Farming for everyone

Herdsy was one of the CW shortlisted companies that applied for the Fast and Furious Pitch-off & exhibited at Venturefest East last May. Not heard of them? Read on to find out how they got started and their plans for the future.

What is Herdsy? 

Herdsy is a Herd Analytics system that really breaks the mould on Agritech. What makes it so different you ask, well it can be used on any animal, it’s plug & play so it’s simple to deploy on any farm and it is available at a fraction of the cost of current agri tech. Herdsy is not only built for the regular farmer but also for the Urban Farmer, small holders & even those who want a more sustainable lifestyle. We wanted to make Farming and farm tech available for everyone that’s why we built Herdsy.

How was the idea borne?

Like all great inventions Herdsy started life on the back of a beer mat in a Dublin pub, my friend with a brilliant piece of reverse psychology, told me the 3 little words that gets most entrepreneurs fired up he said, “It won’t work!!!”, I totally fell for it and from such inauspicious beginnings, here we are today!

Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from the fact that technology will change the face of farming forever. Farming is on the cusp of the biggest change in 200 years with technology driving that change.
● Farm tech at the moment for livestock tends only to focus on Dairy Herds,
● It can be very expensive £50-£70 per tag per animal and require a base station that costs about £3000
● Such systems tend to be built solely with the large producer in mind who can easily increase production and can afford to pay for expensive farm management systems.

We saw that those that could benefit the most from technology were least likely to be able to afford it and even less likely to be marketed to by the current farm tech players. So if you’re a Sheep, Beef or Poultry Farmer, according to the Agritech industry, you don’t exist. It might be surprising to note that Cattle meat in the UK is valued at £2.5bn per annum whereas Poultry in the UK alone is £2.2bn per annum, hardly chicken feed. pardon the pun. We didn’t like the idea of digital divide occurring in farming technology. Technology for us was always about, empowering as many people as possible, that’s why we built Herdsy, Farming tech should be for everyone.

Could we assume Herdsy team have farming roots?

Being originally from Ireland, you are never too far away from a farm, even in the middle of the city. There was a great tradition in my family of being small part time farmers, I saw first hand the difficulties they would encounter especially with not being able to be there all the time and how one or two small unforeseen things could wipe out their profit almost instantly. My grandfather was both an undertaker and a city farmer keeping pigs (an interesting combination of professions), while my Father always kept a small cattle holding. I think it’s really interesting to see the growth of urban farming and the sustainable/ home grown movements becoming so popular as they really are just going back to old ideas and ways that were used over 50 years ago.

How has the idea been funded? Have you found the necessary support has been easy to find or has it been stressful?

Like all startups, trying to get people to believe in and take you seriously is a challenge. We self funded initially out of absolute necessity because if you’re not prepared to put your money into your own idea you can’t really expect other people to. We found ourselves working all the time especially over nights and weekends, we were ploughing all our savings into the company which was a very stressful time esp when we were knocking on doors in Ireland we found obtaining support for Agritech was really non existent due to the perilous state of the economy. That all changed when we discovered the East Agri Tech Area in Cambridgeshire and applied for a grant to help us commercialise our product. We pitched and the board approved us. Being part of such a focused program has been a real lifeline to us and David Gill & Martin Lutman’s team have helped us move so much faster than we could have alone as well opening doors for us that would we would have been able to do alone. We are obviously hoping to attract some VC’s at Venturefest East to help us grow and scale up.

What stage is Herdsy at right now?

Herdsy is pretty much consuming all of my time right now. Currently, we are focusing on two main areas, we are commercialising our prototype which involves taking our prototype and miniaturizing it down to the size of a matchbox, while ensuring it is robust enough to withstand everyday livestock farming, while at the same time being fully compliant with all EU/UK standards. On the software side we have our software almost fully built and ready for field testing. Realistically, we should have a product ready to launch in about 3 months time.

Website wise, we have opted initially for a simple brochure site that gives people an idea of who we are and what Herdsy is all about, it was especially important to us to have a site up for Venturefest, as well as reaching out to potential customers. I would have loved to have coded the site myself but time didn’t allow. As we get closer to the product launch, we will be revamping the site so that it will become the focal point of every customer experience with Herdsy.com so watch this space.

Mac showing Herdsy website

Tell us a bit about the team behind Herdsy: how many folk make up Herdsy HQ, job titles etc, what’s the work culture like?

