Labor is the first, second and third biggest problem in agriculture. The average age of a farmer in North America is nearing 60 as less young people pursue farming. Labor-constrained farms are unable to achieve maximum production volume, and meanwhile rising wages have put pressure on profit margins. For farms to continue delivering fresh food to our dinner tables, automation is inevitable. Last week we announced that we co-led the $24 million Series B for Burro, a robotics company focusing initially on agriculture at the forefront of this shift.
Burro sells an autonomous robot (called a “Burro”) that operates alongside humans to supercharge their work in the field. For example, on a berry farm, workers pick berries and place them in bins. They then pile the bins onto the Burro, which autonomously navigates across the farm to deliver the bins to the packing house. The Burro then goes back to the field and repeats the process. The result is higher daily production volume with a fixed number of people – a clear ROI.
We began developing our thesis in agriculture automation almost two years ago. We were familiar with the space through our investment in Brightfarms (which we exited in 2021) and began researching technology that could improve operations on the farm. Farmers are notorious for resisting technology, but in talking to them it became clear that they’ve earned an unfair reputation. Farmers haven’t adopted technology because so far, they have largely been served tools that don’t solve their biggest problems, don’t function as advertised and/or promise an ROI in the future rather than demonstrating one today. When we asked farmers and other industry experts, “what type of technology is needed on the farm?” we got a consistent answer – “technology that reliably solves the labor challenge.”
Enter Artificial Intelligence
But such tools have been hard to find. While the indoor robotics space is relatively mature, outdoor robotics only became ready for primetime within the last couple of years. This is because operating outdoors is extremely complicated – you must account for variation in terrain, weather, changes in light and a broader range of obstacles. Meanwhile, safety is the number one priority, especially for a robot like Burro which operates closely alongside people. Delivering a robot that has a high degree of efficacy across a wide range of outdoor situations is a major technical feat that has only recently been made possible through the advent of Artificial Intelligence. Burro is among the first such companies to deploy a reliable, autonomous and useful product.
The Burro Vision
When we met Burro in the summer of 2022, their story immediately resonated. Charlie and the team had focused on solving one “really hard problem” at a time, beginning with mobility – the foundation of autonomy. They obsessed over delivering a product that worked (high mileage per fault, known as mean time between failure, or “MTBF”) and distilled the value prop down into something that was easy for farmers to understand and measure. With hundreds of Burros in the field and a strong retention track record, Burro had demonstrated clear product market fit and was ready to scale its go-to-market.
Feedback from Burro’s customers was unanimous – “Burro makes my workers more productive and they love it because it relieves them from the most laborious tasks. It works as expected and improves my bottom line.” Many customers told us they plan to buy more Burros and have identified a wide range of additional applications across their farms.
And agriculture is just the tip of the iceberg – Burro is on a mission to automate the $1 trillion+ global outdoor labor market. In fact, there are already Burros operating on construction and solar energy sites. We’re in the early innings but Burro has a strong start and Charlie and the team are the right people to tackle this massive opportunity. We’re thrilled to be a part of the journey.