UP061: The Bee Corp // using infrared to measure colony size to support beekeepers and growers

In All Episodes, SaaS by jayclouseLeave a Comment

view episode transcript

Ellie Symes 0:00
Honeybees are not native to the US or North America or any of the Americas at all. So they were brought in originally for candle production for lights. So this was before kerosene and other main types of lanterns. In addition, they were a great honey source and also began being used in agriculture for pollination.

Jay Clouse 0:24
The startup investment landscape is changing, and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside.

Eric Hornung 0:52
Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the Upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Eric Hornung, and I’m acompanied by my co-host, Mr. Play-On-Words himself, Jay Clouse. Jay, we got one for you today, man.

Jay Clouse 1:08
Yes, this this episode is rife for puns, but was there a play on words that I did recently that sparked this nickname.

Eric Hornung 1:16
No, but the company we have on — and this is the quickest bridge we’ve ever had on an intro — but the company we have on, all I could think about was, man, Jay is going to make some bad dad puns.

Jay Clouse 1:25
We’ll see. You know, I have some restraint. And you know, standards. I’m not going to make any puns that aren’t funny. But,

Eric Hornung 1:33
Right.

Jay Clouse 1:33
Good, smart, funny puns. I’m sure we’ll have some.

Eric Hornung 1:36
Do you think you’re going to make it through the entire interview without a pun and save it for the deal memo, or are you going to get caught up and have to do on?

Jay Clouse 1:41
I kind of want to sprinkle it throughout the experience here. You know, I want to pollinate our entire episode with puns.

Eric Hornung 1:49
Oh, we didn’t even make it to the interview.

Jay Clouse 1:52
Unplanned one. Love that.

Eric Hornung 1:54
Well, Jay, I think we have hinted at this enough. Who is coming on the podcast today?

Jay Clouse 1:59
Our guest today would be Ellie Symes, the founder and CEO of The Bee Corp. Did you see, would be, I already got it in there.

Eric Hornung 2:07
That was, that might have been a bit of a stretch.

Jay Clouse 2:09
The Bee Corp introduces sensor monitoring and data analytics to the beekeeping community through decision support software, providing beekeepers with a service to monitor high health in real time, gain insights on higher management, and optimize operational efficiency. Their software is called Verifli for growers and beekeepers to measure the size of bee colonies. Eric, how would you rate your bee knowledge heading into this interview?

Eric Hornung 2:37
It’s bee-low average, that’s for sure.

Jay Clouse 2:39
Oh, wow, that’s a good one. Same. Far bee-low average.

Eric Hornung 2:44
Here’s what I know about bees. They have something to do with pollen, and I’m allergic to pollen, and I don’t like pollen. So, I also know that there was a elective at OSU that I almost took that was an online beekeeping class that I didn’t take. So that’s about the extent of my knowledge. beekeeping world. What about you?

Jay Clouse 3:02
Well, I think they also pollinate almonds. And almonds are something I’m allergic to, so we got a lot of allergies. I am terrified of bees, Eric. I’ve been stung a lot mostly as a kid, but I don’t mess with bees. Bees come near me and I freak out. I’m probably part of the reason why there are what I believe to be an endangerment on the species because if I see it be, like, if it’s threatening me, bee’s done.

Eric Hornung 3:24
Do you like honey?

Jay Clouse 3:26
Yeah, sometimes. Actually interesting about honey is I was told at one point that one of the best ways to treat your allergies is to get some natural honey in the area that was like made in the area where you’re living, because it will naturally start to protect you. Like my spring allergies where you get all itchy, supposedly using honey made in the area, or the area is kind of like getting a vaccine because it introduces in small ways the things that you’re reacting to.

Eric Hornung 3:54
So you’re supposed to eat it or you’re supposed to rub it on your eyes? Like, I don’t get it.

Jay Clouse 3:58
You’re supposed to eat it. I don’t know if this is actually true, but I’ve been told this. Like when I have really bad spring allergies, people are like, oh yeah, just use some local honey, like eat that have a spoonful of it a day, and it’s kind of like a vaccination. Doesn’t work for me though.

Eric Hornung 4:11
There is so little we know about this interview we’re about to get into. This is what I’m learning from this intro.

Jay Clouse 4:16
Totally. So I’m going to ask a lot of context setting questions. Something else that’s probably interesting, relevant context heading in the interview: Ellie was the founder and president of a beekeeping club at Indiana University. The Bee Corp was founded in 2016. They’ve raised over a million dollars in funding at this point, including $750,000 of SPIR series to grant funding. Eric, some the more SPIR grantee, or another SPIR grantee.

Eric Hornung 4:44
We love that. We, we have a thesis — and I think it’s been proven out at this point. Is it still a thesis if you prove it?

Jay Clouse 4:51
Yeah, I think so.

Eric Hornung 4:51
Okay. We have a thesis that in the middle of the country, founders are capital efficient and they use non dilutive funding better than on the coasts. And I have found that the founders we’ve had on that are in the hard sciences or that are getting these type of grants, they tend to be very thoughtful about their businesses.

Jay Clouse 5:11
I would agree. If you guys have any thoughts on this interview, if you’re buzzing with ideas and want to join the online hive mind, you can tweet at us @upsidefm or email us hello@upside.fm. And we’ll bee right back with the interview.

Eric Hornung 5:26
Jay, if we were going to give out executive titles for Upside, which one of us would get CEO?

Jay Clouse 5:30
I would.

Eric Hornung 5:31
That was so quick. You didn’t even, like, contemplate meeting CEO.

Jay Clouse 5:34
It’s obvious.

Eric Hornung 5:36
What would I get?

Jay Clouse 5:37
Not co producer.

Eric Hornung 5:40
Not co-producer. I don’t think that’s in the executive category. So if I was hiring for an executive position, I probably wouldn’t look for co-producer in that bucket, huh?

Jay Clouse 5:50
How would you go about hiring for an executive position?

Eric Hornung 5:53
I mean, that’s easy. I go to our friends at Integrity Power Search. They’re the number one, full stack, high growth startup recruiting firm based between the coasts. They partners, venture capitalists, private equity groups and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disruptive companies. I mean, since 2012, they’ve successfully executed over 600 searches, and they’re on track for 200 more just in 2019. Their clients have raised collectively over 2.5 billion in venture capital and counting.

Jay Clouse 6:21
You’re not trying to replace me as a CEO, are you?

Eric Hornung 6:23
I didn’t know you actually got the title. I thought this was just a hypothetical. No?

Jay Clouse 6:27
It sounds like we’ve made a decision, we’ve come to a consensus. So if you guys are looking to talk to the CEO of Upside, you can talk to me, and if you’re looking to hire your own executive help, you can go to Integrity Power Search at upside.fm/integrity too find out more about how they can help you.

