With qualifications in physics, maths, and science history, along with post-graduate qualifications in software development and a Masters in Arts, you could say Paul Green has a varied and technical background! But after spending time at Telstra, Ericsson and various small digital / mobile device startups, he purchased a house with his wife that contained a rambling garden, and instead of clearing it to make way for a pool or deck, they decided to grow food.
This led to Paul founding The Garden Planner – an app that is like a personal trainer for gardening – helping people plant, grow and harvest their own food.thegardenplanner.net.au @GardenPlannerAu facebook instagram
Say it out loud to someone who doesn’t give a shit about you or your idea. On paper, on screen and on your own, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that your idea is awesome and you are a genius. Saying an idea out loud means that the idea can’t hide.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
I have developed a ‘personal trainer’ for Australian veggie gardeners, and a community that goes with it. The app is about getting people out into their garden and observing what works and what doesn’t work. It takes the data management capabilities of IT and gives people information for them to make decisions. Just like a personal trainer will push you for that extra lap, or push-up, you still have to do the work!
My decision to make my idea happen was based upon one of Karl Marx’s insights: Who controls the means of production has more power in an economic system. My idea is to give knowledge to people to control their means of food production. They learn by doing.
Please explain your business model
The Garden Planner app costs $3.79 for the basic version which gives a time-based view of the garden, and there is a three, six or 12 monthly subscription to access the space/crop rotation/diary functionality of the app.
We also have the ability to advertise within a Google Maps instance in the app and offer that to garden stores. You’ve got to get your fertiliser from someplace!
Our most valuable asset are the people who use the app.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
The apps business is a harsh mix of retail and media. That means we need to get volume of sales, especially because of the strong downward pressure on price in the app stores. And that means we are working with our build partners at BlissMedia on a version for US veggie growers.
How do you make ideas happen?
Nearly all my ideas are derived from need (“I wish I had a tool to do this”) or by combining two or more tools from different disciplines to create something that is hopefully more than the sum of its parts. There isn’t anything new, just a whole bunch of existing things pulled together. The Garden Planner is a gardening book, a diary, a time management tool, a weather app and a social map – all of which have been around for a while in some form, it’s just that I have pulled them all together in a digital environment.
In terms of actually getting an idea and making it real, there are a couple of steps that work for me.
- Say it out loud to someone who doesn’t give a shit about you or your idea. On paper, on screen and on your own, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that your idea is awesome and you are a genius. Saying an idea out loud means that the idea can’t hide.
- Start work and build a cheap prototype on paper and repeat step 1). Change as appropriate. Compromise, edit, throw away, and test that the development of the idea meets the philosophy of the idea. If new elements that are introduced don’t meet the philosophy developed in Step 1, check that you really need it
- Measurement is important. Again, this is about not fooling yourself. Build into the idea a super easy way for your customers to contact you so that you can get opinion and facts.
- I have a few mentors in different businesses, old wiser heads than mine who cut through to the core of what I really want the business to do and who call bullshit whenever I start waffling. They also have a sense of history. I’ve mentored uni students who have ideas that are already out there, but because they have no sense of history of digital, they think it is new.
- There is nothing new in and of itself, just a smarter, faster way of doing it.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m at home looking after primary school age children so there’s the chaos of the morning – lunches, drop offs. Then I’ll check my sales/downloads and other important stats. There will be emails from customers with questions about why a plant isn’t growing or sometimes bugs (both types). It is very important that I get back and respond as quick as I can. I love this part because I talk to gardeners and learn something or teach something about gardening.
Then I’ll check out whether the chooks have laid any eggs and do a lap of the veggie patch and trees and put any observations into the app (I use my own product everyday). This also means I can plan for dinner.
Then it’s gathering data for the next version of the product, sending planting algorthims to developers based upon what I’ve just gone and seen in the garden, specifying, testing marketing ideas, cold calling businesses in the gardening industry to see if they are interested in promotion ideas, and selling the app.
Then there is promoting the app and subscription to existing users, cold calling, talking to Leena (my wife) about what all the numbers actually mean. Cold calling isn’t something that I’m not naturally good at, but this app won’t sell itself.
I teach chess as a sideline to school kids.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
I have a great product, and I say that because we have solid subscription and re-subscription rates. People come back for more. It is about marketing and getting more people to know about the app.
Partnering up with other similar gardening businesses can be difficult. There can be benefits from working with other small businesses, but established business that don’t have a solid understanding of digital can be difficult to convince to partner up. For every 30 conversations I have, maybe one will result in something. And you can usually tell in the first 20 seconds whether you will get a result.
These aren’t unique to Australia. What is an issue is simply size of market. An app and knowledge sharing business like The Garden Planner needs to demonstrate to it’s customers that it know what it is talking about, and that means local knowledge.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
A transmedia property called “The Comfortable Vegetarian”. A cross between the tasty comfort food of “Two Fat Ladies” with the social-good qualities of a vegetarian diet. It could be a TV show, website, recipes, gardening tips.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
WormLovers – Food waste is a significant issue. I run chooks so they turn most of my family’s waste food into poo or eggs, but worms are important recyclers.
Milkwood – Passionate permaculturalists who run veggie gardening courses and organise speakers for tours on important food issues.
What about internationally?
Ron Finley – a guy in LA who has just gone out and started planting vegetable gardens in disused land so that people in poorer communities eat nutritious food.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Large corporations are the beneficiaries of most of the economic activity in Australia. They do not care about social factors or if they do it is the PR department and they are derided through the rest of the organisation for not contributing to the bottom line and so have little power to affect change internally. An ASX listed company is far more concerned about what the shareholders think than affecting social change.
And yet there is clearly a feeling in Australian society that this sort of attitude isn’t helpful. Smaller businesses need to come together to create and support environments where society is the beneficiary.
Do good, make a profit.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
App Annie – metrics for all the app stores in all the market. Good for researching what’s working and what’s not
Around The Mulberry Tree blog >> great blog from an Australian veggie grower
Abundant Layers >> where I get my chooks from
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
@stilgherrian >> I like his avian posts and his critical view of Silicon Valley Exceptionalism.
@baagcommunity >> Bulleen Art and Garden. It is were I go for gardening and growing inspiration
@Connect2Garden – a community of gardeners in Sydney
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
We are always looking to share promotion opportunities with other companies in our food growing/sustainability/healthy eating sphere. We also are happy to talk with people about how their business is going, and what marketing activities have worked for them. We are basically looking to swap knowledge because it can easy to get stuck or feel like the numbers you are seeing are terrible or great. Getting context is important, and can often be the source of new ideas.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
I’ll show you mine* if you show me yours? *sales figures
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
I grow a lot of my own food, so Casa del Green. I make the healthy food