#155 Jon Friedman, Co-Founder of Freight Farms
Jon Friedman saw a need for urban agriculture to emerge as a competitive industry in the food landscape. In 2010, he and a business partner Brad focused on rooftop greenhouses, but quickly realized that to achieve their goals they needed a modular and scalable solution. In an effort to cut down on costs and logistics, Brad and Jon began to seriously consider building their new technology inside shipping containers. Not only were containers widely available, but they would allow farms to exist in areas that couldn’t support traditional methods. As a result, Freight Farms was born with the mission of building the infrastructure and technology that can allow local food to thrive.
THE TRANSCRIPT: BIGGER THAN US EPISODE 155
This transcript has been lightly edited.
Host Raj Daniels 00:42
I’m glad to have you, Jon. I like to dig right in before we get to Freight Farms with a quote that I found in doing my research about you. I love the quote. The quote is, you’re optimistic about humankind’s ability to become balanced with the planet. Can you expand on that?
Jon Friedman 01:53
Yeah. Wow, that feels like me just a couple of years ago, I hope I still relate to that quote. As technology progresses, and the human psyche progresses, I think we will get to a point where we will realize what we need to do: to let the world, let the planet do its thing and humans do our thing without the two conflicting. And for so long, we’ve just had a giant footprint on the planet because that’s the only way we knew how. If we think about how we’ve gone from horses to cars to electric cars. You can see this progression. We need the planet’s help to survive. And as we get smarter, as we get better, as we get more conscious, maybe we can let the earth remediate, and we can figure out how to do things on our own. I think we’re going to get there. I just hope we’re not too late.
Host Raj Daniels 02:59
Where do you think we are on this arc of remediation?
Jon Friedman 03:06
Optimistically, I think we are 40 to 50 years away. We might be too late in the curve of climate and extinction of crops and animals. That’s my fear. But I think what we’ll come out of that with is a path forward to rebuild and to understand how long it will take for things to repair. So I think we are a little too late. But I think we are on the path in our lifetimes to see steps being taken to repair the damage.
Host Raj Daniels 03:46
And what about this conscious evolution? Where do you think we are with that?
Jon Friedman 03:52
Raj, you’re hitting me with the deep ones. I love it. I think each one of us has found a pocket in our brain that is further than the collective. And what I mean by that is, I think each of us has, in the past decade, expanded our thinking in a way or found a niche, or found a group that really resonates with the future that we all want. And then there’s all the other human stuff like the selfishness and how you kind of look out for number one, and all those kind of things that conflict with that. So I think collectively, we all have pieces to the puzzle that we are evolving. But at the individual level, I think we all have a lot to do. I hope that gave you something to work with there.
Host Raj Daniels 04:46
Absolutely. And along those lines, I don’t know if you saw the headlines this morning. There’s somewhat of a mini-revolt, revolution, going on in China right now. Where their version of the millennials, the generation of the 20 somethings, are doing this protest if you will, where they’re lying down on the job. And essentially, they’re saying that they’re not willing to work. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the 9-9-6 model in China, but it’s nine to nine, or 12 hours a day, six days a week. And they are saying that they are no longer willing to work those hours, and they want more of their life back, almost along the lines of you know, what millennials have been starting to say here in the last four or five years and this point about collective consciousness, that this path we’ve been on regarding Friedman in the last 50 years, and how we should be perhaps looking to, and I don’t want to say following a new master, but there’s been this whole shareholder primacy, and how we can work away from that.
Jon Friedman 05:47
I think that is something that we preach through our application of trying to bring focus away from this globalized, centralized––you could call it power, or you could just call it the system––that to be nice to those systems… At a time, they were very important for building civilization, building systems that would help people, but has gotten to a point that it leaves a lot of people out of the story. And I think with the digital age, being able to communicate and find other like interests online, people are realizing that there’s another path to fulfillment that might not just be this very commercial, centralized path. And I think bringing some independence back is what technology has helped so many people do. So many communities, countries, and individuals. And so when we look at the technologies that will help us do that, it’s anything that is democratizing access. And for us, that’s farming. For other people, that might be 3D printing. For other people that might be just being a voice online and having a microphone.
Host Raj Daniels 07:10
Well, speaking of farming, can you give the audience an overview of Freight Farms and your role at the organization?
