The world is changing…FAST. Check out this interview I did with Antony Evans, project manager for glowingplants.com. They are currently making real-life plants that glow in the dark, and their Kickstarter funding campaign has raised over 300,000 on Kickstarter already!
Here are some things you will learn in this interview:
- The future of glowing technology. Will glowing plants replace street lights? Will Rudolph the red nosed reindeer become real some day?
- How scientists make plants glow in the dark.
- 4 things that make a legendary Kickstarter campaign.
- Antony's special take on Kictarter funding rewards, and how to use them to get more backers.
- Why this project almost failed miserably on Kickstarter, and the 1 crucial step that saved everything.
Here's the promo video for Glowing Plants. See the interview below:
Anton (Host): Welcome to the interview. My name is Anton Volney, and today I have an exciting guest. His name is Antony Evans and he is the project manager of Glowing Plants…And Glowing Plants is a really exciting project on Kickstarter right now…Exciting for lots of reasons. One is because they have already raised over 295,000 (over 5000 backers) but really, the really exciting thing about this project is that they have actually figured out how make plants glow in the dark. It's quite fascinating, quite beautiful, and its just amazing…So welcome Antony, how are you doing today?
Antony: I'm doing good, it's nice to meet you!
Anton (Host): So tell me about what's going on with your project? What's your background? How did all of this come to be on Kickstarter so far?
Antony: Yeah, so why don't I sort of start by telling you what we're doing. So we're making glowing plants and we're using a set of technologies called synthetic biology. What scientists have figured out is taking genes that are expressed in some part of the world in some organism…and figuring out ways to express those organisms in other organisms.
Antony: …So what we're doing is we've found a bacteria. It's not a very exciting name, it's called Vibriofisheri. This is a marine bacteria that has figured out a way to express luminescence. Its developed this to live in the ocean and work with squids. It's figured out the pathways for how to create light using two chemicals: luciferen and luciferase. And we looked at this at State University of New York, and they figured out a way of decoding the genes from that. And they demonstrated a way we could work in in plants….and my company sort of replicated that, and we improved on the glowing effect these scientists have created and create a naturally glowing plant. And so what we did is take the genes and download them online (they're available), and put them in a software called genome compiler (anyone can try this), and look at the genes we've designed.
Antony: We take those genes and optimize them so they express themselves well in plants. We print the genes, they get synthesized on the DNA printer, and then we use this funky little bacteria called agrobacterium. We put the DNA we've designed into the agrobacterium, and we do this in a really way…by dipping the bacteria in dry ice…it sort of cracks the walls of the bacteria, which allows our DNA to slip into it. And then we put the bacteria next to our plant and then it will insert the genes into our plant. And then when we grow that plant up from the seeds it will glow.
Anton (Host): If you created a plant that can glow, could that plant reproduce and create more glowing plants?
Antony: Yes it will. We'll make sure the genes are expressed on both chromosomes in the plant, and what that means is when the plant produces offspring, all of the offspring will glow.
Antony: It's really important to ask this question. We believe that because of the unique way we're funded, with donations from the public, we believe that you should own this and the descendants of this should be yours. We're not like these big agro-industrial companies that are attempting to create a supply constraint on the market. We believe that one you get the seeds, they should be yours and yours to do with as you wish.
Anton (Host): I read on your kickstarter page that your goal eventually is to replace electric lightbulbs. So far I've seen the still image of the glowing plant, but this is so incredible to me that I still have to see this in real life to see what this is all about. I still have a hard time imagining a plant being bright enough to light up a street. So my question is–––
Antony: Have you seen Avatar?
Anton: Yes! Is it really going to be that bright? If we had a tree that glowed in the dark, would that be the equivalent of a street lamp? Because I've seen fireflies, and those are really bright creatures, so how bright is this thing really?
Antony: I think there's two answers to that question. The first is, how bright are the plants that we're going to make next year…and the answer to that is certainly not as bright as a streetlight. We're not going to be reading by these lights. We're hoping for a glow that you see with your eye, have you seen that glow in the dark paint? Or the stars that you can stick on the ceiling? That's the level of light that we're aiming for…BUT the question is, "how bright can we get it?" and that's where will things will get a bit more exciting and we can hopefully realize this vision of replacing street lights with lamps. There's a lot of science to be done before we get there, but theoretically, nature is very efficient at turning sunlight into energy, why shouldn't it be very efficient at turning energy into light? Firefly genes as you mentioned are very efficient at this. They're called "cold light" because none of the energy escapes as waste heat. They're not like when you have an electric lightbulb and it gets hot. That doesn't happen with bioluminescent light. It's very efficient…So the real question is, how much engineering to we have to do on these plants to get them to express light on this level…and the answer will definitely be, A LOT of work. And that's one of the reasons we want to do this open source because we want to encourage people to participate and contribute to the field and help achieve this goal…If we all work on this together, we all have a better chance of getting there quicker than if we locked this research in an ivory tower and we only have a team of three people secretly working on it. And the unique way we're funded on Kickstarter, means that we can take that open approach and share our designs open source and get contributors to it.
