First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sebastien Boyer: Fortunately, we’re all doing great and trying our best to do our part and keeping everyone safe.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FarmWise.
Sebastien Boyer: A little on my background: I graduated from France’s top engineering school Ecole Polytechnique and hold a Master’s in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences from MIT, where I studied machine learning and recent advances in computer vision.
I co-founded FarmWise in 2016 to address U.S. vegetable farmers’ burning challenges as regulation and society push for change in farming practices.
How does FarmWise innovate?
Sebastien Boyer: FarmWise was created to help farmers become more efficient and grow food more sustainably, with a lower reliance on dangerous chemicals. We’ve begun our work with a self-driving AI for weeding crops, but this is just the beginning as we work to achieve our mission of empowering farmers with sustainable solutions to feed our growing world.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Sebastien Boyer: Given the fact that the majority of farming operations are labor-intensive, requiring groups of people to be working in sync with another, farmers had to come up with ways to keep their field workers safe, which often meant losing productivity.
More than ever, the Coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for a redesign of farming operations, one that keeps workers safe and enhances their productivity.
Despite constraints added by the COVID-19 pandemic and California wildfires, we experienced a threefold increase in revenue from 2019 to 2020, which is a testament to the reinforced interest in farm automation.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Sebastien Boyer: Like any other business, we had to make tough decisions and learned so much from this experience. We took these circumstances as an opportunity to refocus on our core value-added to farmers and on polishing our value proposition to them.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and FarmWise in the future?
Sebastien Boyer: At the end of the day, I believe in our product and the future of farming. While this year has brought some stress and anxiety, keeping a positive outlook on how we can put our best foot forward to help farmers is our top priority.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Sebastien Boyer: Contrary to the common “one and done” business model of farm equipment manufacturers, small and large OEMs, we operate our robots as-a-service where our customers pay us a fee per acre in exchange for our service. The service model allows us to roll out the latest software and hardware features as soon as they are available. It doesn’t require a large upfront investment in new equipment or maintenance for growers, and they only pay for completed work. FarmWise takes care of hiring and training equipment operators and handles the maintenance of the machines. Because it’s extremely flexible and fairer to farmers, we truly believe that the service model is going to be at the center of agriculture’s 4th revolution.
Contrary to traditional farm equipment, we’re able to reach a high level of versatility thanks to AI. More concretely, this means we’re able to tackle a large variety of crops without needing to switch equipment. All we need is to switch to a different AI model, an action done from the tip of the machine operator’s finger on their tablet.