Jon Friedman 07:16
Yeah, sure. If you look out there in the world, there’s a lot of places that used to grow crops really well. And over time, there’s been a lot of areas that are being used to grow one crop because it’s the most ideal conditions that are left at that commercial scale. So when we think about the places that need access to food the most, they’re not always the places that it’s easy to grow food. And then it’s even harder to ship it from the place that can grow it really well. So at our company, we’re really looking at, “How can we ship farms and not food?” How can we look at that centralized food system and build a decentralized platform that anybody can have access to, growing fresh, local, on-site, and having a better product in the end? And that ability to grow food in their local environment is something that we see as a pillar to building community, building business, and building more food security and independence. So the way we do that, and what we’re most commonly known for, is we build farms in shipping containers. And yes, those are the shipping containers, the 40 by nine-and-a-half feet that are going around the world––40 by eight by nine-and-a-half––that are going around the world right now shipping other goods. Well, we saw that as a very viable platform. Because every economy in the world, every location that has a port city or is by water, can have access to the infrastructure needed to bring this off the water onto the land, and you can fit it into many different locations and stack them. And a lot of them come insulated. So for us, the shipping container farm really was the fastest way that we can bring a sustainable farming solution to anybody in the world who needs access. And so within that farm is one of the most technologically advanced growing environments in the world. We’ve automated almost every process along the growing cycle. And really, when it comes to a new customer, it’s a turnkey solution. The farm gets there, and you can be growing day one. Our goal is to make anybody a farmer, anybody who wants to be a farmer, that you can buy a farm and get farming and see this as a way to feed your community, but also a way to grow your business.
Host Raj Daniels 09:49
Now, going back in your history, I know you have some experience with hydroponics but how did you and your co-founder come up with the idea to grow indoor farms?
Jon Friedman 10:00
Going back to when I was just in a very different place from where I am now, I was coming out of a role in design for a pharma company. And this was around the 2008 market crash. And at that time, coming from a place where I didn’t have a house at that time, I wasn’t as affected by that. But looking forward, I was just like everybody else, like, “What do we do next if the value of things isn’t really controlled by the people who own the things?” And that’s a really scary place for a lot of people who are in that retirement age. It was a really scary place for people who were going into the job market for the first time. Nobody really knew what to invest in or what truth was, when it came to how much one thing cost. So that was a moment when you do a little bit of self-inventory and say, “Well, what do I believe, is the truth? And what can I get behind that I know isn’t going to be governed by markets or anything else that’s out of my control?” And I think a lot of families think the same way. Where should I put my time or put my energy? Where should I put my money? And I was looking at food because surely food should be very one-to-one. It takes this much to grow it. And so we know how much it costs and then it gets sold at this price. Very honest business. It turns out, food is a very messy, convoluted supply chain. And it’s not as straightforward as that. But it should be. It is the most basic principle of life. We need to eat food three times a day, if possible. And so the bare bones, the brass tacks of that, should be very straightforward. So I started investigating that it really wasn’t. And there’s a lot of subsidies. And there’s a lot of complicated things in the middle there. So that became my desire to make that an honest business, but not a hard business. I think everybody thinks of farming as a very hard, arduous, labor-intensive task. Seeing where we were with technology and where agriculture was lagging on so much of the modern technologies, it felt like the right place to invest my time and energy and figure out how we can make farming more accessible on a broader scale, and more transparent, more automated for what we need. So I think it must have been 2010 when my co-founder and I were looking at ways that we could bring farming closer to the city. We were looking at rooftop greenhouses, as this beautiful vision of the city. You lookout, and on top of every building, there’s a greenhouse growing food for the people that live in that vicinity. And that got deflated pretty quickly. Once we started getting up on those roofs, especially in Boston, where we live––these buildings are old. They are not something you want to put a lot of weight on top of. And then you’d have to get an elevator up there. And you’d have to do a lot of structural engineering. So through this exercise, we got to this point where we’re like, the people who are talking to us and we’re talking to that want this––wholesale food, produce distributors, schools, couple restaurants––they’re like, we love this idea. We show up with a half-a-million-dollar quote to start, and then to actually get it up and operational year, over a million dollars, and they’re like, “Okay, so farming is not for me. That’s cool. I’ll just keep on buying it from where I can get it.” And the “where I can get it” was a problem as well because, as I mentioned before, it’s kind of a scale game. If you want a very unique crop from a certain part of the world, nobody’s