As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Baker.
Sam Baker is the CFO and co-founder of Farm Flight. Sam oversees the day to day operations while also developing business strategies and key partnerships. His vision for the company is to make data-driven farming possible for every agricultural worker in the United States so that they can feed the rapidly growing population.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started Farm Flight with my business partner about a year ago. Before we started I was working at a medical firm, and my business partner was working as a drone operator. One day, he came to me with the idea to use drone technology and machine learning software to provide farmers with crucial information about their crops. After seeing all of the amazing things that this technology could do I reached out to some local connections and farmers to see if they thought there was value in what we were planning. The overwhelming response I got was that this could really help agricultural workers. So I spent my free time trying to get more and more connected in the agricultural world by going to networking events, seminars, etc.
While I spent time learning about the industry with my business partner, we developed a really unique business model that could make our ideas possible. With our new contract-based business model we decided to go all-in, quit our current jobs, and start Farm Flight.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when we first started out was thinking of agronomists as competition. In our first few months of business a comment that I regularly heard from farmers was that they didn’t need drone data because they already worked with a crop advisor. My initial response was to try to convince farmers that we were better, but as I started to really learn about the market I realized we weren’t better. We were different. We didn’t compete with agronomists, we added value to their services.
This realization completely changed the way we answered that comment and the way we approached the market. My new response to “we already have an agronomist” was no longer, “We are better.” My answer changed to “perfect, can I speak with him/her?” I realized that we weren’t crop advisors, and our goal as a company wasn’t to be crop advisors. Our goal was to make data available to anyone who needed it. This meant that crop advisors weren’t our competition, they were our partners.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I can’t say that any particular podcast or book has inspired my current business, but what I can say is that I have many mentors that have helped guide me along on this journey. While podcasts and books are great sources of knowledge they can’t offer the type of personal guidance that a mentor has.
The wisdom that I have gained from my mentors has completely shaped the way Farm Flight does business. Whenever I have a question or idea I can always run it by these successful people that I look up to and trust, and that’s something that has been invaluable to me.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Farm Flight has one goal that has driven us from the start, and that goal is to help farmers ensure everyone can put food on their tables. One issue that people are starting to notice is the ever-increasing population, but the limited amount of arable land. Right now there are 915 million acres of farmland in the United States, and that number can only grow so much. So this leaves us with a huge problem: How can we continue to feed a rapidly growing population without more farmland?
The answer is to find new ways to maximize efficiency on the land we already use, and that is where Farm Flight comes in. With the data that we provide (stand counts, weed detection, disease detection, etc.) farmers are able to catch problems before they become serious and ultimately increase production. With data-driven farming, I believe we will be able to keep the world fed for a long time to come.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
In every dealing I partake in, my number one goal is to make sure that all parties involved benefit from working with us. Whether it be a partner, employee, or client, I want them to look forward to working with me. In my experience, business relationships that are lopsided are oftentimes unproductive and can severely damage a company and its image.
For example, with our partners and sales reps, we make sure that they receive sizable commissions for the business that they bring us, and for this reason they are incentivized to be as productive as possible. I have worked with companies that try to squeeze every penny they can out of their colleagues, and that kind of tactic may work for a year or two, but it always comes back to bite you. Word travels fast. Do what you can to make it positive.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Well, as these times have been difficult for me and my family, I feel as if I am in no position to share the challenges I have faced. The people that are enduring real hardship are the ones that lost their jobs, and have to make ends meet. There’s an overwhelming amount of people that will now struggle to pay rent, put food on the table, and care for their loved ones.
The most beneficial thing I think we can do is to spend money. People that have extra money saved up should continue supporting their local businesses in anyway that they can. If businesses can stay open, jobs will quickly return at the end of all of this, and people will once again be able to provide for their loved ones.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Our biggest challenge is making sure everyone is staying on task, and everyone is communicating well. To simply put it, I can’t see everyone when I’m working from home, and I can’t get instant responses when I am not face to face with my associates.
Something we’ve experimented with that has worked quite well is giving employees small bonuses for getting work done efficiently. This costs the equity holders some money in the short run, but it ensures that our clients and partners stay happy with our work, and that is the most important thing to us.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
My family has handled this situation amazingly. While there is a healthy amount of fear in us, we have been very level headed through everything. The important thing to remember is that some things are out of our control and worrying about them doesn’t solve anything.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
What I have found in our business is that companies are taking this time to find new ways to automate as much as possible. Many farmers are looking for new ways to scout their fields, and this has opened many doors for us. We have also been in contact with many agronomists and ag-tech companies that are looking to partner with us. The general trend that I am seeing is that people have been unable to continue on with their day-to-day lives as usual, and now have time to find new ways to optimize.
I believe that American businesses are going to come back to the markets with innovative goods and services that would not have been created without this break in their normal work flows. I am very excited to see what everyone has been able to accomplish in this unusual time.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Covid-19 has had dramatic impacts on just about everyone, and it will certainly change the way many Americans live going forward. For me, I have had an abundance of time to really think about what I want from my life and my career, and having that time to think has certainly made me more determined to continue my work. I can’t help but believe that other people feel the same way.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Well right now with the slowdown in cash flow, we are probably going to pull back our efforts in selling directly to farmers, and focus more on building new partnerships with companies and agronomists looking to expand their operations. One partnership we just announced, with which we are very excited, is with a company called Ag-Analytics. With this partnership, Ag-Analytics has created a portal for their farmers to place orders with us in just a few minutes using the Ag-Analytics new web-app. Once the order is placed we collect data for the farmer, and we are able to integrate it with the other types of data the farmer is using, all for a very affordable rate.
We are working on several more partnerships similar to this one, and we are always looking for new opportunities as we move forward.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
It really depends on what you are doing, but as a general encouragement I would say keep an eye out for new opportunities. There’s an infinite amount of ways to develop your career. As a general rule, always be thinking about how you can make others lives’ better. Once you figure that out, everything else will fall into place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The beauty of the free world is that we can benefit directly from helping others.”
Knowing that my work helps others is probably one of the things that inspires me the most. It doesn’t have to be a trade-off between helping others and myself. I can develop my career doing something that I love and also know that I am making someone’s life better.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow us on Instagram (farm_flight) or check out our website (farmflightaz.com)! If you have any ideas, proposals, or general questions use the contact page on our website and I will personally respond.