Claire Reid, who dreamed up the idea that became Reel Gardening as a 16-year-old school girl in South Africa, has an attribute that many entrepreneurs never acquire—knowing when to step back.
What’s this CEO and founder’s biggest dream?
“I want to sell the company to someone who can take it to the international market,” she said. “I don’t want to get to the point that another competitor could, in essence, kill my first child.”
For now, the company she launched after discovering that gardening didn’t have to have as much complexity and guesswork, is doing well. Its turnover over the last four years has tripled each year. Talk to the people at USAID’s “Securing Water for Food” (SWFF) program, and they will tell you that due to Reid’s creative ideas, enthusiasm, and marketing skills, she has been a stand-out in the program.
I know my strengths, and I know what I like to do,” she said. “We have had and are having a great trajectory, and we are penetrating a niche in a novel way.
Four years ago Reid, now 32, entered a unique USAID competition aimed at discovering the best innovative entrepreneurs worldwide who had ideas on how to grow food with less water. The submissions had to be environmentally sound, sustainable, and scalable. There were thousands of applicants and only several dozen selected for grants and technical assistance through the USAID program which carefully monitored the progress of each one chosen.
The recipients came from a variety of areas, from new irrigation and plowing techniques to meteorological forecasting advances to the use of sensors and drones to monitor crops. Results were measured by increased crop yield and water savings, among other criteria.
Reid’s idea was amazingly simple when it came to helping novice, and non-green thumb gardeners on small plots succeed. First, seeds and nutrients were placed in strips and buried. The strips were color coded to the plant or flower, and the top of the strip edged out above the soil, so the gardener knew the exact spacing of his plants. The technique used 80 percent less water and fewer seeds.
Additionally, Reid found opportunities in diversification.
Using her creative talents, she devised products such as “garden in a box,” and corporate promotional items such as bookmarks and name tags containing seeds and nutrients, which could be planted. Considered, what the SWFF program calls, “an alumnus”, Reel Gardening has had to make several course corrections, for which she credits the advice from the SWFF Technical Assistance team.
“We were focused on an important target, but one that would not be useful in scaling the business,” said Reid, who lives in Johannesburg. “They enabled us to re-look at our business model and adapt it. We incorporated corporate and direct to consumer possibilities to facilitate the impact we wanted to see at a grassroots level.” Through her TED Talks, news articles, and a CNN piece, the story of a teenager who discovered an interesting and profitable gardening niche has given added impetus to her business.
Now the mother of two young children, Reid is taking a close look at what Reel Gardening needs going forward.
“I know my strengths, and I know what I like to do,” she said. “We have had and are having a great trajectory, and we are penetrating a niche in a novel way.”
“But, when it comes down to it, the parts I love the most about the business are the creative areas and problem-solving. I like to solve problems through design and interesting ideas.”
In other words, she believes it is time for someone else to take Reel Gardening to the next level. And she thinks this might take a while because she has exacting criteria for anyone to acquire her company. “They need to have the same values I have in terms of being eco-friendly and a socially aware company,” she said. “Reel Gardening is at a very good stage. We have very few problems to be solved.
“We have gotten a grasp of how to make the Reel Gardening eco-system work, and we have a lean organization. We’ve also had a lot of fun. And while I feel I am a good creator of a company, perhaps I am not as good at running one.”
However, don’t think Claire Reid is going to rest on her entrepreneurial laurels. “I have been incubating an idea for a new company,” she said. She hinted that it had something to do with the high unemployment rate in South Africa (about 60 percent), and the inability of job seekers in Johannesburg to even get interview appointments.
As with all good entrepreneurs, when it is time to move on, they look for other exciting opportunities. Ms. Reid is looking for ideas where she can make a difference.
USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.