going to just ship you a couple of cases. It’s just not economical to do that. So restauranteurs and people who want something for a very specific reason have to be thinking only what they can buy in bulk and large volumes to make the price of the food work. So we were sitting there feeling like we’re not helping anybody by putting a very expensive greenhouse in one location. We’re not helping anybody by building something that is just the same crops that you can get on the market. Trying to solve those two things: the first thing was the structure. Making something that can have a really high heat load, snow load, can be stacked, and can be shipped easily. Shipping containers just became the vessel and the form and envelope, all in one. And that opened the door for us to move quickly to the tech inside, building a controlled environment that could bring more precision to the plant development and the plant physiology so we could pull out certain attributes of things that you just couldn’t get on the market. So we can grow things that you can do right there on-site that would only be possible in an environment somewhere in South Africa or somewhere in New Guinea: somewhere that you would just never expect or will just never be able to ship in from. South America is where a lot of our produce comes from, but South America is also very industrialized in the way that produce has grown. So thinking about how we can take some of those environments and tune them more to a wide variety of crops was just such an exciting moment for us. We could say, “Okay, we think we have something here.” And at that point, we took to Kickstarter, and once we had the idea framed out, we were off and running. We put a video up, and the next couple of days after we posted it we got people from all around the world saying, “Hey, I need this. I want this. We could really use this here. This is exactly what we’ve been looking for.” And that was when we had to go from, “Hey, this is a crazy idea,” to, “I think this is a business, we should really figure out what we’re doing.” And then the past 10 years have been nonstop.
Host Raj Daniels 16:38
So from Kickstarter, how long did it take you to go from the crazy idea to your working prototype?
Jon Friedman 16:45
So Kickstarter took us about three months. Going from, hey, we’ve got an idea, film all the Kickstarter stuff, put it up there. We put a pretty short timeline on it. And that was January of 2011, 2012. Sorry, I’m gonna have to think that one over again. My timeline at this point is all messed up. Yeah. So from the time we got the Kickstarter funding, it was about six months later that we had the first prototype up and running. And from that point, I think that was at the beginning of summer. We redesigned it three times. So we got it running. And they were like, no, that’s not right. We took it apart, put it back together. And then by the end of the summer, we had it to a point where we said, “Okay, we’re gonna show people. We want to show people what this can actually do.” And we started to bring people from different parts of the world, people who had been following us since the Kickstarter campaign. We brought them to the farm. And that’s when things really started kicking up and went into people actually requesting, saying that they would purchase one. So the next farm was built just six months later. And the first production run that we had was probably eight months after that. So our first unit was called the Leafy Green Machine. And that was the thing that we told the world, “You can buy this, it will do X much produce.” And we started calling it the Leafy Green Machine because we wanted people to see this as something that would be high, repeatable yields. The Leafy Green Machine could grow a lot of things, but we wanted to focus it on something that we knew people would be profitable if they would consistently grow this one crop or this one type of crop. So that was from the time Kickstarter launch to the Leafy Green Machine. That was a little under two years.
Host Raj Daniels 18:48
So as you probably know, in the startup world, they say hardware is hard. You brought together a lot of different technologies, you know, artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT, etc. How were you able to get that kind of expertise all together in such a short amount of time?
Jon Friedman 19:05
Yeah, hardware is hard. They’re not joking around when they say that. And hardware that is 40 feet long? That is not an easy product to launch. And luckily, we had naivety on our side. We were very unaware of the challenges ahead, which was probably a good thing. I think a lot of startups say very similar things. Like if I knew how hard it was, I wouldn’t have done it. But you know, we had a lot of energy going with us. We had a lot of people that would just come out of the woodworks because they saw what we were trying to do. People that, in a normal world, you just wouldn’t come in contact with, you wouldn’t be able to afford, you wouldn’t even think to ask them. But from going through some of the startup accelerators, we just got connected to a bunch of people who are saying, “I’m ready at this point in my career to just do something good and I want it to be this.” And so we had a pretty small team at first. But between that small team we had, and some of the vendors and industry partners that we connected with, they really were the ones that gave us the momentum we needed. They really took a flyer on some of those early prototypes just to see if this thing could work. And I think that’s something that I think a lot of a lot of early-stage companies can be successful at, by making their partners part of the story and making their vendors and people in their network a little bit more––just celebrate them a little bit more. Because you really can’t do without them.
