Chris Tosi and longtime friend Peter Koverda were on a ski trip in Lake Tahoe in February, relaxing in a hot tub, when their new, cannabis-minded startup, Pulse, really began to take shape. Tosi had a professional background in business and tech — and a personal interest in growing weed — and had developed a “clear vision” for a cultivation monitor and app that would allow growers to keep tabs on their product even when off-site.
The only problem was, he didn’t have the technical ability to bring it to life, Tosi says.
That’s where 29-year-old Koverda, a “wizard” computer engineer, came in.
“He, even as a non-grower, understood the value proposition I was describing,” says Tosi, 28.
Within six months the two had developed a prototype for what’s now known as Pulse Nano, a “smart grow” monitor that tracks crucial factors inside grow rooms, including temperature, humidity, light and vapor pressure deficit (this helps determine when water may condense in the air to form dew on plants). The monitor is connected to an app via which the user can check in on their grow from afar, and receive text or email alerts when something is out of whack.
With a $200 price tag and basic internet access required, Pulse is the “everyone product,” Tosi says. It's “stoner accessible” and as fundamental as a smoke detector. The app is customizable as well, allowing individual users to determine their own optimal parameters. For example, if bud needs to be maintained at a temperature between 70 and 90 degrees, you simply adjust the Pulse settings accordingly and will receive a notice if the room gets above or below that range. The idea is that this will alert the grower to head in and fix the problem before irreparable damage occurs.
Pulse touts its simplicity. It takes just two minutes to set up and it's powered by a battery or plugged into a socket. While at its base the tech tool helps ensure optimum environmental conditions for cannabis, it also provides peace of mind, Tosi says. That's something many growers struggle with no matter how small the operation, he adds.
“Trying to go to sleep when you've got possible loss of efforts or potential returns, property damage that can happen from your house burning down ... it’s hard to go to sleep at night,” he says.
Especially for those with home grows, Tosi says Pulse can be helpful in quieting the concerns of family members, heading off trouble with the landlord or even ... with one’s own mom. Grow disasters are extremely common, and the goal of Pulse is to keep cultivators safe from a potentially devastating turn of events, he says. Whether it’s a technical error that results in a plume of odor that attracts law enforcement (or your landlord); an irrigation leak that causes property damage and leads to an eviction; or the failure of fans that leads to a ruined crop or fire, Pulse is intended to protect growers’ investment and ensure safety, Tosi says.
Indoor grows often use high-voltage electricity, automated watering, exposed light bulbs and, sometimes, electrical wiring that’s not quite up to code; these factors combined or on their own create an environment ripe for electrical fires. These have popped up across California in legal and illegal grows alike, including one in Garden Grove earlier this year that caused in $100,000 in damages.
“Our mentality is that we want anyone growing anything doing it the most safe, fun and efficient way possible,” Tosi says via email.
The Pulse co-founder, who operates the startup from an office in Venice, says that while he’s been quietly interested in cannabis and cultivation for a long time, he’s always maintained a “professional” appearance (his latest gig was as an enterprise account manager at Blackberry). He doesn’t subscribe to the stoner subculture, Tosi says, but he does know what it takes to succeed in the increasingly competitive cannabis-tech world.
“It’s finding that very valuable problem that also has that commercially viable solution,” he says.
Most growers now use some form of hygro-thermometer, says Tosi, which has an LCD screen and keeps track of many of the same environmental factors that Pulse does. The central difference is that you can only check those levels when on-site and looking at the screen, he says, whereas Pulse allows this to be done remotely. Pulse also stores the data it’s monitoring, so cultivators can look back over the preceding days, weeks or months and see how the environment has ebbed and flowed — such as fluctuations in temperature between daylight hours and nighttime.
While the market is relatively thick with thermometers that can record and store temperature and humidity levels, the choices when it comes to off-site monitoring are slimmer. A brief online shopping expedition yielded just a handful that were readily available today — some of which were significantly clunkier or more limited than the Pulse design.
Tosi points to the recent devastation caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as yet another example of how the remote tracking could be helpful. For example, some growers that Tosi consults had operations in affected areas and had no way of knowing whether their product weathered the storm, or if their grow houses still had power.
“When we’re talking about safety and cannabis, power outages aren’t really considered,” he says.
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While it's seemingly low on the totem pole of catastrophe, for some, their cultivation is their livelihood.
The initial Pulse launch will be available via the Pulse website starting Nov. 1 and was entirely self-funded, Tosi says. However, the three-person company — the two founders and an attorney — will be raising capital for the next round of product improvements. Tosi hopes to release an ultra-advanced iteration of Pulse in the future, aimed at large-scale operations, designed to track detailed room metrics such as soil moisture and produce helpful tools like a grow heat map.
Eventually, Tosi expects consumers will be able to find the product at mainstream stores, as it can be easily repurposed for any type of greenhouse or grow operation.
“We’re going to be at shelves in Home Depot because we have nothing connected to cannabis,” he says.