Kevin Dole, President and Founder of FutureCow, grew up in Wisconsin farm country. He put himself through college milking cows and spent an extensive amount of time on dairy farms. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, with a degree in Microbiology, Dole worked in fermentation for a couple years before moving to Florida in 2000 and joining Bell Chem Corp., a distributor of ingredients for the food, personal care, sanitation and other industries. Dole spent a total of 18 years with Bell Chem, primarily selling bio active products such as bacteria, yeast and molds for organic waste degradation. As Dole shared, the origins of FutureCow date back to 2008 when, while working for Bell Chem, he discovered an alternative use for a common disinfectant.
“When I moved to Orlando to work for Bell Chem, many of my contacts and friends in the diary business would still call me about problems they were dealing with,” Dole said. “One of those calls was a need for a low-cost udder prep disinfectant. Bell Chem sold sanitation chemicals, but they mostly served the citrus industry. I looked at those products and thought, ‘Can we use any of these to disinfect udders?’ There were several things to consider, including the dermal (skin) effects, potential for residue in the milk, ease of use and safety. What I found was Chlorine Dioxide. There’s no chance of residue, it’s easy on the worker’s skin and the cow’s udder. As a result, I started selling that product to dairy farms. Before I knew it, we had about 100 customers using that chemical to clean their cow’s udders.”
This early success caught the attention of an Italian company with a machine designed to clean udders. Dole met with the company and, together, they decided to create a solution using their equipment and Dole’s chemical. They had good results using the chemical, but Chlorine Dioxide, proved too harsh for the equipment. According to Dole, there was a “hodge-podge” of things that weren’t right.
“In the span of two years, starting in 2008, we changed so many parts in the equipment to make it work right that we eventually had a machine with more of our parts than theirs. We eventually parted ways and, for the next three years, we tinkered, conducted research and secured patents on our own equipment. To reduce our costs, we also started to get our chemicals directly from the manufacturer. In early 2010, we found a guy in Oviedo that could weld, solder, CNC machine and had extensive manufacturing experience. We ‘squatted’ in his warehouse and paid for his engineering capabilities until we were able to find and afford our own space.”
Being in a commission-only sales position with Bell Chem, Dole was in a unique position to develop FutureCow while still maintaining his “day job”. He worked for both companies until 2018. However, starting in 2013, the bulk of his efforts were focused on FutureCow.
According to Dole, there were many challenges faced along the way. “Farmers aren’t known as the most easy to change demographic,” he said. “When you go to them with a contraption like we had, it’s up to us to help them forget about what their dad, grandpa or great grandpa did. We want them to see the potential of our products. Moving them from ‘how it’s always been’ to how it should be was hard. When talking about a ‘teat scrubber’ they sometimes look at you like you’re talking about quantum physics. We really had to live and die on every sale. We spent a lot of time on the phone with our customers. It was very labor intensive, but it worked well. Of our first 100 customers, over 90% are still using our system.
Dole continued, “Another challenge was the fact that some farmers wanted to buy our equipment but not use our chemicals. We weren’t okay with this. In order for the equipment to work properly, it has to be used with our chemicals. If they used their own chemicals, the system wouldn’t work correctly. For this reason, we had to turn away some business. That was tough.”
From Startup to Second Stage
In December 2018, FutureCow moved from a 13,000 sqft facility to a fully-remodeled 32,000 sqft facility. They occupy about 23,000 sqft and rent out the rest. Dole and his team are extremely proud of taking something that was considered “fringe” technology and, over the course of eleven years, turning it into mainstream technology that people trust.
According to Dole, FutureCow maintains a competitive edge over others in the market for a number of reasons. “Our nimbleness for sure,” he said. “We have a 3D printer going. We’re able to 3D print and make production pieces very quickly. We can easily get parts in the field and get real time data on if they’ll work or not. Our products are in a harsh environment. You have sand, hooves, manure, urine and a big animal that moves, stomps and gets stuck. No amount of R&D in a lab can simulate what happens on a dairy farm. Being able to print parts, make modifications and get them out there quickly is huge. We have a network of loyal customers that are happy to try our R&D products because of our great track record. In terms of competitors, we don’t drive in the rearview mirror. We stay out front. We’re innovating, modifying and constantly improving. That’s our culture.”
