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Aja is the co-founder and CEO of Trella Technologies, an organization that provides technical, innovative solutions to make indoor and urban farming a sustainable, long-lasting industry.
We cover a lot of exciting topics including:
– Value and advantage of indoor growing
– The journey from risk management to founder
– Economic and sustainability impact of horizontal farming
– Doing good for the community as an individual and a leader
Check out Trella Technologies at https://trella.io
Investor link: https://wefunder.com/trella.technologies.llc
Connect with Aja at her website here: https://www.ajaatwood.com/
Thank you Aja for a really dynamic and enjoyable conversation!
Transcript powered by HappyScribe
Hello, friends, and welcome back to the show. This is Eric Wright. The host of your DiscoPosse podcast. Super excited because we’ve got a great episode ahead for you with Aja Atwood. She is the co-founder of Trella Technologies, something that’s really making an impact on the ability to do horizontal plant management for indoor growing. Why is this awesome? You’re going to find out. So listen to the whole show. Oh, and if you wanted to watch as well as listen, you can head on over to YouTube.com/discopossepodcast. We are now broadcasting both audio and video for every episode. So go check it out. Make sure you hit subscribe and like and all those good YouTube-y things you’re supposed to do. And if I could. I could ask you one more thing. This podcast is made possible by number one, all of you the amazing folks that listen and watch and bring these amazing stories to the world, but also to the sponsors that helped me to keep the show on the air and help to make sure that we’ve got a real good ability to drive these fantastic conversations and get them amplified. And I got to start. Of course, with my good and long-time friends over at Veeam Software. I’ve been a fan of Veem for years. They’ve been great support to both the podcast as well as my own personal blog. It’s been something that I respect what they do, love the technology, love the team, love the mission they’re on. And if you got stuff that’s digital, it needs to be protected. Whether it’s cloud, whether it’s on premises, whether it’s physical servers, whether it’s cloud native, even SAaS stuff like Microsoft Teams and Office 365. It’s all vulnerable and at risk. De-risk your world. Go over to Vee.Am/discoposse. Check it out and you can see how you can make your world all kinds of Veeam-tastic. Please do go check it out again. It’s Vee.Am/discoposse. Another great supporter of the show is speaking of protection, how we’re protecting your data in flight by giving yourself a VPN. This is really important because I travel a bunch, and it’s especially important because then I’m at risk with all these sketchy WiFi all over the place. So I use ExpressVPN, and I highly recommend you should do the same. And if you want to, it’s easy to do! Go to tryexpressvpn.com/discoposse. Let them know old Disco sent you their way. Oh, right. And if you want to get your coffee, go to Diabolicalcoffee.com. That’s not really a sponsor. I own the company. But it’s really flipping great coffee. So go check it out. All right. This is Aja Atwood from Trella on the DiscoPosse podcast.
I’m Aja Atwood, CEO and co-founder of Trella. And you are listening to the DiscoPosse podcast.
All right. Now I know we’re in business. That’s like my go-signal, right. Once I hear that phrase, I’d say the microphones are on, the on-air light gets turned on, and life is good. So Aja, thank you very much. I’m so glad we got a chance to chat. Because your personal story, your business story, and everything you’re working on is just enthralling from every angle. So being able to spend time and exploring some of that with you is something I’ve been really looking forward to. For folks that are new to you and new to Trella, if you don’t mind, Aja, let’s give a quick sort of bio on you and the company. And then we’re going to dive into what I’m excited about and what the world should be excited about with what you’re doing.
Excellent. Thank you. Well, thank you for having me, Eric, getting a chance to share the story with your listeners. I’m Aja Atwood living in New England in the Massachusetts area right now. Kind of been on the East Coast most of my life, done a lot of world traveling back into the corporate space right out of college with Northeastern. And after College, started working in something called risk engineering, property risk engineering. And basically what that is is engineers that go around and assess how bad will it be if there’s a fire or some sort of natural catastrophe, explosion, et cetera. And then what can you do to try to mitigate that with technology, different construction protocols, building codes, et cetera. So I did that for a very long time, for about 15 years. But while I was doing that, I was always dabbling on the side with a little project here and there. Maybe when I was 29 or 30 years old, I got that. I think I need to be on my own and create something on my own and be an entrepreneur but wasn’t really ready to make that full-fledged leap right away. So I got into day trading and came up actually with solution to automate identifying Fibonacci levels.
And that was something small, not very big, but had some cash flow coming in, and it was a great learning experience. And then after that, I moved. I took a really good break and started just working on my leadership skills, management skills, got a coach just to really figure out what do I really want to do? And if I want to do something big, I’m going to need to figure out how to lead people, how to manage people. So I started working on some of that stuff to get myself prepared. And then also on the side, I always played sports and what they would call a weekend warrior. You graduate from college and you still want to play all the sports that you used to play in high school and College, and you’re playing them on the weekend. So I got into playing flag football, and then that morphed into playing on a woman’s professional football team where we were at full pads, full helmet, and you’re doing that just because you love it. There’s not like a great physical therapy or a trainer afterwards to mend you up after you hurt yourself. So a lot of what we were doing was self-medicating ourselves and some of us are doing it with cannabis.
