Starter Story
Michael Peterson
On Creating Easy, Organic, Weed Contol
product
Weeds Never Sleep...
from Portland
started September 2015
2
Founders
1
Employees

Hello – my name is Michael Peterson and I, along with my wife Bonnie Bruce are the founders of Weeds Never Sleep, LLC. Our product (currently in 4th generation prototype) is a sprayer that kills weeds with a jet of boiling water – literally cooking the weed to death in the ground where it lives (lived).

Our Garden HotZot is intended to give gardeners, parks, landscape and golf course crews, and schools an alternative to Roundup. It is a simple, light, handheld device that takes water from a backpack tank or hose, heats it to about 195F and shoots it at your weed of choice. The Zot is the first and only cordless power tool that actually kills weeds by cooking their roots. Steamers, torches, weed wacker and robots (yes, there is a Roomba for your garden) only kill the top of the weed, allowing the root to regrow.

Various models of the HotZot, now in development, include;
1. The Zot Mini – with a one-gallon tank of water slung from your shoulder, you’ll get about 30 minutes of continuous weeding pleasure.
2. The Zot Pro – pulling water from a backpack tank (Chapin, FlowZone, Solo, etc.) or a common garden hose, you can stay in your garden weeding for hours. In fact, just plug in your earbuds, dial-up your favorite music and groove while your weeds wilt and die.
3. The Zot Max – designed to pull from a 40-gallon tank mounted on a utility cart, it is ideal for sports fields, golf courses, and schoolyards.

The HotZot makes it easy to avoid the use of toxic herbicides and keep your lawn and garden safe for you, your family, pets and the environment. The secret sauce of the HotZot is applying a small amount of searing hot water to the crown of a weed. This ruptures the cellular structure of the plant and results in dehydration and death. With the Zot, there is no overspray, no drift and no accidental heat “bloom” to damage nearby plants. The Zot can be used in any weather, on any soil and in any season.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The Garden HotZot was invented because too many times I watched my wife (Master Gardener, Landscape Designer and Major Plant Nerd) put on her “weeding” face and head out to spend 3-4 hours weekly doing, what was for her, the gardener’s equivalent of cleaning the toilet.

Learn the skill of being flexible; learn to change course when what you’re doing isn’t working.

I decided that there had to be another, easier method for killing weeds – so I started experimenting with different options . . . It had to be organic, fast and easy to use and above all, it had to be safe. After many, many bad ideas, I was making myself an espresso one morning when I hit the wrong switch and a jet of hot water shot out on the counter! That’s what I wanted!

That afternoon I went out and bought a half dozen used espresso machines (thanks, Starbucks Barista), tore them apart and put together the first prototype. It was literally a boiler bolted to the end of a one-by-four and it looked like the love child of SteamPunk and Rube Goldberg – but it worked! Many versions later we have a handheld espresso machine that cooks weeds with jets of hot water mixed with organic herbicides.

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Easier than weeding by hand, safer than Roundup and torches, the HotZot makes it a breeze to walk through your yard or garden and kill weeds individually without harming the plants you want to keep and without leaving toxic herbicides in your yard or environment. With a target retail price of $150 – $200, the HotZot is a revolutionary new tool in a very old market.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

The iterations of the Zot seem to be relatively straightforward now, but in retrospect, there were a lot of dead ends and cul-de-sacs as we tried different solutions to design and engineering problems. Our original design focused on using an electrical heater powered by a (long) extension cord. This presented problems like – holding an electrical appliance while standing in a puddle of water (not a great idea) or dragging 150’ of electrical cord through your garden, and finally, what if someone didn’t have an exterior electrical outlet? Our solution to these problems was to pivot to a propane heated Zot. This eliminated the dangers of insulating users from 110V live current and overloading circuit breakers and made the Zot infinitely more portable and more powerful.

One of the most interesting problems we’ve had to solve is the buildup of “scale” inside the heater and jet tips. Scale results from the buildup of minerals that remain after water is heated. Exactly like you need to descale your coffee maker occasionally, the Zot must be descaled or it will plug up and stop working, particularly in areas of the country that have “hard” water-like Southern CA or the Mid-West. Fortunately, the easiest way to descale heaters is with citric acid – which happens to be an organic herbicide. So our solution was to design a small reservoir in the body of the Zot that the incoming water had to pass through. This reservoir holds a tablet of citric acid and as the water moves through, it picks up a trace amount of citric acid and then sprays the jet of heated water mixed with the acid on the plant/weed. The hot water kills the weed at the crown of the plant and travels down the root killing root tissue and the citric acid travels down the root channel changing the pH of the root biome making regrowth even less likely.

The process of patenting the HotZot was far more involved and complicated, time-consuming and expensive than I ever could have imagined. From the original provisional patent through to our final published patent, there were problems that required re-thinking our design and rewriting our claims so as to not infringe on other, existing patents. It’s easy to think of Patent Examiners as the bad guys here, but that is not only counterproductive but inaccurate as well. Patent Examiners are responsible for making sure that your application doesn’t overlap with any other patents – and they take their jobs seriously. At one point the examiner said we had a conflict with a device that pumped 9 gallons of boiling water/minute into an ant nest! When it was all over, I was very glad for the patent lawyer I had chosen and considered the dollars spent as a good investment.

Describe the process of launching the online store and business.

Our MVP (Minimum Viable Product) will enter limited manufacturing in the summer of 2020. The first shipments will be to satisfy early investors, industry influencers and requests for demo units for testing in commercial and municipal settings. Feedback from these placements will be used to generate the next generation of Zots and launch our eCommerce campaign.

The focus of our marketing campaign will be on the safety, speed, and efficiency of the Zot. From our testing, we know that the amount of time to kill a weed (say an 8” in diameter Dandelion) is about 10 seconds (see images below). Images are before 24 hours and 72 hours after treatment.

We consider Roundup to be our main competition and with the current legal challenges facing Bayer (owner of Roundup after purchasing it from Monsanto) resulting in Billions of dollars in damages and thousands of lawsuits filed, we feel that the HotZot is the right tool, at the right time, doing the right thing, in the right way and we are proud to bring it to market.

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Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Being borderline obsessive is both an advantage when starting a business and a disadvantage. The advantage is that you can constantly think through problems and find/create solutions that involve your product. The disadvantage is that you start believing that you are the smartest person in the room and asking for and following the advice of other engineers, designers and founders becomes difficult.

Work to free yourself from that and listen to others – don’t fall into the trap of believing that only you can find the solutions and paths to success.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

There is a Japanese saying – “Fall down seven times, get up eight” and that about sums it up for me as an entrepreneur. Every day starts with a to-do list that gets interrupted with stuff that needs to get done NOW. As John Lennon put it – “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans”. Learn the skill of being flexible; learn to change course when what you’re doing isn’t working.

Remember that there are a lot of good ideas out there but very few people who can bring them to life.

Where can we go to learn more?

We invite you to invest with us and change the way we care for our families and communities and at the same time, profit from your commitment to being stewards of the environment.

We currently have an investment campaign running on TruCrowd.

Our website.

-  
Michael Peterson,   Founder of Weeds Never Sleep, LLC

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