- Patrick Henry is a serial entrepreneur who has been CEO of five different companies with multiple exits, including an IPO on NASDAQ with a $1 billion valuation.
- His company, GroGuru, helps farmers increase crop yield and more efficiently use water and other scarce resources sustainably.
- Patrick says disruptive innovation is a 10X: a 10 times improvement in performance or a 10X reduction in cost, total cost of ownership, or some combination of this.
Entrepreneurs who bring disruptive innovation face many challenges and difficulties. They need a clear vision and a solid commitment to their goals. They must endure hardships and sacrifices without giving up or losing sight of their purpose.
Patrick Henry, President and CEO of GroGuru, is one such entrepreneur. He leads an exciting AgTech company that aims to transform the way we grow crops by using an innovative IoT system for precision irrigation and soil monitoring and management. He believes that water and food are the most strategic resources for humanity and that we need to grow them sustainably and efficiently.
Patrick has a rich and diverse background in the tech industry. Before GroGuru, he held the CEO roles at QuestFusion, Entropic Communications, Pictos Technologies, and LinCom Wireless. Henry also worked as a senior executive at several high-profile Silicon Valley tech companies, including AMD, LSI Logic, and C-Cube Microsystems. He raised over $200 million in equity financing for his companies and directly participated in over $2 billion of M&A transactions in his career.
Patrick’s achievements have not gone unnoticed. He has received numerous awards and accolades, such as the 2008 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, the San Diego Daily Transcript 2008 Top Influentials, and the 2011 San Diego Business Journal Most Admired CEO. He has also mentored other entrepreneurs through his involvement at EvoNexus and Chairman’s Roundtable.
Patrick is not only a successful entrepreneur but also a critically acclaimed author. His book, PLAN COMMIT WIN: 90 Days to Creating a Fundable Startup, has won several awards and been on best-seller lists.
Mirror Review recently interviewed Henry, who says “There is nothing more strategic than water and food. We cannot live without them.” “We need to grow the food in such a way that we do not destroy the planet in the process. This is about sustainability and being good stewards of scarce resources.”
(The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.)
Mirror Review: The founding story of GroGuru is unique, with the combination of expertise in wireless communication and sensor technologies for agriculture. Could you share some specific challenges and the need for a solution that led to the inception of GroGuru?
Patrick: GroGuru was founded in 2014. It was the result of two paths coming together. Our founder, Farooq Anjum, Ph.D., was a system engineering director at a startup focused on wireless communication for what is now known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
He was having trouble growing things in his garden and was looking for a solution. He realized that we need to have enough fresh water to drink and grow crops, and enough nutritious food to feed the planet. Therefore, he met another of our co-founders, Jeff Campbell, Ph.D., who had over 20 years of experience developing sensor technologies for commercial agriculture.
However, one afternoon, Jeff was in a cornfield knee-deep in mud, working to remove a soil sensor. He thought to himself, “There must be a better way!” Consequently, Jeff and Farooq joined forces with me to have GroGuru focus on solutions addressing the most critical issues on the planet.
Mirror Review: The rapid payback period of less than one growing season is advantageous for farmers. How does GroGuru work with farmers to ensure they experience this quick return on their investment, and what support systems are in place to address any potential challenges during implementation?
Patrick: We know that any solution we sell to farmers needs to be easy to implement and use, reliable, supported by a trusted advisor network, deliver a solid ROI (return on investment), and have a rapid payback period. Therefore, we make sure that GroGuru’s solutions meet all these criteria.
Our end customers are farmers. They are smart, hard-working, tech-savvy, business-minded, and practical. Farming is hard. Making money is hard. GroGuru’s solutions help farmers increase crop yield and use water and other scarce resources more efficiently and sustainably.
GroGuru does continuous root zone monitoring and uses artificial intelligence, or AI, in the cloud to make recommendations to farmers about when and how much to irrigate for optimal results. The use of the GroGuru system can improve long-term soil health and help monitor and optimize regenerative agriculture and sustainability practices.
As a result, our solutions typically provide farmers with a 10-20 percent increase in crop yield and a 10-20 percent savings on input costs, including water. Farmers typically get a 6-8X ROI (return on investment) every year from using GroGuru. The payback period is less than one growing season.
