Hosted by Hans Tung and Jeff Richards.
Today on the show we have Irving Fain. Irving is the founder & CEO of Bowery Farming, the largest vertical farming company in the US. Based in New York City, Bowery’s smart farms are powered by their proprietary operating system the BoweryOS. Their produce is available in almost 800 grocery stores and many e-commerce platforms. Bowery is a GGV portfolio.
Before founding Bowery in 2015, Irving was the co-founder and CEO of CrowdTwist, a loyalty marketing SaaS business later acquired by Oracle. Prior to that, he launched iHeartMedia at Clear Channel and began his career helping early-stage companies raise capital as an investment banker at Citigroup.
This is a crossover episode we did with Unscripted, a video series hosted by GGV managing partner Jeff Richards. Jeff and Hans host this episode. You can check out the video on GGV’s YouTube channel. Enjoy!
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Good to see you, Irving. Always good to have you on.
So Irving, one of the things we always love to share with folks is your story as a founder and what led you to where you are today. Could you give us a little bit of perspective there and tell us a little about how you came to create Bowery.
We can go as deep into that story as you want. I think in many ways, I’ve been preparing for this since I was a very young kid. I wanted to be an entrepreneur before I knew what it meant or how to spell it. I was eight, nine, ten years old, dragging my little brother behind me into every little hustle I could possibly get into. My snow shoveling business, our leaf raking business. We flied over the neighborhood and convinced my parents that they were very lucky to buy us a snow blower and we would pay back this snow blower with our proceeds from our clients that we had. Clearly my little brother did the shoveling and I ran the snowblower. This was always a trajectory I was on. So anyway, this is a seat you’re sitting in and what you’re doing, maybe not as a farmer, but a very good entrepreneur.
Then I graduated school as a naive 21-year-old kid and where I should golearn about business. I accepted a liberal arts education, I was an English major. And I said, well, I will go to Wall Street. So I went to Wall Street and I worked in an investment bank. But I eventually wanted to be a part of the projrects that I worked on. I helped companies raise late stage capital series, such as E or D rounds of capital. For me, it was working with the kind of teams and companies that I wanted to build and be a part of. So it was a great experience.
But I knew that was not my destiny. And from there I have spent almost 20 years building and working within the New York City tech ecosystem. It’s been actually really interesting. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. It’s amazing to think how far that ecosystem has actually come from, kind of from early to mid. So when I first got started, I did a bit of venture investing with a couple of folks, but I wanted to jump on to the operation side. At that time, the tech in New York was pretty nascent. There was not a lot happening. So I went and joined Clear Channel by the biggest radio group in the world as part of a small team that was responsible for figuring out digital for this big, old school radio company. And I ran a division there. While I was there, the iPhone comes out ,the idea of the App Store emerges. Me myself and a couple of other folks saw an opportunity to leverage this incredible content network, we had this new notion of an app. We ended up building iHeart Radio. We launched and ran iHeart Radio, I can’t claim the credit for what it is become now. It’s unbelievable to me.
It was such an interesting opportunity. It was a really cool project. Honestly, if you wanted to be an intrapreneur and work inside of an organization, staying there and working on that would have been incredible. But I knew building something on my own was really where I wanted to be. So I started my first company. This is called CrowdTwist, which was in the enterprise software space. It was focused on loyalty and analytics. We raised over $20 million in venture. Our series A was $6 million, and we were in the very first TechStars class in New York City.
I don’t even think a $6 million seed round makes the ticker at this point. It was just a different time. It was a really interesting journey in terms of we started focused on entertainment, we ultimately developed the business to be focused on brands, primarily in CPG, and retail and financial services. We work with folks like L’Oreal, Pepsi, Procter and Gamble, Nestle, and American Express, I sort of looked out and said, I didn’t want to spend the next 10 years of my life on enterprise loyalty. I think one of the things you learn is an entrepreneur is the what you’re building is as important as the building itself. Because at some point, the creation of the culture and the building of the team sort of saturated and sort of intertwined with the actual mission of the company. If you don’t have that passion and excitement for the mission and the company, it becomes increasingly more challenging, you don’t want to do it every day. So I wanted to work on something that I had a huge personal passion for. It was really important to me to work on a problem that mattered much more broadly than for just the folks on my cap table. I really have always believed that technology and innovation can solve hard and important problems. I started to spend time in agriculture amongst other areas. And here we are today, which I can certainly talk about.