And this is before, you know, I’m giving myself away. But this was before it was legal, which, you know, a lot of us did. But as the industry, especially in Massachusetts, started to develop, legalization was on the rise more. And I lived in a state where we were luckily able to get our medical card and home grow. So I had the ability to really dig into it and learn more about the plant, get a lot of education and learn how to grow myself. So I got into growing on my own, got into growing other types of other food, then got into a start up that was focused on the AGtech space. That was my first entry into what I would say AGtech, where we were developing a system that would grow one plant inside of a container, inside of a home. You may have seen competitors like that out there. There are solutions out there for that already, but we were working on something similar. And decided that I wanted to do my own thing, something a little bit more unique and just different, and took a break from that startup to give my brain a chance to soak everything in and figure out what I wanted to do.
And voila, we got into Trella Technologies. So I’m now CEO and co-founder of Trella. My co-founder and I are both engineers. We met at Northeastern University and I came to him when I said, hey, I’m having a problem with my own grow in my basement. I travel a lot for work. I was still working my corporate gig at the time, so I was out of pocket and away from home. Sometimes for a full week, maybe every other week it was getting that intense. So trying to grow plants, even if you grow them outside, grow them inside, they require maintenance, they require some sort of upkeep. And especially when you’re inside, you have to manage your lights, manage your nutrients, and a lot of that stuff can be automated. I know you may have had other guests on that talk about indoor farming technology. There’s lots of stuff out there. Thing I couldn’t figure out was how do I control, how tall the plants grow? They’re growing out of control. I’m away. They’re growing into the lights. Getting too close to the lights is too hot, so they start to burn. How can I create a situation where I’m controlling all of the solar when I’m not there?
So I got together with my co-founder, Dre, and we started working on a solution and that’s what we have here today is TrellaGro LST. It’s the only automated plant training system. We say it’s the automated horizontal plant training system because what it essentially does is it grows a plant from sideways – from one side to another, keeping it at a predetermined height so that you can keep them in really tight, short spaces, specifically stacked farming situations and container farms or just in your grow closet. So it’s all about trying to grow whatever you want to grow wherever you want to grow it. Because we need that option, especially as the climate is changing. So that’s a little bit of my history, a little bit about me. I’ll stop talking.
No, it’s fantastic. And it’s such a perfect sort of top quick view of your progression. And the concept of vertical farming is something that people often hear about is the idea that we could move into instead of field farming, traditional field farming. And then ultimately the impact there is that you have to have certain years of fallow. There’s a lot there’s things you have to do, the environmental impact of doing that ends with crop types. There’s a whole host of reasons why there’s challenges there. And so folks think, what can we do indoors? And that’s fine as long as your plants don’t grow up and down, which unfortunately, most plants do. So the fact that you went at it, first of all, you had a personal problem that you could solve this challenge. Right. And then from there, there’s really kind of industrial level of capability that’s empowered now because of that and the fact that you use technology to solve this patented at that. Right. So there’s so much of this story that’s incredible to a lot of people because you’ve done so much. Right that I don’t even know if you knew you were doing it right all the way through. Like.
What? Thank you very much, Eric.
It’s amazing because in hindsight, we look back on people generally to understand the patenting and intellectual property protection, especially mechanical design stuff, is super important. Having the foresight, though, the one thing I want to pick, I want to dig deep into Trella, the gashville technology. But you said something was very important to me. You think about getting into a startup and the first thing you did was you chose to find a coach so that you could be a good leader. I wish everybody would do this. You really had the foresight that you knew that what you needed to do to be successful, to build a team was to make sure you were ready for that. And that is such a beautiful part of the story that you really saw that need early. And I can bet as anybody that works with you would attest that you did the right thing in making sure that that was front and center before you went to just throw a company in front of it.
Yeah. Looking back on it, it was kind of an organic progression to make that decision to do it. I was just trying to really figure out what do I want to do in life and working with someone already. So I was already in that kind of mindset of you need help to get resources to help you with things. My coach at the time would say to me all the time, you really could be a leader. And she would hear me from time to time say something spot out of belief, like, oh, it’s too difficult to manage people. I don’t really don’t want to have to deal with people’s problems because that’s kind of how I saw the position. I saw my manager, that was really how he came across. He was just solving problems all day, which is what you do. But I think when you understand that you’re not solving problems, you’re actually assisting your team so that they’re enabling them so that they can do what they really need to do, it’s a different perspective. But I had to learn that through coaching, through reading books and taking courses, being honest with myself about my weaknesses, still working on it not perfect. But one of the things that I think really sealed it for me that I needed to do it this way was my own experiences of working with leaders who unfortunately had a negative impact on my work life and some of the work-life of my peers when I was working. People I was working with and working beside. And I said that someone said something, I can’t remember where I heard this but your boss, quote-unquote, or manager has the biggest impact. You have the biggest impact on someone’s day because they spend a lot of time with you. You can say something or do something that really throws their whole and they take that home to their family and it affects the community. So it’s a very important role when you’re leading a team and you’re in charge of morale and just the culture and the mission, and there’s a lot of emotional IQ, I think, required for it. So I needed to step up my game, and I’m still working on it. But, yeah, I just thought if I’m going to do it and I don’t want to be what I’ve already seen, I’m going to have to figure out my way of doing it so that I’m happy with the community and the culture that I’ve created.
