Did you know that 20% of new small businesses or start-ups fail in the first year, according to Forbes? About 30% more fail by the fifth year in business. And by year 10? Only one in three will still exist. So what makes TerraMax, an ag tech company that makes defined microbial products that provide nutritional aid to plants and improve soil health, successful?
After all, TerraMax has not only survived but grown exponentially over its 23-year existence. As national sales manager Josh Doerr says, “We have a steady track record of success in an industry that does not have a steady track record of success.”
At the end of the day, TerraMax’s success can be distilled into two core reasons: The science works, and the people are genuine.
The science speaks for itself
Farmers use TerraMax’s microbial products because they work. New customers hear about these products through word of mouth, and then become loyal customers.
The products are specific
“We work with defined microbials, versus throwing a bunch of bugs in a jug and hoping they work,” says Doerr. Bugs, in this case, being microbes. TerraMax uses Azospirillum and rhizobia bacteria in their products. Other companies might throw 20 or so microbes into their solution and maybe a few of them work. The folks at TerraMax have decades of research behind their products, and they know which microbes work and exactly what they’ll do when applied in the field. As TerraMax CEO Doug Kremer says, “It’s simple science, simple nature. Not oversimplified, mind you. It’s not a gimmick. Our products do what we say they do.”
In Kremer’s view, it’s foolish to make promises your products can’t keep. “Biology will stub your toe for you anyways,” he says.
They’re easy to use
Farmers often have to mix a few different jugs together to get an effective microbial inoculant product. TerraMax puts everything a grower needs into one container, where their unique stabilization formula maintains the product’s effectiveness. TerraMax also provides options that fit into farmers’ current operations and practices, depending on their needs. They offer liquid and dry versions of their products, with multiple ways to apply them to crops.
“The product has to have a return for the growers,” explains TerraMax COO Tom Proepper. “One of our key differentiators has always been that we are super science-focused, and what we do has to be able to improve a farmer’s output.” TerraMax products fit into what farmers are already doing, where about one-third of growers already use inoculation. The remaining two-thirds is where Doerr is looking to expand. “There’s a huge market opportunity for us. It’s just a matter of continuing to grow.”
Genuine products, genuine people
In an age where consumers are bombarded by companies pushing their messages, how does a company stand out? Why do growers choose TerraMax over competitors?
There’s no shortage of clever advertising that can make questionable products seem like the solution to a farmer’s problems. Doerr laments the “snake oil companies” that made promises their products couldn’t keep. TerraMax doesn’t promise that its products will be perfect 100% of the time, but they have years of research and data to demonstrate what their loyal customers know. As Doerr puts it, “Over 90% of people who try our products and use them win.”
TerraMax’s answer over the past 23 years has always been to be genuine. “We spend the money and time to ensure third-party testing facilities test our products,” Doerr says. “It’s not just our word and our lab.” The result is years of data that TerraMax provides to the customer, so they can see how the science works before ever trying their products.
The company culture
“That genuine feeling starts with Doug,” says Doerr, “and trickles down. We do things differently, and we’ve been proving that year after year. We genuinely care about the farmer, the grower, the distributor — whoever it is that we’re talking to. We do everything with them in mind.”
True to form, TerraMax doesn’t have a team of investors who want to exact a certain result from the company’s products. Proepper explains, “This is not inexpensive science, and many companies that get into this space might think they will make a lot of money, and so they make a lot of commitments. They are then forced into some decisions that are more profit-motivated than for the good of the product or customer.”
“We haven’t raised our prices in at least four years, because it continues to get harder for farmers,” says Doerr. “I’m sure we’re leaving money on the table, but one of the things that sets us apart is our care. We’re not just out there to make money.”
Care for the customers and for the TerraMax team has sustained them over the decades. Multiple people who have been part of the company from the very beginning are still there. “That’s what great about this company,” Doerr says. “Everybody loves to be there and loves to be a part of it. That’s a testament to what we’re doing.”