Urbsly Blog

Mar 09

Rebooting Urbsly

Last year, due to personal circumstances, I had to put my plans for Urbsly on hold. But I never gave up on the idea of making it much easier for people to grow their own food, and for gardeners to more easily discover the varieties that would grow best for them in their local conditions. In fact, the need for the sort of tools I had in mind has only become more urgent.

A few weeks ago, I was presented with an opportunity to restart the project using OpenFire, a new crowdfunding platform launching today at SxSW.

OpenFire has their own twist on crowdfunding: besides focusing on projects with a public benefit angle (such that backers can potentially be considered donors as well as customers), the idea is to support projects on an ongoing basis via a series of individually fundable goals, rather than one big bang.

Urbsly’s first crowdfunded goal is to complete the work I had started to build a data set of plant varieties, and then release it publicly as an open seed data catalog. Other goals will follow.

The target funding ($3000) for this first goal will be enough to compile information from a few trusted seed and plant sources, focusing initially on at least several hundred tomato varieties. If the goal’s target funding is exceeded, the additional funds will be used to expand the coverage to other popular plant types, such as cucumbers, basil, squashes, lettuce, melons, kale, sweet and hot peppers, etc.

Most importantly, though, is that the data will be released for anyone to use and build upon, including any other startups in the food and gardening space.

So, if, like me, you want to help build a food system that isn’t dominated by a few large agribiotech companies, please contribute to the campaign. ANY amount helps, as every contribution is a show of public support for banding together to keep food choices in the hands of farmers and gardeners.

Apr 22


Apr 14

“If you’re trying to enter into an existing market, not talking to customers is suicidal. If you’re trying to create something new, asking questions might get you blank stares. But at least you’ll see how people solve the problems you’re trying to address. They tell you what technologies you are trying to displace.” — Steve Blank

Apr 13


Apr 12

What is Urbsly?

In my previous post I gave a streamlined version of what I learned by talking to a few dozen gardeners: mainly, that the way I was thinking of the challenges facing gardeners was all wrong.

So, what problem eventually popped to the top of my list?

Figuring out what to plant is too hard.

There are a few potential ‘X for Y’ descriptions of what a solution might look like: Yelp for Plants, Ravelry for Gardens, Octopart for Seeds, or Goodreads for Gardeners.

In the end though, none of those seem quite right, and I am sure my current solution will continue to evolve as I iterate based on feedback from users, but right now I can say that I intend to build Urbsly into the easiest way to discover and share the vegetable, fruit, and herb varieties that will do well in your garden.

If that sounds like a good idea to you, here is something you can do right now to help: I am competing in the Lean Challenge 2012, along with 23 other contestants. Whoever gets the most votes (and makes the most progress on their idea) before April 25th, wins a bunch of useful resources, including mentorship and consulting services.

So, vote for me by tweeting the hashtag #leanvote2012-19Tweet #leanvote2012-19

And stay tuned for more progress reports.

Hello, World

Well, time to get this ball rolling.

Several months ago, I started working on a new startup called Urbsly. I had a big idea - that I could make it a lot easier and more fun to grow your own food, if only the available information was organized better and easier to find.

I had also been following the Lean Startup movement, and was eager to put those ideas into practice. So I did.

Over the past few months, I conducted a lot of user interviews, to figure out whether I had a problem worth solving

It turned out I didn’t… and yet I did. I learned the following lessons:

  1. The most experienced gardeners cared least about the problems I was trying to solve. They had already solved them. When I asked how, a typical answer was ‘trial and error’.
  2. Experienced gardeners still had problems, but there were very few commonalities - their remaining problems tended to be both hard and unique to them.
  3. Less experienced gardeners cared moderately about most of the problems I was proposing to tackle, but with few exceptions, not very strongly about any of them.
  4. One problem I was interested in turned out to actually be two related problems.
  5. When I split the problem in two and interviewed more people, one of them got a much stronger response, and it consistently got a strong response even if some other problem was more important to the interviewee.
  6. That issue about the most experienced gardeners not caring about any of the problems I wanted to tackle? It turns out that there is an interesting exception to that: If an experienced gardener moves to an area with a different climate, they suddenly care about many of the same issues that new gardeners do.

So, I now have a validated problem to concentrate on, and am testing paper prototypes of solutions to make sure I have good problem/solution fit.

Stay tuned!