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Zillow for Farmland? I'm Building It in DSM USA

Des Moines Startups Terva Zillow for Farmland

November 10, 2017

Being raised on a fifth-generation family dairy farm shaped how I think about running a business.

Milk cows at 4 a.m. in the morning with my dad, breakfast at grandma’s, attend the local farmland auction after lunch and feed baby calves with my brothers in the evening; this was my life growing up — and it was perfect. Sure, the hours were long, but farming wasn’t just a job, it was a way of life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this work-ingrained upbringing on the family farm would set the foundation for a business I would go on to start.

While attending a farmland auction with my dad, I realized that people bidding on the land actually knew very little about the property itself. More than $1 million were being spent for a high value asset, yet the buyers had very few data points to help them make informed decision. How did the quality of that land compare to the rest of the land in the county? What is land with similar characteristics currently selling for? What is the production history of the property? I started asking around and found that answers to these questions were difficult to come by. That seemed crazy to me!

As I dug into the issue, I discovered that it takes farmland professionals hours of research to find, correlate and analyze this information. This tremendous barrier makes it virtually impossible for an everyday farmer or landowner to make an educated farmland purchase that is based on real data.

Tackling this issue has not been easy. In fact, it’s been much more difficult than I ever realized.Here's what I learned while starting Terva.

Challenges While Starting Terva

Finding the Right Team Members

With deep roots in the agricultural industry, my network is comprised mainly of agriculturists. However, I had virtually no connections with people who had software development skills. Living in Greater Des Moines (DSM) has been great to meet people with different skillsets. By plugging in with community events and organizations, such as 1 Million Cups, Entrepreneurs Organization, Hackathons and Startup Weekend events, I’ve been able to find the right team members. Be sure to put yourself out there and be straight-forward and honest about what your needs are, because when you do you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Pushback by Incumbent Industry Members

Bringing transparency and automation to any industry has potential to shift the status quo. I’ve learned that some people get excited about this and others feel threatened by the potential of disruption — which I am still learning how to navigate. Entrepreneurs get to build the future they want to see — be sure to set your vision and clearly articulate that vision. Then, find some champion customers and do whatever it takes create the future you’ve set out to build.

Discovering the Right Business Model

Securing product-market-fit is a challenge for any starting business. Constant hypothesis testing is required to learn as quickly as you can. My team has tested a lot of hypothesis that have been proven wrong, which is great, because now we can keep refining our business model forging forward with the hypothesis that have been proven correct.

Starting a business isn’t just a job, it is a way of life. Early mornings, late nights and long hours are spent doing what needs to be done just to give your business a shot. Oftentimes, this work isn’t glamorous, sacrifices are made and the stress is immense – yet for some reason, we entrepreneurs keep pushing forward. That was true on the farm and it still rings true today as I work to build Terva.

Today, because of the great DSM community and an incredibly hard-working team, we’re testing our product in the marketplace to secure product-market-fit. We’re well underway to achieving our vision of becoming the first place people go online to find farmland information. DSM has been a great place to both live and start a business. The Greater Des Moines Partnership provides free business consulting, which has been worth its weight in gold. I’ve been able to plug in to a solid church community of passionate young adults. Between the Historic East Village, Downtown DSM and Iowa Cubs games — there are plenty of engaging events for a young professional and beginning entrepreneur to enjoy.

Just like growing up on the farm shaped my perspective on business, the support of the DSM community has given me the tools to start my business, which I am deeply grateful for.

Hear the stories of other small business and startup business owners in the community in The Partnership’s Small Business Resources Hub or sign up for the Small Business Resources newsletter to stay connected for information about upcoming events, other resources and the latest announcements in the small business community in DSM.

Steven Brockshus

Steven Brockshus is passionate about people, loves agriculture and is the founder of Terva. He is a proud alumnus of 4-H, FFA and ISU. He is intensely curious about topics such as rural America, international agriculture, artificial intelligence and space exploration. He enjoys reading, traveling and drinking strawberry milk.