Ep. 25: Allison Kopf - The Inefficiency Killer


I first met our guest Allison Kopf, founder of Agrilyst (they're hiring!), years ago at a Food Tech event and I’m especially excited about our conversation because it’s a close melding of the two worlds I live in: my day job at an enterprise software company and my main hustle in the world of food.  Agrilyst is a software that allows indoor farmers to analyze data that’s pulled into sensors - everything from temperature, light, CO2 - in one, integrated platform.  This then allows them to bring more stability into their operations and subsequently improve their profitability.  You might think: “Wait what?  Aren’t we already doing that?”.  Not really.   Keeping in mind that most farmers are still tracking things by hand without much data-driven analytics or are keeping data in separate silos, that most farms are barely profitable with long investment horizons, and that we definitely have significant challenges to fix in the coming years when it comes to what we eat, Agrilyst is both necessary and timely.  Everyone should give this a listen whether you’re “just” a software engineer or a hardcore foodie.  

Besides talking about Agrilyst - and even if you didn’t care about food (which I doubt since you’re listening to this show) - Allison’s mindset is one we can all learn from.  Trained as a physicist, she approaches problems with critical thought and for those who hate inefficiencies, she says that the thing that gets her out of bed every day is the opportunity to fix inefficiencies.  Nowadays when it’s easy to fall into the trap of a sensationalist story, people like Allison who are able to take a look at the data and apply principles from one field to another provide a refreshing conversation.

We talk about:

  • Identifying problems to fix and driving focus,
  • Creating “magical” products that people will love,
  • Why indoor farming is necessary in helping create a food system for the future, and
  • How you can apply skills you’ve learned in one area of your life to a seemingly disparate area.  

Whatever your background is, this interdisciplinary episode is a must if you’re interested in solving real problems in the world, food or otherwise.  

P.S. Take a look at their "State of Indoor Farming Survey" for 2017 linked below.  It's a data geek's (and farmer's) dream!


Agrilyst's "State of Indoor Farming 2017" Survey - every data point you'd ever want to know about Indoor Farming this year!

4:00 - From Physics to Tomatoes: Inefficiencies, Systems, and Solar Power // “Everyone’s Gotta Eat”
9:45 - 3 Things a Non-farmer Discovers About Farming: 
    * Growing for Taste, not Transport
    * It takes Work…a Lot of it
    * Food that's safe and traceable: from Burgers to Blockchains
        "Decoding Barcoding" - Allison Kopf
        "82 Ingredients in Your Favorite Cheeseburger" - Amy Kircher
15:30 - Choosing the “One Thing” to solve: Help Indoor Farmers become more Profitable
19:15 - “Focused on Changing the Way Agriculture Thinks”: From Survival to Better Food
21:00 - The What and Why of Agrilyst: Features and Value Proposition
    * Creating business stability
    * Improve revenue: optimizing crop selection, space usage, inventory, etc.
23:30 - Creating “Magic" and a Product people will love
"Lessons Learned in Year 2" - Allison Kopf
    * From Optimizing to Transforming
    * Balancing Customer Needs and Wants // Solving the "Faster Horse Dilemma"
    * Sending Engineers to the Farm
31:30 - Creating interdisciplinary teams // CTO-slash-record label creators and Manufacturer-slash-Farmers
35:15 - The Agrilyst interview question: “What gets you out of bed in the morning?"
39:00 - Food System Requirements for Success: Government Support, Talent Pipeline, Buyers, Distribution Network, Access to Capital
"How the Netherlands Feeds the World" - National Geographic
43:30 - Planning a food system for the future: Metrics, Influences, Considerations
46:30 - Solving challenges across borders // “Blurring country lines”
49:00 - The Role of Indoor Farms in Feeding the Future // “Why grow Lettuce outside?”
52:00 - Why Should Agrilyst Grow?

Rapid Fire with Allison
Most Influential Person: Dr. Betty Young, Physics at Santa Clara University
Best Tools Ever Purchased: Geckoboard (KPI Dashboard Software), Vitamix (THE Blender)
3 Ingredients That Describe Allison: Salt, Olive Oil, Garlic
Resource(s) for the Common Person: Hydroponic Food Production by Howard Resh, Raising the Bar: The Story of Clif Bar Inc.
If Allison's Life Story was Written in One Sentence: "Killing the Efficiency Killers"

Farms References:
BrightFarms (NY)
Fujitsu (low-potassium lettuce, Japan)
Plenty (WA)
Bowery (NY)
Houweling's (CA)
Tanimura & Antle (CA)

Other References:
US Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon
Data Visualization
Machine Learning
Gladys Knight
The Tulip Bubble
Wageningen University, Amsterdam
Cornell University - Controlled Environment Agriculture
University of Arizona - Controlled Environment Agriculture
Ohio State University - Greenhouse Program
CRISPR - "Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats", genome editing technology
FSMA - Food Safety Modernization Act (United States)
Gilroy Garlic Festival

Follow the Story...
: akopf@agrilyst.com
Website: Agrilyst.com
Medium: Agrilyst / Allison Kopf
Instagram: Agrilyst
Twitter: Agrilyst / Allison Kopf
LinkedIn: Agrilyst / Allison Kopf