We talked to Max Chizhov on how iFarm provides smart technologies for growing vegetables, berries, and greens, and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Max Chizhov: Thank you, everything is fine. We are following all the recommendations for prevention.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded iFarm?
Max Chizhov: Back in 2017, I looked for an exciting project to benefit society and meet my own personal development goals. With a background in technology, it made sense for me to go down that route. Straight after graduating from a French culinary school, my business partner Alexander Lyskovsky (now Co-Founder and President of iFarm) began wondering how to grow high-quality vegetables throughout the year. The project had to be environmentally friendly, profitable, and take climate out of the equation. His story resonated with me; I started to research and realized that I would like to deal with it — hence iFarm company was founded. Initially, the company’s strategic development lay in producing farm vegetables, herbs, and berries. But after assessing the prospects for saling\scaling, we realized that we were not ready to wait 20 years to become a global supplier of produce. And then, iFarm became a developer and supplier of technology business solutions for growing delicious natural plants on vertical farms in a modern urban environment. Since 2018, the iFarm team has created automated vertical farms and an IT platform to manage them. We wish urban farmers worldwide to upgrade their cultivation technologies and earn money by delivering fresh, eco-friendly products.
How does iFarm innovate?
Max Chizhov: iFarm is a technology company, and digital technologies surround us every day. We create digital products, as well as use all modern digital business methods. We work a lot with cloud technologies, drones, artificial intelligence — all this is applied inside our system. Digitalization of traditional agriculture is focused on technologies that can increase crop yields, save resources, reduce the impact of the human factor on production efficiency, and reduce the environment’s impact. Farmers and agribusinesses face challenges in solving poor seedlings, identifying disease outbreaks, and predicting yields with high accuracy to plan other production cycle activities: collection, transportation, storage, and product sales.
Computer vision technologies, machine learning, and automation and robotization of many processes, including planting and harvesting crops, are effective solutions in this direction. On the other hand, the trend towards localization of production is spreading in agriculture. Due to high urbanization rates, population growth with the added impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine that followed it in 2020 exposed the problems of long supply chains and food security. Growing vegetables, berries, and herbs near the consumer become a necessity in such conditions.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Max Chizhov: All directions seem complicated at different times in the company’s development. At first, it seemed that it would be challenging to employ the right people and find the first customers. Still, it doesn’t seem easy to attract investment for its development and considerable growth when you find customers. The fact that you have 1000 people instead of 20 — other risks and a level of responsibility. I don’t treat these as difficult choices but rather as targets that require a specific solution plan. But problems may arise untimely. In this case, I prefer to consult with specialists who have already faced similar situations or take some time to understand that maybe this situation does not need to be dealt with right now and it will be solved on its own. It is also a decision not to make prompt decisions.
How do you handle stress and anxiety?
Max Chizhov: I think about what is happening in the company 24 hours a day. Everything is so mixed up, and I don’t separate work and personal time — this is the way I live. Our team is a big family where support is always guaranteed. In my free time, I enjoy cooking and taste the cuisine of different countries. While traveling, I always explore the local gastronomy first, try home-born products, and look for our business inspiration. As a sport I prefer squash. This sport gives me energy, helps to relieve stress, makes me resilient to challenges. Moreover, while playing, you can develop your physical qualities and learn to feel your partner’s emotions, support, or rivalry while fighting shoulder to shoulder.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Max Chizhov: Today, several companies in the world are engaged in vertical farming, who decide to sell produce. We consider them potential customers to improve their technologies or implement a SaaS management tool — the iFarm Growtune. The direct competitors are the companies that specialize in selling technology and operate in the b2b market.
iFarm provides a turnkey solution, so our customers do not need to have special knowledge — everyone can become a city farmer and produce a yield of products for sale; traditional agricultural complexes will be able to upgrade their capacities, and businesses such as HoReCa, retail and food manufacturers will receive a technological solution that ensures smooth running supply of ingredients for their dishes and goods. Another critical advantage of iFarm is the range of crops grown using our technology. Simultaneously, most vertical farms in the world produce the same salads and greens, which often causes criticism in the market. While studying competitors’ experience, we strive to surpass them in process automation and crop range.
Your final thoughts?
Max Chizhov: Our goals and dreams, which were initially set at the beginning of the project, only increase every year — this inspires and engages employees, partners, investors, customers and makes them go along with us, as well as believe that we will become a billion-dollar company in a few years.