Regional Startups 4 MIN READ

The likes of the Trading Post and classified sections of the local newspapers were once the bible for farmers, tradies, and anyone who loved a good bargain.

Of course, the model has long since moved online, and while Gumtree has helped many a uni student find a reasonably priced fridge for their first sharehouse, FarmTender has been helping the agricultural sector buy and sell online for six years.

An online marketplace for farmers and associated agricultural businesses, Yarrawonga-based founder Dwain Duxson explained FarmTender provides a platform where farmers can trade or market items and commodities directly from their smartphone or computer, solving the old problem of distance.

“I was a farmer myself for 10 years and was very focused on selling, but I just saw this bit, trading stuff online, was missing when the internet started to become popular,” Duxson said.

“We started out as a buying service only, for example a farmer would list that they wanted 100/mt of MAP Fertiliser and suppliers would then quote, but that didn’t really work, and during this time I was being asked by farmers, why can’t I sell things on here? So we did some tweaks and added the selling service and it started to take off.”

The platform launched six years ago, with Duxson initially seeking and finding investment. However, after around 18 months Duxson, along with a staff member and a couple of members, decided the investors’ involvement “didn’t really work for us” and so they bought them out.

The investment helped fund the development of the platform, however, with Duxson explaining he went through a few web developers and “spent a lot of money for not much return”. However, with consistent improvements, he believes FarmTender is now as efficient as possible.

“I have always been a bit frustrated at the time developers take to do things but I probably don’t understand the work involved,” Duxson admitted.

The platform is free for members to join and start posting opportunities.

“We call it a performance based platform, in other words we only charge the seller if they sell something, so its free to list things. Users love it for a couple of reasons; if they don’t sell it’s no cost, and you also won’t see phone number or contact details on each listing, so you lessen the tyre kickers, scammers, and other online businesses ringing wanting them to advertise on their site,” Duxson said.

Rather than a simple listing and buying platform, however, where each side is left to their own devices, the FarmTender team helps manage all enquiries made.

“We have developed our own platform called ‘Activities’ on the back end, and that’s where all the enquiries are gathered as they come in. Our sales guys can then grab a particular ‘activity’ and it’s their responsibility to follow up with both buyer and seller…as a farmer myself I knew the value of strong relationships and we set out to do that from day one.”

With this assistance given, fees for sold items then correspond to the value of the item sold and the product category. For the likes of machinery and equipment worth up to $1,999, FarmTender charges a fee of $50 plus GST.

Also able to be sold through the platform is livestock, grain and seed, hay and fodder, and rural properties themselves thanks to FarmTender’s acquisition of an in-house real estate license. The sale of a property worth between $500,000 and $999,999 would incur a sales fee of one percent, plus GST.

“We knew that most farmers are very happy to pay you if you help sell something for them, and this is still true today, so our fee structure was based on what we thought was fair and the farmers’ feedback,” Duxson said.

The platform has seen various trends in sales since launch; grain was the most traded item in the early days, then was overtaken by hay and now the machinery and trucks category. As well as real estate, livestock is a growing market Duxson wants to pursue further in 2017.

FarmTender has amassed 20,000 members over the last six years, with 23,000 live listings. This community has grown not through advertising, Duxson said, but rather through the team attending scores of agricultural industry events around the country.

“What we do at these events is gather registrations, and by the time they get home they are signed up and have a welcoming email in their inbox. I am big one for the ‘one member at a time, one listing at a time’ theory, it eventually adds up over a period of time,” Duxson said.

The membership base is managed by a remote team working across Australia, with a few staff members having first been members on the site themselves. Thanks to cloud services, Duxson said managing a remote team is easier than ever; setting key targets for staff ensures that they keep on track.

“We do daily numbers, which have the sales each day by individual staff members, the number of invoices sent, listings, new members, unique viewers and so on.. We set weekly and monthly targets, It makes everyone accountable and everyone can see what each other has done for the day. Personally I could now never work in an office situation,” he said.

“I say to the guys that working from home is a privilege, so don’t abuse it and they don’t.”

The growth of the platform locally led Duxson to launch 55Farms, a new platform with the same business model, in North America.

Having been in the US for three months now for set up, Duxson said the markets are “very different but the same”. Looking to employ Canadians and Americans who understand the local space, he said he envisions growth happening the same way it did with FarmTender, one member at a time, one field event a time.

With Duxon’s experience, his advice to other players looking to launch into the agricultural market is to make sure they truly understand who they’re selling to.

“If I was selling a new piece of revolutionary technology into the farming market, I would be building those relationship directly or with the agronomists, agents, or even through us…people who work closely with the farmers. Basically, farmers are hard nuts to crack and gaining their trust requires time and effort.”

Image: Dwain Duxson. Source: HMFD.com.au.

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