Yeah. It’s such a beautiful sort of empathetic understanding that you had early that more founders really could tap into is that even before they know they’re ready for it, sometimes just being able to start to recognize and look at like, yeah, like you said, everything’s a work in progress. There’s probably plenty of relationship counselors who are divorced. There are plenty of psychologists and psychotherapists who are seeing therapists because they have their own. No one is perfect in any way. It’s always about revisiting and rechecking and the fact that I had a huge respect, just even in the fact that you can open up about that piece of your life and the importance to you and not just to you, but to the community that’s wrapped around you. And I think that’s really cool. You could give coaching classes to many people I know on that capability. When you look at the initial problem, right, so obviously farming is a challenge, especially when you get into small space utilization. When you first thought you had a very distinct small space, you had to solve a problem for, did you recognize early that this was a scalable solution?
Yes, we did recognize it early because luckily an angel investor whose name I cannot recall, unfortunately. But if I see him again, I will definitely thank him. Profusely said to me, before you get all willynilly with this inventory, that’s the word he used. You need to make sure that there’s a market for it. So I spent maybe about six weeks just researching, research and researching indoor farming, modern farming. And that’s when I found, oh, this would be perfect to be placed in racks for vertical farming situations. I’m seeing a lot of microgreens, a lot of lettuce, short, tight things. I’m not seeing a lot of diversity in the racks. And we need a variety of plants. They all have different benefits, different things they provide to us from a health perspective, from a healing perspective, fruit is important. So we need to get those types of things inside as well and be able to stack them and make the most out of the vertical height that a building might have. So Luckily, thankfully, that angel investor said something and we went and did some research and found, wow no, this is huge. This isn’t just a cool toy for a cannabis home grower, it’s that too.
I’m not saying that it’s not just fun to have because it is like we enjoy having it. But it also has a greater purpose of trying to figure out how can we get taller plants indoors and stack them without driving ourselves and saying we’re trying to manage all of those plants on all those levels, these different configurations.
Yeah, I guess maybe it’s funny even just the way you describe this is so fantastic to listen to because it probably comes from your risk background. You’re way ahead of thought evaluation before execution. Which means that your execution inevitably is weighted strongly in the positive because you’ve kind of weighed a lot of risk in a lot of your decision-making leading up to it. Again, it’s kind of upside, not upside down. It’s non-traditional to how a lot of people are. Like, I’ve got an idea, I’m going to get some money and then I’m going to see if it works. You put far more effective risk planning towards it so that when you hit the true start line, I would believe that it should lead to like, now all the positive growth can come because you’ve weighed so much the negative and you’re prepared I think for the risk more so than a lot of people would be.
It’s a positive, but it’s also having that risk engineering brain, it’s a curse and a blessing. Because I’m constantly evaluating what are the risks, what are the pros, what could go wrong? How can I mitigate it? And sometimes some people would say from outside looking in may have delayed our growth and how fast we can move, but we’re still making progress and we’re still progressing. So I’m happy with that. And I’m not going to put speed on the list. I’d rather stay where my comfort zone is and be thoughtful and plan ahead and do things the right way. So, yeah, a lot of thinking about the patent. My co-founder, Andre Chamaro, we call him Dre. He’s a brilliant individual. We work really well together. He’s able to find solutions, and we brainstorm really well together. He’s been incredible. But he also brought to the table that patent experience. He’s very heavy in patents, has a lot of I think he’s over 30 patents, either pending or already issued. So he has that mentality, too. So we’re very both of us are kind of like introvert, over analyzed, maybe sometimes to an extent. So now what we’ve done is we’ve decided, especially in the last, I would say mid 2020 moving forward, it’s time to supplement those are skill set with the other side of people that can do and that can see our vision and do the communication and help push us so that we get to the point where we want to be, which is eventually acquired or to a global distributor.
Yes. And this is the understanding and the acknowledgement that risk awareness is being beautiful in that it prepares you well for stuff. But it’s very easy to get sort of, like, locked in and never proceed with stuff because it’s like the over awareness of their risk profile. It’s tough to escape sometimes. And it’s easier to talk yourself out of things because you see the inherent risks. And there’s this really interesting thing that a lot of founders often are, like, completely blind to risk. They’re like, risk is not my problem. My problem is getting this idea to the market. Someone else will take on the risk portion. You’re like, I think you need to have some understanding of it. But I worked at a financial services company, and we would go, we’re just going to do, like, a scavenger Hunt for, like, a team building thing. And we get there. And one of the people that was with us for the scavenger Hunt was our chief counsel. And so she’s there like, redlining the waiver. Like, no, we can’t do this. I need you to sign that you’re agreeing that you’re waving your waiver for us. And I’m like, it’s okay.
We’re going to look for cupcakes in downtown Vancouver. This is not exactly we’re not going driving.
Yeah. That’ll mess up the vibe of it a little bit. But, yeah, some people will say because we’re at risk averse, we just, I think, try to identify and understand it and figure out how can we just like I did in my old professional lifestyle, let’s see what we can do to avoid that as best as possible, but still try to move forward.
