I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicolas Ruiz. Nicolas, who goes by Nico, is the co-founder of Cloudponics and developer for the GroBox: an automated, intelligent growing cabinet that allows users to grow happy and healthy cannabis, regardless of experience. The GroBox also allows medicinal users to control the quality and quantity of their medicine without the high costs of dispensaries or the risk of pesticides.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m a civil engineer from Chile who has been consuming cannabis for the past 20 years. Cannabis has been a very important part of my life. I started growing indoors at home around 11 years ago, and was immediately addicted to growing cannabis. I decided around 10 years ago that I wanted to dedicate my life to bring the joy of growing cannabis to as many people as possible.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
During January 2017 we spent 30 straight days working on building the first 30 units by hand, on average from 8am to 1am every day non-stop, during a cold winter with no heating in the workshop. We listened to a lot of rap to keep the spirits high, and used to sing parts of the songs which were very nasty (lots of F bombs and “bitches”). It was a shared workshop with other startups (all American), and we were the group of Chileans who spoke in Spanish among them and would randomly sing the nastiest lyrics in English, and that’s the only thing that the other people could understand.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Cloudponics is the first company in the world that developed a fully automated home grow equipment that allows regular people, without any previous grow experience, to grow up to 12 ounces of cannabis every three months. We have been shipping since January 2017 and the results so far have been mind blowing. First time growers are recovering their $2,490 USD (price of the GroBox) in their first grow. While our competition has yet to deliver a single unit (and have been taking pre-orders for more than two years), we are already working on our third generation of grow technology products that will be available later this year.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My dad is definitely someone I look up to and who has helped me think outside the box. He’s an engineer as well and is the only other person I know that has invented a technology and has a patent for it. Since I was a kid, I’ve been encouraged to tinker with electronics and learn how things work. Funny story is that he’s pretty conservative, so I’m pretty sure he never thought his engineer son’s contribution to the world would be a cannabis growing machine. That being said, after I explained the economics behind it, he got on board and was actually our very first investor.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Constantly! At this time, we are working on image processing capabilities that will allow the units to detect if there are any nutrient deficiencies on the plants and correct the nutrient injection for optimal growth. This is a technology similar to facial recognition, but applied to plants and optimized for their growth.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our company was founded on the principle that cannabis is too expensive for most users, and specially when used for medicinal purposes, we believe that no one should be left without medicine because they can’t afford it. Our technology has empowered veterans and other medicinal users to grow the strain that works for them, with huge savings in the first year of use. We believe in a world where cannabis is not only accessible at reasonable prices, but can also be grown joyfully at home by anyone.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
The Bible…. just kidding! My favorite book is Sapiens. I think that it should be mandatory to read in 10th grade at every school. It’s a fantastic take on human history and how it affects us today on both an individual and societal level. It has helped me understand why I am the way I am as well as why other people are the way they are, helping me have more empathy while at the same time seeing clearly what’s wrong with the world today and what I need to do to make it a better place.
You likely have heard of the famous cliche that in a gold rush the one selling the shovels makes much more than the one who finds gold. This is the modern day “green rush”. Can you recommend to our readers 5 technologies or services that can potentially be lucrative “shovels” for the cannabis industry? Can you give an example for each?
Sure, there’s a huge industry of accessories and devices that are used for either cannabis consumption, cannabis growing or cannabis lifestyle. My favorite ones are:
LED Lights: Black Dog LED
Desktop Vaporizers: VapeXhale
Portable Vaporizers: Storz & Bickel Crafty
Cannabis Delivery: Meadow
Odor Filters for Grow operations: Can Filters
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
Do something you love:It’s going to take a lot of late night work and no weekends for long period of time before things start moving and you can enjoy the luxury of vacation or a single day over the weekend where your mind is not at least 50% on your job. The only real way to withstand this tortuous path is to love what you’re doing.
Find a co-founder that complements you: There’s no sense in teaming up with someone who’s really good at the same things you are, and really bad at the things you are as well. My partner, Pepijn, is very methodical, analytical, organized and business minded. I’m more technical, mad-scientist all over the place,and product oriented. If I had started this company alone, it would still be a crazy dream no one got to see.
Find a space for you and your family:Being an entrepreneur requires you to “give it all,” but that really only works with robots. I picked up a hobby I had totally neglected for years: playing guitar in a band. Once a week, we get high and play rock n roll for four straight hours. It has helped me overcome the stress in a very therapeutical way. I also enjoy spending time with my family and taking my daughter to the park early on a weekday, when most dads are at the office.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Find the sweet spot with everyone on how much you need to manage them and how much you can trust that they’ll figure it out on their own. It sounds easier than it is. You don’t want to micromanage them, but you also need to guide them to fulfill your vision. Ask for their feedback on how YOU are doing and try to make them comfortable.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I’d say Snoop Dogg. I believe that our company would interest him big time. And worse case scenario, even if he’s not interested, I get to smoke a blunt with Snoop and check off an item from a stoner bucket list that rarely anyone gets to do
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on the latest innovations impacting the cannabis industry.