On Sundays, staff writer Paul Wood spotlights a high-tech difference maker. This week, LANDON FRYE, 27, who earned a degree in agricultural economics at the University of Illinois. He's now the market manager of Granular, which started in San Francisco and opened an office in Champaign last year. Granular is a software and analytics platform that helps farmers operate more efficiently and make better business decisions about efficiency, yields and profits while managing their environmental footprint.
You're the second Frye brother to be interviewed in Wired In. Lucas Frye is CEO of Amber Agriculture.
He's in hardware. We make software. Maybe we'll be working together on a project that would incorporate his sensors.
How big is Granular locally?
We have 40 employees in San Francisco, 14 folks here. Half are on the engineering side, the other half work as account managers working directly with our farmers across the country. We've always worked with a lot of Midwest farmers, so this is a good place for a secondary unit. A large percentage of the farmers we deal with are within a four-hour drive. One of our advisers is Professor Bruce Sherrick, a professor of agricultural and applied finance in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. We're a growing company. We want to recruit the best agriculture, engineering and business students and have a good connection with the UI computer science department, the best in the country.
Where does your capital come from?
Our main investor is Marc Andreessen, a name people will know here. (He invented the first web browser while at the UI.) Granular is funded by Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Tao Capital.
How did you get where you are?
I grew up on a farm in Mason County. After working as a banker, about two years ago I was hired by Granular as the fourth(?) employee outside of San Francisco. I worked out of my home for a year; then it really made sense to start build a team in Champaign.
What does Granular make?
We build business software for farms. We're essentially business software for farms. Farmers are keeping track of a lot of data from their tractors, their machines, they need to know their market position, they need to know numbers by fields. Our system brings all that together. A farmer is able to use his mobile phone to keep track of all of the data. We can help them analyze the business of farming with easy and intuitive software. We also have a free product called AcreValue that sort of acts like a Zillow for farmland estimates.
How much does the service cost?
Our price point depends on the types of crops that farmers are growing, and there is a scale discount. It is an annual subscription fee. It's not yield-dependent. Most farmers are paying us a couple bucks an acre.
How is ag technology changing?
We're seeing a tougher farm economy. There's a lot of consolidation going on with large companies. There is certainly a lot of new technology that we'll have to integrate or partner with. Some farmers are retiring and handing the land over to the next generation, so the new owners will need data. We feel that what we've built can really help modernize systems to have better records to help farms grow.
Where do you see your growth coming from?
We're working with other companies; we integrate with John Deere, for example. We originally started out primarily in the Midwest with corn and soybean farmers. We support over 100 different crop types at this moment, so we're working with farmers in over 30 states across the county. We might have a call with a California farm and a Texas farm and an Illinois farm, all before lunch. We have to know how to grow almonds and pecans, so a lot of our growth will come from crops in addition to corn and soybeans. One market is progressive, technology-oriented farmers who are interested in getting out of spreadsheets and pen and paper, and instead have their software on their phones and computers.
And other countries?
We want to be very successful in America before we look at South America or Australia or Europe. We are looking forward to doing that in a couple years.
TECH TIDBITS from LANDON FRYE
Wearable electronics? I'm looking at a step and GPS product for golfing. Golfing is my main hobby. Where I grew up, they turned a Christmas tree farm into a golf course, and I mowed the greens there and played a lot of golf.
Social networks for Granular? Twitter, Facebook, we have our own blog.
Books or Kindle? Half books, half Audible. On the road driving though the Midwest, it really helps to have the app.
What are you reading now? "The Wright Brothers," by David McCullough.