Yeah. That concept, as the saying goes. Right. That plans are useless, but planning is essential. Right. It’s the fact that you’re preparing so that you won’t be caught off guard. Right. You’re willing to do something. Playing football, if we looked at some of the data now and some of the historical stuff on entry risk, you’d think that they would just pull the game off of the map altogether. But we don’t. We understand there are risks attached to it, but the benefits that we achieve are significant. Right. Everything from physical to commercial, there’s a lot of benefit to it all. So everything comes with risk, and it’s a matter of understanding and mitigating that risk and then succeeding into it, really, and making it worthwhile to take those risks. I think that’s the biggest piece.
Let’s talk about the physical. What’s in the life of a plant as it gets into the Trella LST and like, what does this process look like? Sorry, I’m Canadian, so I say process instead of process. What is that early life of a plant as it grows into the system?
Basically, you can put any type of we call fruit-bearing plants. So that could be Cannabis hemp, but it could also be melons, tomatoes, et cetera. So you’re going to want to put in a fruit-bearing plant. So in the case of a cannabis plant, it would be what’s called a feminized plant. So something that’s definitely going to give you the flower, not give you seeds. And the male plant gives out the seeds. So you would put whatever you choose in Trella. When the plant is roughly between six inches and twelve inches tall and you can see behind me a little bit of the device, there’s a screen ring that’s sitting up here on top. There’s an opening. You can see my hand going through there.
So the plant will grow up towards and through the screen ring to the lights that are currently off so that you can actually see it because they’re blinding when I turn them on. The top of the plant will come through here. And there are a group of sensors that are sensing what’s going on. Is the plant getting too tall and if so, I need to move down the road, down this pathway. So in this case, we’re going past me, past my side shoulder. It will be growing in that direction. Grow for a length of 6ft, this is our model six. We have another model that’s called a model four that only grows 4ft in length. But basically what it does is it’s tracking how much growth is happening, moving sideways accordingly. And then there’s this agricultural netting that holds all of the foliage in so that the leaves and the branches don’t pop out and get in the way. And then we also have a series of fans, which you can’t see from this shop. But there are some fans that blow air under the plant as it grows down that pathway, so that we’re making sure that since we’re holding the plant in a contained space, we want to make sure that we have lots of air movement to avoid microclimates. Microclimates can lead to bacteria and mold. So we’ve handled that with ventilation. And we also have sensors that are sensing temperature, the humidity and the CO2. We’re going to add some additional things onto that. We’re talking to a couple of different companies that might help us take this to the next level. Take our current app to the next level. But that’s what it does. It tracks growth rate as it grows from one side to another, gives you some data and some information with the TrellaGro LST app. And then once the plant has grown all the way to the side, and that happens during what’s called the vegetation stage. So if you grow tomatoes or grow anything, there’s a period where the plant is just building its structure. It’s just growing the branches and growing the leaves. And then when the season changes, it starts to flower, it starts to fruit. So this automation process is happening during the vegetation process. When the plant is growing its structure. We want that structure to be molded as we grow that plant. And then when it’s time for flowering, you can take this comes out of the way.
You take off the top mesh panel, and the whole thing is open and exposed to the lights above. So the branches stretch up towards the light, and then they start to flower. And we have some other types of trellis netting that you don’t see in the shot that help it. When they start to flower, they get kind of like floppy, so you want to hold those up. So we have another level of trellis netting that goes over the top to help with that. But the bulk of the work is done during the vegetation stage. Once it’s time for flowering, the structure is there, it’s all contained. And now you just have to go through that stretch period, and then you’re ready for harvest. And you can take the whole plant out in whole. We have a really great picture of me holding a plant that came out of our model six, the larger unit, and I’m holding it over my head. That’s one full plant, all intact that I just chopped off at the base and pulled out of the unit. Or you could do it. You could harvest it in pieces if you want to, just take a little bit, depending on your needs.
But that’s basically what it does in a nutshell.
It’s amazing because the amount of technologies that come into play and the amount of understanding of nature is such an interesting merger, like just understanding plant life cycle when growth occurs. So there’s that side of it. And then also the sensors and being able to measure and then create feedback and automation that’s wrapped around it. There’s a lot of moving parts.
Yeah, there are a lot of moving parts. The development of the software. And we did this with Bootstrapping, the two co-founders. And then we did raise some money. But all for less than $600,000. We’ve gotten to this point where we’ve been able to get a patented product, but it did include software that had to be developed. We had to figure out how are we going to control the automation. Luckily, I brought the software experience to an extent when I was doing some coding with the trading software that I developed. And then Drake brought to the table his expertise from his medical devices and robotics. So figuring out how to control movement. And then we took a lot of courses and a lot of learning on plant life. And I always say people who dig a little deeper that really I’m not a horticulturalist by trade. I’m an engineer. And this idea kind of came to me suddenly. And even the vision of the device, I have notebooks where I was writing down, sketching out what it should look like, how it should work, and that just came to me. And I used George Washington Carver as my muse.
