Coming from a fifth-generation livestock farming family in country Victoria, Justin Webb could have been a farmer. Instead, the self-confessed “math geek” took a different path that’s changing the industry forever, and making a global impact on food sustainability.
In 2014, Justin Webb co-founded Australian livestock management platform AgriWebb with John Fargher and Kevin Baum. At the time, the Harvard and Oxford-educated entrepreneur had no idea the software platform would become the $100 million business it is today.
“AgriWebb was born on a pretty simple idea of digitising farm records,” the AgriWebb co-founder and Executive Chairman tells Kochie’s Business Builders. “In fact, sitting around my own family’s farm table in the kitchen, I was faced with a lot of decisions that seemed to be based off anecdote – what happened next door on Fred’s farm and what happened last year – as opposed to being able to have data-driven decision making.”
Replacing scrappy notebooks and whiteboards was just the start of it. The software provides farmers with powerful tools like digital farm maps and real-time insights on animals and grazing, from where the best grass is to measuring animal weights, that can be managed straight from their mobile phones.
“Farmers don’t think about their farms like dropdown menus or spreadsheets,” he elaborates. “They think about them like farm maps. So when we start to extrapolate that out, we were able to ground our marketing in a sympathetic respect of where farmers lived and how they operated.”
Innovation, Australian style
While agriculture is often said to be one of the least digitised industries in the world, Australians have always been innovators in the farming sector, Justin points out.
“We are probably the only country in the world that has on our most commonly used bank note – the $50 note – an Agtech entrepreneur, David Unaipon, who invented the mechanical shears,” he points out. “Now, to me, that puts Agtech and agricultural innovation at the very DNA and fibre of our being. I would say that farmers have been incredibly proactive and adaptive at adopting good technology.
“That’s the difference – making sure that the technology understands empathetically how they interact with their animals, their pastures, their farms, their backgrounds, and then implements that to think forward. It’s not just about record keeping. It’s also about decision making and the insights that you can use to make your farm and the supply chain way more productive.”
Watch our interview: Entrepreneur in the Spotlight – Justin Webb, AgriWebb
Sustainability solutions on a global scale
It’s this big-picture thinking that has turned AgriWebb into a global platform used by farmers from the US to Brazil to Sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 18 million animals tracked across 150 million acres.
By “putting the cow in the cloud” – Justin’s words again – farmers are empowered make decisions that address two of the greatest problems of our time: food sustainability and climate change.
“By 2050, we’ve got to feed 10 billion people. That’s 56 per cent more food, yet 50 per cent of the world’s non-ocean surface is used for agriculture,” Justin says. “So we have to feed more people with less land. At the same time, we’ve got some of the biggest culprits of climate change coming from natural livestock production. So now we have to feed more people with less land and we have to reduce emissions by nearly half. This is a massive productivity problem.
“Globally, what we’ve found is that by capturing data and information, we’re able to iterate and empower farmers with that data to go right the way through the supply chain to make our processes and our retailers suddenly and finally deliver sustainable food production.”
The global business community is taking notice of AgriWebb’s approach to not only building a successful business, but also one with a tangible social and environmental impact.
Recently, American Express featured AgriWebb in a global content series highlighting the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs and businesses, titled Business Class: The Series.
“They got really excited, because the values of what we’re trying to do – to feed the world profitably, efficiently and sustainably – are really in line with what American Express is trying to do to drive business growth internationally,” he says. “So they saw us here in Australia and saw the impact we’re making everywhere.”
Working with a global partner right from the get-go has helped AgriWebb take its food sustainability mission to more places than they’ve ever imagined.
“It’s been a fantastic journey with American Express since we founded the business,” he adds. “And I hope that goes right the way through to all of the changes we can make on the food production industry.”
The marketing secret to AgriWebb’s success
It comes down to two words: the customers. Justin maintains that the core purpose of AgriWebb is “living for the farmer”, which has made marketing the benefits of the platform all the more meaningful.
“Our greatest source of leads comes from referrals,” Justin says. “That’s super powerful. When you start thinking of the Bush Telegraph, right? Leaning on the fence post and telling the person next door the positive experience they have had using technology to increase their output.
“It’s almost a layup for when you come to connect with that person and try to convert them to the sale. And they’re able to say, ‘I’ve seen with my own eyes’.”
The word-of-mouth travels beyond farming communities and seeps into supply chains, too.
“It’s these supermarkets, these processes that have been taking large proportions of profits in food production yet are now stepping up to go, ‘We will institute a carbon neutral supply chain’ and ‘We will represent that with factual information’. That’s really inspiring,” he says.
With the pandemic only compounding the pressures already faced by farmers, AgriWebb’s connection to its customer base has been even more crucial during the past two years.
“Farming is a lonely space,” Justin says. “So the ability for our sales team and customer support to connect with people and maybe just put an arm around their shoulders, virtually, that’s pretty awesome. In times of hardship, it’s maybe just a bit of empathy between us that is the thing that gets us through.”
A final word of business advice
So what would Justin say to his younger self when he first started his business?
“I would say ‘Calm down’,” he says. “There’s a lot out in the space of startups and we tend to drink in the glory of businesses that have achieved whatever success is or is not defined by media. And I think you don’t see the growth story. All you see is these overnight successes and think, well, that’s how it happened. And the reality is far from that.
“The reality is a 10 or 20-year journey of building a business, understanding the customer base and having the building blocks of people that go on that journey with you. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Run a small or medium-sized business? Need some new ideas? Head to American Express’ Business Class website for useful resources about every aspect of running a successful business, from marketing and sales to growth opportunities.
This article is brought to you by Kochie’s Business Builders and American Express.
Feature image: Justin Webb. Image: Supplied.