As most entrepreneurs will agree, launching a new business takes a ridiculous amount of hard work and determination. For Share.Farm founder and CEO Vincent Peak, more than four years in the U.S. Marines as a scout sniper certainly helped build his grit and willingness to embrace a challenge.
He’s directing that focus to a Spokane-based startup that’s building a digital, location-based marketplace that keeps farmers markets running all year long in the virtual realm, connecting vendors to nearby customers.
His vision is an e-commerce platform that will become “a gig economy for farms and food: the first ‘slow food’ sharing ecosystem,” Peak said.
While still studying biology at Whitworth University, he teamed up with fellow student Eric Kobe to develop the idea for Share.Farm. The business launched in 2015, and Kobe is the company’s chief sales officer.
“We had been polling local sellers and surveying customers for a few years before we began testing the application in a beta version,” Peak said. “We knew we could change the way farmers market vendors and customers interacted by providing direct access for distributors and market sellers.”
This week, Share.Farm will be one of 10 startups being supported by CoMotion at the University of Washington to make their pitch to regional investors at what’s called DubPitch. Share.Farm is a member of CoMotion Labs @ Spokane, a virtual startup lab.
Last month, Peak won an audience-judged pitch event in Spokane called Founders Live.
After six months in beta, the startup released their app in August and 900 customers have downloaded it. Some 137 sellers have signed up — though only 12 of them are currently active. Peak expects that to pick up as farmers markets close for the season. The app is free for vendors to use, and Share.Farm adds a 13 percent fee to customers’ orders. Vendors are encouraged to discount the price of their goods to make them cost-competitive.
The Share.Farm team includes developers Chris Brewer and Michael Tobias, and Spokane venture capitalist Marcelo Morales is an advisor and leads strategic vision.
Peak hopes by the end of 2018 to expand beyond Spokane, signing on sellers in Yakima and Wenatchee, plus recruiting new customers in Seattle and Tacoma. Customers can pick up the items directly from the vendor, or vendors can arrange for multiple customers to meet at a convenient location, or they can deliver the goods. The items can also be shipped, and Share.Farm is interested in exploring the delivery service Uber Eats.
The startup faces significant competition in the digital realm — a quick web search pops up multiple sites — but Peak is confident that their app has an edge by connecting sellers and buyers based on proximity and features that encourage customer loyalty and a rating system for sellers. He doesn’t view farmers markets themselves as competition, but says that Share.Farm will extend their reach.
While building a startup is hard work, Peak is committed. “One must embrace the struggle, the ups and the downs, and persevere or you will not achieve your goal,” he said.
We caught up with Peak for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We have created a digital marketplace for local, curated produce and goods and offer those items at a lower cost so community members can find sellers and shop directly from their neighbors, benefiting the local economy.
Inspiration hit us when: I launched a business selling products made from native plants for medicinal and other uses, and quickly realized that the goods sold at farmers markets were not accessible to customers year-round given the producers’ lack of brick-and-mortar stores. Commercializing the products for retail sale was often too costly. I wanted to create a digital product to help people sell their goods all year. I envisioned a platform that allowed for graded vendor reviews, customer feedback and continual access to the items found at the farmers markets — produce, meats, artisan goods, prepared meals, etc. I wanted to make it easy for entrepreneurs as well as current food distributors to participate.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrapping. Until recently, I was working full-time and spending four to five hours per night on the app to stay on top of daily tasks, as well as dedicating weekends to the endeavor. We acquired pre-seed funding in April from a Spokane company called Mind to Market (which has a partnership with UW CoMotion Labs), helping us finish our minimum viable product and generate traction. At this stage, we are ready to begin pitching in Seattle for our seed round, with a goal of raising $500,000.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We pride ourselves on our proprietary search algorithm and our provisional patent, which is the core of the app. Our marketplace is “geo-fenced” allowing sellers and buyers to find suppliers based on proximity. That generates automated marketing and customer acquisition. This technology gives us the opportunity to license our software to other marketplace companies.
And the app has great benefits for consumers, like a tiered rewards program, access to what local chefs are buying, recipes and loyalty rewards for purchasing through Share.Farm. We are asking people to refer their favorite local sellers to the app so others can benefit from their products.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: We attended an accelerator in Spokane called Ignite Northwest that moved the needle for us in the early stages. It helped us find a market fit for our product, as well as making connections that offered professional advice and mentoring.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Iterating new features each time we received a request. In the beginning, we wasted time by building out numerous features that were not pertinent to our base model. My advice is to stick to your minimum features and find the customer willing to buy that product. Keep testing and adding new features as you go in small iterations until you create the fully developed application.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? CEO Jordan Allen from Stay Alfred. He’s an Airborne Ranger, a veteran who left the service to pursue his vision of launching his vacation rental company. He was educated as a manager of enterprise and facing a myriad of obstacles, he worked hard to validate his model and prove his concept. As a veteran myself, I understand a disciplined and committed mindset.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Honestly, we enjoy working out together in the morning. It’s a daily habit for us to get together and break a sweat. We’re very active and love to get out in the sun, which helps us think and collaborate. Our focus is eating well and being active, and that aligns with our mission of supporting healthy communities and environments.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: A person who fits our culture. We care about benefiting the environment while reducing our impact. We pay careful attention to the quality and kind of food that we consume. We want to hire people who are focused on their personal health and the well-being of the ecosystem.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Network and build a team that complements one another well. When we first started, we worked beyond our limited knowledge and resources. Going out and interacting with the startup community was our greatest advantage. Every day I resolved to set a meeting with someone new or attend a networking event or startup seminar and build from there. Networking and communicating are your strongest tools.