He basically learned a lot through just picking it up from nature, walking in nature talk. He literally would talk to the plants, and he’s just able to kind of pick these things up. So I always say, thank you, George. I like to believe that you planted this idea in my head so that I could see it through. So that’s how we got all this done on multiple dimensions. We needed help.
Yeah. But again, it’s like you look at, especially when you mentioned where you are as far as investments at this point. Like, some people couldn’t write a bloody app. You just a goofy mobile app that would play like Flappy bird for the price that you’re like. You’ve done a lot of real good groundwork that with every further detail I learned about you, my respect grows incredibly. You and Dre are really doing some great stuff with this.
And that’s what I also you can see that this is the beginning of something wonderful. When you think about now the secondary impact, there’s the initial thing of, like, we can solve this very distinct problem here and scale what sort of the size of market that you may be looking at and where this can be applied?
Yeah. We need food everywhere. We start with our global market from that perspective. But because of the risk engineering background as well, and specifically, I specialize in natural disasters. So I spent a lot of time evaluating damage from Hurricanes, floods, hail, snow loading. We just got hammered up here in the Northeast in the US. And unfortunately, one of our grow friends, I call them we’re all a family, people that grow and share ideas and things together. Their hoop house collapsed underweight. So I’m looking at it from a perspective of, okay, we need to grow food everywhere. We are having significant changes in our climate. It’s going to have to be grown indoors, but it might also have to be grown in transit. We may need to figure out ways to grow food while we move it. I mean, one of the most expensive parts of our food supply chain is the transport. They grow it somewhere and they transport it somewhere, maybe to store it if it can last for a season. And then they transport it somewhere else. So to be able to maybe grow and transport would be one way to dig into that issue.
You have situations where people are thinking about growing, leaving this planet and going to Mars and developing populations and industries there. You’re going to need food there. You’re going to need food while you’re transporting all that stuff there. So we’re looking at this being used not just in a warehouse on Iraq, but maybe being used in a freight container that’s on right on a railway system, maybe being used in a NASA shuttle or some other type of device that transports people from Earth to the universe somewhere. But it has lots of opportunity, lots of potential. One of the other things that we would love to explore is how if we can reduce the power consumption needed to grow plants. So we’re also working with LED companies and try and testing out different types of LED systems. What we want to do and people can. I’ll give out the information later and you can check this out to learn more. But we want to sink the lights to go on as the plant grows across this plane. So right now I’ve got a series of lights, LED lights over my plant. If you can, use your imagination a little bit and imagine a plant going from left to right.
For those of you that aren’t looking at this on a video, you’re going from left to right growing a plant for a six foot distance. And you may have eight different lights, eight or twelve different LED lights hanging over that area. It only makes sense to turn on the lights where the plant actually is at that point. So at week one, the plant may have only grown 1ft in distance. So you only turn on one or two LED bars. When it’s grown to 3ft in distance, then maybe you turn on four LED bars. But it’s about trying to develop the canopy and you’re only using the light when you really have to. And that can take down our power consumption, and then that really allows us to be able to grow anywhere, because now we’re not relying on infrastructure so much. So I think Twilight has a role to not just diversify the types of plants we can grow indoors, but to get that power consumption down as best we can so that we can put these enclosed containers that don’t require solar panels, don’t require a substantial 200 power supply.
Yeah, the lighting is interesting. I actually wanted to dig into this because, of course, sun being the nature’s lights that generates growth through chemical processes, photosynthesis. But there’s a lot of things that why internally, as we’ve made the move from incandescence to LEDs and fluorescence and different types, how have you been able to have LED have the same effect that nature’s sun has been able to give to Earth for so long?
Yeah, well, you know, they always say there’s nothing like a sungrown plant. I got to stand by that. I can’t say that it’s 100% exactly the same, but I also think that there’s something to do with soil and all the different minerals and nutrients that soil provide versus when you bring it indoors, you’re using kind of manufactured nutrients that don’t have a robust variety of nutrients that soil might have. So I think that’s kind of where the taste and the quality changes might take place. The LED light in the LED industry has come a really long way over the last five to ten years. When they first came out, no one wanted to touch them, especially in the cannabis space. People really just made fun of them. They called them blurpos because they would be like red and purple and stuff. And you still have blurpos out there. We started with Blurples, so no shame or shading that. But there’s Fluent Bioengineering and a couple of other LED companies have really taken it to the next level. They’re a little pricier. That upfront costs out of pocket will be a little bit of a difference, but the operating costs are substantially less.
And at the end of the day, the power consumption through that light fixture is so much less and it doesn’t give off a lot of heat. So all of these LEDs bring so many pros that kind of outweigh the fact that it’s not the sun. But I think we can do better. I think we can get a lot better at that and even try to find ways to utilize the sun indoors. There are people that are doing that, too. I can only remember it by describing it. They’re like skylights that are focused, coming through a ceiling and focusing and kind of what’s the word I want to use? Maximizing the light intensity in one space with the sun, and it’s coming through, coming through a building like a large magnifying glass of some sort. So there are people doing all types of stuff out there with LEDs and if we can use more Sun, I’m into discovering those options as well.