Mirror Review: The analogy of managing differently when “building houses” versus when the “house is on fire” is intriguing. Could you share some examples of how you adapted your management style based on the circumstances, and how these adaptations contribute to the success of GroGuru?
Patrick: Being the CEO of a startup means you are in charge of finance, marketing, sales, operations, and human resources. You are also the chief ‘bottle washer’ and head ‘cheerleader’. You have to set the strategy and direction of the company and drive operational excellence on the right priorities to achieve the vision.
However, when you have an expert team with a shared vision, like we have at GroGuru, collaboration is the best approach. But there must be a final decision maker. Especially at fast-moving tech companies, not making a decision can be worse than making a decision and then course-correcting along the way. Therefore, having a bias toward action is essential, and analysis paralysis can be deadly.
I am more interested in setting goals based on what needs to be accomplished, and letting the team decide how to accomplish the goals. I have been fortunate to have exceptionally talented and specialized men and women on my management teams over the years.
Moreover, when a team has shared values of execution excellence, customer focus, integrity, tenacity, patience, perseverance, and servant leadership, things tend to work out. Getting the right people on the team who have the right market domain, and technical, and business expertise is key.
Mirror Review: Hiring not just for skill set but for values is an interesting approach. Could you share some insights into the specific values that are prioritized when hiring for GroGuru, and how these values align with the company’s mission and culture?
Patrick: Having a shared vision is essential for culture. We value integrity, work ethic, commitment to excellence, customer focus, collaboration, mutual respect, perseverance, and a focus on the big picture while working on the details.
Our leadership team is dedicated to the success of GroGuru. We have a shared vision and see what we are doing as important for farmers and the planet. It takes time to build a great company, and the GroGuru team is experienced and skilled in what it takes.
GroGuru has assembled a team of experts with the right business, technical, and market domain expertise to build a business in the agriculture market. The required business expertise includes partnership development, market channel development, complex sales strategy, and product positioning.
Technical expertise includes wireless communication, software, hardware, system engineering, electronics manufacturing, data science, and crop science. The team also has significant experience in marketing and selling to farmers.
Mirror Review: What are the biggest challenges you faced in your entrepreneurial journey, and how did you overcome them?
Patrick: One of the biggest challenges I faced was taking a company public on NASDAQ during the beginning of the financial crisis in December 2007.
Then, I had to run a public company and navigate all the challenges during the subsequent 18 months. However, I managed to drive the company to a $1.2 billion valuation after trading close to our cash balance in the first quarter of 2009.
Mirror Review: What are your plans for scaling up GroGuru, and what are you most excited about in 2024?
Patrick: GroGuru is on a path to revolutionize the agriculture industry. We want to provide a solution that does a better job of controlling the crop and the field processes and delivers an automated solution for water management.
However, we are not just focused on technology development. We also develop ecosystem partnerships to leverage other best-in-class technologies. GroGuru has a patented wireless underground system, WUGS, which enables the permanent installation of soil sensors, thus providing continuous long-term soil data at the root zone of the crop.
Moreover, GroGuru has combined crop science and data science in the cloud, and its AI engine provides an expert agronomist in the cloud to make recommendations to farmers. GroGuru has partners that provide weather forecasts, rainfall, as-applied information from the irrigation system, crop models, and whole-farm management systems. GroGuru has also developed key market channel partnerships in its target markets.
Mirror Review: How do you achieve a perfect work-life balance? What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
Patrick: I have been running tech companies for over 20 years and tech businesses as part of bigger companies before that. I am very efficient. I integrate my life and business, and as a startup CEO, I need to be always available, flexible, adaptive, and focused. Therefore, I balance my life by integrating my work and personal activities. Even on vacations, when I take them, I am still ready for critical things and emergencies.
Moreover, I like to work out almost every day, pray/meditate/read daily, plan a week ahead and a day ahead, keep up on emails/texts/communications, and listen to customers. I enjoy playing golf, tennis, and snow skiing. I love hanging out with friends and my adult kids. Life is good.
Mirror Review: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to follow in your footsteps and make a difference in the world?
Patrick: My advice is to listen and involve others in the decision-making process, even if it slows you down a bit. Building a shared vision is key.
However, you still need to have a bias toward action, but not get too far ahead of the team. Otherwise, it will be hard for them to see where you are going, why you are going there, and why what they are doing is critical.
Also Read: The 10 Most Disruptive Entrepreneurs of 2024