Anton (Host): So let me ask you another question about the potential of this, because I think we're living in an age were we're seeing a dawn of manipulating genes on a level where we can lend the attributes of one species to another…just like what you're doing with your glow in the dark plants, but also recently I think I was watching a Ted talk and they were talking about giving dinosaur attributes to chickens…So how likely is it that 20, 30 years from now we might have a real-life Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, or I can have a glowing finger like E.T. Is that possible? Would that ever happen?
Antony: I think there's a couple of separate items in there. I think it's possible. Hell yeah. Time phrames are a big unknown. DNA is a really powerful tool and the question is, how fast do we get there? And how do we as a society evolve the legal regulatory frameworks around this. What are the ethical questions? There are religious organizations that have hesitations about us playing with this stuff. There are a whole load of really interesting social and political questions that come out of this project, and so its going to be interesting to see how fast it goes. We're trying to accelerate this. We really believe that the benefits of this kind of technology are huge and we can achieve great things in energy production, medicine and food production…so we'd like to see if we can accelerate this. But there's important safety/ethical questions that we need to consider, and things that hack ourselves is probably quite far away. I think that people's willingness to change our own DNA is going to be much more limited than to create other things. As soon as you have things that are going to have food involved, you've created a new set of regulations. Although we all eat DNA everyday….Your lunch is nothing but DNA…Whatever you ate for lunch is basically DNA. We eat gazillions of molecules everyday…
Anton (Host): Are there any particular groups of people that are giving you heat for creating glowing plants right now?
Antony: There are a couple of not-for-profit organizations that have gotten in touch with us. I think their beef is not so much with the fact that we are creating plants. Their concerns are more that the United States regulation is not sufficiently strict. And that we should be more highly reviewed by government agencies. They haven't really said that glowing plants are bad. What they've really said is, "Are we progressing this too fast? Is the government taking an interest in safeguards?" and you know I think that's an important contribution to the space and we welcome that discussion.
Anton (Host): That brings to mind the whole Frankenstein, Mary Shelly, "trying to play God" kind of debate.
Antony: I don't think we're playing God. I think we're using something that nature has created and depending on your beliefts, that God has created, and I think it's there as a tool to learn from and use for the benefit of everybody. But live in a free society and everyone lives in a free society, and everyone's entitled to their opinion.
Anton (Host): Like I said, you've got a really fascinating topic, but I'm going to rope you back to your Kickstarter funding campaign for two seconds. You've raised almost $300,000, what exactly do you need the money for?
Antony: The biggest cost is DNA. While the cost of synthesizing DNA is dropping really fast––a lot of this money is still going in DNA. The more money we raise, the more strains of DNA we can test, and the more likely that we'll get a stronger glowing effect. And of course we need a lab space, we need green houses, we need growing equipment…because of the scale of this project we're going to out grow the facilities that we've already got pretty fast… and what the additional funds will allow us to do rewrite genes so they're designed to express in plants.
Antony: The second thing we're going to do is testing the different promoters. Promoters are things that plants use to know in which cell to turn genes on and off…and they're critical things to be testing to make sure we're adequately expressing genes that we want…then we'll be doing some metabolic engineering.
Anton (Host): Why do you think your project is so popular on Kickstarter? What do you think is the secret behind it? Do you think it's luck? What is it?
Antony: Oh there's definitely a ton of luck. You have no idea…you can't control the buzz that you get online. You have to tap into something. Luck plays a huge part of it. But there are two things that we did quite nicely. One is something we did specifically around the product and I think things that work well on Kickstarter have two aspects: I think you need a physical tangible reward that symbolizes the project that you're doing…and in this case, that's the glowing plant seeds. And then second I think on Kickstarter, you need an intangible. Kickstarter is not just a place for products––it's a place for dreams and hopes and for creating community…and I think it's important to be part of a bigger vision. And I think that's really helped us as well. We're pretty lucky to have both of those in one product. And then I think the other thing that helped us before we launched is: we talked to a lot of people. We must have talked to over 100 different people about the project in the weeks before we launched, and we got that feedback on the rewards and the appropriateness of the pricing and the messaging on the page––we really did a lot of work listening to people. And that meant that when we launched, we had this quite simple idea. The earlier versions of the page were these very science-y, very technical, and that would have turned a lot of people of…and so we learned a lot by really market testing. And it also meant that when we launched the first day, those hundred people we showed the project to, they were already bought in, they were already part of the process, and many of them became early backers. And I think that's another thing you want to have as part of you Kickstarter funding campaign, you want to energize your core audience and get some momentum behind your project…and that really helped us…
Anton (Host): You mentioned that it was really important for a Kickstarter funding campaign to have a cause to stand behind. Are you able to articulate YOUR cause is?
