How do you communicate the value of technology, web software, and iOS apps in an industry that can find itself at odds with places like Silicon Valley? Trying to bridge that gap can create a great deal of tension and could explain why there is such a large technology gap in the timber industry today.
There aren’t many people that are willing to throw themselves into an arena that they know will be rife with struggle. There are even less people that willingly throw themselves into the lion’s den, because they actually want to be there. But, that’s the case with Taylor Griffith and his software product TRACT™ Forestry Accounting and Timber Security Software.
Taylor grew up arms-length from the timber industry. His father, Jim Griffith, the director of Georgia Farm Bureau’s (GFB) timber division for 25 years, and his neighbor, Lynn Hooven, Chief of Forest Management with the Georgia Forestry Commission for 34 years, provided Taylor with a practical forestry education. And while Taylor didn’t spend much time in a classroom, he did cut his teeth on the operational side of timber sales and management. Instead of focusing on the theory behind proper management, he got a first hand look in the field. He got to see for himself what worked, what didn’t, and why.
So, how then, did Taylor find himself bridging the gap between timber and tech? It’s an opportunity that was born out of hardship really.
In 2010, when GFB decided to end its long-standing timber program, Jim lost access to his business’ life-blood: GFB’s some 60,000 landowners. Having spent the previous year building software with some friends at Georgia Tech, Taylor saw an opportunity to support his dad. So, he put together a website that could potentially generate new timber business. Today, Timber Update connects landowners with timber services and generates nearly 7,000 visitors a month.
Taylor spent the next 10 years pursuing his own career in software, building products on platforms like Rocket Mortgage™ by Quicken Loans and working closely with talent at places like Uber, Yahoo!, and other startups. And while Jim had always wanted Taylor to have a closer tie to forestry, he figured it would never happen. But, that all changed in 2013. After a couple of failed software projects, Taylor began to look for niche industries that had less competition and a greater need for easy-to-use technology. The timber industry was an obvious place to start doing due-diligence. Was there a need? Yes. Were current software solutions leveraging the latest and greatest technology? No. Was the timber industry making itself accessible to the best developers? No. The opportunity was obvious. However, Taylor didn’t consider that maybe the timber industry wasn’t interested in new technology. Change, after all, is hard.
After spending a couple of years testing web-based and smartphone prototypes with loggers and truckers in the woods. Taylor and Jim raised $70,000 from friends and family to build what would eventually become TRACT™ Forestry Accounting and Timber Security Software. The time spent in the woods testing prototypes revealed a lot of opportunity, but also a lot of challenges. The most obvious challenge was how antagonistic the industry was towards using technology that is considered mainstream. And it wasn’t a matter of having a low-quality product. No, it seemed to have more to do with a lack of trust, a lack of understanding, and an unwillingness to change.
After completing the development of their product in 2016, Taylor knew that to find success in an industry that wasn’t particularly open to new things, he’d have to find some special people that did things a bit differently. When Jim and Taylor attended the 2016 Georgia Forestry Convention later that year, they found such a person in Chad Nimmer, one of the owners at the employee-owned and much respected Pierce Timber out of Blackshear, GA. Chad immediately saw the value in the system, the amount of time that could be saved, and the amount of transparency that could be added for all of their foresters. So, by early 2017, Taylor shook hands with Hugh Thompson at Pierce and locked in his first customer.
With the help of Pierce Timber, Taylor and his team continued to refine their product and add more features. They built an iOS app that would replace the paper load sheet and worked with Sherry, Pierce’s head administrator, to get all of the small details in TRACT™ Forestry Accounting and Timber Security Software web app just right.
While he was continuing to grow the features of the software, Taylor struggled to find other companies with the same vision and passion for quality as Pierce, but eventually found it in Clay Crosby with Twin Rivers out of Perry, GA. Late one night during the 2017 Georgia Forestry Convention, after most folks had turned in for the night, Clay and Taylor spent hours discussing the technology challenges that plagued the industry and eventually shook hands on a deal.
It has continued to be a challenge for Taylor to find companies that match Pierce and Twin River’s passion for innovation, efficiency and security, but knows they’re out there. “I think it has more to do with a lack of understanding and knowing what’s available than a lack of values.” Taylor says. “If timber companies knew what was available outside of the industry, versus what they’re currently using, I think they’d be shocked. But, it’s definitely a challenge to try and communicate that with an industry that traditionally hasn’t been very receptive to new things…at least as far as technology is concerned. That’s definitely one area I could improve on. Being a better communicator.”
While building a system that combines that latest in web and smartphone technology and getting buy-in from timber companies has been a challenge, Jim is excited about the future, especially when it comes to working with Taylor. “Ya know, I had really given up on being able to work with my son. I thought he’d found his place building software for other industries, so it’s been a lot of fun for me to get to work with him on this project. I think we can really change the way the timber industry does business. I’m really proud of him. I’m really proud of the product we’re building.”
Will TRACT™ Forestry Accounting and Timber Security Software eventually become the new standard for the industry? Will other timber companies jump the tech gap like Pierce Timber and Twin Rivers? Who knows. What we do know is that regardless of the outcome, Jim and Taylor will continue to try and innovate the timber industry and they won’t give up.