Life is short, make it worth it! This one seems absolutely obvious, but we often forget about it! We often act as if time is an unlimited currency. Obviously, our time on earth is limited. The key point is to remember it as often as possible, not to feel depressed but, quite the contrary, to make sure every second of it is well used. To create new things, share great moments with friends, help others live a better life. Make it fun and meaningful!
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing FX Rouxel.
FX Rouxel is the founder and CEO of Gardyn. Gardyn develops cutting-edge technologies to make it possible for anyone to grow large quantities of nutritious and tasty produce at home, within a small footprint and no green thumb required. After several years of research and development in partnership with universities, Gardyn launched the revolutionary “Gardyn Home” device and its innovative AI-based gardening assistant Kelby.
As a parent, cook, endurance athlete and Ironman, FX has always been passionate about health, nutrition, and great food. Hence his strong desire to shape a future of food different from today’s prevalent industrial farming, where most produce are harvested and trucked from afar, long before hitting the shelves. Gardyn was founded to reimagine food production as local and easily accessible to everyone, to make our lives healthier, tastier, and reconnected with nature, in a sustainable way.
Early in his career, FX worked for the French Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and in the energy industry, where he focused on developing technologies to provide more sustainable, carbon-free sources of energy. More recently in the U.S., FX was Chief Executive Officer of Infrastructure Services at Capgemini, deploying cloud, automation and artificial Intelligence technologies. FX earned a Master’s of Science (MSc.) degree in computer science and engineering from Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France and studied at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. FX lives in Maryland with his wife and two children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I have been working in the tech industry for many years and have worked on a variety of verticals within the tech realm ranging from microprocessors to clean energy and artificial intelligence. I have also been lucky enough to spend years in Provence, South of France, where I vividly remember buying fresh produce in small markets and sharing very simple yet amazingly tasty meals with friends. Over the past 10 years, I started doing more endurance sports like triathlons and decided to train for an Ironman. When you want to endure this type of physical activity, nutrition is absolutely key, so I spent a lot of time trying to understand how our body works, what’s good for you — and what’s not. I then realized how bad our current diets are but also that agriculture as we know it is really in a dead-end right now: there is a large negative impact on the environment (CO2 emissions and pesticides) for a very low quality produce and a lot of waste (40% of what is produced never reach the shelves!). I strongly believe technology can help, and should help, solve these problems, which is the reason why I launched Gardyn. Since growing and eating with Gardyn, I have run 3 Ironman’s and I’m in great shape!
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
A lot of people would love to have a garden to be able to pick produce a few minutes before lunch and dinner, that is tasty, fresh, nutritious, and to know exactly where it is coming from. However, for most people, this dream is just impossible. Between not having a garden, inclement weather, minimal space, not enough time to dedicate to nurturing plants, no interest in doing so, or not green thumb, growing produce at home may seem difficult, but not with Gardyn. Gardyn is creating a real revolution because it provides you with a constant flow of amazingly fresh food, all year round, even if you have no space, no time and no skills. You select in your Gardyn App which plants you want to grow, plug them in your Gardyn, and Kelby, Gardyn’s artificial intelligence and your personal gardening assistant, will grow them for you to full maturity. Gardyn grows up to 30 plants in only 2 sqft. of space, and only requires power and Wi-Fi: that’s all you need to feed your family. It is a vertical field in your kitchen or your living room; a totally new experience of food. Plus, it is beautiful: watch the plants grow, and reconnect with nature! Organic seeds, no pesticides: just pure food. There is no need to wash Gardyn’s produce either, it is ready to eat upon picking it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
To be able to grow so much food on such a small footprint, we had to invent a new way to grow plants vertically, in a very efficient and compact way. To achieve this, along with researchers at McGill University, we developed hybriponic innovations, a new design for hydroponic solutions, that allow us to grow larger quantities of produce in a fully vertical manner, without soil, on a small footprint. Gardyn’s six-gallon water reservoir consumes 95% less water than traditional agriculture methods and pulls the equivalent of only a light bulb worth of power! To manifest this, we bought 3D-printers and started making and testing a lot of different prototypes. The first ones did not work well, but we remained confident in our ability to succeed and slowly but surely kept improving them. In the process, we used a lot of 3D filaments — fortunately, the ones we used were made of corn. One day, we were running out of the filaments and we felt we were very close to having a design that would work great. So, we used every filament we had left to make the last parts we needed and ended up with a pink Gardyn! This was so funny. The lessons here are to keep trying, you’ll end up finding the solution, and you discover a lot of great things by chance. Since we made this pink Gardyn, a lot of people love it and we are seriously considering making a real one in pink as well.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
When it comes to my journey with Gardyn, the best help and mentorship I received came from my wife. Sometimes by supporting me (and the team), but also, very often, by raising the bar and pushing us to dream big and work hard. A simple but telling anecdote: After hours, days and months of working on the Gardyn technology with 3D-printer and modeling software, we came to a final design we thought was really working well. My wife was the one to raise the bar two notches: “Technology is great, but it is nothing if it is not simple to use and does not provide an amazing experience. Prove me this technology is going to be a game changer for people!” She was obviously spot on. So, we turned our 3D-printers into production mode and made them work night and day for several months to manufacture 20 prototypes. We gave them to friends and acquaintances and waited for feedback. We learned so much from their input which led us to tweak so many things within the system. This was a really long and painful process, but it was worth it: all beta-testers ended up telling us they loved their Gardyn and it totally changed their food habits. That’s the best reward we could get!