FutureCow’s marketing strategy is focused on utilizing strategic partnerships. In the U.S., they have a sales and marketing agreement with GEA, the number two maker of milk related products, to promote their teat scrubber line. They also utilize a network of 150 dealers to sell these products. In regards to their comfort brush line, they have an agreement with Agri-Plastics to handle sales and marketing in the U.S. and Canada. Dole’s position is to farm out sales and marketing to allow FutureCow to focus on being an R&D and technology company. When it comes to their global marketing strategy, FutureCow identifies the “biggest and baddest” distributor in a given geographic region and forms an exclusive partnership with them to distribute their products.
To date, FutureCow has relationships in countries such as South Korea, Israel, Belarus, Morocco, UAE and many others. The global exposure has increased sales and led to new and unique opportunities. “We did a trade show in Abu Dabi,” Dole said. “I was approached by the agriculture ministry. They wanted us to develop a product to prep camels. There’s a bio-chemical process in the udder of a mammal that produces oxytocin which releases milk from the glands to the ‘cistern’ of an udder. This is what allows the machine to pull the milk out. Apparently camels are stubborn and don’t let down their milk very easily. They want us to solve this problem.”
The FutureCow team consists of 25 full-time employees, including three in the United Kingdom and one in Japan. The workplace culture is focused on hard work, but also on having fun.
“We’re all here to do a job, but also have fun doing it,” Dole said. “We have a real close knit group of people that are all on the same page. Everyone truly believes in our products. We work for the common good of the company. There’s no small company bickering or pettiness. We’re very professional, but you might also catch us at 5 o’clock in the warehouse having a beer and playing cornhole. In terms of benefits, we offer very competitive wages, flexible hours, cell phones for key employees, lunch in on Wednesdays and lunch out on Fridays, a yearly Christmas party, yearly bonuses and occasional $100 gift cards. We also do FutureCow tumblers and shirts.”
FutureCow is also very involved in community and philanthropic activities. “We work with an organization in Hillsborough County that takes at risks youth and gives them animals to raise and show off at fairs,” Dole said. “At the World Dairy Expo, we’ll give away pairs of FFA cowboy boots and jackets to support Future Farmers of America. We also support the birthing center at the NY State Fair every year. In general, we like to educate people on how food gets to the table. We’re spending money to show people that food is raised in a compassionate way.”
According to Dole, operating Florida is beneficial for a number of reasons. For one, it’s a great place to ship out of. A lot of freight comes in, but not a lot goes out. This helps with freight rates. Also, FutureCow’s close proximity to major ports in Jacksonville and Miami allow for easy exporting. Dole also shared that Central Florida is a particularly ideal location for its abundance of great schools and talent.
What it Means to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
“We’re very humbled,” he said. “I say congrats to the employees because we all had a part in it. It’s amazing to be recognized. I’ve had people like our General Manager, Sean Howells, and Karl Ruf, our Operations Manager, with me since day one and we’ve all had a million jobs along the way. From staying late to spending lot of time on the road, it’s truly a recognition for our hard work. The exposure has also been great. I have a meeting next week with the City Manager, the Mayor and the head of Economic Development for Sanford.”
Dole continued, “In terms of why we were selected, I think it’s because we’re curiously innovative,” he said. “We’re also such a niche business that we kind of stand out. Not a lot of people are doing what we’re doing in this part of the world. We’re a good Florida success story. Besides our employees, I’d also like to thank my business partners, John Cervo and Ms. Ola Williams.”
Looking ahead, FutureCow is moving to automate their teat prep system. According to Dole, he’d like to land somewhere between full robotic milking and the traditional way of doing things. He’d like to build technology to allow farmers to still use their existing facilities, not have to build a new farm to accommodate the new technology. He’s also very focused on animal safety and comfort.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“As an entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to wake up every morning and give yourself a raise through hard work,” Dole said. “If you have a product you’re passionate about, like I am with my product, then go for it. Invest in your client’s success and they’ll invest in yours. Keep in mind, most entrepreneurs don’t come to market with a perfect product. It’s usually a first or second generation product that still needs some work. Stick with it and fight every battle until your product is proven and perfected. When the customer sees your passion and your desire to want to make things work for them, they’re going to give you opportunities. On a dairy farm, it’s not if, it’s when are things going to break down. Being proactive with these break downs has been key for us. People don’t buy cars and think they’ll never breakdown. You just want to try to mitigate the risk of breaking down in the middle of rush-hour traffic. That’s the key.”
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