Agriculture has a big role to play in helping the world get to and beyond net zero emissions. One of Australia's fastest growing companies in this space is Regrow Ag.
We spoke to Anastasia Volkova, the CEO and Co-Founder and she shared some of the story of the foundation, growth and future of this amazing company.
- There is a lot of gains to be made by reducing waste in agriculture - resources, fertiliser and carbon in soil
- Starting a company is a journey in discovery. Try not to be a solution looking for a problem. Be in love with solving the problem.
- Agricultural impacts can be about helping manage risk. A farmer can't have their crops fail so they pay more for extra fertiliser but if they had the data they act with more confidence and less waste.
- Acquiring companies to grow - Anastasia and her company Flurosat found companies with aligned vision, problems to solve and team culture so they joined forces and became Regrow. It's not easy but can be a good way to grow your company. Some startups think about being acquired but more should look at acquiring others. News of the merger.
Regrow have recently raised $23m from Tenacious Ventures, Main Sequence, Ajax Ventures and Cargill.
Full transcript is below.
Video Interview with Anastasia Volkova and Mick Liubinskas
Mick Liubinskas 0:03
Hey, everybody, it's Mick Liubinskas here from Climate Salad. And I am wonderfully happy to have the pleasure again to speaking to Anastasia from Regrow.
The last time we spoke with Fluro Sat and your company's gone through some big changes we met a number of years ago, and you've just had some incredible growth in progress. Hard work, but Anastasia, lovely to chat to you again, so much for having me Good to have you your new role as well. Yeah, thank you. So I'd love to tell a little bit of the story. I know, there's been a fair bit published recently based on on your capital raised, but I think it's important for people not to focus too much on that more focus on what you did to deserve it to grow the company to that point. And I'd also love to hear your thoughts on from when you started to now what's changed in the world around the problem space you're in? Because it's it seems like there's been a lot change in terms of attitudes and perceptions. And And how has that changed your your work life in terms of hiring getting customers and just your general general general life?
Anastasia Volkova 1:12
Yes, absolutely. So when we met back in, I think 2017. That was back when you were actually running muru-D that was interesting. So you kind of got me signed up, and then you had to head off. Which was unexpected for me that you in any I just head out of the doors like.
Okay, so the journey of Flurosat has started then. And the problem I was already looking at solving and applying my know how to was the problem of waste in agriculture, but not the food waste, the resource use in agriculture. So really, the fact that somehow farmers are using too much fertiliser on the field more than they have to. And that is, of course, like getting just the money out of the pockets and spraying them on the fields. And it was unclear to me. How can we really prevent that from happening? How can we focus more on the environmental side of the advantages they can reap if they had more resilient and self rejuvenating systems in soils and less dependent on synthetic fertiliser.
It's also something that was quite important for me, because I personally feel very strongly about climate change is a problem. And warming up the planet as well as getting the water in the lakes, full of blooming algae is all of the things that agriculture has a little bit to do with. So with my experience in using remote sensing or satellite imagery and writing software, there was like a solution that was hacked together. And we took it to Australia and agronomist and understood that they were really keen to have more data driven decisions.
But it took us a long journey to discover and rediscover and reinvent the business model. And the whole model of innovation behind the business, I fundamentally believe you shouldn't be a hammer on the lookout for a nail, you should really be in love with your problem, not with your solution. So the problem is, is the waste the problem is the environmental impact of farming. The problem is that we can make different better environmentally better decisions if we had better information to make them with. And that fundamentally impacts all sorts of food production. So when we started, the fertiliser waste problem, or the kind of overuse of fertiliser was not necessarily a problem that was economically easy to solve. Because trauma is treated as an insurance. It's better to be on the side where you kind of overpay a little bit just to make sure you don't miss your harvest targets if it's a good year. I think now when the industry and the whole planet really has gone through COVID has gone through disruptions of supply chain through a climate change induced natural disasters that happen more frequently just in the last five years since we started the business. I think the big market the capital has really pivoted its focus and started focusing more on ESG. So environmental social governance of corporates, it really meant that the food and agri food supply chains started not just looking at agriculture is all about production and the output is what we want. But really the consumer matured. And the industry started to respond to the signals of producing food in a more green way producing the food that is healthier for the planet as it is for the people who are eating it. It's not just about plant based diet They also are very heavily connected to climate impact of the food. But it also is about how we produce food and how we reward the farmers.
