Patrick Henry: Nurturing Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture

GroGuru | Patrick Henry: Nurturing Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture | The Enterprise World

By definition, the role of a leader is to set the direction thereby helping themselves and others to move forward. However, during the phase of rapid transformation and change, it becomes difficult to find the right direction. The agriculture sector is presently going through a significant transformation and the role of strong leaders in the sector has never been more important. 

When we talk about influential leaders in the agriculture sector, Patrick Henry is a name that cannot be missed. Currently serving as the President and CEO of GroGuru, Patrick Henry has been leveraging his extensive experience to take GroGuru toward unprecedented growth. The Enterprise World recently had an opportunity to indulge in a conversation with Patrick where he shed light on his professional journey along with the services offered by GroGuru. Here are some excerpts from the intriguing conversation. 

1. What inspired you to start this company, and what has been your biggest challenge in leading it to where it is today?

We started GroGuru to focus on solutions addressing the most significant issues on the planet. Namely, we need to have enough fresh water to drink and grow crops, and enough nutritious food to feed the planet. There is nothing more strategic than water and food. We cannot live without them. And we need to grow the food in such a way that we do not destroy the planet in the process. This is about sustainability and being good stewards of scarce resources. This is about addressing problems that will impact our children and grandchildren.

The most significant challenges have been navigating through the pandemic and raising capital to fuel the growth of the business. That said, we have weathered these storms and have built the foundations for a successful business: great products that solve important customer problems, a significant portfolio of intellectual property, a great set of industry partnerships, and a team with the right business, technical and market domain expertise to win in the marketplace. We now have over 200,000 acres under management, our existing customers represent over one million deployable acres, and our market channel footprint is over 20 million acres.

2. Tell us about the company.

GroGuru is an innovative agriculture technology, AgTech that is all about strategic water management for commercial farmers. The GroGuru solutions are unique in the market because of their ability to do continuous year-round monitoring of the soil at the root zone of the crop. This enables us to better manage not only the crop but the long-term soil health. We do this with a combination of patented wireless technology and an AI solution in the Cloud that is a marriage of crop science and data science…an expert agronomist in the Cloud if you will.

3. What are the products and services that your company specializes in?

The GroGuru solutions are unique in the market because of their ability to do continuous year-round monitoring of the soil at the root zone of the crop. This enables us to better manage not only the crop but the long-term soil health. We do this with a combination of patented wireless technology and an AI solution in the Cloud that is a marriage of crop science and data science…an expert agronomist in the Cloud if you will.

We sell the products through our market channel partners who are also trusted advisors to our farmer end customers. We are well in a Hardware as a Service (HaaS) business model, providing Software as a Service (SaaS) enabled by field hardware that we provide to customers. This is IoT for AgTech and hardware-enabled SaaS.

4. What were the initial challenges you faced? Which was that point that triggered the growth of the company?

Building the team at GroGuru, understanding the end market requirements, developing the core technology, and learning to clearly articulate the value proposition to farmers, market channel partners, and strategic partners were some of the major early challenges. Initial deployment and proving the reliability and ease of use of the WUGS technology was the primary catalyst for growth.

5. How have the company graphs changed since the foundation? Can you share a few statistics? (You can share the charts/graphs here).

GroGuru now has over 300 end customers/farmers, across 20+ crop types, in over 20 states in the US. We are selling a highly valuable service that helps farmers to increase crop yield, and more efficiently use water and other scarce resources in a more sustainable way. And we have customer testimonials and case studies as evidence of these claims.

6. What is the reason behind your company’s long-standing success?

Listen to customers, solve real problems, evolve in an ever-changing environment, and never quit. You are either winning or learning. The only way to lose is to quit.

7. What is your leadership philosophy, and how do you ensure that it is reflected throughout your organization?

I would describe my management style as ‘adaptive’, collaborative, and primarily delegating with authority. When building fast-growing businesses, circumstances frequently dictate how you need to manage. A different style is required when you’re building houses, than when the house is on fire. When you have an expert team with a shared vision, collaboration is the best approach. But there must be a final decision maker. In fact, especially at fast-moving tech companies, not making a decision can be worse than making a decision and then course-correcting along the way. 

Having a bias toward action is essential, and analysis paralysis can be deadly. I am far more interested in setting goals based on what needs to be accomplished, and letting the team decide how to accomplish the goals. I have been fortunate to have exceptionally talented and specialist men and women on my management teams over the years. When a team has shared values of execution excellence, customer focus, integrity, tenacity, patience, perseverance, and servant leadership, things tend to work out. Getting the right people on the team that have the right market domain, technical, and business expertise is key.”

8. How do you balance the need to innovate and take risks with the need to maintain stability and profitability?

I would describe this as the schizophrenia of being the leader of a startup. Like a professional race car driver, you need to keep one foot for the gas, one foot for the brakes, and one foot for shifting gears! The first key aspect of this is constant communication with your team, partners, and customers. The second is to have a bias toward action. 