Jay Clouse 6:49
Ellie, welcome to the show.

Ellie Symes 6:50
Thank you for having me.

Jay Clouse 6:52
On upside we like to start with a background of the guests. So can you tell us about the history of Le

Ellie Symes 6:59
Yeah, well almost born in the bathtub. No, you guys don’t probably want me to go that far back. I got started in this whole venture as a student at Indiana University actually. My goal as a career was to have a career solving environmental problems. And I saw a beekeeping opportunity. And that led to me starting a program at the University, which has been snowballed into where we are today. So really, this is my background, it has been my first gig here.

Eric Hornung 7:28
Tell me the story about the bathtub. You can’t bring that up and then just like push to the side.

Ellie Symes 7:33
Well, this was before cell phones. And so yeah, basically, my parents weren’t able to get ahold of my grandparents at the restaurant they were at by calling the restaurant and paging them. And it was getting pretty close, but we, they made the connection to — they needed someone to babysit my brother and made it to the hospital just in time. I think my mom was there for like 30 to 40 minutes before I was born. It was really close call. So they preparing the bathtub and everything when grandma and grandpa ran in the door.

Jay Clouse 8:04
Oh my gosh,

Ellie Symes 8:05
Yeah.

Jay Clouse 8:05
Did you grow up in Indiana?

Ellie Symes 8:07
No, actually, I was born in St. Louis, moved around about every two years growing up. So came here for school. But I’ve lived all over the place, all over the United States and Canada for a little bit.

Jay Clouse 8:18
Why did you live in so many places growing up?

Ellie Symes 8:21
Yeah, my mom is a turnaround specialist of sorts for manufacturing. So she’d often come into a new plant or organization, fix it up, and then finish her project. And either that company would move her to a new location or she’d get poached by another company to come solve their problems. So we were always moving around. It was a great way to grow up, in my opinion.

Eric Hornung 8:45
Where did the environmental science interests come from?

Ellie Symes 8:49
You know, I think this is common with a lot of our generation and Gen Z coming behind us, but I think we have a lot of folks focused on environmental stewardship. And realizing that that’s quite a big problem that needs to be solved in our lifetime. So I remember hearing about it for the first time and getting interested in a class in high school freshman year. And it really wasn’t till the end of high school, going into college when I realized, hey, that seems like a rewarding, valuable, worthwhile career path to go after. IU was a great place to nurture my interest in that and figure out where I could fit in solving those problems.

Jay Clouse 9:31
Having lived in so many places, including Canada, how did you determine that Indiana University was where you wanted to go to college?

Ellie Symes 9:39
I was living in Columbus, Ohio at the time, and my…

Jay Clouse 9:43
Yes, shout out Columbus! .

Ellie Symes 9:46
Yeah, I love Columbus. It’s a great city. I was just there last weekend, but, you must be a Buckeye then?

Jay Clouse 9:52
We are both Buckeyes. But Eric defected and now lives in Cincinnati.

Ellie Symes 9:56
I love Cincy Well, my brother is a Buckeye vand my uncle is a rabid fan. But I was raised to not be a huge Buckeye fan and didn’t want to go to the same school as my brother as any 18 year old thinks. So I actually refused to apply to Ohio State. My parents were not so happy but applied to business schools all over the country, even like a packaging program, and Clemson, which would have been really weird if that would have been the path. But I got the direct admit to the Kelly School at IU. It’s great program, great school. That made my parents happy. And then I saw the campus, and it’s literally a campus out of a movie. It’s a dream place to go to college. So again, an 18 year old makes interesting decisions, and that’s what led me there. But luckily, it was a school that had great academics and was big enough for me to figure out what major to ultimately end up on to pursue this passion.

Jay Clouse 10:55
So you had a little bit of an environmental interest in high school, but you we’re looking for Business colleges to apply to. What ignited this interest in business and going to business school straight out of high school.

Ellie Symes 11:07
Honestly, really just not knowing what to do with my career. The environmental passion really said in closer to going to school. So like spring, summer right before when I actually had to figure out, I gotta go take classes and I get to decide completely what I want to do. So at that point, I’d already been doing the applications and really just followed the direction of my parents saying, hey, you probably should think about business. And my mom was still say that I tricked her because I stayed in the Kelley school for about a semester and took one Kelly class before deciding I wanted to switch over to SPEA and focus on environmental stuff. So she’s since come around and ironically I since started a business. But I actually moved to the environmental policy school really early on.

Eric Hornung 11:52
Tell me about the first time that you played with bees.

Ellie Symes 11:55
Yeah. It was summer after freshman year. It was at an ecological center actually in Delaware, Ohio, which is just north of Columbus. It’s Stratford Ecological Center if you ever want to go, beautiful place. They had a program where they had students coming in for summer camp. I was basically a beekeepers assistant, but it was quite amazing because not only was it my first time in the hive we were with a bunch of literally tiny children, five and six year olds around this beehive, no one gets done, they got to see baby bees emerge. It was pretty amazing. So after that day, I just stuck around and continued to go back and volunteer, but just really cool experienced to open a hive for the first time, especially around all of those kids.

Eric Hornung 12:40
Walk me through, like, the both emotions and mechanics of going into a hive. What does that look like your first time?

Ellie Symes 12:47
The first time? Oh, that’s really hard to remember since I’ve opened thousands and thousands of hives. So I think the first time for me what I was most amazed at is, I mean you’re taught to be afraid of honey bees, right? But You know you’re in there, the hive, the bees flying along you, all over you, even crawling on you. And it was pretty amazing to experience that, see the inside of a hive and and not get stung. And it was it’s a really zen experience because you sort of have to set aside your fears and remain calm, but then you also get to see this inside of an amazing u-social organism that is incredibly fascinating. You know, there’s not a lot of those types of organisms we get to totally see the inside world of. And it was just amazing to watch their behavior.

Jay Clouse 13:35
You mentioned that you’re growing up to be afraid of honey bees and I was afraid of honey bees, still am afraid of honey bees. Were you raised to be afraid of honey bees and you had to get over that, or were you just never afraid?

Ellie Symes 13:49
I think in general people are raised — I was never done by a bee or a wasp at all before this, so that really, I hadn’t been stuck so there was no real fear to associate with it. My Brother managed to get all this things growing up.

Jay Clouse 14:02
Wild. Okay, so can you just give some base level context of some of the things you mentioned, like social organism as this hive? Can you give us some basic context of what we should know about bees before we dive deeper into The Bee Corp?

