Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #4: Danilo Leao of BovControl


BovControl, the fast-growing mobile livestock analytics platform, was founded in 2013. But, as co-founder Danilo Leao informed me, its roots go way back. When Danilo was a child on his father’s farm in Brazil, he was already experimenting with the way that data could be used to affect livestock productivity. At 12, he had taken on the duties of “tracking and tracing animals, understanding their activity, and understanding nature.”

Later in life, after he had moved to study in Sao Paulo, he would refer back to his experience on his father’s farm. It wasn’t long before he realized that what he had learned in the city could be used for “addressing the problems of the farm” and that it “could be something interesting and not only useful for me... it could be a business for solving problems all around the world.”

This was back in the mid-2000s, and as he noticed the “new trend towards mobile technologies” start to pick up steam, he realized that “there was a real possibility to make knowledge that was transforming the [agriculture] system public.” At the time, he was involved in his first company, CertBeef. Like BovControl, it focused on providing farmers with software that improved their traceability and analytics in regards to livestock. However, the business was geared towards agricultural “export to the European Union” which, in Brazil, accounts for much of the country’s trade with the EU. This proved to be unlucky in 2008, when the EU imposed a temporary embargo on meat from Brazil due to new traceability requirements that were not followed by some Brazilian farmers.

The company, which by then had “9 offices in 6 different states”, was forced to fold. But for Danilo, the experience had been a good one. “I learned a lot about the way that this market works in terms of government, slaughterhouses, groups of farmers, and that was my real MBA” he says. It wasn’t long before he had founded his second company, Polite, which continues to manufacture products such as cow tags for Brazil’s immense agricultural industry. While there, he “used to share [his] own spreadsheets with customers that were buying tags and other things.” Due to the continuous demands by customers that saw the potential of applying data to their farming practices, Danilo and his co-founder “realized there was something there” and created BovControl as a separate company.

Since then, BovControl has been growning to the tune of 5% per week. They’ve been nominated for the Index Design to Improve Life Award, which highlights initiatives that improve the standard of living across the world. And, since coming to Boston, they’ve also racked up the Silver Award from MassChallenge 2015.

Despite pressure to gear the platform towards larger ranching companies, the company continues to focus on small farmers -- 80% of their customer base. “Most of the big farmers already have their office” he says, “but the small and medium farms don’t have an office or staff.” For Danilo, this focus is crucial to the company’s mission, “we can engage them in a way of thinking, educating them for better decisions, and the result of those decisions is that they can improve their lives and stay on their lands.”

Ultimately, what BovControl does is revolutionary. Utilizing data to improve productivity is a technique that has succeeded in every field, but access to that data has largely been reserved for those that already have some sort of information infrastructure. For independent ranchers, who haven’t really thought about it before, the tool is invaluable. It helps that BovControl takes a holistic approach to their customer experience, taking into account what they need by engaging their customers and tracking their use of the app. “Nobody was talking with them before” he says “we’re learning what they really need and we’re understanding.”

When asked about advice for budding entrepreneurs, he says “I think that being an entrepreneur is an option that needs to deal with difficult times. I don’t recommend it to everyone.” For him, the social responsibility that comes with entrepreneurship is extremely important. “If you understand that you’re that kind of crazy person that believes in a different future and you see that future happening, then you can put together the resources to make that happen.”

In the meantime, BovControl is continuing to feed people all around the world by giving farmers the tools they need to improve their meat production and, consequently, income. For now, the platform helps to feed 2.3 million people per day, but their projections for the future show that the number should break 1 billion people by 2020. Now that’s what we call entrepreneurship for social change.