Farmers Risk was launched in 2021 with one goal in mind: democratize the way farmers manage risk, and give them the tools to do so. This all sounds great in theory, but how did we set out to go about doing this? Well, we thought who better to hear it from than the Co-Founders themselves, Dakota, CEO and Eric, CTO.
What were each of your backgrounds before launching Farmers Risk?
Dakota: After studying at Iowa State I went to work for a large diversified farming operation that also included an ag private equity group that was investing in land, livestock, and bio-renewables. After that adventure, I went to work for Granular taking on a variety of roles across the go-to-market organization and helping grow the business ultimately to a successful exit.
Eric: After graduating from Purdue, I became a fellow in the Governor Bob Orr Fellowship where I spent two years studying entrepreneurship and working in a small startup. Over the next decade, I worked in various software development and consulting roles growing my technical and management skills. In 2016 I took a position with Granular where I worked in engineering leadership for five years before starting Farmers Risk.
How did your paths cross?
Dakota: We met while working for an agricultural tech company called Granular, which sought to build software that supported the business operations of farms. We bonded over our shared backgrounds both growing up on smaller farms, and similar university backgrounds that included FarmHouse Fraternity and student government involvement.
Why did you two decide to go into business?
Dakota: We had worked together for several years and we both trusted each other’s abilities to execute and make good decisions. From a values standpoint, we’re both pretty aligned, and we thought that is a core tenant of a good business partnership.
How did the idea of Farmers Risk start to form?
Both: The idea for Farmers Risk was nurtured out of three things:
1. We saw ag technology companies solving a lot of problems for farmers, but risk management and commodity price risk were not one of those problems top of mind for ag tech companies.
2. We continued to talk and work with farmers, both in our professional and personal lives and continued to hear shared frustration from them about how to market their grain effectively and manage their risk. We recognized it was a hard thing to do on farms, but we noticed that even if a farmer knew what steps or actions he or she wanted to take to make a risk management plan/decision, we did not see the tools in the marketplace to enable those actions.
3. Lastly, we noticed in all our years working with farmers, and in growing up on farms ourselves, one of the current struggles a lot face is largely around “analysis paralysis”; which simply put is getting to the point of not making any decisions because they feel like they will be second-guessing it anyway. So, it became part of the vision to give farmers the confidence to take decisive actions and move their business forward with every risk management decision.
How did the idea go from inception to actual business?
Both: We started with farmers. At the end of the day, we care passionately about solving problems for farmers and helping transform farm legacies. We took what turned out to be rough sketches and wireframes to farmers, and just started asking questions. What sorts of things do you like to see on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? What is the hardest thing about managing your risk today? What keeps you up at night, and what would make you sleep better?
From there, we started to refine ideas, designs, and business strategies in order to solve the problems they were communicating with us about. Working with those early farmers on feedback, Farmers Risk began to take on a life of its own.
How does each of your backgrounds play into your roles at Farmers Risk?
Dakota: Growing up on a farm I often say the only industry I’ve ever truly been passionate about is agriculture and finding work in other industries, while important, is hard to get excited about. My background in building a network of farmers and working with them to deliver solutions through technology is at the core of what Farmers Risk does. My time working with external partners and a variety of different channels also provide paths for how we are able to not just engage farmers, but the advisors they work with most closely. Farming at the end of the day is a team sport and facilitating those advisor relationships is critical.
Eric: I think great tools come from passionate people who have a lot of empathy. I watched my family ride the marketing rollercoaster year-in and year-out growing up. Sometimes it was fun, most of the time I saw the stress that it created. I think that created a lot of empathy within me. I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to build great software in non-ag industries so that one day I would be able to come back and work in this space.
What goals do you have for the business?
Dakota: At the end of the day, we want to provide farmers with better access to the entire landscape of risk management tools that provides transparency into the decision-making process and ultimately leads to confident actions. Farming is hard enough as is and we strive to take some of that complexity off the farmer’s plate through our software tools. And to be candid, our success will likely be tied to those same three key themes of access, transparency, and confidence. If we can create tools that accomplish those three things for every farmer, Farmers Risk will have been a success. We always say that not all farmers start from the same place when it comes to managing risk, but we want to be the ones to help every farmer take the next step in their journey and own their future.
Eric: And to take it one step further, it was important for us to increase access to tools like this for everyone – all shapes and sizes of farmers and to give them tools that let them peek behind the curtain of what traders see every day.
Managing risk and giving farmers tools sounds great in theory, but how will you actually go about accomplishing those goals?
Dakota: Making this easier for farmers comes down to two things; the information necessary to act, and the tools that allow farmers to take that information and turn it into action. With a plethora of information available to farmers, we are focusing on building those tools that allow the farmers to act. Every year, sometimes every week, farmers are forced to take actions with crop insurance, cash grain marketing, and hedging to manage their risk – we need to build better tools for farmers in each of those areas to help farmers know what actions to take and have the confidence to do so.
Eric: Building great tools always revolves around creating customer value. Creating value with customers starts with listening and understanding. We have great farms that give us excellent feedback and suggestions – it’s up to us to listen to that and use it when we make decisions about what we build. If we can do that well, over, and over, I think we’ll have a pretty special company down the road.
What do you see as the future for risk management in agriculture?
Both: One of the sayings we have around here is that software has solved all the easy problems already and all that’s left are the really hard problems. But we get really excited about that because we still see agriculture lacking a lot of the digital transformation that other industries have seen. We are realistic about what that means in agriculture; innovation doesn’t happen overnight, but more technology will likely seep into everything the farmer does over time. From buying their seed to working with their advisors and consultants, we see technology touching everything the farmer does, and part of that is the risk management of the farm. Crop insurance, cash grain marketing, and hedging are important parts of the farmer’s risk management equation that will see technology, enabled over time, and we believe that we will be a leader in solving those problems.
Here at Farmers Risk we are excited about the changes coming down the pipeline for agriculture and we strive to be at the forefront of that change; helping farmers every step of the way.