It would be fair to say that Phil Chan is a city boy through and through. Growing up in Sydney, the extent of his exposure to rural life was Christmas visits to family properties near Lismore, where his mother grew up. So what was it that drew him to work in the agriculture industry? “It’s the fact that you get to work for real and honest people and make a genuine difference in their lives. I love doing work that is making a tangible difference to famers, and working towards solving a problem that affects all of us”.
“There is a big appreciation from farmers that we are taking our experience with tech and helping them improve efficiency on their farm and making the product the best it can be. It also makes a difference having customers that are willing to help us learn from their lived experiences and needs as well”.
The road to now
Prior to AgriWebb, Phil studied computer science at Macquarie University and has since worked in both startups and corporate businesses. In the late nineties Phil went to Seattle to be the second man, in what was then a two-man startup, that later went on to recruit over one hundred and sixty employees. This company was tasked with putting the internet on aeroplanes. He says the process of building a company from nothing has helped him during his time at AgriWebb, “some of the challenges I faced during that time have put me in good stead for those I have faced at AgriWebb. We have a very small piece of hardware in a resource constrained environment that has to function offline. You have to do a number of clever things to ensure the user feels as though they are having the full online experience, and that is something that we have had to work hard to achieve here at AgriWebb as well”.
Phil then worked at IBM for twelve years, where his role consisted of product architecture, and managing Development, Test, Support and IT across a number of regions for a product used by over a billion people. “This experience gave me an understanding of the breadth of what it takes to develop something that needs to function across different cultural settings, and has contributed massively to my role at AgriWebb. It’s hugely important to understand aspects of farming in the UK that are not directly applicable to AU farmers that the product needs to adapt to so it’s user-friendly for everyone”.
Phil’s current role sees him taking care of product and technology at AgriWebb. This includes talking to customers of all scales about how they can get the most out of the product, as well as helping them understand how data can improve their operation, and as a result he understandably says, “there’s never a dull moment!”.
Since starting at AgriWebb in 2015, there is one particular moment that stands out above the others. “The interaction I remember most was from the early days at AgriWebb. I wanted to implement a rotating roster for those that were on-call for customer support so that everyone in the team would have the same level of interaction and close relationships with our customers. It was probably the first call I took and it was about 6pm on a Friday afternoon on my way home on the train. I received a call from a customer and we chatted about the product as he had found a few small bugs he wanted us to resolve. In the middle of his sentence he paused saying ‘Phil just give me a minute’, and then proceeded to whistle at his dog to round up a mob of sheep. He was out in the middle of the paddock halfway through a mustering job. It was so exciting to me that he was so passionate about making AgriWebb the best it could be that he would call me in the middle of moving sheep. Seeing that our product was being used out in the paddock on a Friday afternoon by real farmers was really awesome. It’s always stuck with me, I’ll never forget that one”.
The AgriWebb difference
So, what sets AgriWebb apart from other workplaces in Phil’s eyes? “We are obsessed with our customers and their success. We have all come from a different background, yet we are united by a passion for our customers and what they do. Because we are all from such different backgrounds across all levels of the business we have this great marriage of creativity, lived experience from those who have grown up on farms, and people from tech backgrounds with decades of experience building software”.
The future of Agriculture
When asked about the future of agriculture Phil is honest, admitting that there are lots of tough times ahead due to the constraints and demands on the industry. “We have to double our food production to support global demand, with the same amount of land whilst lowering emissions and carbon footprint, and that’s a really hard thing to do. I’m willing to admit that occasionally in the past it has been hard for me to imagine how a small company based in Sydney can make a real difference to this enormous problem, but the key is just to chip away at it piece-by-piece. We have a responsibility to present people with ways to improve their farming practices by using data and sustainable farming methods, in order to solve this problem we are all facing. Ultimately there needs to be tangible benefits to farmers to make the changes. Ideally, we can be a tool to facilitate awareness in these areas, and have an impact on the broader agriculture ecosystem to benefit the farmer in multiple ways.
“I hate to say it as it sounds cliché, but farmers really are the nicest people to work for and with. It’s rewarding to work hard everyday to make a difference in someone’s life, that will ultimately impact your own”.