Host Raj Daniels 20:42
Staying with the theme of the startup world, you made the transition from, as Peter Thiel would say, from zero to one. How many units have you sold to date?
Jon Friedman 20:52
To date, we’re close to 500 units all around the world.
Host Raj Daniels 20:56
And where are the majority of your customers located?
Jon Friedman 20:59
So let’s see, I was gonna say what we’re about 50-50. So 50% of the customers that we have are here in the US, in almost every state in the US. And then the other 50% is scattered around the world. And we’ve got folks who are in Europe, Northern Europe, Scandinavia, Middle East, we’ve got folks in northern Canada, Alaska, Guam. A lot of the islands are very popular because these are the places that it’s really hard to ship food to. So especially fresh food, these are the places that just to get that head of lettuce onto a boat, or onto a truck, then onto a boat, and back onto a truck and into some type of refrigerated facility, and have that be climate controlled the whole time, you’re adding a lot of cost to that head of lettuce. So what happens is those areas, those communities just shy away from fresh produce. They have a very meat-heavy diet, very processed-foods-heavy. And then the trickle-down effect of that is you have high rates of obesity, and just not great diets in those areas. So those areas for the past few years have been such a big driver of where we’re trying to accommodate the most sustainable food production, the most food security, so that we can find those places and say, “You could probably feed your whole community off of X amount of farms.”
Host Raj Daniels 22:33
Where did your first international order come from?
Jon Friedman 22:35
First international? That is hard for me to remember. That feels pretty good. Canada, if you say Canada is international. I don’t think most people would, but Canada was our first international farm. And that’s an obvious one, just because there are places up there where it’s really hard to ship food. If you’ve ever seen Ice Road Truckers, that’s a real thing, where there are certain roads that at certain times of the year just don’t exist, and it’s cold. So growing local is very difficult.
Host Raj Daniels 23:07
So I’m gonna switch gears here because I’m very interested in your nonprofit. I don’t know if I’d call it a mission or sector. But can you share with the audience what you’re doing working with nonprofits and how nonprofits can benefit from partnering with you?
Jon Friedman 23:23
Absolutely. So one of the things that we’ve found over the years is that food production isn’t always just about making money. It’s not just about, “Hey, I’m growing this crop, and I’m selling it to these local restaurants.” What we found is that farming as an occupation, a general program application, can strengthen a community, strengthen an organization’s existing mission and goals. We have some inspirational clients in the nonprofits sector. For one, we have a women’s shelter down in Miami. They got this farm as a way to build a program about teaching people how to do a new skill. And the interesting thing about that is when these women come into the shelter, sometimes they have kids with them. And we set up their farm and got them up and running. And when we came down to visit them, the entire farm was being run by children under nine years old. And we were just a little taken aback by that because yeah, we were trying to make this farm very commercially productive so that anybody could grow it but we didn’t anticipate this level. And so that was a few years ago. But since then, we’ve been working a lot with communities to put farming in the center of that so that you’re putting equity back in the community centered around health, food, and jobs. Jobs that you can train anybody up to do and that you can scale up into a sustainable business. We’ve been working with the Boys and Girls Club of America, we’ve been working with CASS housing, which is another one focused on autism––to help people with autism get into roles that fit their perspective on the world. And it’s just been an eye-opening experience of how, when you put agriculture into different communities in different people’s hands, what they do with it, and how that connection with plants and connection with food takes the shape of the community, rather than the piece of technology.
Host Raj Daniels 25:44
Now has Freight Farms engaged in any what I’m going to call public-private partnerships? I’ll give you an example. I think I’ve shared it before in the show. But I’ve had this idea here: locally, in Dallas, some areas have food deserts. And in my mind, I was kind of thinking, what would it look like if a company like Freight Farms would partner with the city of Dallas? The city could perhaps donate the land, because I look at it as not only an opportunity to get fresh food in those food desert areas but also for, like you said, engaging the community, training, learning, bringing people into this sustainable farming movement.