Ellie Symes 14:19
Sure, yeah. So they’re extremely important for our environment. That’s, that’s why I got interested in it. They pollinate over a third of our food and many, many of our native plants. So from an ecology perspective and a food production perspective and food security, extremely important, I’d argue the most important organism, and that really got me interested to start with. As far as the behavior of the honey bees, they live in a hive. So there’s stacked boxes, you guys have probably seen at some point, but inside those boxes, the colonies can be all kinds of different sizes. The beekeepers are able to feed them, support them, manipulate them to keep them alive. But those are the commercial honey bee boxes that are used in pollination. So when we’re talking here about pollination and bees, it’s not carpenter bees that are ruining your deck. That’s not bumblebees. Honey bees are the main resource. They’re also the only bees in the United States that produce honey. So it’s also where we’re getting that, that sweetness. I hope that’s a good overview.

Eric Hornung 15:26
What’s the most unique or odd bee fact that you know?

Ellie Symes 15:30
Well, there’s tons of them. Let me think. Well, one thing that’s interesting and pertinent to kind of what we’ll talk about here today is that bees don’t see in the visible light spectrum. They see in I believe it’s the ultraviolet light spectrum. Yes, my co-founder’s saying that’s correct. Which is pretty cool, so they actually can, that helps them narrow in on pollen and nectar extremely efficiently, because they give off a different frequency of those those light waves.

Jay Clouse 15:59
You talked about the commercial be boxes, and I have a question on that here in a moment. But can you talk about the natural beehives and what is the state of those, leading into why we have commercial boxes in the first place?

Ellie Symes 16:13
Yeah, absolutely. So, honey bees are not native to the US or North America or any of the Americas at all. So they were brought in originally for candle production for lights. So this was before kerosene and other main types of lanterns. In addition, they were a great honey source and also began being used in agriculture for pollination. So they’re the reason we can grow a lot of crops species native to the European and Asian continent when we don’t have those bee species to pollinate. So almonds is a big example there. But before the honeybees came over, we had native bees, there’s tons of different species of them all of these bees species have been facing health issues for the last really about 40 years. And commercially, because I mentioned that beekeepers can get in there and feed them, they can do treatments and manipulate them, they’ve been able to still meet demands for pollination and keep those hives healthy. They’ve just had to spend a lot more time and money to do that. Native pollinators, most of them don’t have an industry around. So that includes bees but also bats and butterflies, birds, but especially bees are still facing those same health issues, but it’s much more challenging to figure out how to support those populations. So it’s sort of a different problem that unfortunately, at The Bee Corp, were not able to solve right away.

Eric Hornung 17:43
Talk to me about, you’re in the hive, you’re doing all this stuff, you’re in college, you’re actually like experiencing all of it. When does the business problem arise that you say I need to go back to Kelly, not officially but in like principle, and start a business. Where’s the first problem that you saw?

Ellie Symes 17:59
Well actually was a little different than your typical aha moments. So I had gotten a grant to start a beekeeping program. I met a few students after starting that program. Wyatt is my co-founder here who’ss one of those students. We started a beekeeping club. And then that club grew pretty quickly. There’s a ton of college aged students that think bees are pretty cool. And we were presenting that success to the IU Foundation. That’s the group at IU that runs our endowment, just as a fun, hey, here’s a weird thing students did with the grant money. And three of those IU Foundation Board members pulled me aside and said, hey, we love what you guys have done with the club. But we want you to dream bigger, and we want to help you, whatever it is, nonprofit, for profit. And so, I went back to Wyatt and a couple of the other students and said, hey, we’ve got this opportunity. I had read about sensors being used in research, and I thought it’d be a very interesting problem to see if we could use that same technology and principle to actually help the industry. And then we just went from there. We put a business plan together with those IU Foundation Board members. Chose to be a benefit corporation, chose our name, and then ended up winning a business, that business plan competition a couple months later. So like I said, it really was just a snowball of let’s try this. Okay, that worked. What’s next?

Jay Clouse 19:22
So how would you describe the B Corp today?

Ellie Symes 19:25
Yeah, so we’ve evolved through several business models as we figured out what works best for solving these problems. Right now. Today, we’re helping growers and beekeepers with pollination. So specifically, when growers rent these beehives to pollinate their crops, they also conduct inspections on the hives. This is, they open the hives try to estimate how many bees are inside. This is really the only way they’re able to price and set a value on those high five since they can be vastly different sizes. And they also do this to make sure the hives that show up or strong enough to pollinate their crop, because it’s extremely important that that gets done, otherwise nothing else they do in the growing season will matter. So we’re replacing those manual inspections using infrared image analysis to where, instead of opening the hive, we take an infrared picture and then we do the automated data analysis to turn that hive or that image into a predicted colony signs for our growers and beekeepers.

Eric Hornung 20:26
So how many times does this transaction process happen? Like in a year, in a month, in a week? I don’t know.

Ellie Symes 20:33
Usually it happens at pollination, right before bloom is the meantime, although some folks do it more often throughout the year, but pretty standard. The recommendation is to do those inspections right before bloom.

Eric Hornung 20:46
And right before bloom is spring?

Ellie Symes 20:49
Oh yeah. So it depends on the crop. Right now, we’re active in the almond market in California where 80% of the world’s almonds are grown. That is February every year. But every crop has a different pollination window starting in February going all the way to even close to August, in the US at least.

Eric Hornung 21:08
And how many crops are you doing this for as a farmer? Could you give me some more context to the number of crops, I guess?

Ellie Symes 21:15
Yeah, great question. So over 90 crops in the US need honeybees for pollination. But we’ve taken a careful approach to our launch. So we launched in the almond market this year, and then we’ll be layering in crop markets as we go. The reason we’re doing that is because every crop market is so different and the major players and how they do business, how they purchase. And when we focused in on almonds last year, we were able to get great traction in that market. And we really, by continuing to focus in on one or two markets at a time, we’ll be able to build really good reputations in these markets.

Jay Clouse 21:53
Do you go first, you said you got great traction in the almond market. Did you go through the growers or the beekeepers to get into that market?

Ellie Symes 22:03
We launched with a group of growers because they were the ones already purchasing those hive inspections every year. So we weren’t adding a new cost item for them at all. But right now we’re working on bringing on a group of beekeepers to pilot with this pollination season. We’ve worked with the beekeepers throughout for data collection and building up our models. But for us, it was a lower barrier to start with those growers.

Eric Hornung 22:29
When you think about how it’s done today, you said it’s a manual process. I imagine some guy or lady goes out and looks at the beehives and says, all right, this is what I see in my expert opinion. Are those experts fragmented? Is there one national player? Like what is what does the market look like today in terms of who’s actually doing this?

