Five guys in Holland create a Fitbit for cows

For Yasir Khokhar, it all started with the thought What are the cows thinking?

One day in Holland, he recalls, “I was staring outside my window, looking at the grazing cows and wondered, ‘What are they thinking?’ It was one of those insignificant thoughts that turned into an eureka moment. That’s when the plan emerged.”

Around this same time, “I was talking to my college friend Saad [Ansari] about setting up something new, and simultaneously spoke to a retired banker friend who had set up a dairy farm.”

So Khokhar and Ansari, two smart guys from Pakistan, decided to set up a company concerning cows—in Holland.

“Being in college at the center of the dot-com boom in Pakistan gave me a great start,” says Khokhar. “After working in Dubai for a while, my wife and I were ready for a new adventure. We moved from inner city Dubai to a tiny village in Holland where the amount of cows exceeded the number of inhabitants.”

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For Connecterra, the WeWork Weteringschans members developed a technology using deep learning. This is a new field of mathematics that uses a form of artificial intelligence to make computers learn and think like humans. In this case, it learns the behavior of cows and provides insights about their health. This lets farmers run their farms more efficiently.

The pair started setting up funding, developing prototypes, and found their three other teammates who specialize in data science, deep learning, and product design for their “Fitbit for cows.”

“This team contains an amazing bundle of knowledge and commitment,” says Khokhar. “But it wasn’t a smooth ride. Setting up a startup business in your mid-thirties is a huge responsibility. All the crazy hours of hard work took a big toll on our families, without knowing it was even going to work.”

But it was the positive responses from the farmers that made his small team realize they were on to something.

“We approached farmers using the phone book and started testing the prototypes,” Khokhar says.

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This is when the fun started. Khokhar laughs as he remembers the sight of a “bunch of tech nerds in a smelly barn.” But when they got down to work, they realized how much they were lightening the load for the farmers.

“I loved it and felt humbled by their hard work,” he says. “It is what life is all about. Knowing we can help them feels very gratifying.”

The farmers weren’t the only ones showing their appreciation. Only a year after it started at Khokhar’s kitchen table, Connecterra won the 2015 Startup of the Year award at Web Summit.

And the future seems wide open, with companies from Japan to Brazil showing interest in their products.

“We want to help create a better world,” Khokhar says. “For now, that means feeding more people with less cows. But in the future, we plan to broaden our scope by putting a sensor to plants, soil, or even trucks. We don’t want to solve made-up problems, but focus on hard problems. It forces you to innovate and that makes you grow. As a group of five, we might be small, but we can do big things.”

Photo credit: Iris DuvekotPaul van de Velde

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