First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jeffrey Landau: Thank you for asking. Our entire team and families are doing fine and well. Luckily, we’ve been a remote team well before COVID-19, so the operational adjustment has been marginal.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Agritecture.
Jeffrey Landau: Throughout college, I became transfixed on futuristic skyscrapers that could produce food for our growing cities, vertical farms. I came across several blogs and articles about vertical farming, and through lots of research and pure interest, I knew that this was an industry that I wanted to be a part of. During my last year in university, I came across the blog, Agritecture, and used that as my go to resource to figure out who the big players were in the space. Due to timing, I graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a BSc in Mechanical Engineering in 2015 and went to work for Delta Air Lines as part of their 24/7 structural engineering support team. While working at Delta, I was using my spare reading Agritecture and discovered they were leading a series of design workshops in Atlanta. One thing led to another, and at the start of Jan 2016, I moved up to Brooklyn, NY, to join the team. It’s been almost 5 years since.
How does Agritecture innovate?
Jeffrey Landau: Agritecture is the art, science, and business of integrating agriculture into cities. We innovate by leveraging underutilized spaces in cities or surrounding areas and conceptualizing what type of agricultural operations can impact that community. We work with impact-driven organizations to develop feasible urban farming solutions, turning their business ideas into practical and sustainable realities. The vision here is to create a world where commercial urban agriculture is economically feasible, reduces the environmental impact of the food system, and improves food security.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jeffrey Landau: With COVID-19, our reliance on travel, farm visits, and speaking engagements as a proven way to source and land new deals was upended. With the economy thrown into uncertainty, our steady flow of new leads seemed to be drying up. Luckily for Agritecture, we knew the value we could provide to urban farms was still applicable. We started sensing that it was the format in which this value was presented that needed a makeover.
With this knowledge, Agritecture decided to reinvent itself by rapidly testing our way into new revenue streams and offering insights from our learnings to other small businesses and advisory firms struggling to find new business. We launched several new online initiatives to better connect with our audience, sell access to this knowledge and data in more digestible ways, and have seen a nearly 3x increase in inbound consulting requests as a result.
Our success in coping with the pandemic came from building upon existing assets, taking into account new customer profiles, and rapidly implementing and testing possible solutions.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jeffrey Landau: In narrowing in on our primary assets, we came up with a list of 17 proposed solutions – too many to chase for our staff. So, we prioritized the ideas that we could get live, test, and learn from fast. But we also had to focus on solutions that met our audience in the new world they now find themselves. That meant recognizing, for instance, that in a world where supply chain disruptions could be the new status quo, we may see interest in urban farming as a necessary solution from individuals who didn’t know the phrase “urban farming” existed only two months ago.
Fortunately, we’d already begun exploring more scalable digital solutions a year ago. So we’re able to speed up the launch of our new digital platform for commercial urban farm planning, Agritecture Designer, to the public in April. We also have a sizable digital audience through our blog, newsletter, and social media of more than 100,000 followers, which has tremendously aided this shift.
As an added challenge, we’ve had to navigate the communication burden, within our team, of an 11-hour time zone spread. Our weekly team meetings and open communication have enabled success regardless of this hurdle.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Agritecture in the future?
Jeffrey Landau: The remote work lifestyle can be taxing in many ways- staring at a screen for longer periods, the removal of a daily commute, increasing the amount of time you may spend at your computer, and sitting down for long periods. We encourage our employees to maximize the quality of time that best fits their schedule. Whether it’s reserving your mornings for personal time, taking a series of breaks during the day, or even taking a personal day, the team and I work to provide the space and time needed to recoup, recharge and reset. For our company, it’s the quality of quantity. We hope to expand our company as necessary to continue providing our employees with the flexibility they need to achieve success.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jeffrey Landau: Even though many competitors are doing similar work in the digital and agtech space, we strive to stay innovative and inspiring. Our firm is one of the only technology agnostic firms in the agtech space that provides consulting for design and feasibility studies. Additionally, our digital content plays a significant role in our brand value and thought leadership by providing an ongoing series of free and paid events, webinars, blog articles, and interviews. In the past, we’ve made a legitimate difference in people’s lives with our events and talks ranging from the farmer’s perspective, investor’s lookouts, entrepreneur’s aide, to the consumer’s desires. And we hope to continue doing the same.
Your final thoughts?
Jeffrey Landau: Even though COVID has presented unprecedented challenges, Agritecture has stood tall and hit back with a strong response. We’ve worked to support entrepreneurs with developing feasible urban farming solutions and aided farmers that have been hit worst by the pandemic.
Having shifted to this fully-digital environment only recently, there’s still plenty of uncertainty about how these new strategies will play out long-term. But the early signs are extremely encouraging: our website traffic is up 45% in April/May vs. Q1, our inbound consulting requests are up nearly 3x over that same time, and, in the first three days of launching our digital workshops, and we had requests coming in from around the world.
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