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Cool things I learned and saw at LAUNCH: A dairy farmer’s takeaways from a technology startup festival

Theo Scholze for Progressive Dairyman Published on 12 May 2017

I recently had the privilege to attend LAUNCH Festival in San Francisco, an event for technology startups, and I came away with some new ideas and views on how to attack problems that I myself and the dairy industry face.

I have always had an interest in what is happening in the technology industry and how it is going to affect me. Since we are in the process of updating our facilities, it felt like the time was right to get out of my comfort zone and see what is coming.

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It was absolutely amazing from a farmer's perspective and definitely is something that I want to regularly attend. I learned so much on several fronts – products I can use, new ideas for employee and business development, as well as some good ideas for personal development.

One budding relationship I am developing is with Lab Sensor Solutions, a company that makes and markets wireless temperature and location sensors. Currently working in the healthcare industry, they are looking to branch out into other industries. We can see potential synergies, from tracking the shipment of perishable goods to being able to monitor animal welfare in remote locations while getting feedback and having the ability to head off potential problems.

We on the farm have been approached by consumers to see if Scholze Family Farms would be interested in developing some direct-to-consumer sales of products, as well as do subscription-type services – think Blue Apron, Dollar Shave Club etc., so I was particularly interested in what I could learn about direct-to-consumer sales.

While there and talking to other founders, I was absolutely encouraged to look seriously at doing some crowdfunding to get initial customers and set them up on a subscription service. It was mentioned from one of the panels that certain business models work well with crowdfunding, and in addition to upfront capital, it can also get you brand ambassadors and advertising, something that I hadn’t thought of. This advice has given me the confidence to try it, as well as ideas to best leverage the opportunities crowdfunding presents.

“Future of Food: Robotic Food” was a panel that seemingly was put together specifically for me. While on the dairy we are upstream of the processing and delivery of food, we still face some of the same issues. The struggle with regulatory agencies in how to get permitting and licensing for some products and the implementation of robotics into the workplace is a common but workable struggle.

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Zume, a pizza delivery company, presented ideas on how to retrain and retain employees as their jobs are replaced by robotics. It was spot on as we consider a more automated new dairy. Cafe X, an automated coffee shop, shared lessons on the importance of social interaction with customers and the need to be flexible as they were getting involved in manufacture of, not just the purchase of, equipment.

These were important lessons as we venture into direct-to-consumer sales. I also appreciated the idea of healthy, sanitary food choices as an employee perk that was presented by Chowbotics, a company developing and selling automated salad-dispensing equipment.   

From a personal development spectrum, there were a few good things that came from this event. The most important probably came from Patrick Collison of Stripe, and it was the reminder that what the world views as overnight success generally isn’t – the world just doesn’t see the time and years that have been put in.

I can get bogged down sometimes and wonder if we are ever going to make it, but this comment made me reflect on our farm’s growth. We’ve had two times the revenue and a 20 percent reduction in cost of production in the four years since we have bought the farm from my parents. This seems to show we are on the right track. I also left the event with a list of a few more books to read and podcasts to listen to, which should help me continue to improve.

In reflecting on this experience it was definitely one that I hope to repeat, hopefully on an annual basis as the combination of positive energy, new ideas and a growing network have been revitalizing to me during a time when the ag industry in general has a bit of a depressed feeling. It also reinforced to me the importance of breaking out of our silo of social/business networks and getting other world views, which is something that I would encourage all of you to do.  end mark

“Theo
  • Theo Scholze

  • Dairy Producer
  • Humbird, Wisconsin
  • Email Theo Scholze

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