The third is to have the ability to prioritize what is core and what is peripheral. That leads to where to focus. Focus, focus, focus. The fourth is having the ability to adjust and course-correct along the way as new information presents itself. Building something out of nothing is impossible, and that is what you are doing in a startup. As challenging as this is, there is nothing in business quite as gratifying as building a business that solves real customer problems and helps people to live better lives.

9. How do you identify and develop the talent within your organization, and what role do you see mentorship playing in this process?

I have hired literally thousands of people in my career. In doing that, you make a lot of mistakes, but hopefully increase your batting average over time. In my view, the key to building a world-class team is akin to how they build startup teams in ‘Mission Impossible’ or ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. You need to identify the expertise needed for each role and identify the best person for that role. Next, you need to recruit, woo, and onboard those people and give them the tools to win. Then, you need to keep the team members focused on the key priorities. 

There are a lot of ‘shiny objects’ and you need to ignore most of them. Finally, you need to create a shared vision, where the team is committed to the key objectives and supportive of their teammates. There is no “I” in the team, but there is an ‘I” in Win. So, to build a great company, you need to have personal accountability as well as a team approach and esprit de corps. Without passion and a shared vision, the team will not stick together during the inevitable challenging times in building a business.

A lot of people hire just for talent or for capabilities, skills, and abilities. While that is important, it is also important to have common core values, integrity, a team mentality, and a commitment to excellence.”

10. How has technology helped your customers for a seamless experience? 

GroGuru is focused on technology development where we provide unique value and develop ecosystem partnerships to leverage other best-in-class technologies. GroGuru has a patented wireless underground system, WUGS, that enables the permanent installation of soil sensors, thus providing continuous long-term soil data at the root zone of the crop. 

GroGuru has also combined crop science and data science in the Cloud, and its AI engine provides an expert agronomist in the Cloud to make recommendations to farmers. GroGuru has partners that provide weather forecasts, rainfall, as-applied information from the irrigation system, crop models, and whole-farm management systems. GroGuru has also developed key market channel partnerships in its target markets.

11. How has your platform been able to disrupt the traditional way of working?

As one of GroGuru’s key customers said, “Before GroGuru, we had to look at five computer screens and have a yellow pad to make water management decisions. And we are on the leading edge compared with most farms. With GroGuru we have one computer screen with intuitive recommendations and the ability for ourselves and our trusted advisors to drill down to deep levels as needed. It is a solution that is reliable, and we can trust the recommendations. And the path they are on will ultimately lead to semi-automation.”

12. How do you stay innovative and competitive in your industry, and what strategies do you use to adapt to changing market conditions and customer needs?

To keep abreast of changes in the industry, you need to look downstream. You need to have a vision of not only what is needed for your customer, but also for the customer’s customer. What are the broad macro trends affecting industry including government regulation? And gaining feedback from customers on how to continuously improve your solutions and solve real problems for the customers. Relying on industry experts is helpful, but you must develop your own intuition around markets and customers based on interaction with the entire market ecosystem.

13. Can you describe a recent successful product launch or business expansion, and what factors contributed to its success?

We recently launched our cellular field telemetry unit that combines with the WUGS system. This has expanded our market opportunity and enabled even easier installation for our farmers and market channel partners. We also continue to enhance what we provide on our SaaS as we collect customer feedback about what is important to them.

14. How do you approach risk-taking and decision-making in your business, and what steps do you take to mitigate potential risks?

The first step in risk mitigation is better than average risk assessment. To better assess risk, we have built a team with significant business, technical, and market domain expertise. Our team has tons of experience in our focus markets and in building startup companies and businesses. We also rely heavily on our customers and strategic partners to gain input and insights.

15. How do you decide to take the company a step further in terms of your products/services?

Over the last 150 years, technological breakthroughs have solved what were thought to be insurmountable and impossible problems for society. This includes breakthroughs in science and technology in the areas of food production and distribution. The next required step-function in food and water will be solved by technology.

Modern farming is hard and technically challenging. And farmers are very sophisticated businesspeople and tech-savvy, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary. However, farmers rely on their trusted advisor networks of agronomists and precision agriculture specialists to gain confidence in new AgTech solutions. The AgTech solutions that are successful must solve a big problem to get the attention of farmers in the target market. 

Farming is not a horizontal market. It is vertical markets inside of vertical markets along crop type, geography, water availability, topology, soil type, country regulations, state regulations, etc. Successful AgTech solutions also need to be easy to implement, trustworthy, reliable, easy to use, and provide a significant return on investment (ROI) and a short payback period. GroGuru delivers on all these fronts. Water is critical in its target markets. GroGuru delivers a 6-8X ROI every single year and a payback period of one growing season. Typically, GroGuru’s solutions deliver a 10-20% increase in crop yield and a 10-20% savings on input costs.

At GroGuru we believe in listening to the customer, listening to the market, and doing it from a perspective on how we can deliver unique value that solves major problems and pain points for customers. The pain points we identify and problems we solve need to be important, significant, and somewhat urgent. The parts of the total solution that we provide need to leverage our core competencies and be unique in the market. We partner in areas where that is not the case.

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