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Iowa startup Terva wants to be Zillow for farmland

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Screenshot courtesy of Terva.

When you’re looking to buy residential property, it’s easy to use a site like Zillow to find out almost everything you would want to know about a home.

If you’re a farmer looking to expand your acreage, the process isn’t quite as simple.

The Ames startup Terva is hoping to simplify the process and to become the destination site for agricultural real estate.

How Terva works

Terva founder Steven Brockshus’s family has had a dairy farm for five generations. He would go to land sales with his father and grandfather, and he was curious how a farmer went about growing their property.

“My dad started explaining the process, and I realized it was a lot more complicated than I thought,” Brockshus said. “It’s all about who you know and being in the right place at the right time.”

Brockshus is a student at Iowa State University and started using his agricultural entrepreneurship class to flesh out ideas for what became Terva.

In November 2015 he took his idea to the Ames Startup Weekend, winning Best New Business Idea. In the spring, Brockshus took Terva through the University of Iowa’s Venture School program, followed by ISU’s student accelerator program.

In its current beta state, Terva looks a bit like Google Maps. You can search for an area and click on different highlighted parcels of land to find out who is listening the land, if it’s held by an individual or broker, soil and productivity info and more.

“Terva makes it very transparent what land is selling for in a hyper local area,” Brockshus said. “When it comes to farmland, the value can be very dependent on where it is geographically. We provide all the info you could want by interacting with our map-based website.”

What comes next

Terva recently started private beta testing, after which Brockshus said the company will go to a public site launch in late January or early February.

Brockshus is still a student at ISU, but he expects to be working on Terva full time after graduating in May.

“It’s been great to be able to do this while I’m in school, when my livelihood doesn’t depend on it,” Brockshus said.

Terva will start with a focus in Iowa, but Brockshus said the plan is to expand its coverage area to other Midwestern states in short order, and eventually the entire US.

Lessons learned

“Everyone tells you development takes twice as much money and time as you think it will,” Brockshus said. “Originally we were planning to start our private beta testing in September, but that got pushed back to November, which pushed back our timeline for the public site launch.”

Brockshus used that extra time to get more testers to sign up for Terva, and to travel around the Midwest doing customer discovery. The goal is to make sure Terva has traction in the marketplace before going public.

Brockshus also said realizing that a company founder can’t do everything is important. He attended hackathons to find out more about how coders work, but doesn’t feel he has the skill to do the development and coding for Terva. It was at hackathons that he found the team he’s working with now.

“If you don’t have the expertise to do something, find someone who can and empower them. Give them skin in the game,” Brockshus said.

A bigger harvest in 2017 and beyond

Terva will launch its public product in 2017, and Brockshus is deciding whether he wants to keep his company in Ames, or relocate to the nearby Des Moines.

He hopes to expand Terva’s team to include a Chief Product Officer and someone to handle marketing. Then he wants to focus on making Terva work for farmers.

“Our central mission is to make the world’s farmland info more accessible,” Brockshus said. “I want us to be the number one service provider for farmland info, as well as helping tens of thousands of people connect with each other and to live off the land.”

Joe Lawler is a freelance reporter based in Des Moines.