Yeah. But when you talk about the idea of in transit off planet, if we can get the technology right, that really enables a different future of potential. And even though we get these funny things that come every once in a while, like nature’s, fruit is always going to be the tastiest, as you say. Right. In the same way that every once in a while you see sort of an article come out for, like, astronomers are complaining about all these bloody satellites in the sky. They’re wrecking the starscape because every time I try and take a long exposure shot, I get all these swipes because of the space garbage, low Earth orbit satellites and like, you know, the social media tool that you’re sharing from your cell phone of those pictures. Yeah. That’s empowered by the fact that you’ve got these low Earth orbit satellites and CubeSats. And it’s weird that we’re going to have to shed a bit of maybe the pureness of the traditional flavor of fruit, vegetable, whatever. But to get nutrient value in a place where you don’t have access to sun, it’s pretty damn fantastic, if you ask me.
Yeah, I think so. And I don’t think that’s not a great goal. Let’s try to duplicate and get as close as we can to the true taste of a sun-grown tomato plant.
It’s possible. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities. I don’t do it like that whole it’ll never happen thing that’s over with.
If Elon isn’t watching this one, because daddy has time to watch my stuff, but he needs to be watching you. You and Dre need to be getting people putting you in front of folks like Elon Musk and other real big thinkers. Because the potential is really fantastic and the opportunity is huge. And the fact that you are in that mindset that like, no isn’t an option. It can’t happen isn’t an option. It’s actually one of my favorite. There’s a recent podcast. Lex Friedman is a MIT researcher. Elon Musk was on his podcast, and he asked him the question was, how do you think about the risk of something and the fact that it may not happen? It’s actually one of my favorite podcast moments because he stopped. And as if you ever watched Elon Musk and he’s on a podcast, he really thinks about what he’s about to say. He doesn’t just jump in and start talking. And it was pure silence for like 20 seconds and you could see him and he’s like little like, blinking and eyes are darting around. And he says, that’s never entered into my mind. We just know we have to find a way to do it.
No is not an option. Right. And it’s like the sort of hero, like, no is not an option. Give everything 110%. Like that’s sort of the coach yelling, like, less empowered like, fire ourselves up. But he is like mathematically trying to get to no is not an option. And I see that in your approach, too. And that’s why it’s cool, because the potential is great. And how big is the ecosystem of people that are trying to solve this kind of problem, Aja?
Not incredibly big, but it’s growing. I would say maybe about three or four years ago, I didn’t see a lot of talk about diversifying the types of plants you can grow indoors. It was really focused on the microgreen, the lettuce. And now I’ve seen a lot more vertical farming companies, container farming companies trying to grow things like strawberries, raspberries, trying to get a little bit more diverse. There’s also, unfortunately, the genetically modified option where people are modifying the plants to make sure that they only grow at certain height. That’s an option as well. But for the most part, it’s been old school trellising, tying things down with the trellis and doing it that way. And that’s what the bulk of the industry still does. And I think that approach works, but at scale, it’s very difficult. And for me, you might recognize this thought from a book. I can’t remember which book it is that I read about the real impact of technology, and that technology is really supposed to allow us to have more time to be creative and to rest. Technology isn’t really here to go faster and to drive more people faster.
It’s here to free us from that burden of labor and to be able to allow more resources to be spread out so that people can do that. That’s kind of where my thought when people push back on automation and technology. It’s like it’s coming, and it’s either going to go past you or mall you over, or you can adapt to it and make it yours. Like, put your funk on it and make it yours so that it’s the way that you want it to be. So that’s what we’re trying to do. All right, it’s coming. How do we want it to be and what can we do to help?
Yeah, they have a chance to shape it or to watch it shape you. It’s an interesting sort of personal responsibility that I think very few are taking on. And we get this sort of interesting divide of things that happen around, like building a business around something ultimately driving towards revenue growth. And we talk about growing companies, getting towards successful exits. Like, you should be obviously rewarded for having bringing something to the market. And so we end up in this an interesting dichotomy of capitalism and the ability that we can have something created that wasn’t there that can then give back to the ecosystem. So in its theory, of course, is right. We won’t talk about how trickle economics doesn’t work. There’s lots of places breaking down. But today’s founders, you in particular, you and Dre, everything in your messaging, in your speech, in your thought process, community team, give back. It’s entrenched in how you’re doing things. And I think more and more people are thinking that way. We kind of get mad at Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and other folks that have obviously become profoundly rich. Right. Like so much money there is no possible way they could spend it if they just sat there and burned it in piles. They couldn’t get rid of it as fast as they’re making it. But in cases that we don’t often see, they are doing other things that are giving back to the world. It’s just that we see the dark parts a lot easier than we see the light.
But as a community supporter, what is the opportunity for us in getting more people involved in building these technologies and leveraging these capabilities to truly give back to more people that won’t necessarily be founders and may not have access to those kinds of resources?