That was what I was going to dive into. As you go from working iHeart Radio, which is pretty mainstream consumer product, to CrowdTwist enterprise software. What you’re doing today is a very big, audacious idea in a category that not many people in technology know much about. How did you land on this on what you’re doing today at Bowery?
I think that there’s a couple answers. The first at the highest level was one of the most important barometers for me when I was thinking about what I wanted to do next was actually time. What I mean by that is, I have seen so many people, I know people who get incredibly excited about an idea, their curve goes like this. You start it, you raise some money. Soon after, it’s like, oh, I actually don’t like this that much. Or you curve goes up, and then it kind of slowly comes down. Or it goes up, but just kind of plateaus. I was really cautious not let my enthusiasm to do something next, overtake objective judgment about what the right thing to do actually was. The first thing I forced myself was to let a lot of time pass and see what the curve of any idea I was looking at. So I opened my mind to look at a lot of different areas I was particularly interested in, of course, things that I had a personal passion for. I thought we’re solving big problems. I was also interested in areas that had huge opportunities. But there’s a bit of an asymmetry where weren’t many people working on the problem. I thought about trash recycling and plastic. I looked at a lot of agriculture. Agriculture is the oldest and largest industry in the world. And if you look at the number of people across technology focusing on agricultural problems, it increased a lot. Actually, since I started Bowery. It’s still relatively small when you think about the scope of the industry. I think that for me it was really interesting and exciting as well, it just meant there was a lot of no pun intended, but greenspace out there for what we’re doing. And then within agriculture, I took a really wide lens. I looked at everything, I looked at drones on the farm, I looked at SaaS on the farm, and satellite imagery. As I sort of looked into that wide aperture, what I saw was agriculture is the largest consumer of resources globally. 70% of the world’s water goes to agriculture yearly. We use about 6 billion pounds of pesticides annually across the world, a billion pounds in the US alone. And because the way we farm, we’ve lost 30% of our arable farmland in just the last 40 years. You’ve got a system that’s stretching and straining under today’s reality. With the climate crisis, things are only gonna getting more difficult. We have a growing population and a need for more food. What really drove me to what we’re doing at Bowery is, all the while 70% to 80% of people are going to be living in and around cities in the next 30 years. The urbanization move is very real. So I increasingly spent more and more time in the question of how do you get fresh food to cities? How do you do it in a more efficient and more sustainable way. The more time I spent, the more my curve just kept going up and up. I sort of continued to force myself to look in other areas and other ideas. I was taking meetings. Even when I was really obsessed with the idea of Bowery. I wanted to ensure that we got to that place and there isn’t anything else I want to do or could do, like, this is what I need to do. That was really what I’d switched on. And all my focus went to Bowery.
You must have had tons of people tell you this is a terrible idea. This industry is hard. Here’s all the reasons it’s going to fail. Every entrepreneur goes through that. I think in particular, when you’re going after a big category that’s been relatively untouched. There must have been a ton of naysayers. How did you power through that and have the gumption to just say, screw it, I’m gonna do this.
I think it’s such a tried and true cliche, almost. But tenacity is one of the most important attributes you can have. When everything’s going perfectly, it is not the hard moments. I think that is just a must have. what I did was, I educated myself on everything I could about agriculture. I read everything I could. I read more USDA reports than one person should. I talk to anybody who would talk to me about farming. I found as many people that I could find. Anything technologically that was even happening in agriculture. I talked to farmers, went to meet people, and watched things. I felt like I needed to get as much knowledge as I could. As I narrowed further into what we were building, I made a point to go talk to the naysayers. I think it’s really easy to have happy years in the business and just see the things you want to see and believe the things you want to believe that are in front of you. I really felt it was important to listen to and hear out all the people who didn’t think this could work as much as I talked to the people who are jumping up and down with enthusiasm about indoor farming. I went and sat down with the professors, the academics, and some of the people who had failed endeavors before to understand why they believed it was impossible. My view actually was not to prove this isn’t impossible. I didn’t want to start with, yes, this works, let me prove. I actually started with this isn’t gonna work, let me prove why that’s wrong. And in fact, it will. I think that helped me, to a point, get conviction and confidence alongside the folks I was working with at the time.
