Innovation is born from Adversity
It was Wednesday, March 11th, 2020
Around 11AM phones begin buzzing, social media platforms were lighting up.
Surely this was a bad joke, a dis-information campaign, fake news. Surely it wasn't real.
Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, the grandaddy of all stock shows had been ordered shut down by the mayor of Houston, in mid show no less. The goats, sheep and heifers were in the NRG. Swine and steers were preparing for their journey, that would never happen.
If you were in Texas and related in any form to the competitive livestock world you were shook. Exhibitors, ag teachers, extension agents, breeders, parents, vendors were all looking for answers. But nobody had any. There was not a contingency plan for such.
This, we would all make up as we go.
Back in Stephenville, Texas a high school freshman swine exhibitor asked her ag teacher and her auctioneer dad "What are they going to do with all the animals that won't be sold at the show." Presley Graves had just asked an all important question from an exhibitors point of view. That simple question sparked a conversation, it sparked an idea.
The world had forbidden any type of live auction for the foreseeable future, at least two weeks in an effort to "flatten the curve".
No auction platform had ever been needed to sell junior livestock sales before. Therefore, nobody had ever designed one.
Presley and her dad Brent pondered on the idea of an online solution. As Brent says "for about 7 minutes." before making the call to the foremost programmers of auction software he knew. He called the father and son team of Kurt & Brandon Kaptein of Spectrum Net Designs in Michigan. Kurt had been raised on a dairy and showed animals in his youth. The idea took him by the heart strings. Brandon spent the afternoon conceptuallizing what would need to be done to build such a platform and the cost of doing so. A project like this takes weeks if not months, but the exhibitors needed something yesterday.
On Thursday morning Brent placed the order with Spectrum to build the world's first online junior livestock auction platform. One should remember, this order was placed for one purpose, to give the displaced animals of the Houston and Austin stock shows a marketplace. There was not time to think about the future past those two events.
The world was in chaos. The Spectrum programmers muffled that chaos and plugged in code, conferenced for clear direction on the needed features and built StockShowAuctions.com from concept to reality in just three days. Tests were run on Monday and the SSA team, thrown together from the Graves' family real estate and auction business, was trained on the admin side. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant.
Notice the time stamp in the screenshot below. March 14, 2020 at 2:38AM. Programmers and SSA worked tirelessly to launch the world's first online junior livestock show platform.
So it Begins
On Monday, March 16th, 2020 around 5PM StockShowAuctions.com was ready for exhibitors to begin loading their animals on the site. Exhibitors and parents were so eager to have a marketplace that some had taken it upon themselves to get entered before SSA and Spectrum were really ready, about 100 of them.
A non-negotiable for StockShowAuctions.com was to provide the best customer service possible. The site had a chat line, email, toll-free phone numbers and Facebook Messenger (which we still have today). By 5:01PM they were all going off. SSA handled them all and handled them all night long terminating our support at 4AM and opening back up at 7AM.
By midnight on Monday the 16th over 2,000 animals had been loaded on the system. The auction was on and so was the add-on button. The SSA site was handling over 148,000 page requests each minute at its peak and never stumbled. Exhibitors, parents, friends and relatives were sharing exhibitor's projects across social media. The world had little more to do in those days than surf and click. It was working!
Let's Start a Revolution, together...
StockShowAuctions.com partnered with a great organization from the Houston area called Cowboys4Heros (C4H). Cowboys4Heros was the perfect partner, as their entire existence was centered around buying animals at junior livestock sales, processing them and donating the meat to U.S. military veterans and their families. The partnership was simple. StockShowAuctions.com would service the platform and the exhibitors, C4H would process the payments and remit the payment to the exhibitor less a small commission to cover overhead. C4H used the small profit they made from the partnership to put more money towards buying animals. Unfortunate for StockShowAuctions.com there was not a profit after programming costs and payroll that was required to build and service those first sales. Revolutions cost money after all.
Word quickly spread across Texas and the other states of what StockShowAuctions.com had created. County and regional shows needed a venue to sell animals for the exhibitors, some with a makeshift show, some without. Every auction was online only due to COVID-19 crowd restrictions. By June SSA along with AgFest in California hit a mutual milestone with the first one million dollar online only junior livestock sale. In July as restrictions were slowly lifting, SSA managed our first simulcast junior livestock auction. It was simple, we shipped a single camera to El Paso County, CO, they plugged in and with an open phone line we clerked the auction from our office in Stephenville, TX. As basic as it was, we had done it successfully, without technical difficulty and several sale records were broken that day. By August, with the Anne Arundel County sale in Maryland we had achieved the "Coast to Coast" milestone in basically four months.