Ellie Symes 22:50
So it’s pretty essential that it’s a third party, although some growers do this on their own. They hire their own labor to do these inspections, especially if they’re quite large. Some growers do it with their own beekeeper, they’ll just both go out together. So it’s very fragmented in that the way these inspections are done depends on the grower. That’s really similar in a lot of different areas of agriculture. For third party inspectors, yeah, they’re very fragmented. There’s some folks that focus solely on it. Some folks are doing it as an additional service to brokering bees or other types of things. But really what we learned from interviewing inspectors last year was there’s so many beehives and it takes so long to open them and go through them that they haven’t been able to meet demand. And even growers often have to sit on a waiting lists if they do want to do inspections. So it’s a pretty fragmented and underserved market.

Jay Clouse 23:46
So the value prop here, that plays well into the question I was just gonna ask. The value prop is, on the one hand, there’s literally not even enough people to manually inspect the hives. Is this also more accurate or time saving or cost saving, like what’s the full value prop to the grower in this?

Ellie Symes 24:05
Yeah, so you’ve listed several of them. We actually built this product from interviewing growers and beekeepers first on what solution they needed. We did this through our National Science Foundation SPIR grants. And all of these things are feedback we got when we, after the interviews, presented them with the idea of what we were going to work on and build. The main area this really helps with is, because its objective data and a more accurate estimate, it makes it a lot easier to use these inspections as a pricing tool. It doesn’t result in further argument or frustration if both sides are on board. So that was an extremely main area as well as, because it’s cheaper and faster to do, they can inspect all their hives and actually increase what they’re able to do with the information they’re getting with the inspections. So as we stack up on manual inspections, it’s cheaper, faster, more accurate, but it also allows the growers to do more in their hives, and I can speak more specifically on that if you’d like me to as well.

Jay Clouse 25:07
Please do.

Ellie Symes 25:08
Cool. So a few things they’re interested in doing, I mentioned that the best time to inspect the hives is before bloom. But in manual inspections, you need to wait till it’s least 55 degrees to do those inspections. And usually in February in California the 55 degree mark hits around the same time as bloom because the almonds also want it to be 55 to open and start flowering. So usually these inspections are done during pollination season to where the growers are getting those reports a few weeks later, and all they can do as a reaction is try to haggle over price. This year we were able to inspect the hives earlier in the season so that the growers were able to have their beekeepers come out and feed the hives or were able to get more hives last minute if they needed to. So it actually allows them to react to the problem. Tthere’s a few other ones. I don’t want to speak for hours here if you guys have follow up questions on that one,

Eric Hornung 26:07
I want you to speak for hours.

Ellie Symes 26:09
Ok. Ok, so the the other big areas, because we can actually sample all the hives because it’s a lot faster and cheaper for them. Some of our growers want to be able to price per beehive. So currently, with the inspections, they sample about 10 to 15%; they calculate the average what’s called frame strength as the metric that’s used in the industry; nd they apply that average to the contract. But pricing for beehive actually incentivizes the beekeepers to send the strongest hives possible or they’ll get a higher price and allows the growers to stop paying for dead hives. In some data we looked at from somebody in the industry, it was about 15% of the hives inspected were dead. And so at $200 per hive, that’s spending a lot of money for a box of wood and wax with no pollination potential. That’s quite a huge one, as well as they want to be able to use the data over time to actually understand how they should optimally distribute the hives through the orchard and even to best understand how many hives per acre they should rent, because currently right now that’s just done by rote rule of thumb.

Eric Hornung 27:16
The pricing of renting a beehive is $200. Is that like an industry kind of average? Or what why’d you throw that number?

Ellie Symes 27:24
That’s the average for for the almonds pollination industry, just, you know, a mid line depending on the quality of bees that are being ordered.

Eric Hornung 27:33
Are almonds roughly the same price as the other 90 crops, or does it vary by crop that, that kind of average price?

Ellie Symes 27:41
It varies quite a lot by crop, and almonds are currently in the US the highest per hive pollination price.

Jay Clouse 27:48
Why is it that almonds are the highest price?

Ellie Symes 27:52
Great question. So few reasons. One is that to pollinate a huge crop that’s producing 80% of this market, they need about 75 to 80% of the entire country’s hives. So that’s almost all the commercial hives in the US. There’s about 2.6 million hives total. In the US they need about 2.1 to 2.3. And that number will increase. So that’s one aspect. The other aspect is the bees are not quite strong in February. So the beekeepers have to spend a lot of resources feeding the bees, shipping them to overwinter storage shipping them out to California earlier to keep them alive and strong enough to pollinate this crop. Those are the two main reasons because they’re first in the season versus they get very strong off almonds and it’s a little easier for the beekeepers to keep those hives strong for their crops down the chain.

Eric Hornung 28:46
How many acres can like one hive pollinate, whatever the right metric is? I don’t, I don’t know the right metric.

Ellie Symes 28:53
Yeah, it’s usually right now in almonds, it’s two hives per acre. But that’s different for every crop how many acres I recommend. And we’re actually interested in working with the almond board on helping them update that standard. It hasn’t been updated in a couple decades, and we want to help them update it on hives per anchor of what frame strength to get specific on that.

Eric Hornung 29:14
You’ve mentioned this idea of The Bee Corp product being cheaper than the manual alternative. How much cheaper is it?

Ellie Symes 29:22
So manual inspections are usually done hourly. So it comes down to about $25 per hive when we looked at some inspection reports and pricing and invoices. We’re coming in at about two to $8 per hive. One of those reasons is the grower takes the images themselves with a smartphone camera attachment. So there’s that labor savings there as well as we want to incentivize those growers and allow them to be able to do all their hives in the orchard.

Jay Clouse 29:50
So if the manual inspections were being done by the growers before and now they’re getting paid two to eight dollars per hive instead of $25 per hive, what is their feeling about that?

Ellie Symes 30:00
The inspectors failing?

Jay Clouse 30:02
Well, I guess what I’m asking is, typically when technology comes in and make something more efficient, there’s some party, whether it’s an individual or organization that is now losing revenue, because this is eating into that. Who is losing with technology being deployed for inspections?

Ellie Symes 30:19
Yeah, great question. So since we’re coming in as an alternative to manual inspections, those manual inspectors are currently our direct competition. Although since they haven’t been able to meet demand, there would be an opportunity to work together to allow them to use our tool to meet their contracts, get even more contracts done, and do a revenue share off that. So although it is a, they are a competitor, I think there’s a potential for collaboration down the line to actually meet their demand on their contracts.

Jay Clouse 30:48
Okay, that was a confusion part, or a point of confusion on my part. The manual inspections are often done by third party. This is its own organization. Sometimes growers do it themselves. But that is not the default.

Ellie Symes 31:02
Right. Exactly. And if growers are doing it themselves — This is a tricky thing with ag because everybody manages their operations differently. If they do it themselves since we’re saving them labor, there’s a cost savings on that, that labor aspect.

