Kevin Frender is chief science officer and chief technology officer at Black Dog Grow Technologies. He has been growing indoors with artificial light for more than 35 years, using every commercially available lighting technology along the way. He also starts plants indoors for his summer outdoor garden every year and has decades of experience with hardening-off seedlings for transplantation outdoors. Combined with a vast knowledge of plants and a penchant for science, Frender is an expert in the field of lighting.
Where did the idea for Black Dog Grow Technologies come from?
I’ve always been interested in growing plants and always had a plant room in my basement where I experimented with different technologies – growing tropical plants like mangos and starfruit in Colorado despite the cold, outdoor temperatures. Once I saw how advanced and revolutionary Black Dog LED’s lights were I knew I had to join the company.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My days vary a lot so there isn’t a typical day. But what I have found helpful is mapping out every task that needs to be accomplished in a day and rank them according to priority.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Lots of research, prototyping and iterating till you get it right. I’m always in the process of exploring new ideas and trying to manifest them.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In technology, I’m really excited by the prevalence of open-source software because its easier to fix, and easier for everyone to help one another out – ultimately resulting in more sophisticated use cases. As for cannabis, I’m excited to see more focus on sustainability and long-term environmental effects.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m always curious, pondering new ideas and jotting things down which makes it easier, as a creator, to bring ideas to life since I’m always thinking through problems in my mind, 24/7.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If you think the company your working for, or project you’re on, is a dead-end -then just leave. Don’t wait until its too late to pursue endeavors you’re passionate about – it’s much more worthwhile to live life on your own terms.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Cheapest isn’t always the best. In the case of grow lights, you could buy a cheaper product but it may not produce as high of a yield, may break down more often, and doesn’t include the right spectrum which can result in lower yields. As the saying goes, if you buy cheap, you’ll be buying often.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Think through problems, be creative, and always learning. It’s very easy to get caught in the day-to-day operations, but you need to be a visionary as well. So try and make it a routine – read a new book once a month, take time to meditate or hike – whatever allows you to take a step back and view your company and the industry from a 30,000-foot perspective.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Don’t compromise and deliver outstanding customer results. Most of our sales in the early years were word of mouth – LED lights used to have a bad reputation but our customer focus resulted in trust and others wanting to share our lights and name with friends and colleagues. We set a high bar for anyone who answers the phone at Black Dog LED to deliver impactful customer service and knowledge.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One of the first failures I had was joining a small company during the Dot-com Boom and not asking enough questions first about what they did and how they were going to accomplish it; it ultimately wasn’t a fit. I ultimately left the company, but now make sure to ask a lot of questions before embarking on any endeavor.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A lot of people believe in cloth pots which are essentially pots made out of felt – they provide aeration, prevent roots from strangling themselves, and have other advantages.
The challenge, if you’re a pro grower, is if you clean them out and pressure wash them and bleach normal pots you’re fine. With cloth pots, you’ll need an industrial washing machine to clean them and it’s a much bigger hassle as they are cloth.
Why hasn’t someone thought of an automated pot delivery service that can deliver these pots on a regular basis, clean and recycle the old felt pots using their own services, and save growers time and cost. We see companies provide this type of service in gyms, restaurants, etc. in the form of towels, uniforms, etc. This is simply re-applying this model to the cannabis industry. It’d make a ton of money.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Another fertilizer mixing pump – they save so much time mixing up large batches of fertilizer!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
This sounds obvious, but Google because it makes it simple to find information on any subject. Those who remember life before Google, when accessing information was difficult, appreciate how big of a game-changer it is.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
What is your favorite quote?
If at first, you don’t succeed, try, and try again.
- Always be curious and thinking through problems
- Deliver amazing customer service
- Pursue your passions and don’t settle
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.