June of 2021 brought a unique challenge for SSA. AgFest in California was going back live. Not a problem, by this point we had successfully completed several simulcast auctions while ourselves being remote. The challenge was that AgFest runs two live rings at the same time. By this time in our history, we had figured out it was best to ship a computer with the camera. The computer and camera were already matched and just required internet service once it was on location. The AgFest committee had tested the network weeks and days before to assure there was enough bandwidth to handle two video loads simultaneously. Everything checked out and we were ready. One ring was not providing constant video, the committee on the ground immediately took action and we all learned a trick that day. When 1000 phones are in the room, they do affect the wi-fi service even though they are not logged in. The team on the ground made the adjustment and we were off to the races in California. Between the great and dedicated committee in California and SSA team back in Texas, we pulled it off and the sale broke $1,500,000 and shattered the previous record!!
We were learning. We knew we could do more and knew we could do it better.
As July 2021 rolled around we decided to take the show on the road. SSA determined that the single camera angle that was standard in simulcast auctions was boring and less than entertaining to the online bidders. We wanted multiple camera angles. With a sizeable capital investment in equipment and some trial and error testing we were on the road to El Paso County, Colorado. We set up three stationary camera angles and hardwired them to a switch box. The online bidders now had the opportunity to see the animal and exhibitor, the crowd action and the auctioneer from different angles. Looking back, it too was a bit basic, but it worked. The SSA team would spend the next several months researching, testing and learning the best methods to produce stream video. Our team had made the commitment to hit the road for 2022.
The 2022 season brought on screen graphics, more cameras, mobile cameras in the ring. Streamers, auction companies and vendors all agreed that a 2-3 second latency (the time between when something really happens and the time when the online viewer sees it) was stellar performance. SSA had 2-3 second latency....sometimes. Latency speed was a constant battle. Some sales would be 2-3 seconds, others 5-7, some even 8-10 which was absolutely not acceptable. The search was on. Did we need faster computers, different camera settings, different hardware, different software? We tried it all. Nothing seemed to give us a consistent 2-3 second latency for the simulcast. Livestream service providers were not interested in decreasing lag-time. A sporting event, pod cast, an interview even a stock show didn't need reduced latency, but an auction did. Through many discussions we were introduced to one of Hollywood's oldest and most prominent digital audio/video designers. They assured us they had the solution to our problem and allowed us to test their service for free for one auction. BOOM! We had just broken the speed barrier! A professional, business relationship was formed. This new union would allow bidders at home to see and hear the auctioneer change quicker than the human clerk at the auction could change it in the portal. Industry standards had accepted a 2-3 second latency as the fastest stream speed possible. In August of 2022, SSA broke the barrier with consistent speeds of high-quality digital stream of less than one-half of one second! To add stress to the test we did an entire auction using SpaceX's Starlink system. We believe that StockShowAuctions.com was the first to broadcast an entire simulcast auction using the new satelite internet service. Let's add a bit more stress to the test and tell you we did it during a storm that resulted in the sale arena being evacuated for a tornado warning. How's that for a system stress test?
The Revolution was beginning!
Junior Livestock Auctions typically have over 100 individual consignors, the exhibitors themselves. The buyers are not typically your professional auction buyer, many attend one auction each year and this is it. SSA recognized that if we can perfect the junior auction, we can begin to offer our service to the more commercially minded prospect sales with very little effort. The plan was to begin managing prospect auctions in 2023, of course we started in the summer of 2022.
SSA spent two years researching and analyzing the prospect auction provider marketplace. We analyzed their latency, their video and audio quality, their customer service, their buyer communications and their commitment to the single niche market of competitive livestock. This process led us to understand where the void was in the market. A breeder or prospect auction promoter had to call the Auctioneer, the preview company, the simulcast provider, the graphic designers, the printer, the auction day office staff, the caterer and so on. There was not a single company that provided traditional and professional auction management services with one single call.
Enter StockShowAuctions.com. With more than 20 years of professional auction experience coupled with the fastest and friendliest online and simulcast platform in the industry SSA was ready to enter the prospect auction arena. The multi-camera production quality allowed for a change in the way animals were offered in a video preview and in the auction ring. Rule #1 - camera operators must understand livestock and what buyers need to see to make a buying decision. Getting low and mobile was imperative. Rule #2 - buyers shouldn't have unanswered questions. Therefore, adding graphics on the preview that immediately informed potential buyers of the lot number, age, breeder and pedigree was a relatively easy task. Transferring that same graphic from the preview to the actual auction, well that was revolutionary.
Prospect auction buyers can now deal with one company from start to finish, live or online. Buyers no longer must search for the chosen preview company, the correct online service for placing the bids or wonder who they remit payment to. StockShowAuctions.com takes care of the buyer from registration to checkout. The breeder/prospect auction host does what they need to do, what they are in business to do. Talk to customers about the stock in the sale, network and build relationships. They no longer worry about the internet service, the office, the sound system, staff assignments or the hundreds of details that come with auction day. StockShowAuctions.com takes care of those details on their behalf.
We know. It's revolutionary.
While our history may be young it is full. Our plans for the future are crazy big and will benefit sellers, buyers, exhibitors and vendors as well. While our history is just beginning, we hope you will join us for the journey and be a part of our efforts to revolutionize the way competitive livestock is marketed and sold from start to finish.