What “Back to the Roots” Can Teach Us about Growing a Successful Green Business
At GatherWell, we’re excited to help support the next generation of green enterprises. With that in mind, we’re introducing a new series on our blog showcasing successful examples – their story, strengths, weaknesses, and what a budding eco entrepreneur can take away from their experience. For our first case study we’re starting with an environmental enterprise that’s sprouting in stores across the United States more and more:
When I met a representative from Back to The Roots at a Bay Area sustainability event recently, I complained that my BTTR model never bore any mushrooms and frustrated, I gave up on it after 2 months. The box, nothing more than mycelium (the vegetative part of a mushroom), recycled coffee grounds, and cardboard, is BTTR’s signature product. To the thousands who have made the $20 splurge, it’s more than just a box – it’s an opportunity to grow your own mushrooms at home, forage them, and eat them.
Several months after a mushroomless summer, I was still feeling cranky about the lost $20. The representative shocked me – with a smile and a pamphlet he explained that some of the summer shipments (when I had purchased my box) had turned out to be defective. He suggested I call BTTR and even though I had made the purchase over 6 months ago, had no record of ever making that purchase, and without any idea whether the problem was the box or me, they would send me a new box anyway. For free. To top it off, they guaranteed that the new box would grow mushrooms. I was blown away. Within days I was spritzing my box and within weeks I was sautéing my own home-grown oyster mushrooms.
BTTR is one of the most visibly successful social enterprises to emerge in the last few years. The story begins in 2009 with UC Berkeley students Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora. In their senior year, they were both simultaneously inspired by a professor who mentioned the possibility of growing gourmet mushrooms from used coffee grounds. After their professor introduced them, the two began experimenting until they grew their first oyster mushrooms. With some help from restaurant giant Chez Panisse, Whole Foods, and a university grant, urban mushroom farming in recycled coffee grounds was born.
The recycled coffee grounds to mushroom magic behind BTTR’s box is inspiring – just ask the over 300 Whole Foods selling the boxes. But the repurposed coffee beans aren’t the only thing that make the boxes pop – one of BTTR’s major strengths includes their confidence in the value of their product and customer service, as evidenced my own experience with a bad box. BTTR is so confident they can help you grow mushrooms, they’ll send you free coffee grounds and mycelium until it happens.
Room to Grow
BTTR is leading the pack in mushroom growing kits for urban farmers but they’ve been slow to launch other products other than an underwhelming t-shirt design. In 2012, they finally released a home aquaponics garden, which they market as “a self-cleaning fish tank that also grows food” with the option of growing basil, thyme, and other herbs. The aquaponics garden is likely to take off in retail stores in 2013 but with everything else they have going for them, we’re hoping BTTR isn’t just a two-trick pony.
Why They Are Successful
By just posting a picture of your kit on BTTR’s Facebook page, BTTR donates a mushroom kit to the classroom of your choice. Plus, those wonderfully textured oyster mushrooms on your udon noodles? BTTR made that happen. That purple glimmer of a Betta fish in your aquaponics garden? BTTR did that. That warm, fuzzy feeling you get from producing your own food (with a little help) in a sustainable, active way? That’s BTTR. BTTR is all about making the consumer feel good.
Apart from warm, fuzzy feeling-inducing charm, BTTR succeeds so well because of one more critical reason: it puts the power to grow something delicious in the hands of consumers and more importantly, makes it as easy as possible for the consumer to do it – as simple as spritzing a mushroom box. The consumer, in turn, feels accomplished – and that’s well worth the $20 kit.
How to Engage
As a green entrepreneur, start thinking of how you can make your clients feel as good as they do when they’re growing their own oyster mushrooms at home. Maybe think about it as you spritz your own mushroom box.