In early January, ACS released a book, Rockstar Aussie Founders Living in the US, showcasing 26 tech talents making it in the word's most competitive market.
Here is an excerpt from the book: a chat with Emma Weston, founder of AgriDigital, a cloud-based commodity management system for agriculture.
What got you to where you are?
AgriDigital was founded in late 2015 with two co-founders. We had about 85 years’ experience in agriculture between us. We’re all farmers as well. The three of us had successfully exited a couple of other businesses so we found ourselves with the space, in terms of time, but also the runway to look at what we really wanted to do next.
In Australian agtech, in contrast to many other countries, founders tend to come from the industry, have years of expertise and many are farmers themselves. This shows in the way we build and deploy tech. There is recognition that Australian farming, farmers and our agrifood systems are world class. I see a deep respect in the US for Australian R&D.
We sat down and said: “Do we want to go again? If we do, what do we want to do?” The previous businesses had been getting increasingly more technology focused, so the process of using technology to solve problems was really what we were focused on.
The question we asked ourselves was, “what kind of emerging technologies could we use to solve age old problems in agriculture?” We really settled on the agri supply chain as the area we wanted to focus in on, and realised the problems there have all got to do with the fact that agriculture’s the least digitised industry in the world. So there was an element of having to digitise this industry in order to offer up some solutions.
We had a bit of a laundry list to begin with, to be honest, and then settled in on three problem buckets.
One was around transaction and payment security: making sure farmers and indeed all sellers get paid for what they deliver when they deliver in the supply chain. It sounds so simple, but it actually doesn’t happen, and the consequences of non-payment are catastrophic.
The second problem was realising there was a real credit crunch coming, that banks were withdrawing finance and traditional sources of finance are not available in the supply chain. So we knew access to finance was going to be a real issue, particularly for the SME market.
The third area was around data fragmentation and knowing data is completely fragmented across the supply chain; it’s siloed.
We thought “ok supply chains are really trade flows, finance flows and data flows. How could we bring that all into one pipe or one platform and then deliver that back up to a network of users?” That was the thought process and the planning that went into creating AgriDigital.
It happened over many, many sessions and it took us about six months to really find our purpose.
What does getting to the US look like?
We have networks in North America from our previous businesses, so we have some familiarity with the market. We’ve also been pretty extensive in terms of our research on the market and then we had to validate that research. During the last 10-15 months I’ve been validating in the US and Canadian markets.
I’ve been really dividing my time between North America and Australia, making sure that the problem that we’re solving is understood here and we’re bringing the right kind of solution to the customer base, understanding who we’re going to partner with, what the initial pilot structure will look like and how we bring on those initial customers and what rate of growth we can expect.
It’s undeniable that our Series B will come out of the USA, so that’s the other part that we started engaging around with the USA very early on, to understand where we sat from an investor perspective and how they regarded us. We were founded in 2015, and I’d say by late 2016 we were engaging with North America.
The other thing I have been doing is a lot of speaking gigs, conferences and taking opportunities to actually put our brand out into market so that we can get a soft landing when we get here. We did Austrade’s Landing Pad in San Francisco that gave us the three month base. That was fantastic in terms of just having an office space to go to. Our market is more Midwest, so I spent most of my time flying around the country, but it was a good way to talk more easily with some of the West Coast investors.
What should a first-time founder know?
The biggest thing for us, in terms of being able to work out where to land, has been trying to work through time zones and remote working and trying to understand how to build a culture that is cross-cultural and make that effective across continents.
You don’t have to land in San Francisco necessarily. The right thing to do is to land where your business is going to get greater support and probably where you’re closest to your customer base. But that needs to be articulated well to investors. There’s still a bit of an investor bias to West Coast or East Coast, but increasingly they are understanding, particularly in our game with agtech, that it may not make sense to be on the West Coast.
There will be hard times. Founding a business is incredibly exciting and challenging. Having one or more co-founders makes it easier. If you are not a technical co-founder, see if you can find one to share the journey with you. The combination of technical skills, commercial know how, customer focus and domain expertise will be central to your success.
None of this is relevant if you’re not solving a problem that matters to a significant number of people. Start with the problem and work out early how to articulate it and why your solution is compelling.
It’s true that agriculture and technology are still male-dominated, particularly at leadership levels, but I have found that both sectors have been incredibly welcoming to me personally and I know a number of other female founders in the agtech sector.
I don't see being a female founder as a limitation or a challenge beyond the usual founder challenges.
Requests for hard copies of the book may be registered at email@example.com.