We spoke to Andrew McKenzie, CEO at Precision Livestock Technologies about the company’s journey as an early-stage start-up and how they have moved up to the next level in the livestock industry.
Can you tell us about your journey as an early-stage start-up up to your recent success? What have been the key milestones?
My Co-Founder, Tim Robertson, and I started Precision Livestock Technologies because we saw a clear need for solutions to the problems facing livestock producers. We both have experience building technology companies, and we are big believers in working closely with customers and other stakeholders to understand the real world, operational imperatives that any solution needs to meet. Our earliest milestones involved talking to producers and finding formal and informal advisors who could provide us with the depth of insight required to formulate an idea of what a product might look like. Without going into a bunch of detail on machine vision, optics, firmware, networking, cloud processing pipelines, and software development, suffice it to say there were many milestones over 18 months of work to arrive at a place where we have a product that does what it needs to. In our case, that means using solar power to continuously capture images 365/24/7 up on a pole in a wide range of conditions – including rain, snow, freezing cold, blistering heat, and 90 mph winds.
We never would have arrived at where we are today without the support, encouragement, and patience of a group of forward-looking producers and a team capable of doing the hard work required to get things right.
What role do partnerships and collaboration play in your business strategy?
We’ve relied on several types of collaborations to get to this stage. First, having a group of advisors with a willingness to teach a couple of tech entrepreneurs about animal production has been critical. Second, some of the top academics in the field have helped us understand the foundational research behind the data we generate. Some of these collaborations go back to even before the company was formally founded. In some ways we have only scratched the surface of some of the ideas that have come out of our conversations with our industry and academic advisors.
The next set of collaborators we have engaged with are the producers themselves. As with many industries that have been around for a long time, most of these folks have seen technologies come, not work as expected, and go. We’ve always gone into conversations being really open about what the technology can do today, what we expect it will be able to do in the near term, and what our longer-term plans are. Their input and feedback have been essential – while the product today bears some resemblance to its earliest conception, many major improvements have come out of discussions with producers. We have been deeply impressed by the depth of knowledge and dedication in the industry – from the folks who write the checks to the ones who drive the trucks.
Finally, we’re working with strategic partners to understand how we might complement the products and services of larger players in the market. Laying the groundwork for a long-term strategic partnership takes time, and we’ve cultivated several of these conversations over more than a year.
Can you share any success stories as a result of joining us at a previous Animal AgTech Innovation Summit?
Our first Animal AgTech Innovation Summit was a virtual event in March 2021. You would not have known that it was a new way to run a conference. We connected with some great folks with whom we have stayed in touch. Our next experience was as a presenter in the start-up track, which was a great opportunity to let everyone know what we were building. We’re really glad that this conference will be in person, and we’re looking forward to reconnecting with many of the people we’ve met along the way.
What motivates you as an innovator to drive forward change within the animal agtech industry?
I often joke that if I had known how hard it was going to be to build our platform, I would never have started the company. But the reality is that the level of difficulty of the problems we are solving is really motivating. What we also find compelling is that we can have an impact on a global scale, and both improve animal well-being and help meet the growing need for high quality sources of protein. It’s satisfying to see something you’ve helped build in the real world generating useful data that nobody has had before.
What’s next for your company?
I really believe we are only getting started. We see the potential to enable high levels of automation and better outcomes in our core market and also apply what we have learned in other species. Machine vision is powerful and flexible, and it gets more economically viable every day. I’m optimistic that if we keep listening to customers and remain open to learning new things, we are going to help the industry meet a broad range of challenges.
We’re delighted to welcome Andrew and the team to Animal AgTech. Andrew will deliver a case study presentation about ‘Utilizing Precision Technologies To Improve Health, Productivity and Farm Management’ at 12pm PT on March 21 in San Francisco. Don’t forget to visit Precision Livestock Technologies’ online exhibition booth.