Igor Ivanov of Gamaya tells us how they improve the efficiency and sustainability of crop production by offering compelling digital agronomy solutions.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Igor Ivanov: Personally, last year was one of the best for me, so I don’t complain. I am happy, my family is healthy, and I have the motivation to drive our company to the next stage. However, I fully recognize that the last year was quite difficult for many people and businesses. We are lucky to be involved in the agricultural sector, which is less affected by Covid-19, as people need to eat despite all other circumstances.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Gamaya.
Igor Ivanov: After graduation, I started working in an international IT company as a software developer. After 1.5 years, I realized that I want to spend more time with people than just sitting in front of a computer. Therefore, I changed the industry, changed the role, and switched from IT to Investment banking to apply my skills in the financial sector. It happened at the time of the financial crisis in 2008, and I learned a lot during these turbulent times. At the same time, I created my first startup in the smart-home market to customize and sell smart home devices in the Russian market.
I relocated to Switzerland for family reasons and did my MBA to learn more about different industries and functions. After more than 8 years of corporate experience in multinationals, I didn’t want to come back to the corporate world and decided to join the startup. I met 2 other co-founders who were developing interesting technology and were looking for commercial team members. After 5 months of collaboration, we decided that its time to create the company to explore ways to commercialize the unique technology – hyperspectral imaging.
How does Gamaya innovate?
Igor Ivanov: Gamaya is a global AgTech company that provides digital agronomy solutions to various agricultural businesses to improve the efficiency and sustainability of crop production. The key idea is to apply the most advanced imaging technologies, such as hyperspectral imaging and satellite data, to analyze crop properties based on the light reflected from the crops. The core of our innovation starts with a unique technology, which allows us to extend the possibilities of the human eye and analyze crop conditions remotely, either from drones or satellites. Gamaya’s unique assets combine hyperspectral imaging and machine learning to deliver crop and region-specific solutions for multiple crop issues – from disease detection to nutrients deficiency analysis. Currently, we operate in different crops, such as sugarcane and soybean in Brazil and India, and plan to extend our activities to other markets and geographies in the future.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Igor Ivanov: As noted earlier, agriculture is very resilient to all kinds of pandemics. However, we, as a young company, were affected by the Covid-19. Access to customers and fields became much more difficult, which slowed down our commercial operations. As our main market is Brazil, relationships play an important role there, and to preserve these relationships, the physical aspect is essential to build trust with your customers. We had to optimize our costs by 30% and search for additional liquidity to extend our runway. All in all, it brought a lot of efficiency to our processes and made our company stronger and more resilient. As we see it in other industries, Covid-19 has a positive impact on further digitalization of the most traditional industry – agriculture. Agtech contributes more and more to make agriculture resilient, efficient, and sustainable.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Igor Ivanov: Absolutely, the life of a startup is full of difficult lessons and challenges, and the time during Covid-19 is not an exception. Team restructuring is always a difficult question, but also we had to review our strategy to focus on fewer activities to make sure that we allocate the proper resources to win these markets. One of the lessons learned that you have a limited time, and you need to define the realistic targets you want to achieve during this timeframe to manage the expectations of your team members, investors, customers, and others. If the disconnect between your targets and reality is too big, it has many negative implications, and it’s hard to recover. The decision-making speed is absolutely crucial, even if you don’t have all the elements for the proper decision-making. Also, the safest bet is always to rely on your customers’ sales, and it’s especially true at the time of Covid-19.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Igor Ivanov: I would not say that the crisis brought a lot of innovation to us regarding specific tools or software. Our company adopted the use of CRM, agile approach, all kinds of digital tools from Google Suite to Jira and Confluence before the pandemic. We continued to use these tools and put much more emphasis on delivering the results in a shorter time frame due to limited access to financing.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Igor Ivanov: Gamaya competes with other digital imaging companies, which source the data from drones, airplanes, and satellites. Beyond unique and proprietary technology – hyperspectral imaging, we differentiate in several aspects. We strongly focus on a few markets, such as sugarcane in Brazil, and develop complete agronomy-led and crop-specific products for these markets before addressing new markets. Automation is at the core of all our products and services and enables the scalability of our solutions. Gamaya has a strong focus on B2B commercial models and sees digital agronomy solutions as a part of the fully integrated offer to farmers, including the conventional products of the industry (machinery, crop inputs, etc.). Gamaya’s vision is to capture and scale local agronomy knowledge globally using remote sensing, machine learning, and other technologies.
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