Well, I think some of the stuff that I see is we have the ability to, like, 3D print. It’s just so easy to create nowadays. So I think that everybody who has the true will, I guess, really wants to create because not everybody really wants to do this stuff. We don’t need everyone doing it, but we definitely need a lot more. And we need a lot more people with a diverse perspective in a diverse way of trying things. I don’t know. My brain is stuck on the word expert, and this might not answer your question, Eric, so I apologize if it doesn’t,. But my brain just won’t let me avoid that word expert. This isn’t really the time for them, in my opinion right now, because I’ve been an expert on something, quote-unquote. In my corporate life, people considered me in my corporation that the top level person that had to make a decision for engineering in windstorm. But when something new would come to me because I’m such an expert, I don’t see the opportunity. I don’t see how this could potentially do something different than what it’s currently doing right now. So I really think the opportunity is that the more people we get involved that aren’t experts, that are willing to get in and break things and make mistakes and try again, it’s going to yield such incredible technology and things that we can do.
And at the same time, the world is changing with the metaverse, not one metaverse. I’m talking about all of the metaverses that are being I’m not doing a plug for an individual company, but all of the metaverses that are being created really allow a lot of people who are more on that creativity side to be able to benefit from the technology that’s being developed. So technology there’s people that create the technology, that maintain the technology, that use the technology. There’s all these connections through it. So the more that we can, the more things that we can create and foster that’s more connections that we’re all making and that fosters community. So I don’t know that’s brain’s way of answering that question on the fly.
I love it. And it reminds me, too of in government representation in so many places, we really struggle. We’re often overly concerned on the impact of capitalism and money, which, again, not going to say that believe there’s a whole host of problems in abuse of that system and abuse of privilege and power in that area. But then in the regulatory side of the world, there’s not enough representation. There of true what the world looks like. Right. It’s not about its diversity of physical diversity. There’s one thing. But having lawyers who are diverse, like ten lawyers that are from all different genetic backgrounds, they’re still ten lawyers. We need farmers, engineers, artists, creators. That’s the diversity that we really need to embrace is that diversity of thought, diversity of willingness. That’s why I’m with you in this idea that the metaverse concept is going to open the doors for people with creative ideas and they can experiment and test. And that’s really what we need as a community, too. When I create a community of people, we often there are communities of practice, there are communities of commitment to religion, there are communities of commitments to many different things.
Each is a community. And then the blending of those communities in this Venn diagram of common goal, we all want to succeed, grow, empower each other. So how can we see that blending of those things come together where artists, engineers, mathematicians, farmers, everybody can contribute to this and have a feeling that they can make something happen. And that’s why I love entrepreneurship more and more. Like the great resignation. So I don’t believe the numbers when they say, like, the jobs numbers are what they are. Like, you’re measuring the wrong numbers. Like, let’s talk about who’s creating opportunity, who’s creating a new economy. We’re going to spend the next decade still wondering why the numbers don’t line up to something. Like we’ve got more people who aren’t on the jobless role but who aren’t wanting to be on it because they’re doing different things now. It’s an interesting. I love this time. I love the opportunity. The potential is here. I just hope that more people can unlock it.
Yeah, 100%. It’s a fantastic time to be alive. And you don’t have to be an engineer to engineer. There’s a lot of opportunity for most of us on this planet. So it’s a good time.
What’s the next big problem that Aja is looking to solve?
All right. For Trella, we’ve accomplished so much with getting to the point where we have the product, we’ve got our patent, we’re making our first round of deliveries. But scaling it to the point where it can actually be what it is that I see in my mind that’s going to take a lot of help. And that’s going to take a lot of capital and a lot of human capital as well. So one of the biggest projects that I have on my plate for this year and next is building this company and building this team. That’s really where my energy is right now is okay, how do we get this into the hands of more people and what resources do we need to do that? And that’s the focus day after day.
Obviously, I don’t want to walk you into things that you wouldn’t want to delve into, but thinking just not necessarily just Trella, but things like crowdfunding and the next generation. I see there’s a lot more like cooperative investments. And this seems like one of those great fits. And I think there’s a lot more of that opportunity coming up where we can have cooperative venture capital where it’s not just sort of the restricted set of accredited investors. We’re seeing more people doing stuff with direct investments via angel list, collaborative investments, crowdfunding investments. It’s in a weird space right now because once a while, the company goes under and a crowd funded investment goes away. And everybody says like, oh, this is horrifying. Do you know how many venture capital companies go under? It’s like, this is a disturbing amount of them. Most of the bets lose, sadly, at least at the scale that they hope to get. This outsized return. But it feels like that’s an area where you and many others like you have a huge potential if the world is ready to properly do that.
Yeah, we are huge proponents of crowdfunding. It’s really how we got this far. I mentioned that we bootstrapped for a little bit, but the first thing we did after that was we went out to the crowd and we did Indiegogo, raise some money that way. And then we did a Start Engine campaign, which is regulation crowdfunding. So you’re giving away some sort of security in exchange for the money you receive. And you’re right, it’s open to the public. You don’t have to be an accredited investor like a high net worth individual. It could be anyone who is like, hey, I like this idea. I want to support this mission. I may only have like $200, but I want to put my $200 into this to support it. And that’s what we’ll continue to do. We have another regulation crowdfunding campaign that by the time this airs, will be open to the public. So please, I’ll share some information at the end, but check us out. And if you’re interested to support us, be a part of it. Have some weight, some skin in the game rather, is what I’ll use. If you want to have some skin in the game and you want to support us, you can invest in exchange you get some security. It’s not just a donation. It’s actual a form of ownership in the company. It allows for a much wider audience of individuals to participate in investment. And I mean, that’s really the way that people build wealth in this capital structure that we have is through investing. And I just find it crazy that you can bet on the Super Bowl game without limitation, but you can’t put $100 into a buddy’s business without the SEC. That was the old school way. Now with regulation crowdfunding, you can do that. So I’m glad that it finally is starting to pick up more steam. Yeah.
