The Bucky Box Startup Story

My big project last winter was kickstarting a high profile vege box scheme with some friends for the Auckland region.

 

What’s a vege box scheme I hear you ask? It’s a service that offers box of local veges, mainly organic, delivered to your door of course! Now that’s all good and that, but what I didn’t expect to see quite so clearly was the reason why we mostly have mega farms and chemical food on the table.

 

Let me bring up Neil who I met along the way. He hated his job a dozen years ago. That’s because his job was to say to farmers “Sorry we can’t take your produce anymore, you’re too small, the supermarkets need bigger farms”.

 

You see it’s just simple arithmetic for a supermarket… dealing with one farm is cheaper than administrating and co-ordinating supply from 20 farms. With bigger farms comes mono-crop practices, that’s more chemical fertilizers and more sprays.

 

When Jim the Dirt Doctor came to speak to us I was impressed. His demonstration plot generates $45,000 of premium organic produce from land no bigger than a good ole kiwi quarter acre section. He blew away some of my pre-conceptions. He’s living proof that organic techniques combined with the best of science can grow at equal cost to chemical farming. Wow!

 

“Out of a ton of phosphate fertiliser dropped on crops only 5kg is absorbed by crops. That’s 995kg sinking through the soil, hitting our water table and sliming up our waterways.”

 

“95% of waterways in the South Island are now not safe to swim in”, he continued.

 

A month later on while on roadtrip through the South Island, I took some snaps of my old stomping grounds, they were pristine when I left them 20 years ago.

The sign says, “Humans and Animals must keep out. Don’t let your dog eat anything from the river bank or go in the river”

 

It occurred to me to solve this problem is not that hard…

 

We just need a way of distributing food that’s better matched to small farms.

 

Small is beautiful, small is kind to the environment.

 

That’s exactly why local food enterprises are so important. They’re also financially competitive. They’re in exponential growth worldwide just to prove that point.

 

Hiccup!

 

There is one hiccup along the way to box scheme paradise.

 

That’s the amount of labour involved in administrating them. Imagine you’ve got 200 subscribers, that’s not enough to afford a dedicated IT system to handle things, so somebody is gonna have to wade through all the subscriptions, figure out who’s on holiday, who’s wants double this week, who cancelled, who’s new, and who owes what, send out the invoices, reconciliate payments, tell the driver what to deliver, predict next week’s supply needs, and am I boring you yet? This kind of stuff drives box scheme owners to Hari Kari and those that survive pay with one or two days of full time admin.

 

So Bucky Box became a sort of spin off idea from my summer’s involvement in setting up a box scheme to solve this exact issue.

 

It’s a web-app that does this stuff at the touch of a pretty web 2.0 button and doubles as a customer support tool. We’ve been trialling the prototype with great success for 5 months, and we’ve demoed it to a handful of other box schemes who upon seeing it can’t contain their glee and girly giggles…

 

After one such girly giggle I heard something important – it went something like this…

 

“you know, I had enough subscribers to start influencing growers to switch to organics, but without software like this I had to downsize, it was too much for my family life”

 

So this is my latest startup… Software for local food. It’s our first 100% Enspiral owned and incubated startup. Launching in beta, May 2011. Do drop by and look into the project.

 

~ Will Lau

19 thoughts on “The Bucky Box Startup Story

  1. Pingback: Beta tester invited, come and get it while it’s hot | The Bucky Box Blog

    • Totally international! We’re web-based, so wherever there’s internet, there’s tools for a better food system!

      Get in touch at beta@buckybox.com and we’ll tell you more. Thanks for getting in touch,

      Sam

    • Hi Steve, thanks for your note.

      Bucky Box itself doesn’t manage a local food distribution service, but we do build software to enable people around the world to do so. The software is a turn key operation – whether it’s online ordering / shopping cart you want, customer profiles, a customer database, packing & delivery logistics or payment reconciliation – it does the lot!

      We hope to be able to offer some good looking fly through tours on the site, once we are out of public beta.

  2. just saw this here in the US. Good work, but there is perhaps a cultural difference you are unaware of: the term “box scheme” has taken on a somewhat pejorative sense here, especially amongst small CSA farmers such as myself. “Box schemes” are generally seen as middle-men who are taking advantage of the CSA concept here. Just FYI.

    • Thanks J!

      Indeed there’s definitely a range of language and terms used in different countries, indeed even in different regions and communities. That’s also the beauty of local food; diversity.

      Since Will wrote this entry all that time ago, we’ve moved with changing terms and ideas, spoken with a lot more distributors (we reckon something approaching 300 around the world now) and have indeed changed our own language a little.

      In fact a little while back we got so confused with it all, we decided to write a blog to cut through the jargon: http://localfood.buckybox.com/2011/12/cutting-through-the-local-food-jargon/

      Thanks for looking out for us. Whilst the CSA model has been wildly popular in the US, we believe there are already quite a range of models operating under this banner (many of them very similar to the ‘box schemes’ which are popular in Australia / UK), and there will continue to be a role for the ethical, value creating “middle man” who works very closely with the farms to help tell their story, organise logistics and orders and find new customers (among other things).

      If I can say one last thing, it’s that the future of food systems will be a lot more complex but more efficient than our centralised & industrialised system today. Little blog about that here: http://localfood.buckybox.com/2012/04/sustainable-food-summit/

  3. Hi folks, we are forming a local food hub – which will include a vege box schemes AND an organic food buying co-operative. I can see that the Bucky Box software is set up to manage vege box schemes but is it capable of managing the admin / inventory & ordering side of the buying cooperative? For example, an inventory of 3000 product items sourced from 7 suppliers. Is Bucky Box able to carry this much data?

    • Hi Steph, thanks for getting in touch!

      We’re actually just taking a look at cooperatives at the moment, would you like to get in touch at sam [at] buckybox.com and give us some more details?

  4. The software sounds great, though it would be good to see/try a demo or at least have a link to a working example… 🙂

  5. Pingback: Resource of the week: The Local Food Startup Challenge | SustainableFoodTrust

  6. I found out about you guys via Auckland’s ‘The Kitchen.’ I’m not tech savvy, or a farmer (I’m a vege box customer though!) but I just wanted to say how inspiring this startup sounds!

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