Wave Makers

Honing in on the right market

Antony Martin is a co-founder of Hone. Find out how he and his team have made the transition from technologists to company builders, and have leaned on Tidal to narrow the business' focus and set it up for success.

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31 Mar 2022 · 4 min read

When you’re sitting on some really smart technology with loads of potential applications, what do you do? You choose one market vertical first, and focus on it. For Hone, it’s Agtech.

According to government and industry sources, Australia’s Agtech sector is predicted to be worth $100 billion by 2030, and companies like Hone are at the bleeding edge of this rapid growth.

We recently spoke to one of Hone’s founders, Antony Martin, and he revealed the team’s journey from necessity, through invention, to market identification. Here’s their story and how Tidal got involved.

Starting with the problem

Hone co-founders and scientists Antony Martin, Will Palmer and Jamie Flynn have known each other for years, and worked together at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI). It was while working together on a research project about biofuels, they found themselves out in a blistering hot field of sorghum, wishing there was an easier way to get the data they needed.

With months of sample processing and analysis ahead of them, including hundreds of lab hours, they came up with a part of the answer: let’s analyze the samples faster using spectroscopy.

A simple definition of spectroscopy is that it measures the interaction of light with the chemical make-up of samples. In practical terms, a spectrometer can quickly tell the difference in quality between different sorghum varieties. So the team hacked together a solution using off-the-shelf components, mathematics, and a unique methodology, and began processing their samples in record time.

It occurred to them that if it could do that for sorghum, it could do that for other crops as well. And so Hone started.

Hone co-founders Dr Antony Martin, centre, with Dr Jamie Flynn, (left), and Dr William Palmer (right)

Hone co-founders Dr Antony Martin, centre, with Dr Jamie Flynn, (left), and Dr William Palmer (right)

From faster labs to field tech

One of their early customers was a rice breeding institute in the Philippines. In two weeks, the team had processed 60,000 test results and provided data that would have taken years for the institute to get processed manually. Not satisfied with just fast processing, the team set about making a device to collect data on the spot, from the crop, soil and grain, cutting out the lab altogether.

That’s where things really changed for Hone. From scientists using technology, they became technology builders themselves and sought backing for their ideas.

Tidal entered the picture after a few smaller and one larger angel investor had already taken the lead. It was through one of the angel contacts at the HMRI, that Grant McCarthy was introduced to Hone and the relationship began.

From tech builders to company builders

While not an inexperienced team by the time Tidal came on board as investors, Hone was ready to go from a science tech business to a growth company. “They came in and worked with us on the foundations of the business, particularly on the commercial side and the go to market strategy”. Both Grant and Wendell Keuneman were involved in the early days, “getting their hands dirty and helping out with pricing, identifying customers and really working out who we were trying to serve.”

Hone’s technology can be adapted for use in multiple industries, and they started out with a wide testing field. “I think that there was definitely a sort of aha moment there where it was like, this is not scalable to try and develop every application under the sun.”

Knowing they had to focus, Tidal helped them narrow in on the AgTech vertical before scaling into others. “Wendell, especially, helped us set up our processes around software teams and how we deliver products.”

They called him the “whiteboard warrior” and many sessions were held to discuss “how we were structuring things, how we were thinking about the business, and how to scale the team up.”

Hone's in-field testing device

Hone's in-field testing device

The learning and commercial curve

“People tell you stories about VCs”, Antony says. “They say be careful who you bring on. But we have always found Tidal very supportive. They really understand what we're going through. They've seen it all before and have the best intentions to help us get to the next level.”

Hone is currently emerging from what Antony describes as an engineering and R&D  phase, to a new commercial phase. And Grant is a “wealth of knowledge when it comes to that.” Apart from sitting on the board, he has been “pulled into offsite planning sessions, advising on the business roadmap, the org structure, capabilities, and culture.”

“Learning and doing well at the same time is hard”, Antony remarks. “We’ve got to learn fast while building up the commercial side of the business.” Since coming on board, Grant and Wendell have “always been there to advise on the strategic direction of the business.”

When asked about the learning curve, Antony responded, “we thrive on the process of learning. We want to operate in a mode of constant reflection and constant learning, so that we constantly improve.”

No limit to scale

The selection of Agtech as the focus vertical is meaningful to Antony and his team. And the focus on primary crop data is significant. “Primary data inputs are a rare commodity in agriculture and really help the farmer maximize the productivity of their crop and their land.”

It’s the same with VCs. Choose one that helps you achieve your primary goal. Or in Antony’s words, “if you’re going to get in bed with a VC, choose someone who's there to support you and the business, and help you through all the difficult things. Find one focused on founders, rather than just providing money.”

By honing in on their primary market, Hone is on track to develop countless other applications for their tech. Starting with the whole farming lifecycle and encompassing soil health, regenerative agriculture, carbon offset measurements, and moving into food and beverage testing, environmental monitoring, medical testing and more. Antony is excited about the possibilities, “I think if we can just nail it with one key vertical, the sky's the limit.”

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