Jon Friedman 26:22
We often say that our number one output is farmers. That’s the number one thing we grow. And that’s because we’ve focused on, A, making the unit pretty self-sufficient, but B, building those training programs, whether that is in-person or online so that anybody can start to learn at their own pace. They can feel very comfortable operating this, and they can operate it at the speed of the program or of their needs. So we’ve got a lot of modes in the farm, as well, that complement that. So if we were to put it down in any location, we can set the pace of production by the performance of the farm and the frequency in which people will be in that farm. So in the case that you mentioned, we have seen a lot of programs where there’ll be one champion in that market, and offer training to people in the community to come once a week to learn. And then to take that learning and build opportunities for either part-time jobs, or kind of a career track. I think that is something that a lot more grocery stores should be doing. When we think about the food deserts that we have in the US, we should be thinking about how we go into those communities that are lacking fresh produce as a staple of the diet, and not just going in there and saying, “Hey, now you can buy this from us.” Going in there with some tools to say this is gonna be a source for good rather than a source for profit.
Host Raj Daniels 27:57
Well, speaking of tools, I think you have a great toolkit on your website, the eight steps to launching your farming business. And as I was going through that, the one thing that stood out to me––I’m bringing this up because it’s very relevant right now in the time we’re living in––if someone engages with the business planning tool, you have the hourly wage starting at $15 an hour. And after talking to you for a while, I feel like that was done intentionally. Tell me about that.
Jon Friedman 28:23
Yeah, you’re correct. I think about the stories that I’ve heard about farming, over the past 10 years–sorry for digging a long way to get to this answer––but when we first got into farming, there was an epidemic. Farmers committing suicide because it is a lonely job. And there were these help groups for farmers who are carrying on their family business, and they feel like failures if they don’t keep it going. But the way we’ve treated food in this world and we’ve treated farming in the US is so disconnected from the end consumer that we don’t put the right value on the work that’s being done and the food itself. It’s just been a product of commercialization and this mass-production model. So you’ve seen a lot of small farmers have a tough decade, and we’ve seen a lot of farmers just call it quits and wind down the family business. Between that and farmers being bought out by larger farms and consolidation, the proposition of being a farmer hasn’t been that attractive for a long time. And so as we look at other countries and learn of how people are aging out of agriculture and how the next generation is not interested in this as a field, we feel like it’s our responsibility to make sure every new farmer that goes into the world has the opportunity to be driving a Lamborghini and having houses and doing whatever the other rich professions are out there in the world. We feel that farming on its base form should have the path to being one of the most desirable professions. And that starts at the ground level. If you just want to hire somebody for this job, you should be setting that bar to something livable. I think $15 an hour in some places is very livable. In some places, you might have to go up from that. In Boston, $15 an hour is pretty tough. But the whole proposition of what we are trying to build with the infrastructure across the board is not just the farm; it’s also software. And that’s services around building that infrastructure so that we can create a path for a sustainable generation of agriculture, which means a profitable generation of agriculture. So yes, that $15 is very specific and intentional because agriculture should be profitable for everybody and beneficial for everybody involved.
Host Raj Daniels 31:12
It’s interesting, you say profitable for everyone involved. I’m actually in the process of writing a blog post; I’m not sure if we’re gonna publish it or not. But essentially, the title of the blog post is along the lines of, “Your business model is broken.” And the premise is essentially that if you’re not considering or thinking about paying your employees $15 an hour or around that, then you need to start evaluating your business model because Costco, Amazon, Walmart, you know, $15 an hour. And so if there are quick service, restaurants, farmers, hospitality out there that have a business model based on less than $15, I think those models are going to have to be reevaluated very quickly.
Jon Friedman 31:53
I think you’re absolutely right. Yeah, I think one of the jobs of any business, and for us, is educating the consumer that what they’re experiencing, what they’re purchasing, is worth that money. And I think in the early days, that was a challenge first because we’re growing this head of lettuce, and it’s beautiful. Pesticide-free, herbicide-free, it’s completely clean. You have traceability back from it from seed to harvest. But it looks exactly like the other crops on the shelf there. And those are cheaper. And so that moment is where that it all comes back to that $15 an hour. What we want the customers to see, taste, feel when they have lettuce that’s grown in a Freight Farm is the obvious difference. And it’s a no-brainer for them to pay a couple of cents more for that head of lettuce. And so that’s been part of the technology pursuit, as well as to pull out those characteristics, those desirable characteristics, that you just can’t get from a traditionally grown or greenhouse-grown, and push new skews into the market. So that in a time where our kind of biodiversity is shrinking, we’re introducing new things to a much more educated and health inclined market.