So when we took the business out of Australia and really started scaling it globally, I met last year. So that was like on our growth curve I met on the business that was, is based in on the East Coast of the United States, called Dagon. And we were fortunate enough to see our future together and flourish that acquired Dagon and merge two companies into one that we called regrow, to regrow the potential of agriculture to heal the planet. That's why it's regrow. And since then, it's been a fantastic blast. So we announced the merger in February, we released new joint product, we have amazing customers adopting them, we effectively merged the best of Agronomy with the best of sustainability. And we have a really good business case for it, and is the right time in the market. So I'm really pleased that the timing worked out as well.
Mick Liubinskas 6:07
Yeah, that's amazing. It's I remember your first talk telling the story, there was a lot of about the business and what you wanted to solve. And you have always been obsessed on the problem. Even though you had a, you had at least a concept of the technology that could solve that in advance. But it's been really interesting to see your your commitment to that ahead of ahead of the full value being appreciated. So it's, this is one of the challenges for entrepreneurs is to you, I'm sure you regularly face people who sort of said, Oh, that's not a big enough problem, or is that is that even really a problem at all? Like? So what if there is? If there is too much fertiliser? Like farmers can handle it, and blue and green algae in some pond somewhere? Why does that affect me? But that's that shift has really happened and, and has made your your problem bigger and more tangible.
And in that's, that's, I think it's amazing to see on the other side of that now that you were able to, so your timing has been going quite good. So yeah, well done for persevering, persevering through that acquiring the company is an interesting one, a lot of a lot of some entrepreneurs think, oh, the My goal is to be acquired, and they don't see our acquisition is I get obsessed about capital raising, they don't see acquisition as a possible tool for growth. Can you tell us a bit about how you? Did you always think that that might be a way you can do it? Or did you just slowly build a relationship? Because it could have been kind of competitive as well, right. So interested to see how you started that, and how you how you knew that was gonna be a good partnership?
Anastasia Volkova 7:51
Yeah, so I would say that the pathways to good acquisitions are definitely by understanding the vision of the company that either you have as a CEO or a founder, or painting it with your team, because I think that's what helped us to make the acquisitions that we've made ones first in Australia, of the production wise platform from green growers. And then earlier this year of of Dagon as an independent company. So the opportunity there was for us to achieve our mission faster to get to the point where we're going to get to faster, but it's important to know where you going in order to understand what's going to derail you, or what's going to accelerate you. And, of course, it's not the case for the first acquisition, because there was no COVID back then. But especially recently, in the industry, in at least agricultural technology, we can really see a lot of acquisitions because there's a consolidation in the space, there is definitely a big impact. But the ROI of that impact where the money is actually made in the business models that are supported by technology can be shifting, like for us, it's shifted from Precision agronomy, to sustainability use cases and shifted from agricultural supply chain into the food supply chain for it for us. And so we were agile enough and persistent enough to keep pursuing this goal until we really hit the product market fit. And for us to complete that product market fit. We needed this additional capability that we started building in house. And when we met someone who had it developed to a much greater degree, and we realised that they were in a position where they were on the lookout for additional members on the team, including the leadership including the CEO, they were hiring for a CEO. And that was just a beautiful match where they're part of the team and our team were complimentary. Our technologies, models are complimentary. And our overall vision is the same vision so and there's so many aspects to an acquisition of another team, it is about the culture fit is about the same mission, it is about the same view of what the company should do product or consulting or other operations. So all these things need to align. And it's worth going out there and looking for alignment.
Mick Liubinskas 10:20
That's amazing. It's a really good story. And I hope that more entrepreneurs consider those kind of merging partnership acquisition opportunities, because I really think it can make a good impact. And I'm glad you mentioned the cultural fit as well, I think it's not that there are a lot of aspects to get that get wrapped right in that. Did you in terms of your growth in customers? Did you find customers initially some big customers who were like, Well, can I just white label you or I only want this part, like when you're early on in terms of your product market fit? And some big customers might question the proposition or how they had to use you. Were there times you had to say no to opportunities in order to focus? Or was it always just hard enough just to find any customers?