Like the idea that I have to go and take a series six or series at the minimum, I have to take an SEC accredited exam, which basically equivalent becoming a financial advisor just to be able to put in money. And then of course, there’s like minimum investment levels and minimum, like you said, that’s just a strange concept to me. No one can stop you from pouring money into a slot machine without checking your bank account size. But yet I can invest $1,000 into an equity fund if I don’t have 100 X that in the bank secured somewhere else.
It’s just bizarre. Not that I want people treating equity as a bet, but it’s like that is a bet. The slot machine is likely to not win. The equity is likely to have at least a modest return.
It’s uncertainty. It’s all uncertainty.
So I do hope that we see more and more. And I think there’s more and more even in the traditional venture capital, sort of like the second stage that we had, like the VCs with the Sand Hill Road folks, and then they created this wave of initial big companies. And then those people have left their big companies with big equity results, and now they’re becoming investors. And then those next layer, like we’re seeing this sort of tree, upside down tree of like now this layer, and those people are saying the system is broken, we’re going to reboot it. We need a Robin Hood for equity management. There is regulatory stuff. There are things that we have to consider because there’s an unfortunate amount of legalese involved once you have equity involvement in a company, even if it’s non voting equity. But anyway, just the same way that we can change the way we grow food, we can change the way we grow value, monetary value for people that didn’t have access to it before. I think we’re getting there.
Yeah, for sure. I’m really happy about what I see. And I think blockchain web three decentralized autonomous organizations, other novice known as Dows, they all have potential. And I’m looking at all of them and really looking forward to the future. And as you describe those levels of investors, that kind of trickle down and there’s a lot more options. I’ve seen a lot of different funds that I didn’t see two or three years ago that are now available and looking at companies like ours. So if you are one of those investors that likes the story wants to hear more. Please take a second if you can, and check out our website. We have an investor thing on our menu, so just go there and learn more.
Do it. This is a bet I would be willing to make, and it’s one of those opportunities now for all of us to do something fantastic and to see what you and Dre are doing and you’re building a team around it, which is great. So I definitely see that you will have a positive result in one way or another. There will be a positive outcome to this, whatever it looks like, maybe reshaped as interesting. Yeah, but especially like post-covid, worlds are changing. Understanding of the impact on the Earth is changing. The policies that were written that tell us how we should farm were about as equivalent in timing as the first Sand Hill Road investors were on the first startups. It was right, and it created an ecosystem. But we are now at the point where we’re saying, like, an Etch A Sketch. All right, let’s shake it out. Let’s rethink some of this stuff and there’s enough people that see the value. There’s no more like, the world will outlive me. Right? I think there’s a generation of people who are like, they didn’t believe they were going to see the change occur, so there was less impetus to make the change. We have a generation in front of us who are like, I’m tired of your shit.
You’ve done enough. Thank you. We’ll take it from here.
Exactly. Let me run with this. In closing Aja, what’s the advice you would give to someone who has an idea that they want to turn into action?
Oh, boy. You have the idea and you want to turn it into action. There’s so many things that you can do, but I think I’ll have to start with you. Before you do anything else, you need to figure out why you want to take that next step, whatever that step is. Why are you focused on this idea? Why did you create this idea. If it’s five years from now and the idea hasn’t taken off, what’s going to make you still want to work on it? You got to start with what drives you. And then I’ll also say there’s nothing you can do but act after that. What do you do to act like you have to do something. Send the email, pick up the phone, post the post. Trust me, I struggle with that a lot. Like, I rather keep things to myself and not share them until I think they’re exactly the way I want them. But that professional stuff is not sustaining. So figure out why you want to do it before anything else and then do something.
Love it. Another quote that I got from somebody, Peter Sisson. He was the founder of a company called Yasa, which they pivoted, and he founded four companies. He’s a serial entrepreneur and he says if you aren’t embarrassed about what you produce then you waited too long. Like there’s got to be a little bit of like I hope this goes okay. Sometimes you just got to push the skateboard over the hill and start gliding. You said it just perfectly perfect closer to that. So Asia if someone wants to get in contact with you what’s the best way that they can do that?
Yes please. Thanks for listening all the way until the end for it. Trella.io. T-R-E-L-L-A.I-O is our website. If you want to check us out on social media we’re on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok LinkedIn. Trellatech. @trellatech is our hashtag on most of those so if you put in @trellatech will come up but trellatechnologies and Trella.io is the best place to find this. Please reach out if you have any ideas or thoughts or anything. We’d love to love to hear it.
If you want to invest, hit the button do the thing that is well, thank you. People need to do that. I look forward to the chance of maybe I’ll dip my toes in some investment waters. I would put a bet on you and Dr. You’re doing fantastic stuff so thank you very much for taking the time and sharing your story today.
Appreciate that, Eric. Thank you.
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