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
In my mind, the key criteria to assess the positive or negative nature of disrupting resides in the understanding of the holistic impact of the disruption over the long term. We are at a stage in the development of our society where we are starting to understand (even though not acting upon it yet) the deep connections that may exist and the crucial impact of externalities in the long run. Climate change and the way we manage (or mismanage) our planet is a primary example of it. Consider plastics for instance: it has brought a revolution and has totally disrupted many industries. Whether it is a positive or a negative disruption really depends on our ability to look at it holistically and act swiftly on the negative impacts. At Gardyn for instance, we decided to ban the use of any disposable plastic in the life cycle of our products. We do use plastics because of the many benefits they bring, but we selected only food-grade, recyclable plastics. The capsules that contain the seeds you plug into your Gardyn, we call them yCubes” because they have a cubic shape, look like plastic but they are actually made of corn and are compostable. With Gardyn, there is no plastic waste in the environment that eventually ends up in our oceans, killing turtles and other marine life. This is a really positive disruption!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
You are what you do when nobody sees you: Most of the time we tend to act and behave a certain way when others are watching us, and then have very different behaviors behind the scenes. It is key in my mind to have a high level of integrity and consistency with oneself. You are really who you allow yourself to be when you are free to do it. That’s where the difference occurs. We are trying to take the same approach at Gardyn: there is no point trying to help people have access to healthy food and a more balanced lifestyle if you don’t do it across the board. We at Gardyn are strong proponents of the triple bottom line. We care deeply for our customers but also for our employees. We want them to share our mission and feel empowered. We foster the highest possible level of diversity and support our employees with great benefits (not to mention every employee gets a Gardyn for free as part of their onboarding package!) We are also fully cognizant that a lot of people cannot afford to buy a Gardyn to have a healthier lifestyle. As a result, we have pledged to donate 1% of our revenue to charities to help underprivileged communities get access to healthy food. Right now, we are working with World Central Kitchen by Jose Andres. Being consistent across the board is the only way to stand strong and have an impact!
Problems without a solution don’t exist: This statement is so true deep inside me and has been a revelation through the years. To some extent it ties back to Elon Musk’s famous “First Principle”. A lot of things are hard but against all odds finding a solution to a problem is most of the time the easiest part. Understanding the problem itself, deeply, intimately, is really the hardest part. It is a great lesson in life. That taught me there are actually way more solutions than you think. Stop focusing on the solution. Focus on the problem! That’s what we have done at Gardyn, deeply analyzing all the issues related to our current food paradigm, from its impact on the environment, the pesticides in your plate to public health issues like obesity and diabetes. Once you deeply understand the commonalities of these problems, then are you ready to craft innovative and disruptive solutions. We are now shipping Gardyn’s across the US: Anchorage, Miami, Hawaii, Chicago, etc.… and we are building a fully distributed farming system. After just a few months, our Gardyners have already grown more than 25,000lb of produce, and not one ounce of pollution in the rivers!
Life is short, make it worth it! This one seems absolutely obvious, but we often forget about it! We often act as if time is an unlimited currency. Obviously, our time on earth is limited. The key point is to remember it as often as possible, not to feel depressed but, quite the contrary, to make sure every second of it is well used. To create new things, share great moments with friends, help others live a better life. Make it fun and meaningful! That’s part of the philosophy that guides us at Gardyn. In our mind, it is not about making a great product. Above all, it is about the experience it brings to people and all the positive ripple effects in their life: eat healthier, discover new tastes, share time with your family and friends, reconnect to nature, enjoy natural art in your home, be mindful and grateful — it is about making every minute worth it!
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We are definitely not done. We have so much to build to reimagine the future of food and how we as humans relate to it. It has to be better for us, better for the planet. That’s a long endeavor but we’ll get there. So much to invent, share and love!
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
It is really hard to identify one decisive influence. We all are the result of so many experiences and inputs that shape some part of ourselves. If I had to name one, I would say Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech in 2005 struck me very deeply, in particular when knowing in hindsight his cancer had come back and he knew he would not have that much time left to live (he died in October 2011). One very meaningful statement keeps resonating in me: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. I crafted Gardyn’s motto after him: “Grow Healthy, Live Tasty”. In my mind it means never stop dreaming and do whatever you can to make your dreams come true!
Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Definitely. “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” and now “Grow Healthy, Live Tasty!”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
In my opinion, the question of the bonds is essential in our current societies and COVID is testing this even further. Much of what we are doing is becoming increasingly virtual. We have virtual friends on social networks, and now virtual colleagues via zoom. There is a high risk of disconnecting, losing ground and getting more and more estranged from one another. These deep trends surface with multiple forms, such as depression, identity questions, populism, and strong tensions within our society. As we have seen in recent events, this can lead to dramatic outcomes. This question of bonds is also essential to happiness. Numerous studies have proven over decades that the only decisive factor for happiness is actually our ability to build bonds with others. It is not about money, fame, career or the number of friends you have on Instagram. It all boils down to the bonds you are building and nurturing. This is a key element we are focusing on at Gardyn, at our humble level: how can we help people recreate real, tangible bonds. Bonds with nature, with your food, with your family, friends, and with your neighbors. It is about reconnecting with who we really are and where we come from. My greatest satisfaction comes from hearing people telling me their Gardyn has totally changed the dynamics in their family, definitely for the better!