Sowing seeds with Idan Cohen of GROW
Learn how GROW’s founder is making it dirt simple to grow your own food.
Idan Cohen, co-founder of GROW, has never shied away from a challenge, whether that was helping to usher in a new era of TV technology or pioneering products. Read on to find out what’s driven him to keep iterating over the course of his career.
From satellites to Samsung
Idan started his career in the Israeli military, where he was recruited into a small unit that was developing software for reconnaissance satellites. “It was an incredible opportunity — almost everyone we were working with were ex-NASA engineers who immigrated back to Israel after working in the U.S.”
After he was discharged from military service, he transitioned into a career in Israel’s burgeoning tech industry. In 2007, he started Boxee — a hardware consumer device for streaming video to your home TV (similar to Apple TV or Roku). Working with a founding team that was largely based in New York City prompted Idan to take the leap and move to the states to continue growing the company.
That move proved a success, as Boxee soon grew to over $100 million in sales and investments from VCs like Union Square Ventures and Spar Capital. In 2013, they sold the company to electronics giant Samsung in 2013. Idan stayed on for a few years, and then left to start Grow, a company at the intersection of horticulture and technology.
Sowing new seeds
Idan’s passion for nature came late in life. Though his grandmother was a farmer, Idan grew up in a household there was no great interest in gardening and he even hated to mow the lawn.
However, the freedom of selling his first company gave him time to pursue other interests, so he tried his hand at growing vegetables on his roof and quickly became a devotee. ”Once I started growing, I had to learn everything from scratch, which meant that I started to really understand the struggles and challenges of growing food at home.”
In addition to the sense of satisfaction Idan got from gardening, he also noticed that it can get complicated quickly. As a scientist, he quickly saw an opportunity to improve the user experience with a more data-driven approach.
His idea? To create a vertically integrated platform where budding green-thumbs could get easily and quickly get started with gardening:
“I didn’t want to create a robot for gardening, per se, but create a way to automate things like watering, where it’s hard to get it exactly right, and supply all of the consumables directly to the end user.”
And that’s how Grow was born.
Managing Hard and Soft
Grow is different than a lot of tech startups, in that it’s merging hardware and software. Fortunately, Idan has ample experience in that realm after years of building and scaling Boxee. He finds that the smart device market offers ample opportunity to nurture and grow a user base.
“Truthfully, I don’t think that there’s any hardware today that has legitimacy as a business without a strong software and service layer. What makes hardware interesting today is the fact that it’s connected and it’s greater relationship with the customer, an ongoing relationship with the customer. ”
The biggest management challenge in this work comes from having to tend to a more diversified group of skill sets. Compared to a software company, where most new hires are going to be directly interacting with the codebase, an integrated physical system like Grow requires a wide mix of engineering talent.
Though Idan has done this all before he is insistent that he can’t just rest on his laurels. “Nothing is easy, it’s all hard. Seriously.”
For founders in a similar position (be they first time or serial), Idan offers this advice:
“Work with people who are passionate about your product and market. B2B companies can hire people who are more focused on technical or business challenges, in a consumer product company every single person in the company needs to understand the market, product and customer and be passionate about the vision and mission at hand.”
What’s your team passionate about? We’d love to hear more about it on Twitter!