The Apple Engineer Who Quit His Job to Propagate Plants (Interview)

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
rootcup green
©. rootcup

© rootcup

Michael Good had an enviable career working at Apple, but he gave it up to launch the rootcup. The rootcup is a simple, yet elegant, solution to rooting plants that he stumbled upon after being inspired by a child and a rosemary cutting.

TreeHugger: I see you worked at Apple. It seems like the dream employer for many, why would you leave?

Mike: Before starting good3studio I was at Apple working on iPhone5. The biggest reason to leave Apple was travel. I was away from home several weeks at a time and noticed that I was often getting sick while abroad. These days I've got a strong preference to work locally, and that’s my intention with good3studio, and products like the rootcup. My wife and I have a lot more time together now and I feel that I have more attention to put into home.

TreeHugger: Did working at Apple influence how you approached or designed the rootcup?

Mike: I was a team-lead for a group of Engineers that help to develop manufacturing process for new products. The role pulls together industrial design, mechanical design and manufacturing, to come up with solutions that make it possible to make lots of great things in new ways. It is probably silly to compare rootcup to an iPhone but for me, the process of harmonizing material, process and geometry is exactly the same. As a product developer, I got the same buzz from seeing the rootcup as I did when I saw the first iPhone. What is different about rootcup is that this synthesis is much more personal, I'm able to vote more strongly on the way that I think product development should be done.

TreeHugger: How did the idea for the rootcup come about?

rootcup prototype

© rootcup Mike's rootcup prototype.

Mike: Some friends were over for dinner and their daughter had picked up a rosemary cutting while they were walking to our apartment. We placed the cutting in a Sake glass on the kitchen table, with some water and forgot about it. A week or so later the water was nearly gone but roots had started. We continued to add water to the sake cup and the rosemary was doing well. I planted the rosemary and tried to grow roots with some other cuttings, mostly succulents that we had around the house and deck, they did great also. Soon I had used up all of our sake glasses and was improvising lids from aluminum foil to hold the cuttings out of water, reduce evaporation and block light. The sake-cup set-up was working great but it didn't look wonderful and I wasn't happy about using the aluminum. I made a mockup from clay for what would be come rootcup.

TreeHugger: What's rootcup made from? How sustainable is the process of manufacturing something like this?

Mike: Rootcup is a very simple design, but the synthesis of material and process took some experience to put together. I want do disclose the material and methods but it would make rootcup very easy to copy. The elastomer can be recycled, though not through usual city recycle bins. The philosophy behind the material chosen was to use a process that doesn't produce any waste during molding and that the product was extremely durable so that it would have a very long useful life. An example is the packaging, it is unbleached craft paper, a single part that holds the cup, lid and gives a simple explanation about how to use rootcup. While developing packaging ideas for rootcup and BIGrootcup I steered away from some other ideas that used more material and required more processing. I'll add recycling information on the website - it’s on my homework list.

TreeHugger: Were you a gardener prior to rootcup? Or has the rootcup made you gardener?

rootcup succulent rooting

© rootcup

Mike: Last year I mentored a youth business program and one of the projects was a planter that would help people grow lettuce in their apartments. I was really impressed that a recent grad was interested in growing and trending toward sustainability. I was inspired and became more active with growing at home. With sake-cups and now rootcups, our small collection has become a modest apartment garden.

TreeHugger: You mentioned youth mentoring, is social enterprise something that appeals to you?

Mike: I like local manufacturing, so I committed to assembling rootcup where I live, San Francisco. Rootcup is assembled at a rehabilitation workshop that hires people who were previously unemployable due to disability. I know that this decision means carrying more inventory and that assembly will take longer, cost more, and I'm ok with that. We're all in this together and I'm glad to weight social contribution highly. The change curve is long, I still have a lot to learn and much more to contribute, and rootcup is a start on that path.

TreeHugger: I see you're launching a bigger version of the rootcup on Kickstarter. Why make BIGrootcup?

BIG rootcup prototype

© rootcup BIGrootcup prototype.

Mike: So far sales for the rootcup have been multiples like 3 or 4 rootcups at a time. I released rootcup early to friends and family, they were a big help to get a feeling about interest in rootcup. Several people replied that they like it, and they also would like to propagate larger cuttings. So the BIGrootcup was born.

TreeHugger: What appealed to you about launching BIGrootcup on Kickstarter?

Mike: A lot of tech projects are successful on Kickstarter, I'm into photography and when I saw how much attention the Leash was getting, I was curious if Kickstarter might be a good way to gather some help upfront to cover tooling and material costs for a BIGrootcup. Coming from a "tech" background I was curious if there would be other tech people that enjoy or might like to experiment with plant cuttings, it was a really easy entry point for me.

TreeHugger: What other projects are you working on in good3studio?

Mike: My wife takes care of the orchids at our apartment, occasionally we receive them as gifts and we've been caretakers for some orchids that we weren't sure would flower. I'm not good with maintaining Orchids but I've been playing with an idea for a vessel specifically for Orchids. It is more than a concept now, but not public, so I don't want to share too much. But I think Orchid people will like it; they might wonder why something like it didn't exist already.


© rootcup

I'd like to thank Mike for taking time from his schedule to answer these questions. You can order a rootcup at the product's website. It would make a neat stocking stuffer for the gardener on your holiday shopping list. In San Francisco, rootcups are available at PaxtonGate, WinkSF, and Hortica.

The Kickstarter for BIGrootcup ends on Jan 2, 8:59pm EST. If you pledge $14.00 you get your own BIGrootcup, for $25.00 you get a BIGrootcup and four original rootcups.

Need more gift ideas for gardeners? See our Green Gift Guide: The Outdoors Enthusiast, and our 11 Holiday Gifts for Gardeners guide.