Can you share a bit more details on what convinced you that this is something that’s worth doing?
It’s a good question. Because there’s a point of diminishing returns in this. I learned this before I started my first company, where we spent vastly too much time thinking about and debating ideas and ultimately getting to know which actually were good ideas. I realize it now. We just went over and intellectualized it. You have to be careful about that. What was clear to me is, new industry, as Jeff said, no one has done this before. This is pretty frontier in terms of what was happening in agriculture and technology and agriculture. I wanted to understand why economically this work. I wanted to understand how does the unit economics of this business work? What’s interesting is, if you’re building an enterprise software company, nobody’s going to look and ask you if you are sure you can make money in enterprise software. I think everybody knows that those business models work. The question is, does anybody want to buy the software you have? This is a completely opposite question. Nobody’s curious of whether people want to buy better, high quality, fresher, more sustainably grown produce. The answer is the market is absolutely enormous. The question was, can you lower price? Can you produce it in a way that makes money? So we spent an enormous amount of time understanding the drivers of unit economics as best as we could.
What I mean by that is, I had no horse in the race when it came to how to go attack this problem. So I said to myself, is there a scalable way to do this? Being scalable to me meant large volumes of crops, a wide variety of crops at consistent high quality and at a price point that opens up a large market. We looked at greenhouse technology, we looked at aeroponics and aquaponics, and container farming and different hydroponic sets out setups. We were open to anything, including the fact that the answer was, hey, there’s not a good answer here. I’d rather find that out before I raised the dollar and committed my life to it. We built systems, we tried to understand labor implications, growth implications, yield implications of everything we were doing. We eventually got to that point of diminishing returns where it became clear. Six more months of research here isn’t going to yield six more months of equivalent value, so the next step we actually have is to go build the farm and start doing it. That was where the switch flip, because you’re never going to get this entrepreneurial journey to 100% clarity and conviction. And if you do, then you’re not asking a hard enough set of questions, you have to always jump off a cliff. When you’re starting something, there is no avoiding that part of the journey.
Hans Tung 15:27
It’s true for sure. I remember when Jeff first introduced you to me and Robin, I was extremely impressed by how enthusiastic and persistent you are at knowing and thinking that there this is a solvable problem. Through enough perseverance and talent, you can get to the finish line. For those of us who did some work in the sector, we also thought it was possible, given how cheap LED lights have become to make it possible today versus 10 or 20 years ago, when people first tried this kind of walkthrough. How you were able to convince investors to be willing to take this journey with you early on?
Before you go there, Irving, I would just add, when you and I first met, which was I think over a glass of wine, or maybe a game of dice on a fishing trip. I remember you telling me that Hans and Robin had been spending time looking at this space, and in three minutes you described to me why you were doing it, how big the opportunity was, and why it was possible. And I remember talking to Hans, and I said, look, I don’t know enough about this space to know whether this is actually possible, but if it is this guy he’s gonna make it work. I think that’s a very special capability that you have. Is there anything you learned along the way? You have a very unique ability, what the scholars called the elevator speech, which is to help somebody understand what you’re doing is so compelling in a very short period of time. You have the layers of depth to describe why it’s possible for you to achieve it. That’s hard to do as an entrepreneur.
There were other players at that time who had a couple more years of history or had a bigger name. But you somehow made it work.
There’s a lot. To what Hans just said, I am not a believer in the first mover advantage. In fact, I think most frequently first mover advantage doesn’t end up yielding a winner. And I actually think that you can learn a lot from those that come before you. In the same way, we looked at the naysayers and talked to the naysayers, we looked at what was happening in the industry to get good practices, and also to understand areas where people were going wrong. I think that was really important off the bat.
Jeff, to what you were saying, when I talk to entrepreneurs, sometimes one of the first things I say is you are always selling in some ways as a founder. It doesn’t matter if your business has anything to do with sales. I think sometimes people make the mistake of, well, if I need customers or clients, of course I sell them. But the truth is, if you’re hiring people, you need to get them excited and sell them on your vision and your mission and what you’re doing, especially in the early days when you are with a crazy idea and a PowerPoint and some people who believe in you. You need to get people to come on board, you need to sell to people, you need to convince them, and you need to be compelling. Investors are the obvious ones, customers are the obvious ones. But generating enthusiasm and excitement, I think is something that I’ve sort of naturally been able to do for much of my life. And I think it was something I knew would benefit me in this industry as well. Because I looked at it, I said this is a problem in some ways that sells itself. This is a solution rather than sells itself. And I knew that I would be able to grab on to that and help amplify that excitement and enthusiasm and belief from investors, from people on the team, and from those around us in the world. It was an opportunity to take one plus one and equal three, I hoped.
