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New Zealand’s Startups

Halter’s big push on international expansion

“I would want to be in 10 countries in 18 months or so”: Craig Piggott


Fiona Rotherham

Halter founder Craig Piggott

Some people welcome in the New Year with good intentions and setting goals they never follow through on. In the case of Halter founder and CEO Craig Piggott his top goal for 2024 is going global, closely followed by continuing to innovate new products. If I was a betting woman which I’m not, I would put money on Piggott achieving his goals.

The young entrepreneur, who will turn 30 this year, founded the agritech company in late 2016 aged just 22. The company’s innovative cow collar allows farmers to use a phone app to guide cows around the farm using sound and vibrations. 

Piggott has raised a total of $125 million to date, including $85 million in a Series C round in March 2023 – one of the largest for a kiwi startup at that stage. Those betting on him in that round included US-based Bessemer Venture Partners which is also an investor in Nasdaq-listed and kiwi-founded Rocket Lab who Piggott formerly worked for. Its founder Peter Beck is an investor and director in Halter and a close mentor of its CEO.

Late last year the virtual fencing provider expanded from selling cow halters to dairy farmers to also selling them to beef farmers, a much bigger international market. Its new virtual fencing product – Halter Base- increases pasture utilisation and quality, and therefore farmer profits.

While a big move on its own, it also signalled Halter's intention to spread its wings out of Australasia and sell to both the dairy and beef markets simultaneously offshore. 

Piggott is cautious about saying too much about this year’s planned international expansion until all the details have been nutted out.

Halter is now involved with over 1,000 farmers throughout New Zealand on a monthly subscription model per cow. Last year it also launched into the Australian state of Tasmania where Piggott says things are going “really well”. Halter recently hit the milestone of 10 percent of the dairy market there.

Plans for this year include expanding into other states in Australia, Piggott says.

“In terms of future expansion we’re going through the process at the moment of trying to evaluate what are the third, fourth, fifth countries. Expansion is a big part of the plan for this year but we don’t have anything finalised on geographies yet.”

In previous media interviews he’s talked about doing pilots in Europe, South America and North America which are all the big dairy and beef markets behind India. A decision is likely in the next three months.

“We’ve done lots of phenomenal work here with the dairy industry and obviously recently the beef industry. But New Zealand is a small country and if we want to have meaningful impact we need more reach and we’ll get that through the global expansion piece.”

When asked whether the strategy was to have expanded into say 10 countries within the next five years, Piggott's response was he would be “massively disappointed” if it were only that number.

“I would want to be in 10 countries, I don’t know, in 18 months or so.”

Cows with Halter collars

The innovation goal

According to Google, there are 940 million beef cattle in the world compared to just 270 million dairy cows. New Zealand is an exception where there is a more even split.

Piggott says the reason Halter has gone for beef farmers second behind dairy is because there is more cost pressure in that market. The beef system costs half of the full dairy package because it is much simpler, he says.

Halter’s virtual fencing allows beef farmers to adopt more rotational grazing in a cost-effective way which is better for grass regrowth and quality. Historically, adoption of rotational grazing on beef farms has been limited because of the heavy expense of building fences on what is often hill country terrain. 

In August last year, Halter released Pasture Pro, a pasture app which combines machine learning, weather data and satellite imagery to help dairy farmers grow and harvest more grass. The app automatically estimates pasture cover and grass growth rates, no matter the weather.

“Inevitably once beef farmers are rotational grazing and are trying to be more accurate and allocate the right amount of dry matter every day they start to ask questions, like ‘I need to move my grass', and that creates a thirst for more solutions to keep advancing to where the dairy industry is running right now. That will feed down to beef.”

Piggott is passionate about continuing to innovate and over half of the 180-strong team is dedicated to building new features and products, a heavy investment into research and development. A Pasture Pro version 2 is planned in the near future.

The original version was based on the latest AI and machine learning techniques and Piggott says efficiency has risen with Halter also having a dedicated team using AI as part of its workflow.

“We both used it to help us develop and in our product itself. It’s a remarkable change,” he says. “We are shipping more product than ever and solving problems for our customers and we are doing it with the same size team at the moment.”

Cash flow positive

Whatever the industry, hardware companies require patient investors and lots of capital.

Halter has nearly doubled its customer base in 12 months and doubled revenue, though the privately-owned company doesn’t make either public.

Piggott says last year’s over-subscribed Series C round is expected to give Halter enough runway to hit cash flow positive, though he’s not sharing externally when that is likely to be.

“We’re always evaluating our options on this. It’s a balance of how aggressively you want to grow and whether you want to be profitable and so we’ve had that choice probably for a while and we’ve been very fortunate to have raised money obviously and had really good investors and that’s given us a lot of optionality.”

It’s an optionality many kiwi startups don’t have in the current constrained funding environment with many investors pushing for companies to conserve runway and provide a clear path to profitability. 

Piggott says the market is valuing efficient growth rather than growth at all costs which, as a founder, he thinks is a more natural way to build a business.

“You’re building a business based on good fundamentals rather than just intoxicating top line growth at all costs, which in a lot of ways is very unnatural for a kiwi founder – a lot of us here in New Zealand are traditionally a bit more stingy, not to stereotype a whole country.”

Halter’s board and executive team both want a business based on good fundamentals but there has been no mandate from investors to hit profitability, he says.

In the wider market, he says great companies are still getting funded and there are still deals happening. “The job is just to execute well and have an important enough problem to solve.”

Halter CEO Craig Piggott

Being transparent

The young entrepreneur turns to his investors for advice, and, in particular, Peter Beck. “I find advice doesn’t generalise very well. Someone might be incredibly successful in the world of finance or banking but it might be really hard for you to learn from that person how to solve a really specific problem unless you’ve scaled and doubled a company within a quarter in terms of team size. “

His advice to other startup founders is to build a relationship with your board where you can be candid about any problems, which is a strange dynamic from previously pitching to them.

“Literally one day that changes into having this really candid relationship where you can share any news as it comes through, no matter how good or bad, and that’s essential to having a really important long-term relationship. If they don’t have the context, they’re not going to be offering you very good advice.”

Other investors who are represented on the board, which Piggott chairs, include Australasian VC firm Blackbird Ventures, and US-based Promus and DCVC.

Piggott also finds founder retreats organised by venture capital firms a good way of meeting others going through the same issues. He gravitates to those who share his work ethic.

“If you are at a high-growth company it’s intense and it’s seven days a week, all night and day. You end up anchoring to the companies which have overlap.”

He’s also clear when hiring staff for Halter, that it will be intense. 

“We’re pretty open and honest with candidates that it’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of fun.”


Fiona Rotherham

Fiona Rotherham has worked at numerous business publications as editor, co-editor and senior journalist. Her passion for startups was sparked while working at former entrepreneur magazine Unlimited of which she was also editor.

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