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Am I trying to water an idea for a need that doesn't exist?

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mdot

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Tl;dr: I began pursuing an idea based on research into adding value into an existing type of product. Turns out products similar to my idea have all failed. Did they fail because they didn't deliver on their purpose or because there was no real need?

Since reading Unscripted and TMF, I've been trying to tune myself into noticing and investigating pain points that could be value skewed. One of the first that caught my interest was on the topic of making sure my plants were properly watered. Perhaps like many people, I enjoy looking at my houseplants more than I enjoy actually remembering to take care of them.

After some research, I found that most $10-$15 soil moisture sensors on Amazon are the same $2 Alibaba galvanic-based batteryless "3-in-1" type, which aren't accurate, damages roots, and can't be left in the soil long before corroding. I did some research on a few different methods of determining moisture in soil and I was fairly confident I could design and build a device that would perform better. Such a device could be left in the soil indefinitely and measure moisture more accurately, as well as possibly track trends such as drainage and suggest optimal watering times. As I was working out how best to alert the user to dry soil (tricky given a limited energy budget), I discovered the "trifecta of failed smart garden products"!

It seems that these kinds of products were a fad in 2015ish that has since died off, along with the companies that built them. In terms of value added, my design ideas up to this point was average overall, compared to the failed solutions. This alone wouldn't be so much of a problem - I could probably find technical areas to add more value into. However this sentence in the article was a bit scary:

"Avid gardeners likely didn't need a reminder to water, an none of the options offered enough data for research purposes... the category still banked on those who didn't care enough to water on their own investing $100 on tech that didn't actively fix the problem".

The implication, at least as I interpreted it, was that the products failed not because they didn't operate in the way they were designed to, but instead because they weren't addressing a real need.

I'm working on changing my natural mindset from "this sounds like a cool hobby project to build" to "this sounds like a viable business opportunity to pursue". I don't want to give up on this idea too early, but I'm worried that I've been inventing a need in my head to justify building this cool-sounding project, and would appreciate an outside perspective on the situation. Thanks!
 

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Tl;dr: I began pursuing an idea based on research into adding value into an existing type of product. Turns out products similar to my idea have all failed. Did they fail because they didn't deliver on their purpose or because there was no real need?

Since reading Unscripted and TMF, I've been trying to tune myself into noticing and investigating pain points that could be value skewed. One of the first that caught my interest was on the topic of making sure my plants were properly watered. Perhaps like many people, I enjoy looking at my houseplants more than I enjoy actually remembering to take care of them.

After some research, I found that most $10-$15 soil moisture sensors on Amazon are the same $2 Alibaba galvanic-based batteryless "3-in-1" type, which aren't accurate, damages roots, and can't be left in the soil long before corroding. I did some research on a few different methods of determining moisture in soil and I was fairly confident I could design and build a device that would perform better. Such a device could be left in the soil indefinitely and measure moisture more accurately, as well as possibly track trends such as drainage and suggest optimal watering times. As I was working out how best to alert the user to dry soil (tricky given a limited energy budget), I discovered the "trifecta of failed smart garden products"!

It seems that these kinds of products were a fad in 2015ish that has since died off, along with the companies that built them. In terms of value added, my design ideas up to this point was average overall, compared to the failed solutions. This alone wouldn't be so much of a problem - I could probably find technical areas to add more value into. However this sentence in the article was a bit scary:

"Avid gardeners likely didn't need a reminder to water, an none of the options offered enough data for research purposes... the category still banked on those who didn't care enough to water on their own investing $100 on tech that didn't actively fix the problem".

The implication, at least as I interpreted it, was that the products failed not because they didn't operate in the way they were designed to, but instead because they weren't addressing a real need.

I'm working on changing my natural mindset from "this sounds like a cool hobby project to build" to "this sounds like a viable business opportunity to pursue". I don't want to give up on this idea too early, but I'm worried that I've been inventing a need in my head to justify building this cool-sounding project, and would appreciate an outside perspective on the situation. Thanks!

"...the category still banked on those who didn't care enough to water on their own investing $100 on tech that didn't actively fix the problem"

The sensors *did* operate the way they were designed to. They told a farmer that was too lazy to water his crops, that his crops needed watering. The problem is that the farmer was lazy.
 

mdot

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Thanks. Maybe I was over-thinking it - a potential target market was in the quote the whole time, as you pointed out. I'll try connecting with that target market, as well as looking more deeply into why the existing solutions folded to avoid any specific mistakes they may have made.
 

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Can you pivot a little bit? Forget the wannabe weekend warrior gardeners. Go after a market that is committed to keeping their plants alive - and will spend money to do it.

