Riding the Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster With Bitstrata’s Ian Meier
Co-founded in 2012 by CEO Ian Meier and President Michael Lockerbie, Bitstrata started with a vision to connect mobile devices to machines. They found their opportunity in grain carts. They designed and manufactured a small, electronic box that mounts to the side of grain carts, automatically collects harvest data, and then relays it to an app. It’s farm data management, made simple.
Agriculture, electronics and technology might at first seem like disparate fields but they make sense together when you consider Ian Meier’s background. A self-proclaimed “nerdy kid,” Ian taught himself basic computer programming language at thirteen while living on a farm.
“As a young kid on the farm, I wanted to be an inventor. I’d always get ideas for machines I’d want to make. I liked taking things apart and maybe not putting them back together again (laughs).” - Ian Meier
Meier decided on a dual degree in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Saskatchewan, but it wasn’t long before he was swept up in the world of software and tech. Meier started working with an innovative telecommunications startup that led him to Ottawa. “I was introduced to some heavy duty R&D that most people wouldn’t have been exposed to at that age,” he says.
“Throughout that time, I had thoughts about starting my own thing but never fully committed to it,” he says. He moved back home and worked in intelligent transportation systems before making a new move. “My business partner and I saw an opportunity with the Bluetooth capability that Apple had come out with at the time. We realized how many different projects could be done on iPads. Building things with a screen and buttons just seemed kind of old school.”
Meier and Lockerbie took their concept to two prominent Saskatchewan business competitions and won them both. “Those competitions were like business boot camp for us. We learned a lot of important things like how to pitch,” Meier says. The prize money also provided Meier and Lockerbie what they needed to lay the foundation of Bitstrata and finance their first production build.
Bitstrata has found quite a market for their product. They sell to farmers, grain cart manufacturers, and distributors that specialize in aftermarket scale systems. They also sell through farm machinery dealers like John Deere, CNH and AGCO dealerships. Meier says the most rewarding part of his job is seeing how much people love their products.
“Farmers will say, ‘Your tool is the best thing we’ve bought on our farm.’ It’s just a handy little tool, but they really love it. They’re our best proponents.”
When talking about life as an entrepreneur, Meier says starting his own thing has given him an appreciation of how sheltered other jobs can be. “Here, you get to be an active part in whether you succeed or fail. Knowing that it’s up to us causes a shift in mindset. You get used to uncertainty. I used to fear the unknown, but then I realized what I thought was known [while working other jobs] was kind of artificial anyway. You just aren’t seeing everything. In business all kinds of amazing and terrible things can happen, but after you’ve been on the rollercoaster for ten rides it’s not as scary anymore. I find it kind of fun actually. I enjoy how there is all this stuff that’s going to come up and we have no idea what it is—I’m excited to see where this movie is going.”
Almost everyone’s personal “movie” has changed in the past year, but Meier says the shift to conducting Bitstrata’s business virtually has been relatively smooth. “Honestly [working virtually] hasn’t impacted us too much. Certainly, the way we work has changed, but we’ve been using cloud-based tools, and pushed for paperless accounting, from the beginning. We’ve been using QuickBooks Online for quite a while and worked on a seamless, paperless transition for that."
"That was one of the things we really liked about The Corner Office: they seemed to embrace the same paperless approach wholeheartedly.”
Meier is happy with how Bitstrata has been able to cope with this situation, but laments the way Covid-19 has altered the social aspect of the company. “It’s changed things—you’re not seeing people as much as you were anymore, and that’s a big downside. A major part of our culture used to be lunch time. Everyone would eat in the lunchroom together, and that added a very enjoyable, social aspect to the day.”
“Having someone find the areas where your business is doing well, areas in need of improvement, and ways to optimize profitability is crucial.”
Meier connected with the Corner Office because he realized he was missing a management accounting role. “I saw the Corner Office as a way to bring that capacity in on a regular basis. We saw they offered this kind of guidance part-time and thought, ok, great, let’s work with them.” Meier says it’s nice to have someone who uses their books for more than just tax. “Of course tax is important, but having someone find the areas where your business is doing well, areas in need of improvement, and ways to optimize profitability is crucial. We were doing this on a gut-feel level before, but not doing it systematically. The Corner Office was also instrumental in helping us understand and navigate all the programs related to Covid,” Meier says.
Meier believes the way you handle your financial information should be a reflection of how your business is running. “It shouldn’t be an arbitrary thing,” he says. “You should design things like your chart of accounts to be the best representation of how you want to view your business. A business can be performing well, but you’re always wondering ‘What are we missing? What are the unknown unknowns?’."
Working with The Corner Office has given us the confidence that we’re not missing anything.
Some might think it’s a difficult time to start a business, but Meier has a surprisingly optimistic view: “I would say right now is actually a good time to start a business because there is a lot of uncertainty, and when there is uncertainty there are going to be a lot of changes. I think there will be an explosion of different markets that emerge because of this change. If you’ve got a good mind for technology, an appetite for risk, and a way to identify what people need, there’s your opportunity. If you can take irritation away from thousands of people then you can start a business.”
After leaving the farm all those years ago to pursue engineering, computer science, and work with an innovative startup, Meier has found himself reconnecting with the farming world through his company Bitstrata. “I think there was always a draw, whether conscious or not, to go back to the farm,” he says. Only now he’s doing what he always wanted to as a kid—he’s working on an idea for a machine, a little invention that people really love.
To learn more about Bitsrata, visit their website at www.agrimatics.com