And I think to your point, starting at the high level and understanding what matters to people depending on who you’re talking to. What matters to you and Hans is potentially different from what matters to somebody who’s coming on board to join your team, or is different from someone you’re talking to in the press, or is different from someone you’re talking to as a retailer. I also have always believed that having the supportive data and the understanding that a level below that pitch is as important. When somebody asks you the follow-up question or the follow-up five questions, your ability to answer with credibility is the difference between just generating enthusiasm from somebody and generating actual conviction. What you need from people at the end of the day, especially with investors, is his conviction.
I think it was Roger Ehrenberg years ago had this great quote that I always remember. What he said is there’s a mile wide gap between interest and conviction. That’s a great quote. The truth is, who isn’t interested in this? It is interesting. Even if you don’t care, you’re not gonna invest in it, you’re interested in it. But to Hans’ point, it is like, I’m gonna write a check, and I’m gonna support this. That was where conviction is required. And that was why we put the work and the energy and the effort to understand the details of this. That time paid off, because when people started saying, this is really interesting. Now let me ask you A, B, C, and D. And A, B, C, and D, by the way, is different depending on who you’re talking to. So the ability to cover that off with whoever you’re talking to helped people to say, all right, no one can guarantee this works at this stage, but man, this is a good bet to make.
You definitely put together a great syndicate as well. You pick them each for different purpose, you’re very thoughtful of how you go about doing that. At the same time, another good attribute about you is that you share this analysis. If people ask you tough questions, you can back them up with analysis and data, even if the data is not all the way there, you show a clear path of how you could get there. And that is extremely convincing to people to develop a conviction in you.
Irving Fain :
That’s been one of the really fun part for me. Bowery has grown and our team has grown, the ability to analyze the business and help plot the trajectory forward gets more and more sophisticated and robust as the experience and expertise across the organization gets deeper and broader. And so our ability now to talk about what we’re working on and what’s ahead in the future is so rich and so textured compared to five years ago. Even five years ago, we forced ourselves to meet the bar of being able to sit down with you and with Jeff and anybody we were talking to and explain how this became profitable , why we believed it, and how it kept getting better. Now are we right? Of course, no one’s right on everything right at that stage in the business. But we actually had gotten to a point of a reasonably good understanding of how the business worked. I feel really good about the decision to not raise money too early. I had had folks who said, let us see you early on. I just felt like it was incumbent on me to answer some of these hard questions before I took any money from anybody.
What got us convinced in Series A, between me and Jeff and Robin, was that we made the determination that this is not a winner-take-all category, the first winner or the biggest player will have a big outcome for sure. But multiple people can have a shot at this in different parts of the world. So even if you’re behind others in terms of starting time or funding, it’s fine. And to OS, if you can figure out a way to develop the strongest OS that can be the most efficient, and have that work with hardware. You have a knack for making sure to integrate well. That was going to be a competitive advantage. Thirdly, we also felt that the ability to fundraise to convince people to backup with data analysis to get people to develop that conviction is such an important point in this capital intensive business. They’re gonna require equity and debt and other funding sources that you’re probably uniquely qualified to do this amongst everyone else we have met in this space. So that’s why we end up saying okay, we are investing you.
Building on Hans’ point, can you talk about what is the technology innovation cycle that’s enabling this to happen now? This wasn’t possible five years ago, it certainly wasn’t possible 10 years ago. For folks that are kind of new to the space or the industry or just hearing about Bowery for the first time, what is the technology innovation that’s enabling this to happen?
Irving Fain :
It’s the right question. And I think this was another area where we did the work ahead of time, which put us in a really strong position. When we started working, and started building, there was so much talk in the industry about LEDs, and Hans mentioned it earlier. So we are far from the first people to grow food indoors under lights. NASA was doing this in the early 80s because you need to grow food when you live on the moon, or Mars, or wherever. Universities, their labs have been doing this for decades. The problem was, the lights themselves cost way too much money and the efficiency of the fixtures was really poor. You could grow food, it was just a cost and a price point that made no sense.
