Twenty years ago, in 2001, LetsGrow.com arose from an initiative of Wageningen University & Research (WUR). A company that started with opening up models of the WUR, later compared various cultivation data and is now known for Data-Driven Growing. In the past twenty years, the company has developed a great deal. Both in service and in staff. The LetsGrow.com team now consists of 40 people. Many new colleagues have joined in recent years, but a number of colleagues from the very beginning are still working for the company.
We spoke with Edwin and Leon. Both are Software Developers at LetsGrow.com and employed since the beginning. They were both involved in the creation of the company. And why it was a good idea to involve them in the process soon became apparent during one of the first consultations with the WUR. At the time, they spoke about feeding their crop models with data from growers and creating a market for them. The ‘how or what’ then had to be discussed. In the end, it was Leon who drew the conclusion: “There is only one way we can get this right, and that is through the Internet”. At that time Leon already had some experience with greenhouses and crop models. After his studies at the WUR with this specialization, he worked there for a while as a researcher. Opening up models via the internet was a possible next step for him. However, it turned out to be a very innovative idea for the time being. In 2001, access to the Internet was not yet as developed as we are accustomed to and there was also no experience with it. We started by building a web server on the desk in order to be able to set up a page. Put your shoulders to it and just do it. We succeeded in building the page, but LetsGrow.com turned out to be far ahead of its time.
This was also noticeable among growers at the time. Edwin describes: “They didn’t always have an internet connection in the greenhouse and besides that, growers were also hesitant. Nobody knew anything like the Cloud and Big Data at that time. Growers were afraid that their data would be put on the street”. It took some time before the majority of growers dared to work with LetsGrow.com. Edwin continues: “I jokingly told a grower at the time that if I wanted his data, the best thing I could do would be to steal his PC. This finally gave him confidence in the safety of the data”.
Data, data and yet more data
Today LetsGrow.com still pays a lot of attention to securing the data of its clients. Data security is of paramount importance and the company handles this with care. It is not without reason that LetsGrow.com has the ISO27001 certificate, which means that the data of all growers is stored in the safest possible way.
The data that was collected and analyzed in the early years was initially not as complex as the data that we now know. It started mainly with 24-hour data, initially for the purpose of controlling flowering pot plants. Later, in 2003, the first yield prediction for a tomato crop was made. The Managing Director of LetsGrow.com at that time asked whether real-time data could also be compared. Leon’s response to this was doubtful, he explains: “I was very curious about how this would work and did not expect much demand for this. In hindsight, that turned out to be unjustified. For years, we have been doing a lot of comparing real-time data of different growers and locations for growers, especially in the Netherlands. This is still widely used, but we do see a big shift in demand for our complete platform with data visualization and analysis so that people can grow in a data-driven way.
Moving towards a complete platform
In 2005 the first step was taken toward the platform as is known today as MyLetsGrow. In that year the question came from an energy cluster whether LetsGrow.com could unlock and visualize the weather forecast and other data. At that point, we started using the models in a yet-to-be-built platform.
It is often said that LetsGrow.com has been able to cleverly sail along on technological innovations worldwide. Leon agrees: “When we just started, we were new to the market. Today, several companies, also in the horticultural industry, are working with big data. Thanks to the experience we have gained, many things are developing rapidly for us. Particularly because we have the basics at hand and do not have to develop from scratch. In addition, LetsGrow.com really focuses on analyzing and visualizing data from various sensors, cameras, and machines and does not produce any sensors themselves. That makes us agile. For example, if a grower wants to connect 150 sensors from different suppliers, it will take us a few days at most, but we will certainly succeed without any problems.”
Edwin adds: “Besides having years of experience, it is also important to see opportunities and dare to seize them. All Managing Directors of LetsGrow.com shared this vision, which has also helped us over the past twenty years. By sometimes just doing and experiencing, we have raised the level of knowledge and specialism to the current level, something we can all be proud of.
The growth of LetsGrow.com with experienced and young talent
The LetsGrow.com team has expanded in recent years to include a large team of Developers, but there is also a Customer Support and Sales team. Edwin and Leon are very happy with this. “We used to do a lot together. The development, but also the customer support, answering the phone, and so on. We have got it all sorted out now”, says Leon, laughing.
The growth of LetsGrow.com is also due to the hiring of many young talents and students. Leon and Edwin both see this as an enrichment of the team. Edwin proudly says: “The young talents keep us up-to-date. Where we think that something can sometimes be complicated, they have often already started. The mix of young talent and experienced staff is a must in order to continue to grow”. LetsGrow.com therefore often works with interns who might be able to stay on after graduating. Leon explains, “I often warn them in jest and say; Watch out! You won’t get out of here!”.
Edwin and Leon see working with students as a two-way street. They explain: “We help them, but also let them fully participate in the team and divide all projects equally. At LetsGrow.com a lot of attention is paid to good supervision of students and a pleasant working atmosphere. As a result, we notice that we are seen as an interesting party by students”. Leon adds: “Of course, you hope that students like to stay with us, but if they decide to broaden their horizon elsewhere, then we want them to have a good basis for the future. We pay a lot of attention to this”.
Leon and Edwin have in any case stuck with LetsGrow.com. Leon from the start. He has now grown into a Senior Developer and manages Developers and students in his team. Edwin took a break and started his own successful company. A number of years later, Edwin started working at LetsGrow.com again. Initially for a number of hours per week and for a period of one year. This quickly became several years and eventually, he was asked if he would like to return. With his previous experiences at LetsGrow.com in mind, the choice was quickly made. Edwin came back to base and is still there.
They are both still enjoying themselves. Leon explains enthusiastically: “The mix of young and old, different nationalities and gender is really our strength. We are a diverse club with a dynamic atmosphere. We are good at our jobs and if it were up to us, LetsGrow.com would continue at this pace for at least another twenty years!”.