By Randy Gaudreau
Broadly speaking, crops are like a portfolio of key assets for grain farmers.
Just like any other asset, marketing, selling, and properly managing them can be complicated, risky, and time-consuming – and anything that can make it easier for farmers to get the most optimal return possible in the ever-evolving market can be a big difference maker to their bottom line.
With their innovative, farmer-focused technology solution aimed at helping farmers efficiently manage the marketing of their grain and oilseed crops, Ottawa-based Combyne is turning heads in the agriculture industry by building a true tech solution for grain farmers.
And after being recently acquired by Bayer Crop Science to expand on their suite of digital farming solutions, they’re eyeing new possibilities for their software that could soon sprout into new opportunities for tech talent in the Ottawa area and beyond.
A seed for a solution is planted
The Ottawa-based company Combyne emerged from a solution originally introduced in 2014 named FarmLead, an online marketplace through which buyers and sellers of agricultural commodities could connect.
But according to Alain Goubau, Chief Executive Officer for Combyne, it soon became clear that farmers needed much more than a place to be matched up to prospective buyers in the agriculture market.
“After realizing that a marketplace matching buyers and sellers of agricultural commodities was not truly solving major problems for the ag industry, the original product was sunset in 2020,” he wrote.
“But out of the many mistakes we made, and the experiences farmers shared with us along the way about marketing their grain, the idea for Combyne was born.”
A true mobile solution for grain farmers takes root
Released in late 2021, Combyne is a crop marketing management SaaS tool built for farmers that brings together (or “combines”) all the relevant information a farmer needs to make good crop marketing decisions into a single mobile application.
So, much like a farmer’s combine equipment set out to accomplish multiple harvesting tasks, Combyne sets out to help make it easier for farmers to stay on top of the many elements of crop marketing management – Character recognition technology helps to input the details of contracts and agreements without the need to type them in manually, and crop inventory management features give farmers an idea of elements such as how much inventory has been sold, at what price, how much is left to sell, and more.
“Combyne’s vision is to help farmers and their trusted grain marketing advisors optimize the value of every bushel they bring to market,” Goubau explains.
“Combyne simplifies how farmers keep track of their planned and as-harvested crop inventories, stay on top of what they’ve sold and delivered to whom, and understand their gross margin, cash flow, and overall risk positions as they manage their grain marketing.”
New ownership – same farmer-centric goal
While Bayer is often solely regarded a pharmaceutical company, the company has a large agriculture business by the name of Bayer Crop Science that plays an active role in the agricultural industry, including driving forward the increasing role digital solutions can play in how farms are managed.
While their platform Climate FieldView focuses more on what happens on the field in terms of yield and crop production, it needed a digital solution to cover the grain marketing aspects of farming. As a result, they acquired Combyne earlier this year, to add its crop marketing tool to Bayer’s suite of digital farming solutions.
And according to Goubau, the “arm’s length acquisition” by Bayer Crop Science allows Combyne to take a “business as usual” approach that doesn’t knock them off their course of providing a farmer-centric solution.
“With added resources and association with a partner who shares our long-term vision, we will continue to invest in the development of an integrated crop marketing management hub purposefully built around the needs of farmers,” he said.
New growth, new features, future opportunities
Goubau explained that the acquisition earlier this year has already accelerated the company’s growth by 30%, and he expects to see more positions being added as they work to introduce new features to the app, including Combyne Connect – which aims to skip the step of scanning documents to gather data by connecting directly to the digital source.
“As we continue to build out the Combyne app, we expect to gradually continue growing our team,” he added. “Expect this to be a mix of software developers, product roles, UX and UI designers and customer success specialists.”
While Goubau says he doesn’t anticipate additional hires to happen in 2023 due to hiring earlier this year, he said the company expects to open up a few user research, product management and engineering positions in 2024, and encourages anyone interested to reach out.
“While there may not be an immediate role available right now,” he said, “we encourage anyone interested in what we do to get in touch as you never know how the stars may align in the future.”
Curious about working with Combyne? Here’s what to expect:
No background in agriculture? No problem. Just be curious and ready to learn.
Goubau mentioned that while some background in farming is always welcomed, it’s not a direct requirement in any of the roles offered at Combyne.
“Our view is that agriculture needs more outside talent to truly digitize, improve productivity and innovate,” Goubau said, “so, we generally think that individuals who don’t have agriculture backgrounds but who want to join a company like Combyne are a good thing.”
He did add however that new team members are expected and encouraged to gain a basic level of industry knowledge, as it helps ensure everyone has a good general understanding of the challenges the company is trying to solve with their product – and added that strong onboarding, regular research sessions and a knowledgeable, experienced team can help make that happen quickly.
“Fortunately, we now have been around long enough that more than half of our teammates have 3+ years of experience working in AgTech and a lot of good contextual knowledge about grain farming and grain marketing specifically,” he said. “That helps ensure new colleagues can get up to speed quickly.”
What it’s like to be part of the Combyne team
“I think it’s important to highlight that we are a fully remote team,” Goubau says. “This provides a lot of flexibility, but we are also now looking to formalize office “hubs” in Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary to facilitate optional-but-encouraged co-located work a couple times a week.”
The Combyne team is described by Goubau as “young, dynamic and diverse,” with half of the team being under 35, one-third of the team and half of the leadership team being women, and over a dozen nationalities represented in the team of 30.
This includes some that have been hired internationally as newcomers to Canada – thanks to the help of the Talent Team at Invest Ottawa.
“While hiring internationally hasn’t been a deliberate strategy, we’ve been very blessed to be able to hire some talented and motivated individuals recently arriving in Canada,” Goubau said.
“Joining a company in a new country and culture can sometimes be a bit daunting and also involves administrative work that we sometimes take for granted when compared to candidates that are already well established in Canada,” he added.
“Invest Ottawa has notably been helpful on the latter with a few candidates and helps take this work burden off the shoulders of a smaller company like ours.”
What does Combyne look for in team members?
“We like to hire nice people! You can be brilliant, but you can’t be a jerk,” Goubau says. “This is something that’s important for us as it sets the tone for the entire team and ensures we maintain a fun but ambitious work environment.”
“Fit is and has always been an important part of our hiring process,” he explained. “If you’re a team player and have a willingness to learn and adapt, there is a spot on the team for you.”
Looking to join the Combyne team? Keep an eye on their careers page for open opportunities.
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