Antony: I think in our case, we've got 2 causes. The first is, can we replace streetlight with glowing plants. I think it's just such a wicked cool idea. It's really simple, you've seen Avatar…and it's feasible, and I think that's really captured people's imagination. And I think the second cause is, we really want to educate people about the potential of it for good…I beleive that with this technology to help people, especially for people in developing countries. And that's what everyone who is contributing towards this project is doing, they're helping the world towards that aim…AND they get a cool glowing plant.
Anton (Host): You also mentioned that you talked to 100 people before you started the project, and I didn't want to speed past that point because it sounded like that was the difference that made the difference…
Antony: That was critical, I mean the way page looked and the way the rewards were priced before we started doing that…we were very aggressive on pricing in the beginning…because we were worried about not making our goal, and how many people we could get involved and we run the numbers and you think sixty thousand dollars is a lot of money to raise…but you know, we just were not realistic about what people would be willing to pay…and people told us that….and so we came up with a number that's fair and reasonable but leaves us enough funds to do the project. And the other big thing was to simplify our message. Have the science but put that deep down on the page for people who really want to get into it…and keep that simplicity in there.
Antony: One thing we learned pretty early on is people watch the video, but they don't really read a lot of text on the page. you need quick easy visual cues to get across the page.
Anton (Host): You said was you talked to a lot of people about this project. Were did you talk to these people? Over the phone? Skype? In person?
Antony: A real mix. Anyone who had come to my appartment in the last six months was subjected to the project. I sat down and listened to them. A few people we emailed and they got back to us…and a few people we Skyped with…and so it was really about reaching out to people on whatever platform they were on, not the other way around.
Anton (Host): So that almost sounds like a pre-Kickstarter campaign before the actual Kickstarter funding campaign.
Antony: We got the advice: If you haven't got friends who are willing to contribute of your goal then you need to keep working on your idea. Everybody knows lots of people. If the people who are actually wanting to help you and they're skeptical…or it's not attractive to them, then what hope have you got to reach out to a broader range of people?
Anton (Host): I noticed you had a lot of media coverage. You had Wall Street Journal, BBC, New York Times, Mashable, etc….How did you find all those people? Did you seek them out or did they find you?
Antony: A real mix. A fair amount of it was inbound…but a lot of it was finding friends, and friends of friends,…and asking people for introductions…We have a lot of friends who have done Kickstarter projects themselves, and I think that was important, asking who they worked with and getting personal, friendly, warm introductions. But there's also been a fair amount of inbound….I think the importance there is being responsible. A lot of the time journalists get in touch with you and they're on a deadline and you need to respond very quickly… and that can be a challenge of your time management…And I think the other thing that is really important is to try to be really responsive to messages that you get, whether it's on Kickstarter or on twitter or facebook––all across the social media platforms.
Anton (Host): Is there anything you think really needs to happen to successfully launch a Kickstarter funding campaign and get to your goals?
Antony: Don't underestimate the amount of work. When I got involved I thought it would take three months and it took eight… there's a lot of background work involved.
Anton (Host): What are some of the setbacks you weren't expecting that came up for you?
Antony: The legal policy…research took a lot longer…and building that core base of energized supporters…that takes a long time too. You can't really rush that. You need to have your idea out there, and be talking to people and getting feedback on it for a while…and we also wanted to make sure we could actually create this…so we actually had to do the designs… and create the prototypes etc.
Anton (Host): What's your vision of this with the next few years?
Antony: Right now our vision for this is on the next twelve months. We've got 5000 people who are counting on us to make this work, and we're going to just focus on that. Where this leads after, we'll have to see about that…right now we're just focused on fulfilling our purpose… After that I want to develop a brighter, bigger plant… we'll see how we approach that… whether it's another Kickstarter funding campaign is yet to be determined…but we do want to continue to work on this and get this as streetlights.
Anton (Host): I really appreciate you taking the time to give me this interview. I hope our audience really enjoys it.
Antony: Thanks Anton! Have a good evening.
Powered By DT Author Box
Written by Anton Volney
Anton Volney is a LinkedIn profile writing expert, a war-hardened direct response copywriter, an amateur comedian, a cool compadre, and a lover of all things entrepreneurial.
If you haven’t grabbed your 3 free expert audios: ▶The $183,232 Kickstarter campaign blueprint. ▶3 steps to getting your business past “survival”…and potentially to its first million. ▶How be one of the 1% most connected people on LinkedIn. Grab them here.
- New Interview: How Trakline Belts Got $116,000 In Kickstarter Funding In Less Than 2 Weeks!
- $175,000 Worth Of Startup Crowdfunding Tips…From A Sock!
- Kickstarter Funding Interview With The Creators of Armikrog.
- A Kickstarter Funding MindFreak: How The OMNI Re-Re-Invented Virtual Reality Gaming…and Raised $750,000 In One Week.
- Kickstarter Funding: How The EMBRACE+ Raised $109,396 On Kickstarter In Under 30 Days.
- How To Launch A $100,000+ Kickstarter Funding Campaign: Eli Regalado Reveals A GOLDMINE Of Secrets!