Tales of a Failed Agtech Startup: “Everyone thinks they’re an early adopter; few actually are”


The Poultry Exchange was a chicken meat marketplace founded by Janette Barnard in January 2016.  Barnard started the business after realizing the inefficiencies that exist in the spot market for chicken, which accounts for between 10% and 30% of the $60 billion chicken meat industry. 

The spot market is where suppliers sell the extra chicken they produce that’s not been purchased through the typical forward sales contracts they arrange with the big food companies.

Because the poultry industry is so integrated, the live birds go to the processing plant whether they’ve been pre-sold or not and then sales representatives have to make quick work of finding a buyer for excess. 

Barnard raised seed funding from an angel investor who knew the problem she was trying to solve well. But after struggling to get an intractable industry to change its ways, The Poultry Exchange ceased operations in July 2017 and Janette Barnard is now sales and marketing director at DecisionNexta prescriptive analytics startup for the meat industry. 

We caught up with Barnard to find out how she discovered that the industry she was looking to disrupt wasn’t ready, the decisions around pulling the plug, and what she’s learned from failure.

What made you believe that the poultry industry was ready for a shakeup?

That’s a complex question. We designed The Poultry Exchange from customer feedback and hearing people in the industry describe the problem and what they would need from potential solutions.

All signs indicated that the industry was ready to adopt this model for transactions. But there were two dynamics at play. One is that the majority of frontline buyers and sales reps have been in their roles for decades and are very comfortable with the status quo. They’re reluctant to change – I underestimated how deep this resistance ran. The second is that a couple of months after we launched, there were some antitrust lawsuits brought against the industry around poultry pricing practices. The result of that was that an already cautious industry became even more cautious in the face of significant legal uncertainty.

Perhaps we should have anticipated the first dynamic but the lawsuits were just one of those things we couldn’t have anticipated. That wasn’t something that we could build a strategy around.

How was your experience setting it up and getting started, getting funded? Continue reading here…

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