For example, take someone who has already paid $1000 or more for a greenhouse. He is dead serious about growing, and will be much more willing to pay for a watering solution that works.
 

mdot

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Forget the wannabe weekend warrior gardeners. Go after a market that is committed to keeping their plants alive - and will spend money to do it.
I like it. During my research of existing solutions I felt as though a gap existed between weekend warriors and full-blown agriculture. I'll take this into consideration, thanks!
 

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Thanks. Maybe I was over-thinking it - a potential target market was in the quote the whole time, as you pointed out. I'll try connecting with that target market, as well as looking more deeply into why the existing solutions folded to avoid any specific mistakes they may have made.

I've known a lot of farmers, they usually go to a farming college and then inherit, lease, or buy a farm. They are not the type to forget to water their crops. I don't know anything about amateur farmers, but I expect there a lot of them. The legal marijuana market might have a lot of new farmers in it.
 

mdot

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I've known a lot of farmers, they usually go to a farming college and then inherit, lease, or buy a farm. They are not the type to forget to water their crops. I don't know anything about amateur farmers, but I expect there a lot of them. The legal marijuana market might have a lot of new farmers in it.
I did see a few existing solutions like AquaSpy or Deere Field Connect that are mainly in the business of selling access to data that could potentially increase yield. For those farmers, it's more about actionable data than remembering to water. For them I suppose every extra bit of yield is more money. For most home gardeners, the stakes aren't as high.
 

mdot

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At lunch today I listened to a recent episode of @Kak 's podcast where he discusses an interview from Elon Musk, especially where Elon says "you start out with an idea that is mostly wrong". Essentially, more important than having a solid plan from the get-go (which is often impossible anyway) it's better to take steps forward and iterate based on new knowledge and surprises that come your way. Between his advice and MJ's "act until echo", I'm more comfortable moving forward. Thanks @Kak for the episode. Thanks @loop101 and @jdm667 for your thoughts on markets. I think I'll develop a prototype and test it in several different markets, then aim in the direction I can provide the most value.
 
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jdm667

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At lunch today I listened to a recent episode of @Kak 's podcast where he discusses an interview from Elon Musk, especially where Elon says "you start out with an idea that is mostly wrong". Essentially, more important than having a solid plan from the get-go (which is often impossible anyway) it's better to take steps forward and iterate based on new knowledge and surprises that come your way. Between his advice and MJ's "act until echo", I'm more comfortable moving forward. Thanks @Kak for the episode. Thanks @loop101 and @jdm667 for your thoughts on markets. I think I'll develop a prototype and test it in several different markets, then aim in the direction I can provide the most value.
Well put @mdot . I think Darwin said something like "it is not the strongest that survive, but those that can adapt and evolve." Best of luck and keep moving forward.
 

Alferez

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At lunch today I listened to a recent episode of @Kak 's podcast where he discusses an interview from Elon Musk, especially where Elon says "you start out with an idea that is mostly wrong". Essentially, more important than having a solid plan from the get-go (which is often impossible anyway) it's better to take steps forward and iterate based on new knowledge and surprises that come your way. Between his advice and MJ's "act until echo", I'm more comfortable moving forward. Thanks @Kak for the episode. Thanks @loop101 and @jdm667 for your thoughts on markets. I think I'll develop a prototype and test it in several different markets, then aim in the direction I can provide the most value.
I totally agree with this thought. Maybe the idea is not the best, what is the worth it is the process that you go by. In my case, I've learnt more building a failure than rethinking again and again about THE IDEA!!
 

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As someone who loves houseplants I wanted to add my two cents.
I consider myself pretty adept at watering my plants...but I still struggle with knowing when to water sansevierias. I follow some gardening Tiktok accounts who don't recommend moisture meters for the reason you stated-they're not that effective. These accounts recommend using a knitting needle or something similar to check the soil moisture...well that hasn't worked for me. I can only assume there are others that this hasn't worked for as well. I believe if you market your idea the right way it could be really beneficial to those starting out with plants, as well as more experienced gardeners.
 

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BizyDad

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I don't think the products failed due to not addressing a real need. I for one need a product like this. I constantly kill indoor plants by over or under watering them. The question is one of value. Will I pay $100 for one? No way.

First off, $100 sounds like a lot. Secondly, then I still have to remember to go to my junk drawer, get it out, and go around my house and check every plant.

Now, if they could stay in the pot and had an indicator light to show me when water was needed, I would happily $15ish dollars each to put one in every plant in my home.

Then I never have to remember because one yellow or red light would remind me to check the others. I don't know if this is even feasible at that price point, but it's honest feedback from someone who's your target market.

