MartEye is a PorterShed member that offers a live-streaming service for cattle marts. At its core, the software makes it easy for farmers to tune in remotely to auctions, allowing them to see sales happen, as well as placing bids on both cattle and machinery.
While many companies were understandably struggling during the initial Covid lockdown, Ciaran Feeney, Mark McGann, Jamie Nolan, and Aaron Signorelli grabbed an opportunity that was flagged to them and got together to test the idea – and it only took them two weeks to get everything ready in time to cover their first-ever live auction.
“Myself and Mark and Aaron were working with another start-up looking at computer vision technology in the agricultural space,” co-founder and software developer Ciaran explains. “We were kind of ready to go to market. Then the pandemic hit. The guy in Ireland that we were working with to fit it all for us asked if there was anything we could do around online auctions.
“We looked around and there was nothing really suitable. Initially, we were too busy, and he was like ‘no no, I think this could work – it’s a huge problem for marts at the minute because they can’t sell’. We gave it two weeks to see what would happen. We put the head down for two weeks because there were no other distractions due to lockdown – it was either sleeping or working! We pushed it all out and we got it live in Tullow for our first sale. It was pretty intense.”
Getting an operation off the ground in under a fortnight is super-impressive by anyone’s standards, but it didn’t mean that the MartEye team were set for a smooth ride just yet.
One of the main obstacles they encountered early on was the internet connectivity that dogged much of rural Ireland; after all, a strong connection is needed to live stream an auction.
“It’s mostly settled now down, but when we were starting off, they had dial-up internet; so, we had to use sim cards in some instances, and it was very changeable,” Ciaran explains, adding that the process is so much smoother now.
Online cattle farms might seem like a fairly unexpected win for many, but Ciaran explains that it had been sought after long before that. The only problem was that it was difficult to test because farmers were actually out at marts in person; Covid changed all that.
There are two objectives that have really pushed MartEye in the right direction: price points and quality. As Ciarán explains, 90 percent of the service’s users have never actually placed a bid, so they were able to create prices to reflect that user base, something which really contributed to the positive trending of MartEye.
“We took a really active view on support so that we would be helping out with camera quality, logistical assistance to help ensure smooth production to get it to a place where people could watch it and have the confidence to go and purchase on it,” Ciaran says, explaining that this was what would encourage people to come back and continue using it, and it’s an approach that has been working really well for them.
After all, their statistics underline just how loved their system is.
“Our numbers have really skyrocketed in the last three or four months, and we’ve had a few new clients. I think now we’re averaging about 180,000 monthly active users through the site – people coming in and viewing. And they keep coming back, so the retention is really good for it as well. It’s crazy to see the number of people on it at a time.
“Plus, we’re averaging around 30 sales a day.”
In terms of looking to the future, Ciaran tells me that MartEye have big plans – and Q1 is already earmarked as a chance to upgrade their transaction and payments system for users. And that speaks to MartEye’s consistent aim to do better and increase traction; while a lot of their customers would traditionally use cheques, this new development would bring users into the digital age and allow them to transact instantly while the auction is happening.
What’s more, MartEye recently won the Farm Software Award at the National Ploughing Championships during the 2022 Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena Awards. So, has that been validation for all of the hard work they’ve put in over the years?
“I suppose it has,” Ciaran says.
“When we were in our other start-up, we were applying for awards and trying to get recognition and build momentum around the product, but in this case we were so busy building the product, we actually didn’t apply for anything. So, the Ploughing Championships was a good opportunity to go and meet companies at similar stages, other companies in the space and consumers who actually use the platform.”
Ciaran and his MartEye colleagues were willing to resolve a problem that was highlighted because of Covid, but it soon became clear that this was a solution that people had been crying out for long before. Covid may have been disastrous for start-ups, but it also forced so many people to look at how life could be improved on a variety of levels – MartEye certainly took the bull by the horns with their innovation, and they haven’t let go since.
By Trevor Murray