatives. And, you know, working with celebrities that want to help get this into, you know, schools I think, are an area where it makes sense to start because that education component is so critical. That— and in many ways has to be just as important as the technology and the user experience itself when introducing people to this.

Noelle Tassey 48:14
I love that. Michelle Obama is such a great— such a great answer to that question. I again, I really— I hope we're doing another one of these in a few years. And it's like, you're telling me the story about you know, Michelle Obama trying your kale.

Andrew Shearer 48:31  
Yeah, that would be awesome. And then it's like— I mean, like, there's so many chefs that are out there that I— Jose Andres, in many ways, is one of our like, celebrity crushes that we would have loved to work with. And it's awesome that we already get to work with him. And that as we, you know, look to the future other ways that we can work with him and World Central Kitchen and the awesome work he's doing there is something we're thinking about. And then— it's one of the things where you're just like, there's just so many ideas that you have and like, do you go with like a global superstar, like, you know, Cristiano Ronaldo or something like that? Someone who can then like, get this to a whole other group of like audience around like food health, you know athletics but also like something that people desire from like an aspirational perspective. And one of the cool things I think about food is that there's like— with an iPhone, you know, it's like, iPhone is a luxury product in many ways. And if you have an iPhone, and then like someone that you think should not be owning luxury products has an iPhone, it kind of de— like, devalues it slightly from a brand perspective and like a luxury perspective. But food and access to it, it's like okay, if you have like a fancy FarmShelf with like, kind of the design and all the features and then one that is you know, maybe more economical. It doesn't have the same you know scarcity of like, I don't want someone else to have— if I— if someone else has this I have like less of a luxury component. And food in general access to it doesn't have that same— you wouldn't be mad if everyone was eating like super nutritious, healthy produce that was grown without pesticides. You'd be like, that's awesome. And so it's cool to think about food a little differently in that way.

Noelle Tassey  50:25  
I love that and it's such a great lead into that question I want to close which is kind of about community. And like we— you touched on this a little bit about how food creates community and it's that kind of equalizer and something that you want to share with people and there's no, you know, there's maybe status associated with like dining out but in terms of access to actual produce, I think that's kind of universally considered a social good. You know, how much did the community element of your product you know, influence I guess the marketing of it and the growth? Because we also got a lot of questions about how you marketed the product. I know community is also a part of that. So if you could just speak to that a little bit, and then we're gonna close out with a fun question from the audience.

Andrew Shearer  51:14  
Sweet. In terms of community and marketing that I think really making our B2B clients partners and really trying to, you know, make them successful, you know, how do we use like the images that we collect with the cameras that are in the system and the time lapses to help them you know, drive more foot traffic or their marketing on social or even hearing from customers that had it up in like a very visible spot that people would literally just come in off the street walk in, like look at the FarmShelf and then look at the menu. Like that it's driving foot traffic and in that way, just like bringing people in, and with that, collecting email addresses, getting interest building an online community as well as, you know, hosting events in our office, kind of around the tech community and the indoor farming community. And just sharing that story, and I think as we go about with kind of continued growth— growth and marketing, it's about just sharing a very, you know, open and, you know, compassionate, empathetic and honest story and what we're trying to do and just, you know, not trying to put a ton of gloss on it in the way that you know, really just, here's what we're doing. It's awesome we think, if you disagree, that's totally okay and we want to hear from you still. But we're really, this is where we're headed. And we'd love to, you know, have you a part of that community and then from that with the product, creating ways that it, you know, whether it's you referring it to a friend or you sharing a recipe that if you like the product and share it that that in many ways is the best that we can hope for. And so how do we ensure that we're delivering the ultimate value so that that is the way that our marketing really kind of exponentially enables us to grow?

Noelle Tassey  53:14  
I love that. It's super, super cool. And we're gonna close out— this is a very random question from the audience. But I— you know, you got to love inviting people into your homes in these days. The question is whether there's a story behind the tennis racket on your wall.

Andrew Shearer  53:31  
Oh, that is my mom's tennis racket from high school. Or, yeah, from high school. It's a Jack Kramer racquet, it's an old wooden tennis racket and she played at Oregon State, and then taught me how to play tennis. She beat my dad on their first date. And yeah, so I just— tennis racket that my mom used in high school.

Noelle Tassey  53:55  
That is so cool. I love that. You can't really— you never know. There's always at least one completely random thing I learn during this panel. So that's really awesome. Andrew, it's been such a pleasure talking to you. It's such an exciting product, exciting space. I'm so excited to continue following your journey and thank you to all of our attendees for joining us on this Friday in quarantine. We'll have a recording of this up on the site tomorrow. Definitely join us next week for the future of VR/AR next Wednesday with 5G Labs and you know check out FarmShelf. Try to buy one if you can, whenever you can.

Andrew Shearer  54:35  
Pre-order. $100 refundable deposit. And thanks for having me, and love the stuff that you guys are doing at Alley. And yeah, we'd love to have you by the office when office visits are allowed. And same goes for a lot of the people on the chat that— Thanks, everyone.

Noelle Tassey  54:52
Awesome. Thanks, Andrew. Thanks, everyone. Take care.

Read Next