If it costs much more than that, I'd rather just keep buying and/or growing new plants. $10, and I feel like I'm getting a steal, $20 and I'm thinking twice about my purchase and probably not doing it.
 

door123

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Tl;dr: I began pursuing an idea based on research into adding value into an existing type of product. Turns out products similar to my idea have all failed. Did they fail because they didn't deliver on their purpose or because there was no real need?

Since reading Unscripted and TMF, I've been trying to tune myself into noticing and investigating pain points that could be value skewed. One of the first that caught my interest was on the topic of making sure my plants were properly watered. Perhaps like many people, I enjoy looking at my houseplants more than I enjoy actually remembering to take care of them.

After some research, I found that most $10-$15 soil moisture sensors on Amazon are the same $2 Alibaba galvanic-based batteryless "3-in-1" type, which aren't accurate, damages roots, and can't be left in the soil long before corroding. I did some research on a few different methods of determining moisture in soil and I was fairly confident I could design and build a device that would perform better. Such a device could be left in the soil indefinitely and measure moisture more accurately, as well as possibly track trends such as drainage and suggest optimal watering times. As I was working out how best to alert the user to dry soil (tricky given a limited energy budget), I discovered the "trifecta of failed smart garden products"!

It seems that these kinds of products were a fad in 2015ish that has since died off, along with the companies that built them. In terms of value added, my design ideas up to this point was average overall, compared to the failed solutions. This alone wouldn't be so much of a problem - I could probably find technical areas to add more value into. However this sentence in the article was a bit scary:

"Avid gardeners likely didn't need a reminder to water, an none of the options offered enough data for research purposes... the category still banked on those who didn't care enough to water on their own investing $100 on tech that didn't actively fix the problem".

The implication, at least as I interpreted it, was that the products failed not because they didn't operate in the way they were designed to, but instead because they weren't addressing a real need.

I'm working on changing my natural mindset from "this sounds like a cool hobby project to build" to "this sounds like a viable business opportunity to pursue". I don't want to give up on this idea too early, but I'm worried that I've been inventing a need in my head to justify building this cool-sounding project, and would appreciate an outside perspective on the situation. Thanks!
We have a couple large plants in our house. We only water them when they start to dry up. Luckily they are drought resistant, so they don't die quickly. Otherwise we would have to buy new plants pretty often

I would totally see how updated moisture indicators would be useful for casual plant owners like me.

Before starting development, I would definitely try to sell some updated meters(use photoshop) via G ads or FB ads or other channels. You can hire photoshop freelancers for $10 an hour on Thats what I am doing right now with my new product.
 

mdot

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Thanks for all the new suggestions and comments! I've accelerated the wrap-up of existing projects I have open so I can focus on moving forward with this product.

I believe if you market your idea the right way it could be really beneficial to those starting out with plants, as well as more experienced gardeners.
Indeed, I've been worried about introducing a new product into this space given the proliferation of bad or snake oil moisture meters out there. I bought a few existing meters from Amazon and only one of them works pretty much at all, and even that has some shortcomings I hope to address. Marketing will definitely need to be considered carefully to distinguish myself from the noise.

If it costs much more than that, I'd rather just keep buying and/or growing new plants. $10, and I feel like I'm getting a steal, $20 and I'm thinking twice about my purchase and probably not doing it.
Thanks for your input on pricing! My strategy at the moment revolves around at least one unit per plant, leaving it in 24/7. As customers buy more plants, I would also want them to buy more probes. It's much more convenient for the customer, and it encourages repeat sales as the garden grows! $15 is lower than I expected, so I've made a note to do some sort of pricing survey, perhaps running ads with different prices? Speaking of ads...

Before starting development, I would definitely try to sell some updated meters(use photoshop) via G ads or FB ads or other channels. You can hire photoshop freelancers for $10 an hour on Thats what I am doing right now with my new product.
Basically you are saying photoshop the finished product to see if I get any bites, right? My plan was to build a proof of concept first to test the technology, and then set about pulling it together into a finished product. Would you recommend the ad trial before the proof of concept or after?
 

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I agree with BizyDad. Something that stays in 24/7 and is cheap enough to stick into many pots. I have a few friends who are plant aficionados and have hundreds inside their homes, and they spend many hours every week checking soil moisture manually to see if they need watering. I was with a friend last night whose sister is such a person and he was making fun of how much time her plants require, but she does make good money selling cuttings.

There are people out there spending hundreds of dollars on single unique and rare plants, and plant cuttings, like the whole monstera family. Even though these enthusiasts know their sh*t I’m sure they’ll take any affordable help to ensure the health of their most prized plants.
 

