Austin Johnson bet on fowl and hit a homer

This Entrepreneur of 2016 finalist connects poultry suppliers with customers

Austin Johnson

Founder, eFowl

Snapshot: As a fledgling entrepreneur, Austin Johnson eschewed the clichés of dreaming big, hitting a home run and swinging for the fences, opting instead for a baseball metaphor of his own: "Hit a single, and move out of my parents' basement."

And so he has, thanks to a savvy foray into the poultry industry. His Denver-based online marketplace, efowl.com, connects poultry suppliers and hatcheries with mail-order customers nationwide looking for chickens, waterfowl, turkeys and beyond. Customers, who include backyard chicken enthusiasts to small family and organic farms, can see the profile and background on the farms they’re ordering from, while efowl handles the communication transactional infrastructure to get orders fulfilled.

Advice to my younger self:  Consistently broaden horizons to the limitless minutia of our economy with the objective of seeking niches where there is an opportunity to apply modern technology, and improve the processes and industry as a whole. For me, personally, that thought process has led me to be focused on applying modern technology to sustainable agriculture. 

It is easy to interpret this "niche thyself" oriented advice as being small-minded with limited payoff. But I subscribe to the mindset of a small business owner more than that of a high-growth startup entrepreneur, favoring sustainable growth over a high payoff longshot. I wanted to operate a profit-generating business in the short-term. Once the business had niche marketplace traction, I could then adopt the strategy of expanding peripherally in that marketplace, gaining a larger and larger share. Modest and sustainable growth rates will yield a healthy, long-term business with strong payoffs. 

My biggest business challenge: It’s difficult to convince industry leaders and partners that technological adoption can improve processes and financial performance for all. Examples of this challenge can be found in cases as simple as an unwillingness to use email, or an over-reliance on transmitting transactional data via phone, fax, or snail mail. In agriculture, we are frequently met with dismissive statements such as, ‘We've been doing this for decades, this is just the way it is,” or, “I don't trust computers.” It’s a challenge to consistently balance the old world with the new. But this difficulty is ultimately the source of the marketplace opportunity. If it were easy, then the opportunity would be diminished by oversaturation. Many of our efforts are as simple as observing what is commonplace in more leading-edge industries and applying the concepts to agriculture. These can be concepts as simple as using a CRM system to manage inbound information requests from customers, or using cloud-hosted spreadsheets to transmit transactional data with vendors. Progress is steady, but the challenge – and the opportunity – remain.   

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