Eric Hornung 31:18
I guess, just helping me to get a sense of the size and scope of this in general. You said there’s something like 2.6 million beehives in the United States. How often are those getting turned over through the bloom season? Like is it every week they go to a new person? Are they there for months?

Ellie Symes 31:34
Yeah, about every few weeks they’ll go to new crops each hive and each beekeeper does a different crop cycle depending on where their home location is and whether they’re doing honey production or not. To get a total scope of the global opportunity, there’s 47 million hives used globally in pollination. So with those are estimated cycles on just like you asked how many times they’re getting turned over. We estimate with our pricing, it’s a 4.2 billion opportunity where we’re focused in right now on this almond opportunity.

Jay Clouse 32:06
That 4.2 billion is just for almond specifically?

Ellie Symes 32:09
That’s global total opportunity.

Jay Clouse 32:12
Got it.

Eric Hornung 32:12
What is the back end logistics look like if I am a grower and I want to find a beekeeper,

Ellie Symes 32:19
Many growers try to have great relationships with their beekeepers. The ideal scenario is those growers have been working with their beekeeper for several years. Some even work with their beekeepers for over 30 years if it’s a great relationship. If you’re looking for new beekeepers, a lot of growers actually will call around. They’ll ask their local neighbors who they’re being served by because it’s a lot easier if that beekeeper does a drop nearby and where they’re already traveling. The other way it’s done is through brokers. So this is done by a lot of smaller growers. They work with a broker who is then working with several beekeepers to bring in the hives. That helps with quality control as well since those brokers are typically doing the manual inspections on the hives they rent. But it makes it a little easier if you’re a smaller operation makes it easier for the beekeeper to to just work with one party. Again, because it’s ag, there’s many different ways, but when we interviewed growers, we found out that they’re able to source the beehives no problem and get the supply through these channels.

Jay Clouse 33:20
Not being in the industry, I seem to hear a lot of buzz about this shortage of bees — see what I did there? I had to do it sometime. A shortage of bees generally like an endangerment almost. And I think you mentioned earlier that The Bee Corp doesn’t do anything or doesn’t broach that problem. But macro-economically, what happens if we continue to have a shortage? Or what happens if the population comes back? How does that affect the B Corp?

Ellie Symes 33:46
I want to first start by explaining where we fit in on that problem. Because, ecause of that problem, we have an opportunity for our business. So I already mentioned that beekeepers have to spend a lot more resources right now on their hives to keep them alive. Because they’ve had to do that, they’ve increased the prices for growers across the board for pollination rental fees. What that’s done is that’s pushed up pollination on the list of most expensive inputs and made those growers pay attention. So when they started to pay attention, they said, hey, wait a minute, I can measure how much fertilizer I’m putting on my crops, I can measure how much water is getting input, I can measure my labor inputs, I need to be able to measure this pollination input that I’m spending millions of dollars on each year. So they started doing these manual inspections to be able to measure that as well, because you had the health issues, they were worried that they’re beekeeper might get hit by disease or some other issues. And they want to just another check to make sure the hives that came in were healthy and strong enough to pollinate. So that whole macroeconomic aspect is what created the market opportunity for us coming in as an alternative to that. So if declines continue, you will just see emphasis on manual inspections and make, or inspections and making sure the health and the pricing is there. You’ll see that increase, so that’ll be up in an opportunity as well as, I mean, beekeepers can meet the demand, they can continue to split their hives. If your other aspect was if populations turn around, that’s a great question. I’d have to think about that one a little bit more. We have, there’s so many issues right now on the health of the beehives, I do think we’re past a critical turning point on bringing those prices back down. The main reason why is we don’t have enough forage in the US in these agricultural markets to feed those bees. So that is going to be a very hard thing to turn around because we need our land for food production, urbanization, things like that. So the beekeepers are going to continue to feed their bees which is a huge expense, and they’re going to continue to treat for grower might. So that’s a main one. We don’t have an eradication tool. So they’ve had to increase their treatments. And if something came along that would help them decrease the cost of those treatments and inputs, but you still have the feeding, and that’s just to beehive problems I’ve explained. So it’s just a, I think we’re really far off from seeing those prices turn around.

Jay Clouse 36:21
What do bees eat?

Ellie Symes 36:22
Again, good question. I sometimes forget that not everyone’s of this world. Pollen and nectar. So they turn that pollen and nectar into honey and honey is actually their food source.

Jay Clouse 36:34
So one of the prevailing problems is there’s just not enough flowering plants that create pollen and honey to get these bees with aid?

Ellie Symes 36:41
Right, and pollen since that’s the protein source with good enough nutrients to keep them alive. So you see a lot of nutritional supplements these days for bees as well to keep them alive and healthy and robust. So it’s not just the amounts but the diversity of those pollen sources.

Jay Clouse 36:57
So I want to talk about the product a little bit. You said it’s an app on the smartphone. Can you explain, even just walk me through the process of downloading and using this application?

Ellie Symes 37:08
Yeah, the grower downloads the app, works with us. We have training set up for this pollination season both in app, but we can also work directly with our growers. They get shipped the cameras that we source through a hardware partner. The camera plugs into the smartphone, you boot up the app, and it’s pretty much just like taking pictures with the normal camera app on your iPhone. The grower captures the images of the front of the hive and then all in the back end, those images are automatically being uploaded and processed and analyzed. The grower can track how many pictures they’ve taken as they go and some other metrics on the app. But a full report that gives them all those frame sizes as well as averages broken down by each branch that they’re running is available via a web app that they can log on and view share those reports.

Jay Clouse 38:01
This camera attachment that you source, if I’m a grower and I want to use The Bee Corp, how do I actually onboard as a customer, and like when am I charged? Am I paying for the camera? Is this a SAS product? How does that work?

Ellie Symes 38:13
Yeah, we charge our growers per image scanned. So that’s where that two to eight dollars come in. That includes the cost of the camera. In that two to eight dollar range, there’s different numbers of cameras that gets shipped out. Basically, if you’re doing more pictures, we’ll give you more cameras to get it done quicker. And those get shipped directly to the grower. What they’ll be doing this year is, last year we did this as well, we had them beforehand let us know what they needed, wanted to do, and number of hives. This year, they’ll be purchasing credits that allows us to figure out how many cameras to ship them and get them all set up for pollination. So that allows us to, we already have the cameras incorporated in our pricing from a margin perspective, but that also allows us to make sure, that upfront payment us to cover the cost of the camera if they just never take any images with it.

Eric Hornung 39:04
How do you guys get in front of all of the growers in the country?