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I agree with BizyDad. Something that stays in 24/7 and is cheap enough to stick into many pots. I have a few friends who are plant aficionados and have hundreds inside their homes, and they spend many hours every week checking soil moisture manually to see if they need watering. I was with a friend last night whose sister is such a person and he was making fun of how much time her plants require, but she does make good money selling cuttings.

There are people out there spending hundreds of dollars on single unique and rare plants, and plant cuttings, like the whole monstera family. Even though these enthusiasts know their sh*t I’m sure they’ll take any affordable help to ensure the health of their most prized plants.
That's funny, Monsteras are the next plant I want for my house. They are one of the few plants that grow big but don't need direct light. I have enough bamboo, I need to mix it up.

Crap, am I going to kill a hundred dollar plant next?

But there's $$ to be made here too? Hundreds a clipping you say?

Come on, I apparently need this invention so I can launch my next venture BizyDadsArboretum.com or maybe BizyDadsBotanicals.com. Nope, the second one sounds like I sell women's face cream. Definitely Arboretum.

Where do I place my preorder?

Edit: Am I the only one who appreciates the pun in the headline? :clap::
 
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Bombastik_80

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Hi,

I am working on similar projects, but I have unfortunately not much time right now to write a comprehensive answer.

But it is probably helpful to check out some projects on hackaday.io:

w-parasite | Hackaday.io
Remotely controlled plant watering | Hackaday.io

The second one is my own project. The first one I find particularly interesting since the guy gets asked repeatedly about selling his sensor ("Complaints of Void").

Hope this helps a bit.
 
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mdot

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I agree with BizyDad. Something that stays in 24/7 and is cheap enough to stick into many pots. I have a few friends who are plant aficionados and have hundreds inside their homes, and they spend many hours every week checking soil moisture manually to see if they need watering. I was with a friend last night whose sister is such a person and he was making fun of how much time her plants require, but she does make good money selling cuttings.
This is definitely the kind of target market I was imagining (and hoping existed). I have 10 plants on my windowsill and already it's a pain trying to figure out if they need water.

There are people out there spending hundreds of dollars on single unique and rare plants, and plant cuttings, like the whole monstera family. Even though these enthusiasts know their sh*t I’m sure they’ll take any affordable help to ensure the health of their most prized plants.
This ties back to what @jdm667 mentioned about a group of people that will do whatever it takes to keep their plants alive. I didn't even consider people who grow plants to sell cuttings, thanks for introducing me to this market! I don't think a soil moisture meter alone could consider enough variables to keep abnormally high maintenance plants thriving, but it sounds like there is an opportunity to build a more comprehensive solution, which would serve this particular niche and potentially create a 10x improvement for general use (at perhaps 10x the cost however...)

Hi,

I am working on similar projects, but I have unfortunately not much time right now to write a comprohensive answer.

But it is probably helpful to check out some projects on hackaday.io:

w-parasite | Hackaday.io
Remotely controlled plant watering | Hackaday.io

The second one is my own project. The first one I find particularly interesting since this guy gets asked repeadedly about selling his sensor ("Complaints of Void").

Hope this helps a bit.
Happy to meet a fellow hardware designer here! Thanks for the links! I was thinking of using LoRa or BLE. A tie in with an automatic watering system seems like a natural next step! I could have used your project when I went on a trip a few years ago and had to rig up a servo on a timer to knock a measuring cup of water into the pot!

Edit: Am I the only one who appreciates the pun in the headline? :clap::
:)
 

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Can you pivot a little bit? Forget the wannabe weekend warrior gardeners. Go after a market that is committed to keeping their plants alive - and will spend money to do it.

For example, take someone who has already paid $1000 or more for a greenhouse. He is dead serious about growing, and will be much more willing to pay for a watering solution that works.
I agree. That's a much more reliable market for your idea. Or specialized plants -- like orchards. And there are gardening clubs that would be good places to prospect for clients. You must find your price point in order to make it work. That's a matter of knowing the market, your competitors, and talking to a lot of people about what they would be willing to pay.

One thing to think about is rather than just talking about dry versus wet -- the professional grower or the person crazy about their house plants needs to know WHEN is the optimal watering time and when is their watering enough. You must have a benefit that is worth the price and the hassle of buying your product. That could be your hook. And yes, you must find a hook to make your idea a success.
 

B.Cotter

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I don't think a soil moisture meter alone could consider enough variables to keep abnormally high maintenance plants thriving

The number one cause of house plants dying is overwatering; people getting too trigger happy. Before getting into a more complex solution or application, I'd look at solving one problem first. Then evolve from there. It's easier to solve one thing than try to solve five.
 

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