We’ve got work to do in the barn

April 7, 2022

The Animal Agtech conference was held in late March in San Francisco, CA. I was in such good spirits to be in person with this crew of entrepreneurs after two years that I didn’t even complain about the $32 omelets in the hotel restaurant. I got seconds and thought, “good for you guys!”  

Leaving the Animal Agtech conference in San Francisco reinforced for me that both entrepreneurs and the VC community have work to do in the barn. When I was a kid, I often went to horse auctions on Sunday afternoons with my dad.  So many darn lessons from a livestock auction. Never bring your trailer. The free puppies are cute, but you get what you pay for. The junk sells first. Look around. Who’s there? Who’s not?  But, the ultimate lesson is that the work is done in the barn

When we arrived at the auction, we never went in through the main door. We always started in the barn. Maybe we wouldn’t even bother getting a number if we didn’t like what we saw in the barn (yeah right - we always got a number). The point here is that the time in the barn informed our day. Surveying the inventory, talking to patrons, talking to the owners of the animals, talking to the people who were at the auction we missed the week before. The purpose of starting in the barn was to gather data points to inform the rest of our activity. What’s the market doing? Is that the missing piece I need? How can I make a buck? Will anyone really pay x for y? 

The same strategy of starting in the barn applies to both entrepreneurs and VCs in the Animal Agtech sector in the absolute literal sense. There is work to do in the barn. Talking to actual producers and working to solve their problems informs the rest of our activity, just like at the auction.

On the VC side, I loved this recap article here by Janette Barnard. “Un-manured” money, as she calls it, is money that hasn’t spent time in the barn. It’s hard to appreciate the complexity of the business or the market in general by sitting in the bleachers at the auction watching the animals roll by. Go spend time in the barn. 

On the entrepreneur side, there is barn work to do too. We’ve sold ourselves on a lot of ideas without actually going back to the barn to validate. Don’t confuse what you heard on stage all day as barn work. Is your notebook full of ideas that reinforce what you want to hear, or did you happen to catch the one or two good nuggets from the one or two actual producers? Look at your notes quick. Our work starts in the barn too. 

I appreciate the ridiculousness of comparing a conference held in San Francisco to a livestock auction in the rural Midwest. The platform for animal agtech and presentations offered in San Francisco bring much-needed exposure dialog to an exciting segment. Still, it’s important to remember that ultimately everything begins and ends in the barn.  And, for $32 at the auction, you could at least buy everyone a popcorn. 

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