Date Company Founded: July 2012
Current number of employees: 9
What they do: An online grain marketplace for farmers and buyers
Mobile technology and the drive for efficiency are shaping the future, and even the world’s oldest industries need to adapt. Luckily for Canadian grain farmers and buyers, the cream of the crop has just moved in.
Saskatchewan-based company FarmLead has created a virtual marketplace for grain, replacing the need for hundreds of daily phone calls. Making a big splash in the local tech sector, the company decided to make its way into the Ontario and Quebec markets. FarmLead is expanding fast and has already gathered a growing base of over 250 verified buyers.
FarmLead has to date helped arrange over $20 million worth of grain trade and contributed to the growing Agricultural Tech industry. We spoke with Chief Operating Officer, Alain Goubau about bringing back simplicity and fair trade to the farming industry.
Say I don’t work in technology – explain to me what you do? The problem you solve?
FarmLead is an online marketplace that helps both sides of the grain market be more efficient. We help farmers find more buyers and identify the best possible deal for their grain at any given moment. We similarly help grain buyers easily identify which grain is for sale at any given time and in any given grain production region. This eliminates the need for buyers and sellers to call around to try to receive the best deal on selling or purchasing grain.
A lot of people think of FarmLead as Match.com or Kijiji, but specifically designed and dedicated to the physical cash market for grain. We have nothing to do with grain futures or financial instruments linked to grain and other commodities.
What was the light bulb moment that sparked the idea?
Brennan was raised around a large family farming operation that grows grain and oilseeds on 40,000 acres of farmland in Saskatchewan. After a Yale economics degree and a stint on Wall Street, Brennan realized that his family could do a better job at selling their grain using today’s communication technologies. By more broadly showcasing their grain to potential buyers, the farm could leverage more buyer competition and ultimately ensure the best possible price.
Alain’s family business in Ontario struggled with a similar problem. Between running a busy dairy herd and also producing grain on the side, they were faced with quite a challenge. The pressure was on to figure out if there were better grain deals available for surplus production as opposed to only selling to a few local buyers.
What kind of problems do you help clients solve?
We help farmers showcase their grain to a much larger pool of potential buyers while still being guaranteed they will get paid. Most buyers in search of grain are forced to call around and see what grain is available- if any. We help buyers immediately identify which farmer has grain for sale, as well as allow them to directly engage and negotiate with that farmer. This avoids any middlemen or the traditional telephone-tag process involved when buying and selling grain, speeding up the process.
Any verified buyer and any farmer or seller can post the grain they are respectively looking to buy or sell. These buy or sell offers are then visible to our entire user base of buyers and sellers. Potential buyers and sellers are alerted of relevant new offers. If a potential buyer or seller is interested in a particular offer, they can directly negotiate with the user that posted that offer via the mobile app or website. Through a negotiation process, they come to the most optimal deal considering quantity, price, movement period, and freight responsibilities. Our concept is efficient and adds more money to the bottom line, particularly for the farmer.
Why do you think Ottawa is a great place to grow a business?
Ottawa has a great talent base of software developers, marketplace and e-commerce people. It is a very cost-effective place to operate a business out of, and we have access to a plethora of government support for start-ups like us. It’s also a great place to mingle with key leaders in Canada’s agriculture policy, which is important for our company. We’re very close to the key agriculture regions of the Great Lakes and the Saint-Lawrence Seaway. We’ve found that being so close to a key group of customers helps us build our marketplace and reputation among farmers and grain buyers alike.
How did you discover Invest Ottawa’s services?
One of our seed investors is based out of Ottawa and suggested we take a look at Ottawa to grow our software team. He helped arrange meetings with different incubators and start-up organizations in Ottawa and that’s how we got introduced to Invest Ottawa and have never looked back.
How has working with them helped your business?
Invest Ottawa has given us access to an incredible group of advisers, all of whom bring very different but important advice that helps us shape our strategy and development going forward. In the span of 6 months, we’ve become very fluent in financial modelling and fundraising and know much more about running a successful online advertising campaign. This has helped us solve many individual discrete issues that are key to building a successful startup. We haven’t had to pay a dime for a specialist consultant.
On March 20, 2017, FarmLead announced a $6.5 million USD Series A raise led by Monsanto Growth Ventures, with additional investments from Avrio Ventures, the MaRS Innovation Accelerator Fund and Serra Ventures. These funds will support FarmLead’s expansion into the U.S. market and the opening of its U.S. headquarters in Chicago.
Read more about FarmLead’s Series A announcement in their press release.
For the second year in a row, FarmLead was listed as one of Forbes 25 Most Innovative AgTech Startups. According to Forbes, “The problems facing America’s farmers in 2018 are as diverse as their crop varieties: Labor shortages. Soil health. Food spoilage. Trade wars. Lack of access to data on seed pricing, yield information, and even commodity forecasting.” FarmLead is recognized as a leader in the agricultural technology industry: an innovative startup striving to solve issues faced by grain farmers.
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