Company Builders: Sébastien Boyer, Co-Founder and CEO of FarmWise

June 01, 2022 / Calibrate Ventures Staff

What drove you to start a company?

Back in college, where I met my co-founder Thomas Palomares, we felt a strong push to do something to reduce society’s environmental impact on the planet. We also all wanted to eat organic, sustainable food, but it was too expensive for us as students! Several years later, after Thomas and I finished grad degrees at MIT and Stanford, we thought back to those conversations in college and realized now was the time to start a company that could do two things: help produce sustainable food cost effectively, while at the same time reducing the negative environmental impacts of the agricultural sector, such as pesticide use. We thought about how to apply advances in AI and robotics that were already being used in other sectors such as medicine, education, or transportation to the agricultural sector. Our mission is to help farmers answer society's call for more sustainable agricultural practices. 

Looking back on your early days, what is one decision you got absolutely right?

One thing we got right was having the courage to tackle a very real — but also extremely huge and complex — problem: to make agriculture more sustainable. Farming has yet to benefit from AI and automation in the same way as other industries, and we saw promise in bringing these next-gen technologies to this massive global industry. Food is elemental to everyone, everywhere, so, for us, helping farmers is not just a business challenge, but a societal goal. 

What is one milestone you’re particularly proud of?

Gaining the trust of the largest and most famous vegetable farmers in the US to implement our automated, AI-driven robotic weeding tractors, and getting our first check for a weeding job in January 2019. We continue to add more farms at a rapid pace to our roster of customers looking for highly accurate, automated weeding. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a new founder, what would it be?

Figure out a system to iterate quickly, even if you are building hardware. Don’t be afraid to build things that might not scale, but don’t end up trying to scale things that just won't scale.

Who do you admire and why?

Investor Ray Dalio for his deep understanding of how people and the world work, President Emmanuel Macron for his sense of purpose, and Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman for his unapologetic way to push people beyond their comfort zone to achieve great things. 

What does success mean for you?

Making a world-scale impact on the reduction of chemicals used in farming, and making a world-scale impact on the cost of healthy, sustainable foods produced with a minimum impact on the environment. 

How did you land your first paying customer?

Through hacking a prototype in a garage in San Francisco with my co-founder and our first two employees, and performing a field demo on the customer field while fixing bugs in real-time from the (literally) field. 

What did you learn from your first paying customer?

That consistency, convenience, and reliability are what matter most to most farmers, before price.