As someone who has spent his last three months in the liberal haven that is Boulder, Colorado, it's hard to imagine that there are any fast food restaurants still in business out here. The only thing Boulderites seem to agree on more than politics is their health. If it isn't free range, organic, hormone-free, and locally raised, chances are it's not going to sell. Although this Rocky Mountain town may be on the extreme end of the health spectrum, there is undoubtedly a rising focus on food quality throughout our society.
That's why AgLocal Co-Founder and CEO Naithan Jones is bullish on his meat-to-table web app. Now more than ever consumers want their food straight from the farm. Grocery stores don't always have the quality, but have convenient hours and access. Farmer's markets offer the opposite combination. AgLocal looks to be the best of both worlds.
“We really want to fill a niche for the lack of one trusted web marketplace dedicated to carnivores. We know that there are sites out there that do farm to table, none specific to meat … we want AgLocal to be the one master brand that sits as an umbrella to the brands that the farms themselves have.”
I caught up with Jones to learn more of this service that offers “”power to the meat lover.
Tech Cocktail: Where did the inspiration for AgLocal come from?
Naithan Jones: Just like a lot of founders out there, I always knew I was an entrepreneur but ran from the calling. One reason is because I have a family and the safety of steady employment is a serious consideration, but in knowing you’re an entrepreneur there comes a point where you can no longer be an employee – the call is too great.
The environmental inspiration specific to this idea was actually a family member that runs and owns a farm. I pitched the idea to her first and she jumped all over it. She really pushed me out there and let me know how important and timely the idea is.
Then there’s my brother, who’s a trained veteran executive chef. I’m originally from the UK and would watch him pay twice as much for locally raised meats, for the relationship with the food and for the quality. I myself am very much into nutrition and health, so I have paranoia about wanting control over my food sources.
Then the capping moment was on of my trips to California while working at FastTrac (an affiliate program of the Kauffman Foundation) and seeing the ways that startups in Boston and in Silicon Valley are using new technology to revitalize old models with innovation. People are pushing the boundaries of location-based tools to empower buyers in new ways. You see it with airBnB and Uber – I mean, I use them all the time. Why? Because I feel in control and because I can participate and rate and interact. We’re building AgLocal the same way, hence our tagline “power to the meat lover.”
Tech Cocktail: Judging from your Linkedin profile, it doesn't appear that you have any prior experience in dealing with food supply chains. What challenges does that bring to AgLocal? Do you have someone on staff with experience in this field?
Jones: You’re right when you say that this business has typically been tackled as a supply chain challenge. Then again, and as I talk about this with the team, maybe it’s not as much a supply chain issue as we thought and there’s a demand issue. Not an issue with qualified demand – no, we know it’s out there – but in the aggregating and consolidating of that demand in one place that can be acted on.
Think about it, if you ran a business selling custom novelty sneakers that catered to long distance runners but you are in the middle of Iowa. Chicago is two hours away, and it’s stocked with athletes and a world class marathon, but you’ve always relied on one off sales here and there and only driving in to Chicago once a blue moon to sell some shoes on consignment to hardcore athletic boutiques. However, if someone brings you a list of prequalified buyers as long as you drove in your sneakers every week, you’d probably do that, right?
There’s a similar opportunity in food today. We want to see AgLocal be the launch platform that facilitates smaller and independent farms to scale up their brands. Who’s going to be the Shatto Milk of meats? Well we would hope that AgLocal plays a role in their story when it happens.
Part of our process is to test farms now and finding that many of them would deliver if it was worth their time and they were getting paid in a sustainable and trusted way. We thought, hey, you know what? Why don’t we create that channel where not only is the product valued but so are the farms themselves, their time, the user experience of meeting them.
Tech Cocktail: Have you received funding to date? Are you pursuing funding moving forward?
Jones: Short answer is yes! Though we haven’t had time to actually, you know, rattle our change can and go and raise, we did just take a small seed from our first angel just a few days ago. We’ve just started looking for add-on investors. Now that the team has grown to eight of us and interviewing more, I’m realizing that my, and my co-founder Jacob’s, savings aren’t going to cut it anymore.
We have a round open right now, and the state of Kansas (we’re from Kansas City) is assisting by giving AgLocal substantial tax credits to offer potential investors and mitigate their risk. We love that KC and Kansas are so progressive and want to help innovation and entrepreneurship lead job creation. We see AgLocal as a job creator in suburban and rural America at the processing plants.
So, if any angels out there that want to take a look at us, I can send you our deck. Holla at me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
AgLocal is based out of Kansas City, KS and is one of the 2012 SXSWi Accelerator Finalists in the category of innovative web technologies.