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Interview with Alexandre Borges, CEO of Grão Direto

3 min. reading
Barn Investimentos
What sparked the idea behind Grão Direto?

Alexandre B.:We have a really interesting story because we the three co-founders of the company were childhood friends back in Uberaba, Minas Gerais. However, back then we had never imagined working together, it wasn't part of our projections for the future. Pedro studied Production Engineering, I studied Business Administration and Fred studied Computer Science. Since Pedro's family is from the agricultural sector, he went to work in that field. With time, he started to feel uncomfortable, wondering: "why has so much changed and evolved in agribusiness inside the farms, but trading still remains pretty much the same as before?". From this discomfort, in several conversations between us, this question was brought up and we all started to look into it. Bringing together the expertise of business, agriculture and technology was key to coming up with a great solution.

Looking back on your journey so far, is there anything you would have done differently or wish you had known when you started?

Alexandre: I believe that everything takes time to happen, we've learned what we needed to learn, we've had the patience and the discipline we needed. We're very satisfied, happy and proud of what we've achieved so far. The technology behind marketplaces aren't super complicated, they're no-brainers, however the key factor is execution. Many people have already tried to do this before in agribusiness, but perhaps they haven't been able to make effective progress because they were too anxious and didn't understand the timeframe of the processes and audiences. If I could go back in time, I'd say to myself "it's going to be hard, it's going to be difficult, but it's going to happen! Be confident and not anxious." It would give me more comfort to face the challenges. That doesn´t mean we´ve got everything right, but the lessons learned were exactly the ones we needed to get to where we are now.

What was the most difficult part of launching Grão Direto in the early days?

Alexandre: Pedro, Fred and I were Grão's first investors. We had already established careers, and we decided to start making time in our routine to slowly drop what we were doing in order to be able to dedicate ourselves to the business of something that was still very uncertain. We didn't earn a salary for 2.5 years and all of our expenses were coming out of our own pockets. It is a kind of blind faith where you trust in your potential and in your own work, but over the course of two years it is the only thing you can hold on to, the belief that it can work. In this phase, resilience and patience were very much needed. The most important thing between the three of us at work is the mutual symbiosis we have; each of us contributes to and complements the trio in a significant way. For instance, I'm restless, a perfectionist and very impatient. Pedro is the "buddha" of the group, a calm and centered person, while Fred is a wise and optimistic guy. That helped because we all balanced and pushed each other to get the very best out of each one.

What advice can you share on company scale-up?

Alexandre: Look for people with whom you can align your business incentives. A lot of companies and founders think they're in a war with the world; it's them against their competitors and the old ways. However, if you look carefully, you'll find many potential partners who might even be frightened by the change you're creating, but if you align the right incentives and build confidence among the partners, you'll stop seeing them as barriers and start looking at them as enablers. We are always seeking for non-obvious partners, and they end up becoming our greatest supporters. Also, it's also important to count on people you'd cross the desert with - in addition to the founders - hiring the right team in the beginning will make a big difference. If you can find a few people who can make a big difference, you've succeeded. We have that in our C-level team with Gabi, Léo and Gui.

How do you perceive Grão contributing to a more efficient and sustainable food production chain?

Alexandre: We have an evident impact on our services from a sustainability perspective. Our ESG protocol is aligned with that of the leading companies and associations in the market, ensuring that we encourage best practices in grain trading. Brazil still struggles with a negative image of agriculture, which is caused by a minority. Technology plays a role in showcasing that our country leads not only in productivity but also in sustainable practices in the main grain chain. Additionally, we provide accessibility for all sizes and profiles, from small producers and buyers to large farmers and multinational traders. This democratization is really important.

From Grão's perspective, there is also a significant impact due to our presence and desire to continue operating in the rural areas. With a team of over 130 people, I believe it is crucial to foster entrepreneurship outside of São Paulo and establish additional axes and hubs of development throughout the country. This approach enables individuals to graduate and remain in their regions, contributing to global innovations. Our strategic decision to be located here effectively adds value to our business, as we are able to leverage the competitive advantages available in this region. Lastly, we recognize that while Brazilian agriculture within the farm gates is highly technological, the same cannot be said outside. This is where our focus lies – to encourage the modernization of the agricultural sector beyond the farm gates, matching the level of technological advancement seen within the farms.

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