April 9, 2019
Think of it as AirBnB for agriculture.
That’s how Trevor McKeeman describes his app HitchPin, which matches farmers looking for goods or services with other producers willing to supply them.
McKeeman, a native of Talmage in north-central Kansas, says he made a conscious decision to base the startup in Manhattan, Kan., and to recruit members of his team from Kansas State University.
“Some of the top minds in agriculture are located here. There is also a growing tech and startup environment,” he says. “I was raised farming in Kansas. The Midwest has a work ethic, understanding of food production and related technologies that is amazing.”
The HitchPin team has experience in agriculture, software development and policy. It is housed at the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization, an incubator for entrepreneurs with new technology or intellectual properties, but also draws talent from over five time zones.
McKeeman is familiar with K-State. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business there. After graduation, he worked in technology consulting, then moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a legislative aide to then-First District Rep. Jerry Moran. He returned to Kansas and founded his first technology company after earning a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He came home again to put his entrepreneurial skills to work, starting another tech company, Hidden Genius. Seeing the challenging farm economy firsthand caused McKeeman to accelerate development of HitchPin.
He says the goal of the company is to help farmers all along the spectrum who are struggling with the tough ag economy.
“There are a lot of farmers, like my dad, who don’t want to buy an expensive machine right now,” he says. “From an economic and labor perspective it makes more sense, for them, to hire the work done. Other farmers, including a lot of the younger guys who are trying to build their operations, bought newer equipment when commodity prices were high and now need to generate more revenue to pay for the equipment. We built HitchPin to connect these producers and help both sides.”
Using the HitchPin app, a farmer who wants a job done — say help harvesting — can see other producers in the area who are available based on time and service distance. The farmer then easily creates a digital map of the field or fields he wants harvested, gives each field a name, and the app automatically calculates the number of acres. A message is then sent to the service provider who can accept or decline the job. If he accepts, the payment is pulled from the buyer’s account, held in escrow, and is delivered directly to the seller’s bank account when the job is verified complete.
“What used to take a day of calling around trying to find help can now be done in 60 seconds,” McKeeman says.
He says the app can also help farmers during time-sensitive conditions such as the limited days available during the wet fall harvest of 2018.
“For some guys, being able to hire just one more combine or truck during the few days that were good for harvesting could have made the difference between getting the crop into the bin or having it still standing in the field,” he says.
PROMOTING HITCHPIN: Trevor McKeeman (left) and Kyle Riffel visited the 3i Show in March to explain how HitchPin works to show attendees.
Accounting is also simple using the app. The automatic payments and escrow account eliminate all of the paperwork and risk of not getting paid.
“For the provider, they don’t have to prepare or send an invoice or wait for a check,” he says. “That is a big help to custom harvesters and even who have all the expenses of fuel, labor, and equipment but often are not paid quickly. Without the cash flow, these harvesters risk going out of business waiting to get paid.”
McKeeman says his goal is to help more farmers stay on their land and in their rural communities. He is particularly excited that younger producers who want to farm but lack the resources might be able to use HitchPin to get their foot in the door and find the additional work that helps them pay for equipment, expand their operations, and acquire land. The additional revenue will also help make payments on operating loans at the bank.
The app also includes a rating system, which allows users to rate the quality of service they received. This gives young farmers a chance to build their reputation faster, and it raises the overall bar for quality of service, McKeeman says.
Beyond services, HitchPin also provides a market for sellers to list their hay and get paid quickly. Buyers can find what they need fast. The same escrow process is used to protect both buyer and seller.
“Right now, it is common to see the hay leave the field and not get paid for months,” McKeeman says. “HitchPin solves that problem with immediate payments.”
He says HitchPin currently allow producers to list their harvest services, and the app is expanding the number of other available services and products rapidly. “The technology and intellectual property to make this happen is really advanced,” McKeeman says. “But our goal is an easy to use app that truly helps farmers.”
The HitchPin app is free and can be downloaded on Apple’s App Store. Android and desktop computer users can also access it via the web at hitchpin.com. An Android-specific app will be released in the future. Listing and browsing for services and hay is free. The only time there is a fee is when there is a successful transaction and HitchPin transfers funds between buyer and seller.
McKeeman points out that agriculture has a long history of using new technology to become more efficient. To survive, farmers need to increase revenue or decrease costs, or both.
“We love seeing producers get excited about how HitchPin can help their farms. We’re the same way because we need it on our ow farms,” McKeeman says. “This is a practical app that can help today, and it will be a common tool for farmers and ranchers in the near future.”
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