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Q&A with Tobias Peggs: CEO of Square Roots

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When you think of farming, wide sprawling hills with rows of stalks and veggies comes to mind.  You probably imagine a farmer as a dude with a plow with denim overalls, not necessarily as an entrepreneur. Square Roots is a startup that is changing the way we think of farming.  Cofounded by Elon Musk's brother, Kimbal Musk, this company is disrupting the industrial food complex by closing the gap between the food that farmer's grow and the consumers who buy them.In the heart of Brooklyn in a old industrial parking lot sits a bunch of unassuming shipping containers.  The last thing you'd expect them to contain would be two acres worth of growing produce, but alas, that is exactly what's inside of them.Your typical apple travels a huge distance from where it was picked to the grocery store shelf.  In the process it looses the vast majority of it's nutrition.  Square Roots attempts to resolve this inefficiency by providing a place for produce to be grown in an urban setting.  It does this by growing produce in shipping containers hydroponically (a method of growing without soil).  Each shipping container is manned by a farming entrepreneur who is responsible for creating their own business plan, marketing and distribution logistics.  Once the produce is ready for harvest, farmers deliver the fresh goods directly to your office/home, connecting the farmer with the consumer in a more intimate and conscious way.A couple weeks ago I took a tour of the urban farm led by of Square Root's CEO Tobias Peggs.  Here's a look at some of the things I learned along the way:

How much produce can one shipping container yield on average?

One shipping container can produce about 50lbs of leafy greens.

How long does it take a plant to get from seed to harvest?

This varies depending on what type of vegetable is being grown but take for example a head of lettuce: it takes about 2-3 weeks for the plant to go from seed to harvest.

Tell me more about the tech that goes into growing food in shipping containers.

To replace sunlight, we use red and blue LEDs, which are really the only two types of light plants need for photosynthesis.  Each shipping container is modular with a controlled climate.  My background is in artificial intelligence, so every aspect of the conditions in each shipping container is controlled by AI.  Say we had an heirloom seed that grew in southern Italy in the 1800's.  We can look to see what the climate was at that time and replicate it's environment within the container.   This way, instead of literally shipping food from southern Italy, we just ship the data about that environment and use it to grow exotic foods locally.

What control do farmers have over what they grow?

Our farmers are 100% entrepreneurs.  They decide which seeds to use.  They also are responsible for their own branding and marketing and how to distribute their goods.  This is our first cohort of farmers, they don't have to use the Square Roots name, but most choose to.

Is there anything like this currently being attempted?

There's one in particular being attempted in Japan.  A large portion of farmland was rendered unusable after the meltdown in Fukushima.  Because of this Japanese consumers now have stamps on the food which literally says "Proud to be grown indoors".  So people are attempting it, all of them in different methods. I would say we were the most modular.After the tour I got to sample some of the shipping container-grown produce.  The picture above is from a mustard green.  Believe it or not it was really spicy!  I never thought of leafy greens as spicy, but regardless it was bomb as hell in my salad.As populations rapidly grow and change in cities, so must the way we produce and distribute food.  Not only does the current method of industrialized farming diminish the quality of our food, but it also disconnects the farmer from the consumer.  Square Roots presents us with a wildly innovative solution to these issues.  Where does your salad come from?  Mine came from a badass shipping container in Brooklyn.

What's up!? I'm Katrina. I'm wandering, collecting, witnessing and learning. I'm drawn to all things found at the intersection of art and technology. If I could go back in time, I think I'd be best friends with Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla and Cleopatra. When I'm not obsessing about the human endeavor or the nature of time, I'm probably cooking or dancing.

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How To Successful Deal With Stress Like A CEO

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White man with plaid shirt sitting stressed out by ocean
You've encountered stress countless times. And everyone has their own way of dealing with stress. Whether it's taking a quick walk, drinking some water, or reading, knowing how to deal with stress effectively is essential to both your personal and professional life. Stress is a natural part of existence and knowing how to deal with it effectively will be the difference between success and failure. Here are some effective stress management techniques used by some of the most successful people in the world.

Taking A Walk

Man walking in a fieldDespite its simplicity, taking a walk does several things for you. First, it removes you from the environment or situation that's causing the stress. And by removing you and taking you as far away as possible from the source of stress, you're much more likely to be able to think more clearly. Taking a walk also has the added benefit of promoting more blood flow to your brain. Your legs are powerful pumps that help circulate more blood throughout your body. And taking a stroll outside also gives you a nice breath of fresh air. All these factors combine to give you an edge in thinking more clearly and then deciding what to do with the situation.

Take A Nap

Beautiful white woman sleeping on bedOr get a good night sleep. Your ability to think clearly can be inhibited if you're not well rested. Taking a quick nap or attempting to get a good night sleep will help reduce tension and allow you to wake up with renewed energy to tackle the problem at hand. Taking a nap or getting some sleep is also effective at removing you emotionally from the problem. Constantly dwelling on the source of stress might not yield any immediate answers. However, waking up from a good nap may give you some newfound perspectives on the situation.

Writing Things Down

Person writing using pen and paperSometimes the thoughts in our head aren't as clear as we'd like them to be. Sitting down and writing down what's stressing us out and clearly detailing the event/incident can often give us insights into the situation. Writing things down also helps to calm us down if the stress is high and caused anxiety. The simple act of writing and keeping the notes also helps us recall past events that are similar to this one. And you can look back at some previous notes you've written to see if there are similarities and draw conclusions.

