Thursday, 10 August 2017


When I first saw the Croplogic IPO I was pretty excited. Lately ASX IPOs seem to have been an endless list of speculative mining startups and suspicious Chinese organizations, so its nice to see a company that seems genuinely innovative. Based on technology and crop management techniques developed by the New Zealand government research institute Plant & Food Research, the company is looking to revolutionize the agronomics sector with various technological and modelling-based solutions. This includes both patented electronic monitoring devices that provide live soil moisture levels from the field, as well as sophisticated modelling that allows farmers to predict moisture levels and show optimal times for watering and fertilizer application. The idea is that this technology will allow agronomists to spend less time driving from field to field taking samples, while giving farmers a higher level of service at the same time. The company has been around for five years, and has completed a few trials with large multinationals. While they claim these trials have been promising, they haven’t really amounted to much revenue as can be seen by the meagre profit and loss report.

Croplogic is seeking to raise up to 8 million, with an indicative market capitalization of $23.9 million based on a maximum subscription.


One interesting things about Croplogic is that they have decided to grow by acquiring established agronomy businesses rather than organically (if you’ll excuse the pun.) This is based on the idea that the agricultural market is suspicious of new entrants and values existing relationships. Croplogic therefore intends to purchase traditional agronomics businesses then slowly introduce Croplogic’s various innovations to their customers. While I understand the thinking behind this (at a previous role I saw first-hand a European fertilizer company fail spectacularly in their expansion into Australia due to difficulties selling to suspicious Australian farmers), there are a few factors that make me worried this strategy won’t work. Post listing, Croplogic will have only around 8 million dollars with which to buy the very specific type of company they are looking for (they are specifically targeting potato agronomics companies) in the limited amount of time they have before shareholders start getting impatient. With such specific criteria and a limited amount of time, it seems a real risk they will be forced to pay above market prices for the first suitable company they find.

Croplogic’s most recent acquisition doesn’t really inspire confidence either. On the 28th of April 2017 Croplogic acquired a company called Proag services, an agricultural consulting business based in Washington state USA. Croplogic paid $1.4 Million AUD, with another $1.25 million to be paid over the next few years provided Proag’s revenue does not decline sharply. As a test case for Croplogics acquisition model, the Proag purchase does raise a few questions.

While in the financial year ending March 2016 the business made a profit of $140,000 AUD, in 2017 this had reduced to a loss of $24,650 (to make things simpler, I am using AUD for both the revenue and purchase price, despite Proag being an American company). This loss was caused mainly by small a decrease in revenue from 2.24 million to 2.14, and an increase in operating costs from $580,000 to $690,000. To be clear, the FY17 financial year ended before Croplogic bought the business, so these costs cannot be easily attributed to acquisition expenses. While there could potentially be other factors that explain the 2017 loss, 2.65 Million seems hugely unreasonable for a company that lost money last financial year, and even seems on the steep side if you just take the FY16 numbers into account.  Were Croplogic so desperate to secure an acquisition before the IPO that they ended up paying more than they should have for a struggling company? As an outsider it certainly looks like that.


One of the things I look for in an IPO is strong founder with a real passion for the company. Bigtincan’s David Keane and Oliver’s Jason Gunn are two great examples of this. In addition to being good businessmen, both founders seem to have a real passion for their respective companies and expertise in their specific industries. You get the sense with both Jason and David that they have invested personally in their companies, and will stick by them for as long as it takes.
In contrast, the managing director of Croplogic Jamie Cairns has only been with Croplogic for just over a year and has a background in internet companies. The CFO James Jones has been with the company for even less time, and last worked at a private equity firm. While they both seem capable enough, they don’t seem to be experts in agronomics, and it’s hard to imagine either of them sticking around if they were offered a more lucrative role at a different company.
Powerhouse Ventures

The largest Croplogic shareholder is the ASX listed Powerhouse Ventures, owning both directly and through its subsidiaries roughly 20% of the Croplogic stock post listing. I like to think of Powerhouse Ventures as New Zealand’s answer to Elrich Bachman from Sillicon Valley. The company invests in early stage New Zealand companies, most typically those that use technology developed in connection to New Zealand universities with the hope that these can eventually be sold later for a profit.

To put it mildly, Powerhouse Ventures has not been going that well lately. Listing originally for $1.07 in October 2016, the company now trades at around $0.55, following problems with management, higher than expected expenses, and difficulties with a number of start-up investments. 
This is a concern for any potential Croplogic investor, as one of Powerhouse Ventures easiest ways to lock in some profits and generate cash would be to offload their Croplogic shares. Considering the size of their stake in Croplogic, this would have disastrous effects on the Croplogic share price.


As you can probably guess if you’ve read this far, I will not be investing in Croplogic. While the shares are undeniably being sold for a pretty cheap price, their chances of success seem so small buying shares would feel more like getting a spin on a roulette wheel than a long-term investment. When you read through the prospectus, you get the feeling that the company is a weird miss-match of various technologies dreamt up in Kiwi research labs that some over-excited public servants felt would be a commercial success. Considering the minimal progress that has been made in the last five years, they probably should have stuck to writing journal articles. 

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