by Y Combinator8/19/2016
Raptor Maps helps produce farmers grow more and better crops using drones and tractor-mounted sensors. In doing so, they’ve created an affordable system for farmers to perform controlled experiments on their farm to know exactly where the good crop came from and why. We sat down with Nikhil Vadhavkar and Eddie Obropta to talk about what they’re building.
What YC Likes About Raptor Maps:
“Farming is a large industry that can benefit from the latest innovations of drone and mapping software from Raptor Maps. Better real-time information leads to better output and more profit for farmers and buyers.”
-Dalton Caldwell, Partner at Y Combinator
YC : So what is Raptor Maps? Nikhil: In farming, both quantity and quality matter. This is especially true for fruits and vegetables. For every damaged piece of produce you put back on the shelf, several didn’t make the cut. We help farmers produce better crops using drones and sensors.
We fly a drone over fields at critical times during the growing season, and map out the plants. At the beginning of the growing season, we’re measuring what percentage of plants popped out of the ground. As the season progresses, we’re detecting insects, diseases, and nutrient deficiencies. Finally, we directly measure the quality of crops as they are being harvested, so farmers know the conditions that will maximize crop yield.
YC : How did farmers gauge how their crops were doing before? Eddie: The work is mostly manual or anecdotal. Farmers choose a certain portion of their plot and dig up all the crops there. So for potatoes, they will dig up a 10 foot strip and count the number of potatoes. That represents 0.001% of the field, and they multiply out to represent the entire field. The problem with this approach is that different parts of their farmland will have different soil, terrain, chemical applications, and even weather–all of which affects yield. So for that method they have to choose the right piece of land, or their measurements will be off. Since this can be the difference between profit and loss, it’s critical we help them get it right.
YC : There aren’t many startups that target farmers. What has your experience been like working with them? Nikhil: One thing that surprised me was the scale of their operations. Most farmers are brilliant business people managing complex systems. They expand into higher margin crops while remaining diversified in order to manage risk. Some of them even create their own SKU numbers to market their produce. Farmers are extremely busy, and they don’t make impulse purchases, so community engagement is critical.
Eddie: We haven’t just been working with farmers. We also worked with a state inspector who assesses potato fields for particular diseases that may affect the food supply. The speed at which he’s able to diagnose crops is pretty incredible–he’s a potato savant. We’ve been shadowing him and learning a lot of techniques that we are integrating into our software.
YC : That’s pretty awesome. It sounds like you’ve really looped in a lot of different people in the industry. Nikhil: Yeah, their response has been really positive. Especially the Maine Potato Board, which is..
YC : Wait, Potato Board?! Nikhil: Yeah, they’re kind of like the Parthenon of potatoes. They’ve been reaching out to farmers on our behalf and updating them on what we’ve been doing. One grower actually let us use his packing shed as our office. They all know that this technology is coming and they appreciate that we’re including them in the process.
YC : What’s your long-term vision for Raptor Maps? Nikhil: We want to help farmers around the globe to test, optimize, and iterate faster. They will produce more, higher quality crops in an efficient manner in order to meet the demands of a growing population.
Y Combinator created a new model for funding early stage startups. Twice a year we invest a small amount of money ($150k) in a large number of startups (recently 200). The startups move to Silicon