LIFT99 is Investing in eAgronom
By Kadri Barclay, Head of Marketing at LIFT99
“Robin Saluoks is the next Markus Villig,” said Ragnar in summer 2018. Just 4 months later, the 23-year-old founder of eAgronom accepted the title of Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2018, following the footsteps of Kristel Kruustük and Markus Villig.
We all know the success stories of Testlio and Taxify. And while eAgronom might not yet be in the same league with the #EstonianMafia giants, they are off to a noteworthy start. Earlier this year we noticed the stealthy agriculture innovator from Tartu among the fastest growing Estonian startups.
Today eAgronom announced the closing of their very first €1 mil investment round. LIFT99 is proud to say that we are among the investors!
“eAgronom is boldly innovating a conservative sector that startups rarely dare to take on,” says Ragnar Sass, the CEO and Founder of LIFT99. “Robin’s story is super cool and his thinking totally outside of the box. Not to mention his personal passion and background - his dad is a farmer, his grandfather was a farmer, he grew up in a farm. Robin is everything we’re looking for in a young founder!”
Everything we’re Looking for in a Team
In the best startup stories, the founder team really knows the pain of their customer. Robin’s dad is a farmer. The farm produces €1 mil turnover a year. It’s a serious business! Running it requires a massive amount of paperwork, too often done, literally, on a paper, with a pen.
Robin didn’t have a technical background (he had spent just one semester studying Java) yet he programmed the first version of what was to become eAgronom - a software specialized for the needs of grain farmers. He wished to make farmers’ lives easier and their work processes more efficient.
He had honest passion for his mission but he knew he couldn’t do it alone. His friend Stenver Jerkku saw the wider potential of the software, “If we can make farming more efficient, we’ll influence so many other areas of life! Let’s say we can optimize the cost of crop protection products, we can also reduce the price of good quality food thus making it more accessible for more people.”
Robin says that every company has to have a bit of luck, “it was eAgronom’s luck to get Stenver on board”. Having led the development team in SaleMove, Stenver had the necessary technical background and product vision to keep the execution part within eAgronom on track, as the COO.
Stenver’s first big move was to bring on board even more technical brainpower. Kristjan-Julius Laak knew how to handle big amounts of data in a product, as well as deliver beautiful UX. The average age of their users at that point was 50+ years, so the product had to be easy to use. Julius is now the Product Owner in eAgronom.
20 Days to Build the MVP, 6 Months to Grab 70% of the Market
The guys built the first MVP of eAgronom in 20 days and launched it in October 2016. Within 6 months they had 70% of the local grain market using the platform. The farmers were obviously excited.
“I was selling “a picture” to the farmers, while the other two guys kept developing it in the background. The product was quite sh*t in the beginning but as they say - it was the manure to our future. Literally! We got priceless feedback and built an amazing product on it,” says Robin.
In 2017, they took their product abroad. It spread quickly into 6 countries, from Poland to Canada, and today, 600 000 hectares of grainland are managed through eAgronom. Robin compares that the farmers on their platform could provide food for 6 million people for a whole year. “That’s a big responsibility,” he adds.
In autumn 2018, eAgronom raised €500 000 funding from their customers. Around 50 farmers participated in the round with their own money. Ragnar claims that “it’s unheard of “ - he recalls that in the early days of Pipedrive, the customers were also interested in packing the product up with money, but the idea never moved to realization.
Robin is convinced that this move brought them even closer to the customer and this is exactly where they want to be. “Sometimes the farmer answers phone calls when I’m there. I have a habit of discussing what was the call about and how it could have been handled more efficiently. Let’s imagine the call was about certain materials - could we have automated the passing of that info?”
In every step of the way, it’s obvious, the farmer comes first. This is why Robin is in Poland as we speak. His plan is to “bunny hop” from country to country, to get close to the user and be “hands on” as they unroll in new locations.
Our goal is to have 1 million paying acres in our system by March 2019, says Stenver. Robin goes even further, “We’re on our way to reach 100 - 200 million hectares in 5 - 7 years. We could save our customers €10 billion by making agriculture more effective.”
3 Values in the Core of eAgronom
Every trendy startup has flashy values, some even have them framed on a wall. But it doesn’t happen often that all co-founders can easily quote the values by heart, with examples of how they’re applied daily. “We used to have 9 values by the way, but we cut the number down,” says Stenver.
