So when Gath’s sons told him two years ago that for a nominal fee he could get information on corn and soy seed prices from a startup called Farmers Business Network, he signed up. Seed prices are surprisingly complex, but even herbicide and pesticide prices vary depending on a farm’s size and location, and agricultural suppliers tend to bundle products in a way that obscures their true cost. Since its founding, FBN has built a network of more than 6,500 farms to which it offers information, an online store and marketing help—all with the goal of making farmers more profitable.
Based south of the San Francisco airport and backed by nearly $200m in venture capital—from the likes of T. Rowe Price, Temasek, Kleiner Perkins and GV (Google’s VC arm), among others—FBN is trying to do nothing less than save America’s family farms while also building what its brash CEO, Amol Deshpande, hopes will become “the biggest agricultural business in the world.” The startup’s founders, Deshpande, 40, and Charles Baron, 34, want to shift leverage from giant manufacturers like DowDuPont and Monsanto. Collectively, farmers produce nearly $200bn worth of crops a year, but individually they have little bargaining power. By bringing them together, FBN’s sprawling operation helps farmers get better prices on both the goods they buy and the crops they sell. As it spends heavily to sign up farmers and build its online store, the startup has yet to turn a profit. But it expects revenue of $200m this year, up from $72m in 2017, and Deshpande and Baron are already talking about an IPO.
“What they are doing is amazing in terms of its business potential and its social impact,” says Nancy Pfund, founder of DBL Partners, an investor in FBN and a descendant of farmers. “Certainly big data is in vogue, but information is not enough. You’ve got to bring farmers together so they can level the playing field.”
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