No doubt farmers dig the network, which costs $600 per year to be a member. It took Baron and the team about 14 months to add it’s first million acres, but now he says the network is adding about two million acres monthly. Just last month, they entered Canada and already have more than a million acres in Canada alone. “What used to take us over a year to do now takes about two-and-a-half or three weeks,” Baron adds. “These are really advanced and innovative family operated farms out there.” In all, the amount of farmland on the network currently totals 20 million acres — about the same size of South Carolina, the 35th largest state. Or, a West Virginia and two Delawares, Baron laughs. Every square meter of that land is being analyzed by FBN and is part of the crowdsourced data.
FBN has also hired more than 340 employees — over 100 of which were hired in the past six months. Over the last 12 months, Baron says, about 50 hires have been directly out of college, mainly from agriculture schools around the Midwest. Many train in the company’s Sioux Falls, South Dakota, office before going back to their hometowns to help local farmers with the platform. And that’s what sets FBN apart from many of the other companies on this list and other VC-backed Silicon Valley-headquartered ventures. While tech Goliaths like SoFi, Google, or Facebook flood the Bay Area and other urban areas with economic boosts, FBN operates mainly in rural American and Canada. “The vast majority of our hiring and investment is in rural areas,” Baron says before ticking off towns and communities like Sioux Falls, Great Falls, Montana, Mankato, Minnesota, Grand Island Nebraska, Hastings, Kearney, Nebraska. In fact, with more than 60 employees, the Sioux Falls office is bigger than the Silicon Valley office.
“This is a technology that benefits rural communities. And the innovation and economic gain from the technology all accrues back in rural pockets,” Baron says. “These are tech jobs directly in rural communities. This is taking tech dollars from Google and investing them directly into farmers and rural communities.”
BRINGING 100% ORGANIC COTTON TAMPONS STRAIGHT TO THE FRONT DOOR
While Baron and team work to improve the lives of farmers, Jordana Kier and her co-founder, Alex Friedman are setting out to change the lives of women by upending the feminine care market with their company, LOLA. Kier, who graduated from Columbia Business School in 2014, was a manager of artistic planning at the New York Opera before starting the full-time MBA program in the fall of 2012. She got her first taste in the startup world interning as a finance associate for Quidsi the summer between her first and second year at Columbia. During her second year, Kier spent two days a week interning at Rent the Runway, which was founded by Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss — both Harvard Business School grads. “It gave me a front seat into a growing successful startup that was pushing boundaries on fashion,” Kier tells Poets&Quants.
The idea for LOLA came during the excruciating process of campus recruiting. “I just wasn’t sure I was ever going to be someone who would want to go to work at a big company,” Kier admits. “And those were the sort of companies that were coming on campus to recruit.” But she went through the process anyway. Kier recalls putting on a suit and memorizing a specific company’s balance sheet, filling a folder with what seemed like a hundred copies of her resume.
During the process, she was lamenting to her boyfriend and now-husband about the process. The conversation soon turned to what consumer products annoyed Kier most. “We were riffing on what made me frustrated as a consumer and tampons were the first thing that came to mind,” Kier remembers. Soon, instead of campus recruiting, Kier was spending the majority of her time and energy researching tampons and other menstrual products like pads, while weighing the idea of creating a online subscription delivery service for 100% organic cotton tampons, pads, and liners. It was an exciting business opportunity, Kier thought, but more than that, she was personally passionate about it. By March of her second year, she definitely knew she wouldn’t recruit for more traditional companies and industries and a manager at Rent the Runway encouraged her to give it a try — if only for a few months to test it out. Soon after, Kier was in Europe meeting with manufacturers that would eventually end up creating the products for LOLA.
“I didn’t really have an industrial design background — I didn’t really have any business creating products,” Kier says. That said, I had been a tampon user for 15 years. I knew what was the right product for me and what wasn’t and what women might want.”
Once back to the U.S., Kier went for it. She began conducting focus groups and market research. She also met her co-founder, Friedman, a Wharton grad. Kier was able to leverage her time spent in Columbia’s Startup Lab as well as basic business courses to propel the company. “I had never built sophisticated Excel models,” Kier says. “I had never taken an accounting course. It was just really helpful to create a foundation around business acumen.”
Now, LOLA is operating in all 50 states in the U.S., and has raised $11.2 million, placing it 47th on this year’s Top MBA Startups list.
RENTING AND DELIVERING BRIDESMAID DRESSES IN ALL 50 STATES
Similar to LOLA, Kelsey Doorey had a last minute professional change just before graduating from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. After an early consulting career, Doorey also went to work at Rent the Runway. Knowing she eventually wanted to start a company, she chose Anderson’s full-time MBA program to round out her business skill set. During her summer between MBA years, Doorey interned at Bloomingdales and accepted a full-time offer after completing the internship.
Then, as a goodbye hurrah, Doorey decided to “pitch for fun” a business plan she had used for class projects during her two years at Anderson in the Knapp Venture Competition hosted by UCLA Anderson. She won. And two of the five judges were venture capitalists and offered her funding on the spot. “It was probably the smallest checks they have ever written,” Doorey deadpans. “But it was still funding.”
It was May and Doorey was set to graduate and move back to New York for the position with Bloomingdales. But she also had this business idea of an online rental and delivery service for bridesmaid dresses. It meant leaving a high paying secure job on the East Coast, where Doorey was originally from for a big unknown in Los Angeles. After spending the whole summer weighing the decision and going back and forth, it was a network of influential women that led Doorey to take the leap and ultimately start Vow to be Chic.
First, Doorey’s mother, who was pro-startup from the get-go promised to help pay for rent if Doorey burnt through all of her savings and ended up failing. Then it was UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian, who introduced her to Susan Feldman, another Anderson grad and founder of One Kings Lane. The meeting with Feldman is what eventually led Doorey to go for it. And it’s something she says there is not enough of. “We need to push more and more women to get outside of their comfort zones and try it out,” Doorey says of launching a company.
Now, Doorey says, Vow to be Chic is having “strong healthy” growth rates and is shipping to every state in the nation.