This article was originally published by Kate Hayden on the Business Record. ESTABLISHED: 2014
LEADERSHIP: Co-founders Casey Niemann, president, and Jerrod Westfahl, chief operating officer
LOCATION: Based in Waukee
THE PROBLEM: Agricultural technology is changing year by year, month by month for producers — but customer service hadn’t kept up with the pace, said Casey Niemann, AgriSync founder and president. Farmers experiencing problems with technology in the fields were waiting two to four hours for an adviser to come out to the fields, wasting time during the hectic harvest and planting seasons.
“A lot of things they do are time sensitive, and so they can’t afford to be waiting for hours for someone to travel to the farm,” Niemann said. “Likewise for their expert advisers, it’s expensive to go and do a house call.”
THE INNOVATION: A digital app to connect farmers with four to five trusted, local advisers within minutes.
“We’ve essentially taken that call center concept and made that relevant for experts who are mobile,” Niemann said. “A lot of farmers want to adopt these new technologies … but it’s a learning curve, just like you or I would have with any technology. We kind of say, ‘We’re gonna get you through the learning curve.’ ”
The app is a subscription service to advisers, which eliminates the need for small agritech startups to dedicate resources to a full-time customer service hotline, and still allows them to track their service hours and create a report. Meanwhile, app users have free access to contact a technology company for customer support through AgriSync. Users can build their directory through invitations by local agriculture experts, or through a directory on the app.
To initiate a call, the app user submits a digital ticket detailing their problem through the app, with the ability to attach photos or a video and comments demonstrating the problem. The ticket pings all members of the user’s advisory team. The wait time for a ticket response is “literally minutes,” Niemann said.
HOW IT HAPPENED: Niemann spent 15 years working for Microsoft, aiding agricultural companies building cloud computing protocols and platforms. But as he visited his family’s farm back in Kansas, Niemann noticed a disconnect between the technology available to farmers and any customer service to help farmers adopt the technology.
“One of the missing pieces of this big puzzle of digital agriculture is the lack of customer service tools,” Niemann said. “We think about other industries, and not only do they have the flagship products, but they have a way to support those products.”
“We’re allowing them to connect to the human element. How do we connect the experts within our company, within our dealer to that farmer, so that they actually adopt and use these new technologies?”
THE PAYOFF: Today, more than 200 companies in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom use AgriSync to provide customer support to producers.
Companies using AgriSync’s platform also benefit from tracking the kinds of service calls that come in through AgriSync, Niemann said.
“We make it easy for the companies to be able to understand what types of issues farmers were having. Hopefully that information [can] help them develop better products,” he said.
AgriSync has its offices at Waukee APEX in the Waukee Community School District as a business-in-residence, collaborating with high school students in the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center as business mentors and partners. AgriSync also hosts collegiate internships with Iowa State University’s College of Agricultural Entrepreneurship program.
“It’s a tremendous facility, but it’s also a great opportunity for us to kind of engage with the next generation of talent,” Niemann said. “We’re big believers in the fact that we can grow and develop talent here in Central Iowa. And we want to keep that talent coming here.”