Ellie Symes 39:07
I’ll talk about almonds because that’s what we’ve been able to succeed with today, because it’s going to be different for different crop markets. One of the aspects that’s worked really well is we’ve connected with a lot of influential folks in the industry. And one of those main influencers are almond processors that take the nut and turn it into the almonds that we recognize and see or take the fruit as a whole. Those processors work with many growers. So we’ve been able to build trust and awareness by getting to know those processors, talking to them, having them understand what we’re working on. That’s been a great source. Through those relationships, we can reach 83% of the California almond market, but we’ve also done a lot of our own reach out. So we hustled a lot last year to even find enough growers to do those interviews for. We did over 100 interviews. So we had to cold reach out to build those relationships. And so we do a bit of that, we nurture our own relationships with growers. And since we’ve been doing both of those things, we’ve seen those really manifest and we now get intros from other growers and are able to see the word of mouth aspect coming around.

Eric Hornung 40:16
How big is your team and how is it segmented by by function?

Ellie Symes 40:20
Right now we’re four full time and we have five interns working with us, all paid masters, undergrad level interns. I’m currently actually hiring two more full time roles since we just got our phase two of our National Science Foundation grant, as well as another intern. So trying to grow our team pretty rapidly. We’re basically mostly technical folks here. One of the roles I’m hiring is ops so that we can be about 30% ops, sales, overhead related folks.

Jay Clouse 40:54
How long have you been in market in the actual hands of farmers being used and making revenue?

Ellie Symes 41:00
Yeah, so we launched our very first product back in 2017. So it was actually a thermal analysis solution for smaller scale beekeepers. And then that SPR grant we got in 2018 allowed us to figure out the solution that could then be used commercially. So we actually ended up pivoting our business once we found out about this opportunity that we’re currently in. It was a larger market opportunity, better business model, solved a better problem. We rolled down our existing products and focused on Verifli, and we did all that last year. But since we had several years of thermal analysis expertise, we were able to incorporate a model and launch that through paid pilots with a group of almond growers this February, last February’s, however you say that.

Jay Clouse 41:48
And for verification since we haven’t used the name before, Verifli is this camera-app product.

Ellie Symes 41:55
Yes. Wyatt is great at coming up with creative product names.

Jay Clouse 41:59
If five years from now, or even 10 years from now, Verifli or The Bee Corp didn’t exist, what would have happened?

Ellie Symes 42:07
What would happen 10 years from now?

Jay Clouse 42:09
What would have happened to lead to this opportunity of just not working?

Ellie Symes 42:13
Well, several things I mentioned, we had to, we went through several iterations of our business model, if we would have stayed down the path of what we were working on at the time. It had slow payback periods, like you see in a lot of SAS companies. It wasn’t a large market and it was a market we needed to spend a lot of marketing costs to reach. It’s funny because it’s a lot of the problems you see a lot of SAS business models facing even though we’re in the beekeeping space.I definitely think we would have failed, we wouldn’t have had the growth that was exciting for investors. And the business model fundamentally didn’t solve the core business problem for the commercial sector. So it would have never had that growth opportunity. If we would have continued to operate those products while trying to go after Verifli, which was something that was on the table when we were trying to decide what to do, we would have failed. We have to track our hours through this grant. We went back and figured out we were spending almost 50% of our time on operating this product. And we said, well, what if we had that 50% of our time just on Verifli product. That’s what really helped us make the decision is seeing how much time it takes to operate an existing product. And we knew that there was just no time to do the aggressive R&D and sales that were needed to pivot. So if we wouldn’t have taken that risk, which was extremely scary, we had no idea if it would pan out and if we would hit our metrics and milestones. All we had was interviews with growers saying they wanted the thing, then we would have certainly failed we’d be I think we’d be out operations already.

Jay Clouse 43:54
You guys are operating out of Indianapolis now. What makes Indianapolis a good place for this kind

Ellie Symes 44:00
We actually just recently chose to be an Indianapolis, we moved up here from Bloomington. We looked at several different cities when we moved, one city to be closer to our customers, another city to be bringing the full team together for an employee who’s working remote. And when we stacked up the pros and cons, the biggest thing about Indianapolis was just the network that’s here. We have a very wide existing business support network. So that includes investors, advisors, board members, support services, other startups working on things, really all those crucial things you need. That was very strong here and we weren’t sure we would see those in those other cities. There’s a lot of work being done on our talent pipeline, especially in technology. We have some major players here. Salesforce has their second headquarters. We have Angie’s List, I’m going to not name a ton of other major players here. That’s helped lead the talent pipeline push and we saw from Bloomington to Indi a larger talent pool and opportunity, as well as there’s a lot of ag corporates that are based here or very close to Indianapolis. And as a startup who has taken on investment, we need to figure out how we work with them. And we’re in the process of doing that to lead to an acquisition and exit that’s going to help our investors. So those partnerships and opportunities are here. And when we looked at the customer side, which was the main con there’s not really a lot of crops in Indiana that are pollinated by bees, some in southern Indiana. We honestly did the cost-benefit and found out it’s cheaper for us to fly out there and travel than it is to relocate our business to California. So lots of different reasons there. But I really enjoyed the tech ecosystem that supported us out here.

Eric Hornung 45:49
That’s awesome. If people want to find out more about you or The Bee Corp, where should they go?

Ellie Symes 45:54
One of the best places to go is our website. It’s a theBeeCorp.com, spelled like the actual insect not the letter. You’ll also find, if you search through Twitter and LinkedIn, that’s where, and Facebook, if you just search The Bee Corp on that, you’ll find our handles, and we tend to post quite a lot for the public about what we’re doing.

Eric Hornung 46:14
How much are the wasabi peas you buy at Kroger?

Jay Clouse 46:17
I think they are about $5, maybe $3.99.

Eric Hornung 46:21
That’s pretty expensive for for a little snack,

Jay Clouse 46:23
Just a little snack, but you know, the value is there, and I think it’s worth it.

Eric Hornung 46:27
How do you afford that on a podcasters budget?

Jay Clouse 46:29
It’s tough. It’s tough. I gotta dig deep. And I gotta lean on my other business sometimes.

Eric Hornung 46:34
Well, you know what, I think the listeners could help us out here, because there’s one thing that they could do that directly correlates with our ability to raise some advertising revenue on this platform.

Jay Clouse 46:44
I think I know where you’re going with this.

Eric Hornung 46:45
Oh, yeah, I’m going to upside.fm/survey. It is our 2019 Listener Survey. And it is a key part of our growth strategy here Upside, so we can keep on telling stories about founders, community building, and venture capitalists outside of Silicon Valley. And we can get Jay some more wasabi peas.

Jay Clouse 47:05
That’s right. So dear listener, if you would do us a solid, if you would do us a kindness, please head over to upside.fm/survey, answer our 2019 Listener Survey, should only take a couple of minutes. Myself and my wasabi peas thank you.