There is a certain crowd in California that’s been grown indoors for quite some time. Although much higher price point.
Irving Fain :
Yes, this is an interesting point. The crop that they grew was high powered. You probably see huge kind of ball, they also had a rocket engine. The problem with those lights is as they generate a massive amount of heat, and so you can grow that crop. It works because the crop is such a high value, but it costs so much to move the heat around to manage the environment. What happened is LED is arise. And the cost curve around LED lights drops by 85% about 10 years ago. The efficiency of lights more than doubles. So what had only been a research and development endeavor, for the first time, actually had commercial viability. And even more interesting, there’s a law, similar to Moore’s law, but doesn’t have this sort of long running curve, it is called Hayes Law. Hayes Law dictates that the cost of fixtures is going to drop another 50% to 85%. And the efficiency will double again, so the tail when the goddess here will continue. I realized that this was important for Bowery and it’s critical to what we are building today. The trend around LEDs made indoor farming viable, but it didn’t make it scalable. And being scalable, back to where we said was large volumes of crops, large varieties of crops consistently, and a low price point that opens up the market. And it was obvious we needed to leverage innovation around robotics and automation, innovation in sensors or controls, computer vision, and then AI in general. And you put that together. And that plus the trend around LEDs really helped shape what is agriculture going to look like in the next 100 plus years.
So now tie it to what we do, the questions you asked. We are building smart indoor farms, large warehouse scale farms, where we locate them close to the cities that we serve. We stack our crops so you can see behind me from the floor to the ceiling. We grow under lights that mimic the spectrum of the sun. Because we grow in this controlled contained environment, we can grow 365 days of the year independent of weather and seasonality. So, it’s reliable and consistent supply of high quality produce all year round. What’s amazing about it is we go completely pesticide free, completely agrochemical free. No herbicides or fungicides, no insecticides, and whereas in the field. If you do that, your quality suffers and your yield gets decimated. Our product is what produce is meant to taste like and used to taste like. And we grow over 100 times plus more productive in a square foot of farmland. And we use a small fraction of water when we grow. Tied to that is a substantial amount of robotics and automation inside of our farms. We’ve automated the entire process from seed to store at this point. And the other part of this that powers it is what Hans was talking about earlier, the Bowery operating system.
The Bowery operating system is a proprietary software and hardware system. It’s our computer vision and our AI, which not only drives the optimization of our crops, but it actually drives all of this work management and all the supply chain across Bowery. It is the brains of our entire farm in our entire operation. And it’s what allows us to essentially build a distributed network of farms, every farm we build gets benefited in the network before that farm contributes data into the network. And then that network becomes more and more powerful as we grow and scale.
This is our next point with the spread of the team. You’re extremely amazing at recruiting top talent, who is in food science, consumer products, packaging, even hardware robotics. Walk us through how you’re able to come in some of the most important leaders of their own category to end up joining you to do this.
I think in some ways, it goes back to the question that Jeff was asking earlier. I always say, we have an unfair advantage of Bowery, we have an enormous economic opportunity in front of us in the company, we have an incredibly important social problem that we’re solving. At the same time, we have a really complex and interesting set of problems to work on every day. It’s actually really hard to find a company that truly has put all three of those things organically together. And that just brings great people to the company. And the truth is from the most senior levels in the organization, all the way down to our most junior people like the talent and the caliber of people at Bowery just blows me away every single day. But my favorite part of working here without a question is that unbelievable people is coming together everyday to solve an important problem.
More specifically, the question on the executive side. I learned a lot about executive recruiting over my time, doing it right doing it wrong. These hires that you make early on and the people you bring into your organization early on have an outsized impact in your ultimate success and trajectory. I invested a lot of time and a lot of energy into every single process for each person that we hired. And I made sure that they got to know me, they understood how I thought about the business, they understood what we were building. I understood what they wanted out of their next move, what they were excited about. I was very clear to them about what they’d be building and doing here, and what they wouldn’t be building and doing here. I think you always want to be as transparent and clear with people as possible because they’re coming anyways, they’re going to know what’s going on when they get here. I’ll give them a head up regardless. So you want to do everything you can to smooth the ramp for them to join, and as much as you can before they come on to make sure to mutual fit. I think one of the problems sometimes that people with interviewing is people look at interviewing as a one-way street. They say okay, Hans right for Bowery, I need to interview Hans to decide if he’s right. The truth is, interviewing is a two-way street. This is about me saying is Han’s right for Bowery? Am I right? Is this right for me or for Bowery? You need to provide a vehicle for both sides of that coin to be able to understand what the answer to that question is. It’s much better to figure the answer out before you start versus after.