Host Raj Daniels 33:20
Since you mentioned lettuce, what is the most popular crop?
Jon Friedman 33:24
The most popular crop? I mean, that’s a loaded question. But the most popular crop in our network is probably a variety of spring mixes. And that is just driven by the market demand. We do have a lot of people who are doing things like mint, basil, a lot of the herbs. Those are very high-value crops. And there are other high-value crops that people across our network are doing. Obviously, rarer things are getting an even higher premium. So we’ve got folks who are doing edible flowers, some unique flowers that are culturally significant, or they’re just rare in that part of the world. We’ve got a lot of people doing root vegetables right now, which is probably unexpected in a hydroponic setup. But I think the overall network just gravitates to, what are the things that are easiest to kind of set it and forget it, and that I can scale up quickly in that market? So originally, somebody will usually get a farm, they’ll grow a bunch of things in there, go out to their market and say, Hey, I can grow this. What about this? What about this? And I would say within the first three to six months, a client or a buyer comes to them and says, “I’m looking for this specific thing that I can’t get anywhere else. Name your price. How much can you get for me?” And that’s usually how the conversation goes for our customers like deciding what they’re going to grow versus what they end up growing.
Host Raj Daniels 34:54
And since you mentioned getting the Farm, if someone listening is interested in purchasing a Farm, ballpark, I’m not gonna hold you to the exact number, but ballpark, what’s the cost of a Farm?
Jon Friedman 35:03
Yes. So if you’re looking to get the new Greenery S, it’s $140,000. You’d probably bake in about $10,000 for shipping, site setup, and just initial business startup costs that you are going to incur. But on that in most markets, you are looking at a two-year payback.
Host Raj Daniels 35:22
Very interesting. I appreciate you sharing that. Earlier, you said something––and I wrote it down here––you mentioned around the 2007, 2008 timeframe, you said something along the lines of the value of things that aren’t controlled by people that own the things. And, you know, you mentioned that as a turning point for you, that whole timeframe, you and your co-founder, but the crux of our conversation is the why behind what you do. You mentioned the interest in farming, coming from design, but what drives you? What motivates you? What keeps you going?
Jon Friedman 35:53
Coming from a design background, I studied systems design. So it’s really how things interlock. And that doesn’t have to necessarily be a physical thing. That can be an economy. It could be a community. That could be both of those things intersecting. And so one of the things that just really took me by surprise through this experience is how much I fell in love with plants. How much that interconnectivity of environmental conditions and the controlled response of what is genetically within that plant, that relationship and the plethora of outcomes that can happen and what that means on an economic level or a health level, All of that interconnectivity is really what prevents me from sleeping every night. I think, the nature-nurture combo, that we have tools for now that we didn’t many years ago, is just starting to tell the next chapter of the story. So with the Greenery S being able to control the conditional response of every stage of plant development, it’s now showing us that there was more on that seed than we originally thought. If you think about taking a head of lettuce, we’ll take a lettuce seed, and we’re gonna plant it in California versus Boston. And just out in the wild, you can venture a guess that that seed is going to do better in California. But if you take that seed, and you say, well, California is our best environment to grow this, if we take that same, we put it in the Greenery S, we can make the argument that the seed has never had the best environment to grow. And we only know lettuce. And we only know those attributes. And we only know the outcome of running that program in dirt in California. And we’ve just been replicating that over the years. What we can do now is we can give it the perfect amount of sunlight, the perfect amount of light spectrum. We can give it an orchestra of nutrient conditions. We can bring it from a very high temperature to a low temperature and then gradually bring the humidity up. And so what we have been able to do is take the best climate conditions from around the world and put them all in one place. And why it’s so exciting is because plants will save the world. You look at the Beyond meat, and you look at Impossible and how fast that has changed and how fast plant-based things have come to take the baton for how we save the world. It’s great to be in that industry. It’s great to be in that world where within the sequence of this seed is a story. And within that story might be a couple of sentences that will help us cure a disease or make a new material or figure out a way to sequester more carbon. It’s cool to be on that road.
Host Raj Daniels 39:08
It is cool. And as you were sharing that story, I can almost draw the parallel to people too. So you’ve been on this journey 12, 13 years now. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about yourself in your journey?