Jay Clouse 47:27
All right, Eric, we just spoke with Ellie Symes, the founder of The Bee Corp. Fun story here, went to Indiana University, joined the Business College, probably was shooting for all A’s and she left with a bunch of Bee’s.

Eric Hornung 47:39
Jay, I thought we were done with the puns. You barely got any in on the interview. But here we are. You know, I’m sure she’s a great student. I’m sure she got A’s

Jay Clouse 47:49
And B’s.

Eric Hornung 47:50
And B’s she got both the best of both worlds. So I guess Jay, let’s start where we like to start here on the deal memo and let’s talk about the founder. We talk a lot about founder-product fit and whether or not that matters. And in this case, it feels like this was a natural evolution for this founder to be in the bee keeping space. So I understand the story. I understand the, I was doing it for x, y and z reason, and I saw an opportunity, and we developped that opportunity, then we pivoted an opportunity to this new opportunity that’s bigger, attracts investors. I think that, like, longevity of actually being in a hive and not being someone who said, oh, there’s a very large market opportunity here, I’m going to go try to take it over. I like that back end story. I like the time in the business before on the business.

Jay Clouse 48:39
And to double tap on that a little bit. The timing here feels particularly right. You know, and Ellie talked about it about halfway through the interview saying, let me talk about how these macroeconomic conditions have created the situation where there’s an opportunity for The Bee Corp. But not only did those macroeconomic conditions happen at the time when Ellie was entering IU and getting interested in beekeeping so it made sense, but what she didn’t talk about that is also true, in my mind, is the functionality of using a smartphone in probably the affordable camera to connect to a smartphone to do some of these measurements, that is also something that is uniquely possible, at least the last 10 years and maybe even a shorter timeframe than that. So to me, timing is really, really key to this opportunity and really plays in the favor of Ellie and The Bee Corp. And you know, the second part of founder market fit is you know, why you, why now? And I thought that question was definitely answered for me in this interview.

Eric Hornung 49:40
I think the why now also plays just into the market dynamics, which is why I had so many questions about them. There’s not just like two large growers, and there’s not just two firms that do this manual inspection. It’s super fragmented. So on the growers side, I don’t have a number, a total number of growers, but 91% of almond farms are family owned, and 80% of the world’s almonds, and almost 100% of the United States almonds, come from California. I didn’t realize those figures. So there’s a huge market here that’s very fragmented on the grower side. On the beekeeper side, I would expect the same, I don’t think there’s any like large 50% plus market share company that has all these beekeepers, it’s more of an independent side of things. And then in the middle, their competitor, who is going and doing these manual inspections, those are just individuals as well, who are charging hourly rates as contractors. So there’s a ton of fragmentation across this entire space, which I think is the perfect type of area to implement some sort of b2b

Jay Clouse 50:46
Bee 2 bee!

Eric Hornung 50:47
I didn’t do that on purpose. Some sort of b2b system that allows that to be faster. And I think there’s actually even a bigger opportunity in the logistics space here connecting these farmers and growers and beekeepers. I know that’s not their business model right now. But as they grow in terms of market share here, they’re going to grow in terms of connections and network. And that’s an awesome opportunity for the future.

Jay Clouse 51:14
I like that they are focused on starting with one crop, almonds, which has those big numbers and levels of density in California that you just listed off. That, to me sounds like a really great place to start as sort of a beachhead and get a foothold there. And what also impressed me was, when you asked about customer acquisition, Ellie said, well, we have these influential relationships that reach up to 83% of the California almond market in those relationships, so highly fragmented market, and yet they found a way to build relationships to get in front of 83% of that market. Those were big positive indicators for me, along with, to your point, just how big of an opportunity that is. There’s 2.6 million hives, and 2.1 million of those are used for almonds in the growing season. There are $200 per hive to rent. I think we have enough numbers to do some math here, Eric, and talk about the almond opportunity.

Eric Hornung 52:11
According to my quick googling, so almonds are harvested in August, and Ellie said that bloom starts in February. So that’s six months. Is that good math of pollination?

Jay Clouse 52:29
Yeah, we’ll go with that.

Eric Hornung 52:30
Okay, so I could be off on how many months that the bees are actually out there. But let’s say that it’s six months that they’re pollinating almond fields. And she said every couple of weeks, every few weeks, I’m going to guess that’s a three week turnaround. So in six months, we have 26 weeks. And if you divide that by three, it’s going to get you two turns of 8.66, let’s call it 10, 10 turns in a summer. 10 turns at 2 to $8 per turn per hive. So, Jay, here’s where a little bit of mental math comes out. 10 times two times 21.

Jay Clouse 53:11
You asking me to do this?

Eric Hornung 53:12
I just thought it’d be fun that we could do it together.

Jay Clouse 53:14
420.

Eric Hornung 53:16
Right, and then 10 times eight times 21.

Jay Clouse 53:20
It’d be four times that.

Jay Clouse 53:22
Yes. So, a…40+840 is 1680… 1680. 420 to 1680.

Eric Hornung 53:30
I hope that wasn’t as painful for the listeners as it was for me. So somewhere between $400 and 1.6 billion per year for their core crop in their core market, assuming they have 100% of the almond hive population being reviewed by Verifli. That seems large, but it’s also one of 90 products, and they gave us global numbers of 4.2 billion, so Maybe there’s a price difference. I don’t know the difference. But that’s kind of what I build up to just using a basic build up model.

Jay Clouse 54:06
Yeah, maybe it’s a, because I agree with you that those numbers make sense, predicated on the number of terms that we calculated, which wasn’t something we got in the interview. So maybe there aren’t that many turns. But you know, if we’re, if we’re somewhere in the 400 to, 1.4 hundred million to $1.6 billion range for almonds, and they have relationships that reach 83% of the almond market in United States, that’s a pretty good first year of revenue potential, right, of of that crop. They also said, almonds are by far the most expensive crops and maybe that’s where the opportunity starts to decline because there’s not as much revenue opportunity for those other 90 crops, but $4.2 billion in global opportunity, we can say that we are close to validating that with our mental math. Where does that fall in your market opportunity bucket, Eric?

Eric Hornung 54:57
That’s kind of the middle bucket. I think we have to think about this opportunity a couple different ways. We just think about the almond market in the United States, which is really their first target market. And that’s probably in that smaller bucket, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good market to go after, as we outline for the various market dynamic reasons, it makes sense. They are bringing a more efficient and more cost effective method to their customer. And they went through the painstaking process of interviewing 100 of these customers, so they know it has product market fit. If we think about that middle tier bucket, which is just the entire almond market around the, around the world, and we take her number that it’s 4.2 billion, that’s a pretty good sized market. And it’s just a market share, run at that point. And then if we think a little bit wider, and we say, okay, there’s 90 of these crops, and if the best crop in the United States is worth about a billion a year in terms of potential revenue, then if we just do a rough assumption and say that the remainder are worth 20 times that, you know, I mean, every crop isn’t going to be worth the same as almonds, obviously. So that’s like a $20 billion market in the United States for pollinated crops by bees. Maybe that’s too high. I don’t know. What I do know is that in the words of our friend, Nick from Drive. Capital, who was on the podcast, can this be a billion dollar business? I think, yes, it can, but it’s going to be very hard to get there.