For a lot of entrepreneurs, people side is hard. These companies went public, and they must have done everything right along the way. There’s no straight line, or overnight success. Can you share one or two lessons learned from team building and culture and organization t with other entrepreneurs? You gave the one of being a two-way street. What else have you learned about in terms of your thinking ahead the kind of talent people you need to build this company over the next few years?
When you are the founder of a business, just because you can do something does not mean that you should. It is sometimes easy as a founder to say, well, I can do that or I can cover that. Therefore to go do it. It ultimately isn’t a competition of competency, right to gather up as many competencies as one can underneath their umbrella. I think I learned over my time, doing this now for a while, to really make sure that I’m focusing and spending my time and energy on the areas of the business that I’m uniquely capable and uniquely able to drive forward more effectively than anybody else. What I made sure to do at Bowery particularly was to figure out what were the most important parts of the business that mattered. Where did I overlap well with that, and where I didn’t overlap, I needed to go fill those spaces. That’s actually an evolutionary dynamic.
The most important parts of the business when we raised our series seed were different from when we raised our series A or Series B. They evolve and change as the business does. You need to constantly be evaluating what you’re doing as a founder, but also what others around you are doing or not doing. There are areas that maybe didn’t matter 18 months ago, but today they become more important. A great example for us was, we built the technical side of our organization much earlier than we built the commercial side of our organization. Because early on, we had no commercial footprint. And then we had a very small commercial footprint early on. So that wasn’t the most important area. But as we started to grow, and we started to expand the commercial side of our business. It became as important as the technical side.
Then we began to invest even further there and develop out the team. It isn’t a static one time evaluation, but a continuous and constant evaluation. Looking at yourself and what’s happening around the organization continuously is one of the most important things I think I’ve developed and learned over time.
How should founders balance the need to focus on business itself and time you spend on recruiting ? How’s that ratio evolved since you first started?
I spent a lot of time early on recruiting, especially because there weren’t that many people around to do the recruiting. I was doing a lot of that recruiting. I remember the early days being on LinkedIn and messaging anybody I could. And I’m a random person. And even after we raised our seed money, we were dead silent about what we were doing for a year and a half. So people ask is this even real? You don’t even have a website. We sounded like some wacky person, trying to solicit information on insurance. All you got to do is wire me and send me some amazon gift cards.
So I spent a lot of time recruiting. As I’ve been building out our leadership team, it takes a lot of energy and effort for every single member of the leadership team to come on board. I put a lot of my time and energy into every single person who joins the team at that level. It’s so incredibly important to hire. They work directly with me. As that team has been built out, a lot of time goes into that. We’re really fortunate, we have this incredible talent team now at Bowery, which does unbelievable work. They basically put me out of a job, which is a great thing. They still bring me in sometimes, more senior candidates end up talking to you and sometimes have questions that I can answer uniquely. I always make time for the people side of the business, because it is the single most important asset you have. We’ve also transitioned to a point where there’s an incredible group of people, who are focused on that all day, every day. And back to what we were saying before, my best thing I could do is to get out of the way a little bit, let them tap me and use me whenever they can, but let them do the thing that they’re best able to do.
Early on, where you’re spending two thirds of your time, 70% of your time, 75% of time recruiting, it was at least 50%, probably even 75% in the earliest days, like seed stage. And then you probably get to series A, and it probably becomes more of a 50% to 50% balance. I think that pendulum starts to move probably even more, maybe 25% to 75% recruiting the business. And now, it depends on where we are and what’s going on. But more of my time now is focused on the business in other areas. And I am more focused when I’m doing the recruiting side.
Let me ask you a fun question. What will happen in this industry over the next 5 to 10 years? It’s not a zero-sum game, there will be other players. But really, what you’re talking about is a pretty revolutionary change in the way we grow and distribute food in our country, and probably other countries as well. Just talk a little bit, if we dare to dream. Obviously, Bowery is successful as part of this evolution, but what happens to our food supply? And what are the benefits to the country as this takes hold over the next 5 to 10 years?
