Wired In: Jacob Kreider

Wired In: Jacob Kreider

Each week, staff writer PAUL WOOD chats with a high-tech difference maker. This week, meet JACOB KREIDER, an Illinois State and Northwestern University graduate who moved here in 2015 to be engineering director at the Champaign office of Granular, a San Francisco agriculture software company that has its regional headquarters at the University of Illinois Research Park. It's a big time for Granular: DuPont, a science and engineering giant that focuses on agriculture and nutrition, advanced materials and bio-based industrials, has acquired the firm.

Will this mean changes for the Champaign office?

It's an exciting time for us — we're growing, we're hiring. We're looking at some cool new features that we want to do out of this office.

What does Granular do?

Since being founded in 2014, Granular has been a company that makes it easier for farmers to manage a large farm and use pinpointed data to make calculated and accurate business decisions. In addition, Granular operates AcreValue.com, which is currently the leading digital marketplace for farmland real estate. We provide tools that help farmers analyze and understand their operations. We've had a great growth record here in Champaign and great success integrating with the rest of the team in San Francisco. We're looking forward to growing in the future.

Who else is on about the local management team?

Eric Barnard (a Purdue grad) is an engineering manager for the team. Laura Czys manages HR and Sophie Roney is head of recruiting for the office.

You've worked in a lot in Chicago and you're a Northwestern graduate — in the Research Park, there are a lot of University of Illinois graduates.

Of the engineers, about half and half are Illinois grads. We're obviously here to grow out further, so we expect the ratio to become more dominated by Illinois.

As an engineer, what do you do?

I'm part of a much larger engineering group. We make what we call the FMS side of the operation, farm management software. Our goal is to provide software that can help you understand all aspects of your farm and use it 12 months a year — everything from planning to operating to growing to harvesting. Then you can look back in retrospect and see where you did well and where you need improvement. Our software accomplishes all of that.

What do you focus on in Champaign?

We work primarily on tools that are part of the financial space, basically the ability to look at your operation across different operating fields, across different contracts, different crops and understand where you're doing well and where you can improve.

How did you become an engineer?

Many engineers will have a similar answer: I like to build things, and I like to build things for people. I like to create applications that someone else can look at and get value out of in their daily life, and that is really what draws me to Granular as well.

How so?

We're creating software, but we're creating software for an industry that is very tangible, that all of us understand and rely on very deeply. The FMS (Farm Management Software) includes data from a variety of sources on commodity prices, weather, soil conditions and of course the grower's own records. Our AcreValue product helps farmers understand the value of their land, using land data from various external sources evaluated by our own model.

What's your favorite part of your job?

There's so much complexity and intricacy to this industry even for what you might think is a solved problem. The situation between two growers can be drastically different — I love getting in and understanding these problems and finding creative and simple solutions to them. Which is not so simple when you have the kind of diversity of growers and crops there is across the United States and Canada.

An almond grower in California is going to have different issues than a bean grower here.

Exactly. For that matter, two corn growers in Illinois may also have two sets of issues. The challenge there is I think anyone can try to force it down these different paths, but that's not necessarily very useful — you have to balance somewhat between groups but always have concrete value for an individual.

A lot of people in your industry work enormous hours, do you?

We have our crunch times for sure. We're in it for the long haul, though — as much as possible I like to manage it so we don't bun people out, just like you don't overuse your own soil. We try to keep meetings and bureaucracy to a minimum, so as much as possible our engineers spend their time doing what they're supposed to do. What they want to do is code and build products.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

Throughout my career, I've become more and more interested and invested in working places where I can have the greatest material impact on the business. It's important to me to see my work translated to the company's progress, and a startup is a great opportunity for that.

Did you ever make any mistakes in your early years?

I graduated shortly after the DotCom bubble burst and was hesitant to get into programming, despite having enjoyed it since I was very young (8?). Ultimately accepting that I have a passion for it and getting good at it led me on the path I'm on today.

What is it like to become part of a larger company? Do you still have the same responsibilities you did?

We have the same vision as before, but now are empowered to make a larger impact, faster. My responsibilities are largely unchanged, with the exception of extra focus on growing our team.


Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? I bounce between Kindle and dead trees. Right now reading "The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.," by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. Dead tree version.

Do you have any wearable electronics? Apple Watch — it's a much less intrusive way to get notifications, and it reminds me to move.

Do you have an entrepreneur hero? Joel Spolsky. He's the founder of several great tech companies and has set the tone for many thought leaders in software engineering.