At Herdsy we see ourselves as a Rural I.T. company which is different from 90% of startup IT companies. Our work culture is pretty much that of any startup with limited resources, “ Get it done today”, however, we don’t believe in micro managing people and give people latitude to carry out the task themselves, you never know they might surprise you and do it in a way you never thought of.

We also initiated a “challenge me” culture with anyone from the company being able to challenge anyone’s ideas, processes, concepts or code. At Herdsy, we don’t believe in sacred cows, just really good ideas. We feel it really makes people, think their ideas through, as you have to be prepared to back them up as anyone in the company can improve it or shoot it down at anytime..

Team Members
Richard Hobson (Founder, CEO)
Aurobinda De ( Founder, Software, COO)
Adrian Johnson (Hardware)
Frank Byrne (Sales)

If there is such thing as a typical day, take us through one.

It’s a cohesive but small group that run Herdsy – so it’s always very busy. Day starts with development meetings as early as 7am (sometimes) when we connect with offshore development. It could be a lot of scrumming before the idea is transformed into a story that can be built in a development environment. That is followed by preparing company accounts and financial strategy. Main effort is spent in creating a sustainable structure supported by people who are willing and capable to give us a filip. Discussion and design modifications of the product takes a lot of time. ‘To be known and seen’ could be a challenge for a start-up – that takes effort particularly when operating on a shoestring budget. Time is spent on to find the right strategy and tools that delivers value to business at a cost that is affordable. When it comes to 7pm, we are collating the day’s work and preparing for another day’s gruel – that taken no less than an hour. A pint is welcome at that stage!

Tell us more about the technology being used. How does it work, what was the process of development like, are you working with an external partner (if so, can you tell us who?)

We are using two types of technology on this product. Hardware is the usual array of electronics but arranged in a way to deliver the desired telemetry for animals. Herdsy harnesses the combined power of tracking technology and combines it with a cloud based infrastructure that monitors, tracks and analyses trends By monitoring and analysing this data, farmers can make changes to ensure that the habits of the herd are aligned with increasing quality and yield and improvements in animal welfare and husbandry.The hardware & Software is built to deal with big-data which is processed by a complex algorithm to create predictive intelligence into the software.

Does the technology rely on mobile phone signal? i.e. where does the data get sent to?

As anyone trying to use their mobile outside of a city will tell you that mobile signals can be a little unreliable, farms, also tend not to be conveniently located near mobile phone masts and geographical obstacles can be commonplace, so basing a system on mobile phone signals wouldn’t be the most reliable system or the most cost effective for data bills. So we went old school, so we use radio signals that gives beyond 30 km and we have a proprietary transmission process that enables us to get our data back to the cloud ,which is cheap, reliable, low powered & robust enough to allow Herdsy to be used in the most remotest locations.

In terms of business development & getting the Herdsy HQ name out there, what are you doing to achieve this? (this will be useful to other startups out there). Do you find much time to network at events, and if so – do you find them useful?

Answer: When you’re trying to develop a system you can put Business Development on the long finger, I am as guilty of that as anyone. We have found a strong brand and recognisable logo takes you a long way, I also like to put a lot of time and invest into things like business cards and marketing materials, that can sell you when you aren’t there which is 99% of the time. If you only have a minute to talk to someone just to give them your card, that card has to be able to communicate a lot. Also I am not sure if its unique to our industry but we have found social media good to connect with suppliers but not customers. Our industry personal interaction is definitely more important but like all things and every other startup we are learning as we go along.
Networking at events is a vital activity especially when you have limited resources to get your message out there. However, there are so many events for start ups to go to it can become a drain on your resources both in time and money. We definitely, prefer quality over quantity,we prefer to be selective in the events that we do go to. We target ones that are either specific to our industry where we can meet a lot of big industry players or one’s that helps us achieve a particular goal. Personally, I think the best marketing is to be memorable, as after the show when people are going through several hundred business cards or brochures, it can immensely valuable to have stood out to them in some way hopefully positive. We really enjoyed Venturefest East & meeting and seeing what other people are doing and learning from it.

Richard from Herdsy exhibiting at Venturefest East

Richard, in the iconic yellow suit networking at Venturefest East in May

Thank you to Richard Hobson for speaking with the CW Team, if you’d like to feature on the CW blog please send an  email to cwblog@cambridgewireless.co.uk