I think there’s a bunch of answers to that question. I think at the food supply level, kind of irrespective of indoor farming, what you’re going to see particularly coming out of COVID is a greater focus on regional resiliency of food supply. I think for the first time, there was image of store shelves empty, farmers plowing under fields. We have a supply chain, in some ways we’ve taken for granted in this country. You go to a grocery store, no matter what time of year, and get whatever you want.
We import over 35% of our vegetables and almost 50% of our fruit. Even there are a lot being grown in this country, we import a lot of it. This is what makes what we do at Bowery, so powerful, the entire driver of the supply chain is the reality that only certain crops grow at certain times of the certain places. And an entire supply chain is built around that point. We have completely changed that paradigm, because we can grow crops anywhere all year round, reliably, consistently and more safely. That allows us to reinvent a supply chain that is safer and simpler, that’s more sustainable, and it’s ultimately more profitable, because we control them and are also closer to the end user. That’s right. Our product is a day or two old versus weeks or months of time when it shows up. That resiliency and local supply chain, again, beyond indoor farming, and you’re gonna see that as parts of the country or different parts of the world start to look and say I can’t be leveraged to or dependent on other parts of the world, other countries, other parts of this country to ensure that I get the food that I need. I think that’s going to come out of this, no matter what, when it comes specifically what we’re building at Bowery. We are immensely excited not just about what we’re doing today, but even more about what we’re going to do next, which is expansion, not only across the US, but ultimately across the world. Also expansion in the products we’re growing.
We have a world class research and development and R&D team, an agricultural science team. We just opened a new farm called FarmX, which is about a 300% increase in capacity for R&D and innovation. We have grown hundreds of varieties of crops well outside of leafy greens and herbs. We’re growing strawberries, we’re growing tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers. We’re going root vegetables and tubers. You are going to see not only Bowery farms in more and more cities in the US, but you’re going to see Bowery in other parts of the world. And you’re going to see Bowery products take up a larger and larger component of the produce aisle. I think the mistake people often make is they say, well, the only thing you can grow in indoor farming is leafy greens and herbs. But that would be like telling Elon Musk, the only car that Tesla could make would be the incredibly expensive Tesla Roadster a decade ago. Here we are today. Technology.
Bill Gates has a great quote, he says that we often are over, overconfident in what we can do in a year, but drastically underestimate what we’ll do in 10 years. That’s right. Technology has an interesting way of surprising us. And we’re really excited about the crops that are in front of us, the expansion, and the opportunity for more and more food to be grown indoors close to the point of consumption. This isn’t a zero-sum game, as you said. People love to say to me, particularly in certain investing, oh, you’re going to replace all farming? No, of course not. We’re not gonna replace all farming, I don’t even look at things such as row crops, corn, wheat, and soy. I don’t look at orchard crops or stone fruits as a place to be focused. It’s entirely possible. And in eight years, we’re all a little bit older in eight years, but we’re back on a podcast, and maybe we’re growing oranges and apples and things like that. And we refer back to this and say, look, as we said, history, technology surprises us. That’s not where we’re focused today. But I do understand that we’re at the very beginning of a super exciting curve.
One more fun question for you. What’s your favorite green that you’re producing?
I’m gonna cheat. I’m gonna give you two. So in the greens, the wasabi arugula we grew is extraordinary on my diet. That is amazing. And the other one is our turnips. Turnips that are sweet with a little bite, they are unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. And you can literally snack on them all day long. They’re unbelievable.
Your salad tastes so natural, so fresh, and so tasty. That it’s hard to eat anything else. To be honest.
It recalibrates what produce is actually meant to taste like. And I think that’s what we’re excited about. It’s bringing flavor and vibrancy and life back to a category which was much more focused on resiliency and transportation. We changed that paradigm. And that’s fun.
I suppose you have, and I want to congratulate you on your most recent fundraise. You will become a unicorn and more. It only took you five, six years to get there. It’s pretty amazing accomplishment for you, and your targeting. So congratulations.
I really appreciate it. I think for us, we are really proud of this point in the journey, but also acknowledge that it is just a point in the journey. The mission that we’re on is much longer and much broader. I think we wil stop and we appreciate where we are. But everybody is focused on what’s ahead and what we have to do.
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