History of Orta, an Overview

Posted by Anne Fletcher on

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The next-best time is now.

The same could be said for blogs.

When Orta was in its infancy, I asked Tina Seelig, a Stanford professor of entrepreneurship and mentor to me what I should do to turn my side hustle into a going concern.  “Start a blog,” she said. “Tell your story as it happens. Convert people to your cause. Then, by the time you’re ready to sell anything, you’ll have fans who could turn into customers.”  That’s probably the best advice I ever didn’t take.

At the time, I thought to myself:  “I’m a product designer. I design STUFF.  I just need to focus on making the best product, and the rest will fall into place. If you build it they will come, right?  What does Tina know? She’s only a Stanford professor of entrepreneurship, after all . . .”  And so, finally recognizing my mistake (I’m a slow learner that way), I’m starting now.  There have been fits and starts over the years, random blog posts that I’ll try to unearth and share with you.  But this is the beginning of the real thing.

In the midst of getting Orta started, I didn’t think the details of my project would interest anyone but me.  And whenever anything did seem interesting, I was so busy doing it that I barely had time to keep up, let alone reflect and write about it.  In retrospect, however, there was a lot going on, even in the “boring” times.

In this blog, along with writing about gardening and chronicling what Orta is up to now, I’m going to tell the story of how we got here.  It won’t be quite as raw or urgent as if I had written it as it happened, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Here are some parts of the story (going waaay back) that I’ll share in lots more detail in coming posts:

  1. How the seeds of Orta were planted (gardening joke!) when I lived in Chile, running a surf company on the beach, and realized suddenly, as I took out the copious trash one dusty afternoon, that my actions were part of our collective environmental problem, and that I didn’t see a good solution.
  2. How graduate school and teaching at Stanford taught me that sustainability is primarily a social problem, rather than a technical one.
  3. Why I gave up a lucrative(ish) career in design consulting to start Orta.  A story that contains much crying and soul searching and weighing my personal financial comfort against work that I know to be right for people and planet.
  4. How Orta started as a drip irrigation concept.  Sexy, right?
  5. How pottery classes changed my trajectory forever.  And no, it’s not a rom com plot.
  6. Teaching myself to slip cast pottery in my garage. Involving a conversation that includes me asking an expert, “By ‘cheese hard’ do you mean brie, cheddar, or parmesan?”
  7. Debuting my first prototypes at the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, and beginning to see that I might actually have a business.
  8. My first, unexpectedly successful Kickstarter, back in the golden era of Kickstarter. 
  9. Taking 2 years to fulfill the Kickstarter rewards.  (That's me, packing the orders in the picture above.) When my manufacturing partners canceled our contracts, I had to become a manufacturer myself, beginning in my driveway, and then in our first warehouse space in Redwood City.  I may or may not chronicle all the technical work we did in those days. Fascinating and dramatic as it was for me, it may actually be kind of boring to you. You all let me know how much you want to know about deflocculation and glaze chemistry!
  10. On having a baby in the middle of building a manufacturing business.  Including asking the UPS guy not to rev his engine next to our shop, thereby waking the baby and ending my workday early, every day for weeks.
  11. Moving the whole operation across the Bay to our current space in Oakland.  
  12. Building a team over the last three years.  Or, how my job changed from dreamer / designer, to hands-on maker, to production manager, to the marketing and sales focused person I am (learning to be) today.
  13. My second Kickstarter, in which I woke up to a crowded, algorithmically optimized, winner-take-all marketplace and learned that anxiety is not a good place from which to sell new ideas. (Not my finest hour.)
  14. How we developed our newest product, the microgreen kits, both product and packaging. Including how our otherwise friendly and polite Canadian team member came to call one of our vendors “the box motherf****ers.”
  15. By the time I get through all that, there will probably be several more chapters to tell!

I’m also planning to share thoughts and ideas tangential to Orta’s “WHAT”, but core to its “WHY.”  

Orta exists to change the world one gardener at a time.  Every day I mourn the destruction of the natural world around us, especially because I recognize how powerless I am to stop global warming or to preserve critical habitats all on my own.  

What I can do is help you care for the small piece of earth that’s entrusted to you.  I can help you grow more plants with less money and plastic, and with more peace of mind.  

I can use this forum to discuss the current science and social movements that help us act collectively for the common good.  And I can share resources for helping you process the very real climate and environmental grief that we’re all feeling to some degree or another.

Let me be totally transparent about why I’m committing to write this blog:  I want to convert you to our cause. I want you to buy stuff from us because it makes you happy and helps you with your garden and your life, and because it helps us carry on, paying the rent and paying the team a living wage, and connecting gardeners all around the world in our collective mission to #plantthechange.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll come back for the rest of the story.

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