We are proud to be featured in this weeks Calgary Herald as Startup of the Week. Always great to share our story.
Left to right: Matt- BDS, Garth- Manager of Agronomy, Laura- BDS, Andre- Agronomist, Will- HR Manager, Lisa- Office Manager, Steve- BDS, Blair- Soil Tech Manager, Kirk- BDS, BJ- BDS, David- GIS Developer, Bruce- Product Development Manager, Tahir- Accounting Technician, Martin- GIS Tech, Roger- GIS Tech, Justin- Marketing Manager, Al- CFO, and Remi- CEO
This week we talked to Remi Schmaltz, Founder and CEO of Decisive Farming which helps farmers better manage their farms, make informed decisions about their business and increase overall profitability through data-driven web-based software tools.
Decisive’s My Farm Manager gives farmers everything they need to know about their farm in one place, from production and agronomic data to data on markets, financials, employees and equipment. The company also has a tool called Optimize RX that helps farmers plant and fertilize their crops as efficiently as possible. Fields aren’t typically uniform, so one spot might be richer in minerals and nutrients than another, but farmers still often apply fertilizer evenly. This leads to over-fertilization and run-off in some areas, while others are under-fertilized costing the farmer in lost production and lost profit. Using satellite imagery and soil testing, Optimize RX identifies how much fertilizer or seed to use across their fields. The recommendations can then be sent directly to the farmer’s equipment, which will vary the rate of nutrients applied to the field. According to Remi, this increases production by around 10 per cent and net profit by $20 per acre.
Remi further states that a typical agronomist can manage 50,000 acres. With Decisive Farming they can manage over 400,000 acres. Since starting in 2011, Decisive Farming has amassed more than 250 customers with some big names including INTL FCStone and CHS Inc., has an astounding 96% customer retention rate, and is on a solid growth trajectory.
Here’s more from our conversation with Remi.
How did you come up with the idea for your startup? Was there an “ah-ha” moment?
Our family has been involved in the agriculture industry for over 100 years doing everything from farming to retail. My grand father was selling bagged fertilizer and seeds when the industry started. My dad bought it from him in the 70s and expanded it to several retail outlets.
In 2006, my brother Tasha and I took over the business and over time we realized the retail industry was a bloodbath of low prices. We started looking at where farming was headed and how we could add more value to the farmer. After some research we came up with precision agronomics and Decisive Farming was born. Farmers have traditionally relied on a lot of guesswork, which increases their risk and precision agronomics has significantly reduce their risk. In the fall of 2012 a Fortune 500 company acquired the family business which allowed us to focus all our energies on Decisive Farming.
What has been the biggest challenge so far? What have you done to solve it?
I look at our challenges as challenges for our customer. When we were starting out, the consulting services model did not make sense to us – while consultants in the industry have expert opinion, they are not highly scalable. How do we scale this type of a business and deliver a service that’s consistent, reliable and simply works? We thought technology would be the best way, but we knew nothing about it, so we had a tremendous learning curve. We had to learn software, pick the right technologies and bring the right people onboard.
Today managing our growth and staying focused is what matters the most. There is no shortage of great ideas out there and one can’t do them all. We have been very conscious of that from the beginning and it has enabled us to consistently deliver a high quality service to our customers.
Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup?
Alberta is an amazing province with so much opportunity and support. There have been many supportive people but if I had to pick a few I would go with Bruce Schmaltz, a lifelong mentor, Rebecca Bjustrom with NRC-IRAP, Jim Hardin with AVAC, and John Snell with INTL FCStone. And let’s not forget the biggest supporters of any entrepreneur that put up with the majority of our madness, my wife Dominique and three kids (Sage, Olive, Hazel).
What’s new with your startup that we can share?
We recently announced a partnership with FP Genetics that will help us provide free variable rate seeding to farmers across the prairies.
What advice would you like to share with other new entrepreneurs?
I am old school. I honor my word and handshake. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true and especially in agriculture when you are dealing with a family farm, your word is all you got. These days, it’s become too easy to make empty promises that blow up down the road – it’s not worth it.
I also feel that too many people focus on “the exit”. I hear it all the time when talking entrepreneurs – “what do you do? I’ve sold 3 companies”. This message quickly gets to the new entrepreneur as the sexy thing to do and then they lose focus on the journey of how to get there. I don’t disagree that understanding where you want to end up is important, but if that is your focus you will likely fail. Instead focus on building a great team and delivering exceptional customer service… the rest will take care of itself.
Always surround yourself with people who are smarter and more experienced than you who care to help. Connect with entrepreneur support organizations such as Innovate Calgary, AVAC, TECTERRA, NRC-IRAP, VA Angels, and Alberta Deal Generator.
What are your thoughts on our startup ecosystem?
There is a lot of energy and support in this province. The hard part is finding talent that can take your business over the top. Many of the high-end technology people get sucked south, but not sure what the solution is.
What do you and your startup need help with?
We are expanding our software development team in Calgary and looking for top talent. Check out decisivefarming.com and connect with us.