Matt Graff ('08 BCom, '12 MBA) & Graham Graff ('13 BCom, '16 MBA)

Serena Myles, BAA Communications Committee Co-Chair - 03 February 2020

Brothers, business partners and fifth-generation farmers, Matt Graff ('08 BCom, '12 MBA) and Graham Graff ('13 BCom, '16 MBA) believe everyone should have the opportunity to experience a farm. Matt and Graham reflect on their time at the Alberta School of Business and how it benefited both their family farm and new venture – Farmzy.

Matt & Graham Graff

BAA: Tell us about your experience at the Alberta School of Business. What were your favourite memories?

Matt: I completed my Alberta MBA in the spring of 2012. While the coursework was invaluable, many of my major highlights occurred outside of the classroom. I met and worked with exceptional people, travelled on study tours, and created lasting friendships and professional relationships. My top experiences from the program include winning the Canada-wide MBA Games competition in 2011, taking part in business case competitions, travelling to China on an international study tour and participating in an international exchange for one semester at EDHEC Business School in Lille, France. To continue the trend of doing big things together, Graham took part in this international exchange program at the same time, when he was an undergraduate student.

Graham: I did both my BCom (2013) and MBA (2016) at the Alberta School of Business. My favourite memories revolve around the incredible people I met and the unique experiences I encountered. I appreciated the fact that both the BCom and MBA programs had student welcome weeks, where it was easy to get to know your classmates and develop lasting relationships. When I was an undergrad, major highlights included the Cooperative Education program, where I gained valuable work experience. The academic exchange with my brother Matt to EDHEC in Lille, France was also remarkable. That exchange included many side trips all over Europe. I later participated in an MBA study tour to Japan and South Korea. After growing up in rural Alberta, this trip helped me appreciate the vastness of the population in Asia, and the technological advancements being made there.

BAA: Can you tell us about your new business, Farmzy? What was your inspiration for creating this business?

Graham and Matt: Farmzy is an online platform to book real farm adventures, stays and food experiences. With Farmzy, farm hosts can easily market their farm products and farm experiences. Farmzy connects “guests” with farm “hosts”. Host farms create a listing and guests sign up and book directly on the platform. It is a unique and simple way for people to access country adventures that they otherwise may not know existed. People can escape the city and support local farmers while having an exciting adventure and educational experience.

Farmzy was inspired by various insights and experiences. While in our MBA programs, we met many people who had never been on a farm and were not only curious about where their food comes from but had outdated, inaccurate or idealized ideas about farmers, farm life, and the business of farming. We hosted several MBA student visits to our farm, and students raved about the experience. They also talked about how difficult it is to access farm experiences as urbanites. We realized that there is a gap between urban and rural people in understanding food production and that many non-farm people crave rural experiences - this realization was the impetus for Farmzy. Through Farmzy, we want to give people access to authentic farm experiences with refreshing, fun and educational farm activities. As farmers ourselves, we want to bring a new understanding of farming, encourage business in rural areas, and elevate Canadian agriculture, an industry we are proud to promote.

To launch Farmzy this summer, we partnered with the Government of Alberta as the online booking platform for Alberta Open Farm Days (AOFD). AOFD gives Albertans an opportunity to meet farmers, experience farms and understand where their food comes from - before COVID-19, AOFD had proven that there is a growing demand for agri-tourism experiences, with year over year double-digit growth in people seeking farm experiences through AOFD.

BAA: As fifth-generation Alberta farmers, did you always know that you wanted to start a business together within the industry?

Matt and Graham: We grew up working together with our family on our farm and have always been close. Whether it was pond hockey, a competitive game of basketball, being involved in 4-H, or shovelling grain during harvest, there was really no escaping each other! At university, we lived together, and our friendship groups became mutual. Suddenly, we were invited to the same outings and found ourselves in the same wedding parties. Our friends have always given us a hard time for spending so much time together.

We joined our parents as partners on the family farm in 2016. We don’t think we always knew that we were going to start an additional new business together, but we now believe it was inevitable. It only made sense considering our similar business education, a mutual passion for farming, and intertwined friendship groups and recreational activities. We realized that if we were to start a business, it should be together and within the agriculture industry. With the busy seasons on the farm, being able to share farm responsibilities and juggle what is required to manage Farmzy is possible because we work together and have mutual goals. For example, there are times where one of us is working on Farmzy website development and the other is hauling our grain to market or cultivating a field. Who else could we divide tasks like this with?

Working together makes both farm business and Farmzy management easier and fun. We believe that there is a lot of opportunity in the agricultural sector for young people. We also know that agri-tourism has been growing exponentially, and we believe it holds major promise for growth in the next decade. We want Farmzy to be one of the drivers of that growth.

BAA: How has your Alberta School of Business education influenced your life and business post-graduation?

Graham: My business education at the University of Alberta solidified my interest in entrepreneurship. During my MBA, I specialized in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, taking classes such as “New Venture Creation,” which ensured I have the skills and confidence to take my own entrepreneurial leap by joining the family farm partnership and establishing Farmzy.

Taking family business courses sparked my interest in mediation and conflict resolution, which spurred me to obtain my Qualified Mediator designation. This training has been beneficial not only in doing some private consulting work with family businesses but also in the smooth development of our own family’s farm succession plan. After graduating, my family business courses also assisted me in coaching an MBA Team at a Family Business Case Competition in Vermont.

Finally, my life has been enriched through the personal relationships that I have developed through the business program, both professionally and personally. The support I have had from professors, fellow students and MBA friends has been both insightful and inspirational.

Matt: After completing my MBA, I worked part-time in the family farm business and also spent several years working as a management consultant in Edmonton. Now that the farm has expanded and Farmzy has been established, my work life is devoted to building these businesses.

My Alberta MBA provided me with a strong foundation in business management which has been invaluable to the success of our farm and the launch of Farmzy! Being immersed in the diverse group of business school faculty and students and taking advantage of the MBA international study tours expanded my worldview, influencing the way I approach opportunities, and challenging me to imagine alternative ways of doing things. Learning from others from many different professional backgrounds has shown me the value of collaborative decision making and different ways to analyze and solve an entrepreneurial challenge. Because of the irreplaceable network of relationships that were established during our MBA’s, Graham and I have had the opportunity to connect with several alumni to discuss ideas and get feedback about Farmzy. My Alberta MBA has had a remarkable impact on my life.

BAA: Where can people learn more about Farmzy?

Matt and Graham: You can learn more about Farmzy at farmzy.ca or you can follow us on Instagram @farmzy.ca. You can also email us at info@farmzy.ca.

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