Jon Friedman 39:22
Wow. This is a real hard-hitting one. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about myself? I think there’s a couple of things that I think anybody who starts on a mission-driven company has to get comfortable with, and that is that the things that you start off doing and the things that you’re very good at, to get things going, you’re eventually going to have to pass that off to somebody else. And you have to trust that someone else is going to be able to do it better. And so I think what I’ve found about myself is that running a business is something anybody can do. But building a team is the most essential piece of the puzzle. It’s building the right team and building a community that branches off from that team that you create. And so if you want to have an online community, you want to have an awesome customer base, you wanna have a great product, you want all these things, it all just permeates from the environment that you create, within your four walls, or however many walls, your offices. And the ethics you live by every day, and the things you do, and the people you surround yourself with really is the heartbeat of the company. And so I never thought that before. I never would have considered, and it’s hard to marry that with a large company. And as we’re growing, it’s something that I think I’m considering more and more, of how you take a very mission-driven company and not lose that as you scale. And I think I’ve just learned how important that is to me and to people I work with, and to our customers, as well. Your community is everything.
Host Raj Daniels 41:15
So speaking of building a team and scaling, let’s move into the future. It’s 2030, let’s say BusinessWeek, or you know, any of the other business publications, Forbes Fortune, were to write a headline about Freight Farms. What would you like that headline to read?
Jon Friedman 41:32
Well, today we have the largest network of farmers in the world. And that is a cool starting point for looking into the future. We have farmers of different backgrounds, cultures, and languages, all talking on a common platform to work off of. When we think about the power behind that, and the thing that drives that, the software piece is a lot bigger than we let people in on when you look at our presence online. But Farmhand, which is the operating system for the farm, is something that is growing as a platform very quickly. And what it’s allowing us to do is spread that network beyond just the farm and say, “If you are interested in farming, come on. We’ll teach you how.” Maybe you don’t have your farm yet, but you want to get into farming down the road. Maybe you do have a greenhouse, but you want it to be smarter, and you want it to do some of those tasks for you. Or you want it to give you analytics that is just not accessible right now. That’s where Farmhand can help you. Maybe you want to build out something a little bit more focused on your operations. You’ve scaled up, and you’re trying to manage your farm from an operations level. And the people within it. That’s something where Farmhand could help you as well. So as we look out into 2030, we don’t see a controlled environment being the only place that data and automation will help make farming, in general, a more efficient, productive, sustainable, and profitable industry to be in. So I think in 2030, we will have an even larger network, but it will be a very smart network, and it will touch almost every aspect of agriculture.
Host Raj Daniels 43:29
That’s a very exciting vision. I look forward to seeing that come to fruition.
Jon Friedman 43:32
Host Raj Daniels 43:33
So, you know, you mentioned the heartbeat of the company, building a team. You’ve already given some advice during this conversation. But my last question is if you could share some advice or words of wisdom––it could be professional or personal––with the audience, what would it be?
Jon Friedman 43:51
If somebody is thinking about starting a business, ignore all that talk of getting seven hours or eight hours of sleep. That’s a lie. You won’t sleep for years if you want to do something well. And don’t make yourself feel bad about it. It’s okay. You’re doing something that you want to do that is important to you and important to the world. It’s gonna it’s going to take a toll. Having babies takes a toll on people. It’s tough. This is going to be your baby. So don’t worry about that, but try to try to eat well. And when you haven’t had a lot of sleep, know that you’re going to be a little bit crankier than normal. So that’s one. I would say my other advice… Well, I would say one thing that I’ve held with me since I entered the workforce, as a smaller, younger person, is that usually, the person on the ground knows the most. They might not be the most refined. They might not know the language or they might not know the vernacular that you know, but the person doing the work is probably the person that you should take notes from. And we try to live that ethos. But I see a lot of businesses losing sight of the fact that the person who’s actually doing the work is probably more important than the person on top. The person who’s running the company. And I think that’s something that is just a mindset shift that is happening more and more, where people realize that maybe we don’t need all that. We don’t need five managers on top of this one person who’s the talent. And so I would suggest to anybody who is in the investor world or startup world and or at any level of business: don’t lose sight of the actual work.
Host Raj Daniels 45:40
Jon, I really appreciate that. I think a great place to end is “the person on the ground knows the most.” Really appreciate your time today and look forward to catching up with you again soon.
Jon Friedman 45:50
All right, thanks, Raj. It’s been great.
Host Raj Daniels 45:53
Thank you, Jon.
Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.
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