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Bootstrapping to $10 Million from Canada: Jory Lamb, CEO of VistaVu (Part 2)

Posted on Thursday, Dec 4th 2014

Sramana Mitra: In 1996, you decided that you were going to do something with technology and you were going to work in rural Canada. You were going to get these farmers online and you wanted to teach them how to use computers and so forth. Is that right?

Jory Lamb: Yes. It just makes me smile now. Here is a 23-year-old kid. I had never managed any people. Never really started a business and didn’t take any computer course in a university. I had no money, clients, and no contacts in this market. As a 41-year old looking back at a 23-year-old, there’s no way that 23-year-old would ever convince me to invest in his business. It was a bad idea going out of the gate. It really was. It was sheer ignorance and perseverance that allowed me to actually build this business to a pretty good size.

Sramana Mitra: Why did you choose rural farmers in Canada? Some dot must have connected. A light bulb must have gone off in your head. Do you remember what that was?

Jory Lamb: I do. I trace it back to my university. My roommate was an Agriculture major and my whole life, I’ve grown up in a rural community. It’s a pretty small town and I had been surrounded by very few things—agriculture and oil and gas. I just saw an opportunity that had a fairly low barrier to entry because I had no money. I could go and teach farmers to use computers.

In 1996, you had 288 modems, which you plug into the computers. We would have 16 computers routing through a 288 modem. We would pull a page from, let’s say, the New Zealand Agricultural Department. It would take two minutes to load to the computer. It was literally writing pixels on the screen. At the end of the two minutes, these guys in the room would be like, “Wow! That just came from New Zealand in two minutes.” It’s amazing how quickly things have changed.

Sramana Mitra: My next question actually is looking back at that time and that particular market, you are going after farmers to teach them how to use computers. What’s the draw? In our industry, we use the terminology killer app. A computer in itself is not useful unless it has a killer app for that particular segment. What was it that the farmers were looking for?

Jory Lamb: There were a few things that we really zeroed in on. The company has progressed and I think I have too since then. To not belabor all of it, we did farm accounting software in the early days. We set farmers up on the use of computers so that they could manage farm accounting problems. Farm accounting is typically cash-based accounting. It has some uniqueness because of the commodity-pricing around inventory. It was small business accounting with a few twists and turns. We taught them how to go on to market, look at weather advisories, look at commodity pricing around the world, and get your data in real-time rather than waiting for the radio report at noon. The pitch was the fact that you were going to be able to harness the power of the Internet to access information faster than what you could through traditional media.

We partnered with Alberta Agriculture and trained one corner of that province. That province, in square miles, is about the same land mass as Texas. We covered a lot of territory in a very short period of time. Fast forward, I hired some help. The more we trained, we discovered how this community used the Internet and software. So we started to write some of our own.

In our next endeavor, we became a programming shop writing web-based software for the agriculture industry. One product that we wrote was for the feedlot industry. That became a separate revenue stream out of one-off project work and training. We were hired by a consulting veterinarian to build this software for them. They allowed us to keep the IP. It was really client-funded. We took that IP and we built another solution around it to do accounting for a feedlot and individual animal health. This is significant as it eventually led to an exit of that software that worked out pretty good. Since we wrote this software and it managed individual animal health, we had about 40 to 50 feedlots that were using our software. But it was not enough to sustain a business. We were not sure what to do—we were either going to put a bullet in this and just lick our wounds and go forward, or we were going to swing.

I had never done business in the US before. A consulting veterinarian from a feedlot out of Nebraska found us and invited us. Again, same idea and I said why not. We went down to Nebraska and sold to that particular client. That was in early 2000. By 2005 to 2006, we had gone from 40 to about 280 feedlots. We owned the feedlot market inside of Nebraska. We were the dominant player. Again, this didn’t happen by chance. There was a lot of deliberate decisions that occurred but the opportunity presented itself because we kept moving forward.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapping to $10 Million from Canada: Jory Lamb, CEO of VistaVu
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