Airlie texted me early on the day we were meeting online for the interview, to give me the heads up that our time might change as, “someone dropping off a header and unsure when they are coming.”
Airlie Trescowthick is a young farmer in the Riverina, NSW, and an ag entrepreneur and creative innovation expert. She is the founder of the agtech startup, the Farm Table. The Farm Table is a powerful online site that is shaking up and shaping up Australia’s agricultural industry.
With over 10,000 pages of content and a collaborative exchange portal, Airlie has a small army of people working with her, daring to create something that has never existed before and creating a revolutionary agtech solution outside of a major city.
Frustrated by the lengthy amount of time it took her to find information online that added value to her farming decisions, she started dreaming up The Farm Table. “The solution didn’t exist for me to find the information I needed for my farm,” says Airlie. “We are now on our way to being the number-one online home for farmers.”
She is a down-to-earth woman who took the incredible leap to start an agtech business whilst farming on her partner’s farm. She shares candidly her journey to realise her big idea and has some great wisdom about the challenges facing women starting business remotely.
What did you consider when setting up a remote team?
I have never created anything like The Farm Table before, nor have I engaged contractors, let alone rural and remote contractors. I knew it was impossible for me to create my vision without a team, so I talked to people who had done something similar before.
I was committed to not going to a capital city to have a meaningful job, and I was also determined to contract a team entirely made up of rural and regional people.
My team can face a few issues with communication, as connectivity isn’t always reliable in rural Australia. It is challenging when you need instant feedback on a collaborative body of work.
It is really important to understand each other and have compassion for one another. Many of the people who are working on The Farm Table are also building their own business with other clients, have children or run a farm!
My biggest learning curve about working with a remote team was being flexible and learning how to use technology and all the tools available to manage a remote team. I’m learning about how to assist and manage a remote team by being the best leader I can be and juggling being a one-person start-up founder and getting a completely new product off the ground.
What is the best way you have found to leverage risk and make difficult decisions working in isolation?
Give yourself an hour a week to really understand where each of your remote team are at and how they are tracking. If I put my head down and then look up again three weeks later, often essential parts of a project are missed and we aren’t working together as well as we could be.
It is so important that I make sure each of my team members is feeling comfortable and supported.
Many of the team are in similar positions to me; remotely based, balancing time on-farm and time on growing a new business. Making time to share these challenges is really important.
I’m getting into fluid management; I’m learning to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable. It’s my natural need to be 100% comfortable all the time and this is how I have always tried to work, but when you are running a start-up, it will never start up unless you take some big risks.
What advice do you have for people who are looking to bring a programmer into their team?
Appointing a programmer was the biggest decision I have made for this project, and the most important decision.
It took me three months. I requested a proposal from programmers and asked them to respond to my vision of The Farm Table and my expectations of how it was going to function.
Tech teams are so important to start-ups, and getting a scope right is challenging with details and timing.
I went to Localised to pitch for a programmer and I also pitched on a global platform.
I’m tech-savy, but I’m not a developer and what was really important to me was to find the right combination between cost, location and ability.
It was incredible when I got the quotes back in—some from a couple of grand to a couple of hundreds of thousands! I got someone involved who had a background in appointing tech teams and they helped me look through 30 applications.
I appointed Castlemaine-based company, We Push Buttons. They have three team members, a head developer, designer and a business manager. They are remote and have a great track record.
It was such a huge decision and I had lost quite a bit the previous year making a bad decision with a programmer. The decision to work with We Push Buttons was the right decision and our project has gone really well.
All my planning has paid off and it made me realise that you have to have really clear expectations between yourself and the programmer or things can end in disaster instead of realising your dreams.
How do you juggle on and off-farm activities?
It’s going terribly and this is my biggest thing for me in terms of guilt!
I have a friend who is a farmer in Victoria and she is such a goer with her small business, her farm and she has just been recognised as a leader in ag—which has a lot of responsibilities.
We have long conversations about how to manage things and sometimes we feel like frauds, but like most things, we realise that sometimes you are your own worst enemy.
My plan is to have at least two days outside a week. My goal is to grow The Farm Table, so I can employ more people and then I can work more on the farm. I have a timeline of when I will be stepping back from my business to live more the way I want to live.
I have decided that if it is not going the way I want in 12-months, then I will have to make some hard decisions.
As a founder of a start-up—how do you stay sane and healthy?
I try and enjoy the journey, every step. I’ve made the choice to go down this path and sometimes it is scary and risky, but at the very broadest level I am doing what I believe in.
Staying sane means getting up early so I can focus on what I need to do before the phone starts ringing and emails come in. It’s important to get up early on the weekends too.
On the days that I don’t get up early, I end up having terrible days that are all about reacting. I need that morning time to organise myself and be ready for what is coming up.
At 10pm, I need to turn off the computer, otherwise I won’t sleep at night and then everything really doesn’t work.
How do you bring people along with you so that you succeed?
The key at the start is to clearly articulate the project’s vision and each individual’s role in assisting to reach the vision, and making time to go into the depth of the process of doing this.
People need to be resourced to succeed and this means time to share standards of work and operating procedures. Most importantly, people need trust and freedom to do what they do best.
It is incredible to have people around you creating a vision that is going to make a big difference to many people’s lives.
The Farm Table is free for farmers to join. Visit farmtable.com.au and follow Airlie and her team at facebook.com/farmtableau or instagram @farm.table
Tamara Marwood is the Creative Director of Create Business, delivering strategy and content for businesses to engage their audience and create attention. You can stay in touch with Create Business on Facebook and Instagra