After growing up on his grandparents’ farm in rural Georgia, Josh Whitlock followed a career path into agriculture by becoming a watermelon broker. That means he was responsible for managing watermelon harvesting and packing operations from farms in southeastern Mexico all the way up to Delaware.
It wasn’t an easy job, given the geographic range of his produce and farms he worked with. The straw that broke his back, says Whitlock, was when a shipment went completely AWOL.
He had hired a trucker to transport a truckload of watermelons from Florida to a retailer in Indianapolis, but the contractor dropped off the radar for three days with his entire shipment. Many missed calls and a lost contract later, Whitlock was fed up with the outdated software and processes of produce logistics.
He, along with his co-founder Jacob Shepherd, built logistics solution Trackter to connect all participants in a produce transaction. “We’re tracking the location of the product and all the paperwork from the farm all the way through receiving — through the entire supply chain,” says Whitlock.
Trackter’s marketplace platform lets growers, buyers and shippers trade and track fresh produce and logistics services. Each party knows where the product is at all times through real-time notifications, eliminating situations like the costly watermelon fiasco Whitlock had to live through.
The platform and accompanying app also provides buyers a secure way to post bids and pay for merchandise.
“If I’m a grower, the platform starts collecting data from the moment that they’re planting on the field,” says Whitlock. “We have data partnerships with some of the sensor companies to track water management, fertilizers, and other inputs.” They also track food safety audits conducted at each produce facilities.
Whitlock says these predictive analytics features can help buyers predict harvest yield and produce quality to make better purchasing decisions.
The platform’s machine learning technology allows the buyer to see real-time pricing for current crops, as well as what the prices may be in the near future for advance purchasing. In other systems, buyers can generally only see what market reports were based on the day before.
Trackter partners with cooperatives to access the accounting data that farms have collected over the last 20 years in order to develop their predictive model for how many trucks each buyer will need. They even help growers establish contract rates with third-party logistics carriers.
“It’s really just about facilitating these transactions and leveraging all the data that’s collected through the supply chain to help buyers work better with the farmer,” says Whitlock.
The Georgia-based startup is starting with specialty crops, including watermelon, berries, squash, melons, and peppers. They’re planning to scale geographically first and then expand to other verticals. The team takes a transaction fee through the marketplace as revenue.
Growers, wholesalers and logistics providers are already on the platform, and they’re bringing in their first retailer in early 2019.
“We’re focusing on bringing more services to the growers in the supply chain. There are so many places that are losing money because they’re running independently. By using our cooperative end-to-end solution model, they can save money.”
Bootstrapped to this point, Trackter is looking to raise a $2 million seed round to expand its sales team and scale beyond the Southeast to the Midwest and California.