This venture began as a conversation between co-founders Chris Robb and Keith Agoada. Chris comes from a consumer packaged goods and organic retail branding background, and Keith from agriculture entrepreneurship and supply chain.
The pair shared stories of how, on both sides of the supply chain, corporations seemed to have forgotten about the two most important stakeholders: the farmers and farm workers who create the products and steward the land, and the individuals who consume the final products.
Almost all the corporations we encountered, especially in distribution, branding and retail, seemed to be entirely focused on profit margins and returning profits to shareholders. Under this mindset, they lost focus on creating value and providing service to communities.
We started to imagine a revolutionary corporation that would be focused on scalability, innovation and profitability—through a 100% commitment to serving communities. We envisioned serving the communities that this $4 Trillion global supply chain had all but forgotten.
The advent of farmers markets and CSA (community supported agriculture) models are lovely, and we align to them. However, this makes up less than 3-5% of agricultural consumption and doesn't include fashion, health care products, skin and hair care, and home goods, all of which are created using natural resources.
We pondered the concept of loyalty. We felt that the new generation, millennials, were becoming increasingly disengaged from brands, and disconnected from corporate marketing strategies. Even groups focused on "sustainability" or "green business" felt gimmicky.
We studied legendary brands that we grew up loving like Hershey's, Dunkin Donuts, Apple, and Nike. We examined the patterns and commonality to understand how brands can remain relevant and valuable across generations.
We began to brainstorm what the next legendary brands would look like in the 21st century, given our generation’s current disinterest in branding and marketing. We witnessed big corporations paying marketing firms millions of dollars to figure this out. We observed “pop culture icons” receiving massive contracts to make aging dinosaurs in corporate offices relevant to the growing population of youthful decision-makers.
The answer seemed clear from the beginning. As we looked for the type of brand we would love to support, we discovered examples like Patagonia, Alaffia and Mozilla. These brands appeared to be fully aligned with their purpose and mission of service across the entirety of their product lines and corporate structure.
We ended this multi-year conversation with a simple conclusion: The next great companies will be defined by integrity, authenticity, transparency and service.
The next great brands of these companies will redefine the concept of marketing and transition into storytelling. These brands will reflect company values by providing insight into the company itself and how it treats its employees, the workers who create its products, and the people who consume the products from top to bottom.
Capitalism will cede to groups of people who play the game of capitalism to the highest level, but in a way that aligns to our values as parents, brothers, sisters, children, friends, neighbors, and community members. Our value lies in our commitment to making the world a better place by living each day to improve ourselves, aligning our personal integrity as individuals with our actions as business people. The compartmentalization of wearing a corporate “hat” in the office and then switching to a separate 'hat' when we leave will be an illusion of the past.
Producers Market came together after working with an avocado farming family in Mexico. We built a branding and marketing campaign that celebrated their family and community, and told their story. We created a brand identity, product packaging, and website with their direct input and approval to ensure alignment.
Three years into this experience with the Chavez family, we found that this approach works. It works extremely well, in fact.
What we did not anticipate, especially given our digital ignorance at the time, is that communities on the internet would propel this brand to the top. In many parts of the world, if you type "organic avocados mexico" into a google search, Michoacan Organics is the first result. It comes up before the major avocado conglomerates, before the largest avocado retailers in the search region, and before the largest digital retailers of avocados.
At this point, we realized that we had stumbled upon something special. By simply telling an authentic story from the heart and creating a brand that embodies this experience, we were able to generate wholesale buyer leaders from leading retailers, distributors and food service providers globally. By digital standards, we achieved an extremely low customer acquisition cost.
We started building an internal digital marketing team and acquiring valuable social media assets in order to replicate this success across hundreds of product lines and thousands of producers. We quickly realized it was time to start thinking as a digital technology company, bringing in experts in software and digital technology.
Dermot Doherty, our third co-founder and CTO, is a techie who grew up gardening, loves organic food, and has a rainbow of organic essential oils, lotions, and copal sitting next to his programming station. While Dermot spends his day in the digital astral plane programming reality for game-changing businesses, he is grounded in nature, and his connection to the earth is central to his life.
We explained to Dermot what we had achieved with Michoacan Organics. He didn't seem too worried about achieving our vision of a scalable marketplace platform.
But Dermot kept asking us, "What about the data?!"
I naively asked, "what data?"
As a databasing wizard, Dermot spent weeks, if not months, educating us on how valuable and unique the data sets were in these agricultural transactions. Perhaps more important than the sales and transactions themselves was the data that we could capture, organize, analyze and put to work.
That is when the light switch flipped.
For hundreds, if not thousands of years, the agriculture trade model has been defined by a buy-low, sell-high model. The buyer negotiates to always get the lowest price possible, thereby pushing down the quality of the outputs, often at the expense of the environment and community. The buyer and agricultural producer formed a mistrustful, but necessary, association.
By maintaining a focus on data as our driving force—and not the maximization of profitability per contract or per transaction—we could completely disrupt the agriculture value chain system domestically and globally.
Data holds the key to reducing the more than 30% of total agriculture outputs that get wasted. Data holds the key to providing banking and other financial services to millions of farmers who ordinarily get left out of the corporate equation. Data holds the key to tracking the authenticity and food safety of products so that individuals globally are purchasing the safe, high quality products that packaging labels promise.
By capturing billions of dollars of transactions on our marketplace, we could shift the way we grow and consume.
As Dermot guided us in the direction of blockchain, distributed ledgers and smart contracts, we quickly gained an understanding of how we could integrate these tools for decentralization and efficiency into app formats to further empower our communities.
Since this “Aha” “blue ocean” moment, we've grown our team with remarkable individuals—or as I call them, a cast of characters. We have been bootstrapping and working endlessly to build a global marketplace ecosystem. An ecosystem that would empower consumers and farmers by shifting the profitability model to a leveraging of storytelling and data to empower consumers and farmers globally.
We have team members who are raw vegans and wear hemp clothing, and some who love to eat grass-fed beef hamburgers with cheese and wear leather jackets, and everything in between. Regardless of our preferences as consumers, one critical point unites our entire team: It is our life's purpose to transform the world in which we live by empowering farmers and their environment.
This commitment shows in our decision to put 20% of our total company equity into a reserve to be issued to the farmers and farm workers who use our apps and participate in our platform.
We decided to transition our company into a “digital asset” for this same reason. We felt that this would empower farmers to more easily receive equity in the value chain, brands and platform that serviced their products. Furthermore, it would provide the individuals consuming these products with a transparent method to invest in their farmers and supply chain.
Our reliance on more traditional communication around our financing structure enables us to offer traditional equity and a "Seed", "Series A", "Series B", financing structure—in addition to the newer, more progressive digital asset format.
The key to thriving during this time of amazing innovation and transition for financial and capital systems is to be flexible and adapt to changes as the environment changes.
The one thing that will never change, however, is our commitment to empowering communities.