He didn’t always used to sound like this. Once upon a time, in his wild youth, Giant Propeller Co-Founder Mike Bodkin would be more inclined to talk about anything other than lawn care – like how he broke-in his new shoes during an impromptu dance-off with Justin Timberlake at the hippest club in Hollywood, or that time he commandeered a helicopter to help his friends escape their debauchery at the Catalina Wine Mixer. Lawns? That was something for old men to fuss about, while using hoses to spray pesky neighborhood kids so they don’t leave footprints on their perfectly manicured grass. But that was then, and this is now…
We’re standing in the middle of Bodkin’s Studio City home because – for weeks – he’s been going on about how amazing “Rachio” is – a smart, automated sprinkler system for your garden. Bodkin’s aware how nerdy this is but he doesn’t care. A mischievous smirk appears every time he talks about how efficient his sprinkler system is – around the office, we call this his “Rachio face.”
“We’ve cut our water bill by at least 30%,” he tells me with a wild gleam in his eyes, “It’s been a huge game-changer!” In the world of marketing, there is no stronger delivery system than Word Of Mouth. Brands can throw millions of dollars at their product / service, but that pales in comparison to when someone you personally know raves about it.
Clearly, I had to see what all the fuss is about, so I followed him on his Vespa to Studio City to meet this Rachio. His home is lovely, and every blade of grass on his ample lawn is obviously content and cared for. So what’s the secret to Rachio? Why has it changed his game? And can it really change the world?
As we enter the house, Bodkin recaps his indoctrination, “Every summer we vacation in Spain, and every summer one of our sprinklers inevitably exploded randomly and sent a geyser of water shooting into the sky. I would get a message from one of my neighbors and I would have to contact them from a different time zone, usually full of Sangria and shouting over the Flamenco dancers, and talk them through how and where to shut my water off before the entire neighborhood flooded. It was annoying, embarrassing, and wasteful.”
The impish cheer fades and is replaced with a distant melancholy as he recalls the Pre Rachio Era, “Even if nothing exploded, think about all the water that’s wasted while you’re away and it rains? Especially in a drought-prone area like Southern California. Billions of gallons of water are wasted every year because of inefficient sprinkler systems.” Bodkin, his eyes hinting tears, composes himself, “Thank God those days are over.”
He produces his cell phone and opens the Rachio app, swiping through all kinds of data including the weather report, watering schedules, time used / saved, and lawn zones, among more. “The main component is that it’s all wifi based. I can control it like a Nest cam, or a Ring doorbell, from anywhere in the world, all from my phone. Rachio is also networked so it ‘speaks’ with the Weather Channel, which turns it on and off accordingly, depending on any rain. It even takes an estimate on ground saturation, so it’ll wait to activate when the ground is dry enough. It knows.”
So how did he first learn about Rachio? He walks me down a hall and stops at a closed door, building the suspense. “One of my neighbors is into house remodeling and he was the one that showed me Rachio and how it worked and… I loved it. Everything about it.” Bodkin takes a grounding breath before pushing the door open… revealing Rachio: a small, sleek white hub attached to a wall, with a single blue line of light streaking through it. “This is the brain of Rachio,” Bodkin points with a reverent whisper.
I approach Rachio and peer into its line of blue light… and somehow, I feel like it’s peering back at me. I don’t know how many seconds or minutes pass when I finally snap out of this hypnotic trance… and ask how complicated is it to install and set-up?
“Super easy! You can install it in 30 minutes or less. No special tools, no digging or plumbing. You just gotta check out the videos and tutorial, but anyone can do it. There’s a few electronic components, a couple wires to plug in, but it’s not too different from setting up a Nest thermostat. And if for any reason you ever have a question, Customer Support is available 7 days a week. Ready to go into the field?”
I nod, but a piece of me wants to stay next to Rachio and bask in its sliver of radiant blue light to understand its deeper, untold mysteries…
Bodkin leads me outside to his massive, L-shaped lawn and waves his arm across his land, “Rachio’s compatible with almost any system. You just gotta swap out your old controller and continue using your existing pipes and sprinkler heads. It’s a light retrofit, but it changes everything, taking an analog system and turning it digital and intuitive. Check this out…”
Bodkin swipes through the app, “I can coordinate ‘zones’ here in the front and also in the backyard, and modify automated patterns for each zone individually and calibrate according to how much sun or shade they get. Not all areas of your lawn absorb moisture at the same rate, depending on their exposure and vegetation type, so this allows you to customize for total efficiency. Not a drop is wasted!”
For all his knowledge and passion, Bodkin sounds like he’s irrigating Mars for the first colony, not watering his lawn in the San Fernando Valley. But his inspiration is nothing short of contagious. “Wanna see a demonstration?” A rhetorical question if ever there was one. Up until now, I had lived what I had assumed was a fulfilling, albeit modest life. But now, now I knew what was missing… I nod, and try to steady my escalating nerves…
With the tap of a button, the soothing woosh of water rises all around us as gentle showers emerge from strategic coordinates across the lush lawn. A dozen iridescent rainbows magically appear within clouds of mist wafting over the scene, enchanting us on – dare I admit – a spiritual level as the grass glistens like a million frosted crystals.
We are getting wet but don’t care. The cool droplets of water are masking what I secretly know are warm tears streaming down my bearded cheeks – they merge together compassionately, lubricating my baptism into this brave new world.
The water nourishes Bodkin on a level I will never fully comprehend until I become a homeowner with my own yard. The confines of my guest house bungalow have never felt more claustrophobic than here and now, because as I stand in a state of existential awe, Bodkin closes his eyes and opens his arms to the heavens, spinning around in a state of bliss most commonly associated with elderly shamans in remote tribes. In short, he is free.
When Bodkin told me “with Rachio the grass is always greener,” he failed, or perhaps intentionally excluded the fact, that it doesn’t just water your lawn… but also your soul.