What is Amazon Web Services doing at an ag tech meeting? Cameron Holbrook, a farm boy from Utah, knows.
“We love agriculture and are excited to be here,” said Holbrook, self-described farm nerd and head of AWS Business Development for AgTech, at last week’s World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco.
When you think of Amazon you probably think about the books or kitchen gadgets you buy online. But AWS is a $26 billion component of Amazon, with year-over-year growth of 43% as of 2017.
According to this backgrounder at fourweekMBA, Amazon’s web services took root as far back as 2000 when Amazon was just a struggling e-commerce company trying to figure out how to scale up. By 2017 AWS was contributing 10% to the company’s revenue stream. Amazon can leverage its mighty server infrastructure capacity to provide web services for a host of industries at a fraction of what most companies might spend.
Amazon’s agriculture-based clients so far include an IoT platform for Bayer’s seed research team; Grainbridge, a collaboration between industry giants ADM and Cargill; and Figured, a New Zealand-based farm accounting company that now collaborates with several ag companies including Farm Credit Services of America. Farmobile, which strives to help farmers visualize data to make better in-season decisions, is also an AWS partner. Read more about that partnership here.
“Amazon historically has been focused on services, products, storage, IoT, security, analytics,” says Holbrook. “That’s where the majority of our head count and horsepower is. But our belief is if we’re going to keep growing in the future with the same trajectory we’ve had in the past 12 years, we need an industry focus as well.
“What we’re doing in agriculture is no different than what we’ve done in other industries that adopted the cloud much quicker, whether it be oil and gas, health care, gaming, auto, financial services – showing them how to use the cloud to meet their industry goals,” he says.
“Agriculture is increasing in complexity and data volume, so there’s a need for cloud utilization.”
Amazon culture: Everyone’s a leader
The company’s culture and leadership principles are one of the biggest reasons for Amazon’s growth, adds Holbrook. Some key take-aways could help any business leader, including farmers.
At the start of Amazon’s list is ‘customer obsession,’ and it ends with ‘deliver results’.
“Everyone of us is a leader on a mission,” he says. “Unless you know better ones, please be a leader. At Amazon if those leadership principles aren’t engrained in your DNA you’re not going to be a good fit.”
Another principle in Amazon culture: It’s okay to fail. One of the company’s biggest failures was Amazon’s first smart devices, the Fire Phone. “It hasn’t been discontinued but it’s been a pretty big flop so far,” says Holbrook. Amazon wrote off $170 million worth of unsold Fire Phones, ‘But the capabilities in that phone translated into one of our biggest successes -- the Amazon Echo.”
Likewise, Amazon once had an auction site called Amazon Auction, which competed head to head with E-Bay. Auction shut down eventually, but it helped the company launch its own online marketplace for third party vendors called Amazon Marketplace.
Amazon encourages autonomous teams and accountability. “One month on the job I called my boss and said, ‘We’ve got this big opportunity in Germany, we need to head out there and make some investments.’ He said, ‘Cameron, why are you calling me? I really care a lot but you are the CEO of your own business. You should have done this yesterday - go make it happen.’
“What I learned is, you run (your part of the company) like your business and you’re accountable for your good and bad decisions.”