Jay Clouse 56:31
Well, if I recall, Nick’s first Stage Gate of what Drive looks at is, if they had 100% of market share in North America, could you get to $1 billion in the top line revenue or profit?

Eric Hornung 56:44
top line revenue, I believe.

Jay Clouse 56:46
top line revenue. And so it seems to me like this can cross that threshold, even potentially with just the almond market.

Eric Hornung 56:53
I would agree. So if that number in North America is 400 to 1.6, and likely it’s closer to that 400 than 1.6, or maybe it’s somewhere in the middle — likely it’s somewhere in the middle, Jay — you get 100% of that, yes, this could be a billion dollar business looking at this one product doing a very good job if they have 100% of market share. I think where the challenge comes is pivoting internationally and pivoting to different crops, because it’s essentially re-learning a new space.

Jay Clouse 57:26
Yes, on the grower side, for sure. I wonder if there’s some, some natural economies of the fact that there, there’s a limited number of beekeepers, so the beekeepers are at least going to be aware of The Bee Corp because of the work they did with the almond growers. So that may help them penetrate other markets more quickly. I want to transition here and talk about Ellie as a founder. I was really impressed with her perspective or founder-market fit as we’ve kind of already talked about. Fairly certain she is one of the youngest founders we’ve had on the podcast to date. You wouldn’t have thought that or notice that just from the interview alone.

Eric Hornung 58:05
Yeah, she was, I mean, especially when we got into like the details of the business, she was just like, bam, bam, bam, number, number, number. Here’s how it’s setup, here’s how it’s setup. I have all of these specifics. Do you want more specifics? I could go for hours. I’m like, all right, that’s cool. It reminds me of Chris Dixon’s ideamaze, which is this concept that when you’re talking with a founder, how, how deep into the maze can they get, can they get into second level thinking and third level thinking and do they have facts and stats and things that are, like, continuously interesting and not repetitive while staying on the same idea.

Jay Clouse 58:37
Starting the beekeeping club at IU and then finding, applying, winning two phases of SPIR grant funding, that’s super challenging to do. All the numbers, she knows the business inside and out. And I’ll tell you what really, really impressed me was when we talked about the model and the pricing, how thoughtful and how quickly they have come to the conclusion of, we are baking the cost of the hardware aspect of this into our pricing model in a way that protects us even if the relationship doesn’t last very long. I feel like a lot of founders would have started, would have spent longer in, like, some sort of upfront hardware fee or something like that that makes the model a little bit more complex. And this strikes me as a customer and a user, that the more you simplify things and just say, like, yeah, it’s a SAS fee, and we charge on the photo as opposed to introducing these different pieces of a model, I think that will help them a lot. And like I said, I was just impressed at how quickly they worked out those figures or seemed to have worked out those figures to make that pricing model possible.

Eric Hornung 59:43
So as we look into the next 6 to 18 months, Jay, what do you want to see from The Bee Corp?

Jay Clouse 59:49
I’m looking at, you know, sort of a retrospective on, now that we have just more time and more data, how did these experiments play out in the almond field? What was their saturation percentage, or their their market penetration? And how quickly can they branch into new crops? That’s a lot. But mostly I’m looking at traction in the almond group, what have they learned? Did things work out well, and how, what indication does that have for new crops?

Eric Hornung 1:00:17
Yeah, so 18 months from today, we’re going to have gone through one and a half blooms of almonds. And what will be interesting to me is not just the traction that they get, but what does retention look like in that second bloom season? I agree, market penetration is huge. They need to get in to more growers to a higher percentage of the market, because it’s going to be a word of mouth phenomenon where they say, yeah, I cut my costs by this much and we get all of this data. But what does retention look like after they get in with that initial pitch that is so good, it’s, you’re going to reduce costs by somewhere between 3 and 12 times per hiveY you’re going to get to review more hives. It’s not going to be 10 to 15% sampling, it’s going to be you can do every single hive for the same price, as opposed to what you’re doing now, or similar price. And you’re going to get better data and you’re going to have all of this stuff that makes it more efficient and takes the cost of labor out of it. I think that will resonate as a sales pitch. Does it resonate as a continuing business pitch?

Jay Clouse 1:01:19
Interested to see what the manual inspectors do as well. Do they adopt this as a tool for their businesses? Do they make a copycat technology tool? If this is as well positioned as it came across in the interview, there’s bound to be competition using the use of technology. And I’m interested to see what happens those manual inspectors as this becomes more commonplace.

Eric Hornung 1:01:43
Just future casting a little bit here. My guess is that they go premium, and they go to premium analysis on top of something like this, that gives them the data.

Jay Clouse 1:01:54
Alright guys, we’d love to hear from you. You can tweet at us @upsidefm or email us Hello@upside.fm, and we’lltalk to you next week.

Interview begins: 6:49
Debrief begins: 47:27

Ellie Symes is the co-founder and CEO of The Bee Corp.

The Bee Corp is a startup focusing on improving and creating sustainable methods for commercial bee pollination. Based in Indianapolis, The Bee Corp offers commercial beekeepers and growers a technical application called Verifli that tracks beekeeping strategies at a quick and cost-effective rate.

Ellie and her co-founder began the idea for the company after starting a beekeeping club in college. They have since received two grants to continue their passion for creating sustainable solutions for the environment.

We discuss:

  • Ad (5:26)
  • Ellie’s beekeeping experience (11:55)
  • Natural vs commercial hives (14:47)
  • Business progression from a college club (17:59)
  • Overview of beekeeping industry and how Verifli fits in (19:22)
  • Verifli cost-effectiveness (29:14)
  • Bee endangerment and the future of beekeeping (33:20)
  • Verifli app walk-through (36:57)
  • Market network (39:40)
  • Bee Corp’s older business model (42:09)
  • Indianapolis location (43:54)
  • Upside Listener Survey (46:14)

The Bee Corp was founded in 2016 and based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Learn more about The Bee Corp: https://www.thebeecorp.com/
Follow upside on Twitter: https://twitter.com/upsidefm
Take the listener survey: https://upside.fm/survey

This episode is sponsored by Integrity Power Search, the #1 full stack high growth startup recruiting firm between the coasts. They partner with venture capitalists, private equity groups and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disrupting companies.

Learn more about or get in touch with Integrity Power Search: https://upside.fm/integrity