In 1994, CEO Barry Lynch co-founded Irish Farm Computers Ltd (AgriNet) in Kells, Co. Meath. Since then he has helped transform it into one of Ireland’s leading agricultural software companies.
What does AgriNet do?
A typical Irish beef or dairy farmer focuses on three main areas. Firstly to grow grass efficiently, secondly to feed a cow or bullock efficiently and thirdly to get something out the other end, and returning cash to the bank account. Our software helps them do this.
Our farmer clients require a comprehensive service, and because of that we deliberately focus on providing a complete range of software solutions across grass measurement, cash-flow and accounts – plus recording all the history of the animals in the herd.
“Farmers are expected to be a combination of a vet, a herdsman, a grassland expert and an accountant.”
Farmers must be multi-skilled
Farmers are expected to be a combination of a vet, a herdsman, a grassland expert and an accountant which often makes it a challenging environment to sell software services into. Essentially farmers are time poor, and if the scrapers are blocked in the shed, you have to go and fix them, which generally takes priority over data entry.
At what point did you know you had a viable business?
We launched the business in 1994, and like any other small business, at the start, it was really tough. In the first three years, it meant scrambling to get a piece of software that was good enough, then calling out and very quickly, getting feedback to try and learn what our clients wanted, followed by making sure to give it to them in the next version.
It was only in 1997 that everything began to click into place when a farmer Co-Op called, Progressive Genetics invested in us. By then we had a better understanding of what the market requirements were and how best to deliver them.
“If your software is good enough and simple enough, you can support people anywhere in the world.”
What support did you need when growing but couldn’t get?
As we grew the business, the main problem was sourcing skilled software staff.
If you have the highest quality software developers, you will succeed and the more skills you have, the faster you progress.
We operate in an agtech world where a unique combination of skills are required – they are not always readily available and can be difficult to source. It’s an expensive process and looking back, government support and funding were limited in helping assist businesses like us in this area.
“Cloud technology means we can help customers in the UK, New Zealand where all the biggest farming businesses are using AgriNet Grass.”
What has been the most crucial part of your business journey?
Startups in technology often need an outside investor or perhaps be fortunate to gain sufficient support from local enterprise agencies. In our case a significant turning point was linking up with Progressive Genetics, who is a majority shareholder in the business and a great partner, essentially provide funding and a route to market to help us grow and scale.
In 2009, another game-changer occurred, when we successfully launched, ‘AgriNet Grass’ (pictured above) a web-based and smartphone system which has opened up the international marketplace for us. If your software is good enough and simple enough, you can support people anywhere in the world.
Cloud technology means we can help customers in the UK, New Zealand where all the biggest farming businesses are using AgriNet Grass – along with farmers in Chile, Holland, Missouri in the States, and even some in the Nordic countries.
“Ultimately someone is going to have to make that call.”
Who do you admire in business and why?
It would probably be Michael O’Leary who operates a candid and straightforward business model.
I find that you get what you pay for and he has delivered it all over Europe. We are able to carry out our business in the UK, courtesy of Michael O’Leary who provides amazing service – surprisingly costing us less to travel to Birmingham than to West Cork.
What’s your ambition?
The move to the cloud. Choosing the right hill to conquer is not always an easy thing to do. It’s probably a combination of not being too gung-ho and just getting the basics right. But ultimately someone is going to have to make that call – based on a combination of experience, feedback from customers and being confident in your decision and just going for it.
For more visit AgriNet.
Interview by Brendan Byrne.