Do Something Nice For Someone

Asian woman holding up red heart cutoutAs odd as it sounds, the more we think to ourselves and about ourselves the more likely we are to obsess over our own stress. Sometimes we forget that we're all in this together and that everyone also goes through stress - just like us. By doing something nice for someone else, it removes us from our current self and allows us to empathize and think about another human being. It's a simple act of kindness that helps someone else and at the same time, buys us a bit of good karma. Helping another individual also helps release dopamine, a chemical that helps us feel good about yourself. And sometimes we just need a bit of boost to give us the confidence to go back and face the situation at hand.

Ask For Advice From A Colleague

Man and Woman sitting outside talkingTalking to someone can certainly help. But you don't want to come off as venting or complaining about your life. It's better to consider carefully who you're going to reach out to and frame the conversation as getting advice on a situation, rather than needing to vent. Because when you're venting or releasing steam, the other party is less likely to add value to the conversation, since you're not looking for anything other than someone to vent to. When reframed as getting advice, you're giving someone the permission and space to review your situation, ask productive questions, pick at the problem, and hopefully help you see the problem from a new perspective that you didn't see before.
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5 Things You Need To Know About Millennials

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Millennials (aka: Generation Y) are an interesting breed.  We've experienced quite a drastic change within our lifetime and the way we communicate with one another is very different than the generation before us.  Unfortunately we're not that easily understood and people tend to categorize us without knowing all the facts.  Below are 7 things you MUST know about millennials before you begin to make judgement.

It's harder for us to get a job

Contrary to what others may think, our generation aren't fortunate enough to get a job with just our high school degree.  For most of us, a Bachelors is barely enough to get accepted.  Our parents and grandparents had it much easier than we did in this department.  Demands for our education is increasing, our cost of living is higher, our student loans are piling higher than we'd like...and job opportunities are scarcer than before.

We're not buying Houses

We're considering many other alternatives as most of us still prefer to be in the cities where our job opportunities are highest.  And unfortunately that also comes with a very high rent, so we prefer to room with others to save on living expenses.  And we're also marrying much later as well, so the need to have our own american dream house doesn't need to be realize so early.

We're not driving anymore

Again...back to the whole idea of cost of living rising.  It cost on average anywhere from $500-$800 a month to own a car in most cities, and that's not even including the cost of parking and tickets you're likely to rack up.  With Uber and Lyft in most major cities nowadays, we're looking at other alternatives to driving.

Not all of us are Entrepreneurs

Yes...it's true.  With the boom of entrepreneurs in the recent years, it's easy to assume that most millennials are following similar footsteps as Zuckerberg and Jobs.  The truth is, although the idea of running your own startup is very appealing, most of us are actually straight up trying to create a profitable company.  We're still for the same dream, except without the early-stage hustling and grinding.

We want to work for a cause

The work we do does define us, and as Millennials we're NOT okay with settling for a meaningless job that simply pays the bill.  The job doesn't have to be high paying, as long as the work we do is meaningful and we are apart of something that's making waves. 
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How to Ask For a Favor

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how to ask for a favor
Do you know how to ask for a favor? Asking for a favor might be hard especially if you’re the independent type. Like it or not, we need to ask favors now and then if we want to succeed. Favors have varying degrees from the very easy: "please come to the conference call tomorrow" to the onerous "please introduce me to your contact at Apple". Lucky for you, people like doing favors. Studies show that people comply with requests to avoid awkwardness and it also suggests that favors are less of a burden than we think.But regardless of studies, asking for favors can still feel strange. Therefore being deliberate in the way you ask a favor can make a big difference in the outcome. When asking for a favor, remember the following:
  • Set the stage: "I need to ask a favor"
  • Provide reason
  • Provide means of escape
The phrase, "I need to ask a favor" is a very powerful verbal contract. It also implies reciprocity. If you help me now, you can ask a favor from me in the future. This two way relationship of give and take acknowledges that the favor is not totally one-sided. But aside from this, it also makes the other switch gears into receiving mode. This will give your friend time to have an "uh-oh" or "happy to do so" moment. Consider these:"Friend, can you cover my shift tonight? I'm not going to make it due to an emergency" or"Friend, I have a favor to ask. Is it possible for you to cover my shift tonight? I have an emergency".In the first scenario, the friend is off guard and might feel that he has to do the favor. In the second scenario, setting up the stage to ask the favor gives your friend a second or two to decline or accept the favor.

The Reason

According to Robert Cialdini's book, Influence; giving a reason to your favor increases the chances of a positive response. If you know how to ask for a favor be sure you're providing a reason makes people react positively even if the reason is makes no sense to the request. People like to know that they are being asked something. If you're asking a millennial for a favor, consider reading this article  about 5 things you need to know about Millennials. It'll give some insights on what makes millennials tick.

The Escape Clause

When learning how to ask for a favor, it's good to keep in mind an Escape Clause. People are inherently good especially when they are asked to comply with a request. This is because giving is better than receiving. However, when you ask a favor your goal is two-fold: getting what you want and making the giver feel good about helping. The best way to do this is to provide and escape clause so that your friend can graciously decline in the event that they cannot do you the favor. Remember you are giving them the choice to comply. You are not commanding them.

Good Escape Clauses Include:

  • "I understand if you can't help. But I thought I'd ask".
  • "I understand if you can't come because you're busy".
  • "I would like an introduction to your friend from Apple but I understand if it makes you uncomfortable".
Friends and colleagues cannot always come through when you ask them a favor due to a variety of reasons. However, you can always ask them favors with grace and gratitude so that you maximize your chances of getting what you want. Hopefully you will be able to pay back the favor once they ask something from you.
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