First value: the farmer comes first. Robin’s connection to the farmer’s is in the core of eAgronom but the need to understand farmers, their customers, extends to the entire team.
“Our entire development team traveled to Poland to spend time with the farmers,” says Stenver. “For development, we gather input from farmers, pick our focus for development, go back to the customers with the planned feature, and we prototype it together,”
Robin believes that the reason why many startups have failed in this sector before them is that they lost the long term perspective of what truly matters for the farmers.
KEEP THE FOCUS
“The most important thing in a startup is to hold your focus narrow and do what you are very very good at, there are plenty of temptations on the way, all the time,” shares Robin.
He believes that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for VitalFields (another Estonian agriculture startup, founded in 2011 and acquired in 2016) was that they had to take so many agriculture niches into account, including livestock feed.
Without a solid focus it’s impossible to build a good product. “Other niches are noise for us. We know our market,” says Robin, “Half of the world’s arable land is under grain. That’s an industry of hundreds of billions of euros.”
Which brings us to the second value eAgronom lives by: set goals, focus, iterate. This doesn’t mean striving for perfection. It means having the momentum to move forwards, towards a goal, because doing is the best teacher.
Stenver adds that the same principle is in the core of forming the teams in this 35+ people startup, “Our teams are formed not by the roles but by goals. The onboarding team, for example, has a support person, a developer, a data scientist and a designer. This set-up helps us move faster because teams don’t have to solve communication issues across departments.”
TRUST IS THE KEY
eAgronom has a no BS policy. They are transparent in everything they do (eAgronom’s third and final core value). Farmers are generally known for being conservative, they wouldn’t share their data if they didn’t trust eAgronom and what it’s trying to achieve.
“Our tagline is that we are from farmers to farmers,” says Robin, “There are no corporations among our circle of owners that would want to get access to the data on the platform.” Because the data will be one of the biggest opportunities for eAgronom’s growth.
One of the KPI’s in agriculture is expenses per one ton of produce. eAgronom can easily help to bring those expenses down by helping to make data-driven decisions in agriculture. “We do not wish to increase the productivity of the land but decrease the necessary costs,” explains Robin.
He adds that there are so many things they are currently not analyzing, like the weather predictions, and expenses on inputs VS productivity in the past cycles. Robin has a vision: “The data could give our farmers advice that based on these real-time changes in your field and on the past performance you should do these things right now to increase the efficiency of your fields.”
Collaboration with the Estonian Government
eAgronom has been chosen to take part in consortium creating the future of e-Field Diary in Estonia. “The goal is to create a central database that holds all the governmental farmer data in one place. Our role is to ensure that the farmers would get something useful out of it and would happily and voluntarily share the data,” explains Stenver.
Estonian government is among the most progressive when it comes to working close together with startups but it’s still not a daily occurence that they would rely on a startup. eAgronom has won that trust.
So what now? Make agriculture sexy again
Data-driven approach will make agriculture, this highly important sector for the survival of humanity, sexy again. “There aren’t many young people in this industry. But we are here to change that,” the young founders promise.
In spring 2019, they plan to have 1 million paying hectares in eAgronom’s system, and close the A round investment. Heads up - they’re already looking for worthy investors who’d want to get on board.
Looking forward to hearing great things from you, eAgronom!
We have 7 billion people on this planet. Growing produce efficiently enough to feed them all is a fundamental question. eAgronom is dealing with something utterly human, in a conservative sector most startups can’t easily connect with.
The uniqueness of a startup begins with the team and Robin’s personal connection with his startup is mindblowing. He grew up in a farm yet he went into programming to help his father. It’s obvious he is not creating yet another tool, he has a clear vision and his mission is encoded into his DNA. If anyone should be building a data analytics company for farmers, it’s Robin.
I mean, how many startup teams have their own field? Literally, their own plot of field to gather some grasp of what farming means? His entire team is utterly passionate about a topic that truly matters, and that’s noteworthy. Plus, they pulled off raising half a million investment from their own users! This should be an inspiration to all the founders out there.
Robin is 23 today and he already dares to move completely outside of the box. He might be making mistakes but he asks super smart questions and learns fast; his grit and persistency are what will gain him believers, fans and followers - I’m happy to announce that LIFT99 is one of them.
Ragnar Sass, CEO and Co-Founder of LIFT99