Anastasia Volkova 11:10
And definitely, Mick, you've probably seen this, play out a couple of times with other companies. But there's certainly a time where until you're established enough, companies do feel like they can want to play your solution, or they want to kind of pull it apart. And part of our thesis has not just been that we're proud to stand on our own. Not really, it's just that we want to be scalable. And to have scalable technology and product, you need to have one. And then you use it for the different reasons rather than having support. Now multiple copies that are coloured differently or skin differently. That's not something we wanted to do from this more of a psychological perspective and scalability of the business of how would we scale if we had to have our team support on different platforms that don't actually pair back together? So there's definitely there were times when we had to say no, and to say,
Well, I see Flurosat platform only in green, and not in this other colour, you're suggesting, because it's independent, not because I like green, but because it is the way it is. But there's also been opportunities where we understand that our platform, our user interface is not the only tool that the customers and the end, beneficiaries can access us. And so we deliberately built our tech stack, as the engine of where we invested in the capabilities into the modelling into something you can API into, because every industry has too many platforms already. And you'd really need to be savvy about how you're going to port the data integrated, pass it through your loops of adding value and export it back out. So it's an interesting balance, where we at the same time as saying no to white labelling, and are perfectly happy to be a platform as a service MRV as a service, as we are now the functions of measurement, reporting and verification of practices can be on demand on top of ipi.
Mick Liubinskas 13:12
That's great. They're really important. questions around around? What do you integrate? What is core? And do you want to be a integral part of the product? What are the things you partner on? What are the things you say no to? And there are a lot of product decisions. And I think it does come back to your big vision and also the the focus on solving solving that problem. And the last last question is around the team. Obviously, when you started, it was a very, very small team. And you've been been growing and going through various stages. Any comments about different approaches at different stages of the business? Now you've got a lot, a lot more growth to do, especially on the back of these couple of days. But you know, any comments about how your team leadership has evolved?
Anastasia Volkova 14:00
Yes, certainly, I would say it's important to have your generals with you on the journey and to have the right ones. And I personally believe in business, and in life in, in relationships that make sense, they should make sense naturally. And it should be a good fit on that your senior leadership team really backs you as a CEO or a founder. Or if you're not finding that that's the best place for you to play, where else you can play an add most value. So this is really a very important decision of how you build the team and how you grow it. And the people who've built the company. With me thus far are the people who are going to stay in it and they have such critical roles and their roles will evolve. And they will always be doing something amazing, something something fun, something new, something interesting or scaling. They have their own personal growth and their journey and as a leader of their organisation you too To stand, what journey do they want to see in front of themselves and building the team for that future? So it's not just about who am I leadership to now? But really, where do I see them being at their strongest, and where they want to grow and where they do not want to grow? And I actually need the strength in that area, how can I bring it in, because that intergenerational change, it can be from a capital raise to a capital raise, it can be between kind of initial senior leadership of the company or just the people who your head around the table who need to evolve. I think there's, there's many changes, and they're very significant when you start in the company, you have the team that you have. And I just want to normalise this experience that you don't need to stick with that team, if that's not working as you're pivoting and iterating because some of the parts of it will be critical to really make things happen, and it will naturally kind of stay there. But there is no kind of silver bullet here of you come in into this. And we first hire on sales or on technology or on somewhere else is the best hire. Like you really need to I believe keep yourself to a high standard and keep working keep iterating and seeing where's the best opportunity for the company to make an impact for everyone personally to make an impact and how to really realise their personal genius. Like that's what I believe in like the talent it comes and it should realise itself in your organisation. And you need to know how how to help them do that.
Mick Liubinskas 16:33
That's really great advice for early stage entrepreneurs in the climate tech space. So it means a lot to learn from that. Anastasia, thank you so much. I really appreciate you jumping on from LA, and having a chat with us sharing a bit more of this story. I'm really proud and impressed with how far you've come and how much you've grown it and really hope that you have, you know, continued success as you grow, regrow. And how can we hopefully even get you back in Australia for a one on one chat sometime soon. But thanks again for sharing your story. Thank you for having me.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai