Dan Custis CEO and Co-Founder, ABM

As CEO, Dan Custis oversees all company financial, marketing and sales operations, as well as new product development. Custis’ agricultural expertise is centered in the fungicide and insecticide seed treatment and legume inoculant markets. He has worked for and held various positions with national and multinational companies. Custis received his Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Eastern Kentucky University and his master’s in business with a focus on small business development and startups from Regent University.

In the past 17 years, since Advanced Biological Marketing’s inception, I have seen more changes in the biological market than I care to track. So, I will give you, from my own experience, what I think are the key pillars of creating a successful biological company.

In my past life, I was responsible for the sales and marketing of polymer seed coatings, colorants, hard chemistry fungicides and insecticides to the seed industry. In my mind, there had to be a better way to provide additional value to the farmers. A better return on investment (ROI) means more profits. To accomplish this goal, ABM assembled a knowledgeable team of professionals in every department from management to sales, and from research and development to production.

Searching out new microbes was job No. 1, and remains our top priority. To accomplish this, we made sure that “solid science” was behind every new discovery. You might ask what is solid science?

By this, ABM had to make sure we knew how the microbe performed, not only in the lab but also in the greenhouse before moving to field trials. Is the response we are looking for consistent from year to year? Without consistency in performance for the farmer, you will only get him as a customer for one year. ABM is looking for more than that when it comes to product performance.

What type of an effect does this microbe have on corn, for example? Does it perform differently on other crops? Can we use the same microbe on multiple crops? All these are important questions. We look at all these questions to make sure the farmer experiences the best ROI possible on his farm.

Independent third-party testing and field trials form the backbone of proving product performance and proof that a product does what we say it will do. Consistency is key. Again, the product needs to provide benefit to the farmer year after year. If not, we go back to the drawing board to find out what changes need to be made.

The creativity and innovation that exists within ABM allows us to create unique formulations with our microbes and create unique delivery systems. How the product is delivered to the plant and/or seed is critical, along with long-term viability after application.

Another critical part of doing business in the biological product market is flexibility and your ability to react to changes in the market very quickly. Trends and markets change without much notice, and your ability to meet those changes is critical. Part of today’s market is filled with what I call “me too” products. This market is challenging and sometimes difficult to participate in on a long-term basis.

In the end, the farmer will determine the value of the products you bring to market. Don’t get caught in the trap where you think your product is the best thing since sliced bread. If your product doesn’t put dollars in the farmer’s pocket at the end of the season, you have a short-term customer with a one-year sales history.