One of the first things that 90,000 of America's farmers do every morning--after milking the cows, of course--is log on to Ted Farnsworth's Web site, Farmbid.com. Launched last year, Farmbid.com is the first comprehensive site where farmers can find commodity news, forecasts, futures prices, information about herbs, the latest jokes, as well as access to 20,000 products.
The site's main attraction, though, is its auctions, which allow busy farmers to bid on equipment, tools, chemicals, seeds, veterinary drugs and even baby piglets without ever leaving the homestead. Before long, farmers also will be able to learn about the latest legislation, research sources of disaster relief, and discover whether a vendor has an item in stock and how quickly it can be delivered.
With 70 percent of farmers between the ages of 25 and 45 logging on to the Net, the time is ripe for a site like Farmbid.com, its 37-year-old creator believes. "At one time, the most important piece of farm equipment was a tractor. Today, it's a laptop and the Net," says Farnsworth, who operates the business from an office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, along with 27 employees.
The business is an outgrowth of Farnsworth's previous venture, an auction site called Infospot.com. But when he realized it probably wasn't a bright move to go head-to-head with the likes of Amazon.com and eBay, this nephew of New York state dairy farmers decided to target a niche largely ignored by other netpreneurs.
Farnsworth's first step was to commission Arthur Andersen for market research, then he turned to family and friends for $4 million in start-up capital. They hooted with laughter but gave him the money.
Farnsworth attracts site traffic by attending agricultural trade shows and talking to farmers. So far, the
approach seems to be working. The site is getting 7 million hits a month from 90,000 farmers in the United States, China, Russia and other countries.
Farmbid earns more than $60,000 a month in sales, most of that coming from the 5 percent commission it receives on auction items. That's hardly chicken feed, but Farnsworth already is hatching plans for an IPO to take place sometime this year.
Pamela Rohland, a writer from Bernville, Pennsylvania, completes stories for Start-Ups and other national publications with assistance from her four cats.