We’re Doing It Our Way, Kellee James, Podcast #109

Kellee James is the Founder and CEO of Mercaris — a market data service, and trading platform for organic, non-GMO and other certified agricultural commodities. What that translates to is a whole lot of innovation and ingenuity to create bigger business out of small and sustainable farming and agriculture.

You can listen to this on Itunes here.

Remember we are in summer mode. Podcasts every other Monday.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Bryce T.

    Mercaris0:45 Growing up an Army brat.1:12 Raising a family in the military1:51 Horseback riding.2:47 Possible first black gold medalist (in horseback riding)…?5:33 What was your plan B?6:54 Side hustles7:07 Went back to grad school to get an MBA “which was the beginning of a new career.”7:30 Working with coffee farmers in low quality coffee markets. 2002.8:32 “And I loved it. This is life-changing. This is really what I want to do with the rest of my life. And use markets to do it. Use a market-based mechanism to do it.”8:41 New exchange (Chicago Climate Exchange) to trade carbon credits. “You can achieve a social and environmental goal using financial tools. It was the first place you could trade futures and options on carbon.”9:12 “It’s putting a monetary price on carbon emissions, and letting traders (markets) do what it does.9:24 Great learning experience starting an exchange from the ground up as an early hire. The exchange, founded by Richard Sandor, was eventually was acquired by ICE for over $600 million. Founded by Richard Sandor9:56 However, it always depended on federal action to limit carbon emissions. Market unwound very quickly.11:00 Back in grad school, began being interested in the organic markets. Wrote thesis on, “why couldn’t we have new futures markets, financial markets for these environmental derivatives.”11:42 Best skillset for an entrepreneur. Be shameless.12:17 Have to be aggressive. Unfortunately for women, there is a fine line.12:45 After a short stint with the World Bank, needed the five years of real-world experience of how an exchange actually works. Returned to the idea and founded Mercaris after the experience of helping the Chicago Climate Exchange grow.13:20 Richard’s best advice. Don’t make this a non-profit.13:33 When did Mercaris launch?14:00 “We are two things, we’re a data company first, we’re market data and trading. Both sides. For organic and non-GMO identity-preserved commodities. These are fast-growing markets.”15:14 Whole Foods as an example.16:24 In 2015 vs. now, how much has that organic market grown?17:13 How has your business changed over time?17:40 Who are the core customers?19:07 Is your business at this point executing at what you finally figure out? Kellee – “Lesson learned, neither one of us have marketing in our backgrounds, we have finally hired in the last year a marketing firm. (It makes a big difference.) For the first time, now we’re being intentional as being thought leaders in the industry. Doing both push and pull type marketing.”20:27 At the end of the day, (Mercaris) is providing in many ways a SaaS product.21:41 Family life.22:43 Joyful Imbalance. “I think we all live joyful imbalance.”23:07 How has it changed you as an entrepreneur? “ Kellee – “I think there is a superpower that is overlooked. I wish I could take my pre-mother self and apply the lessons learned, that I have now (to that). I am so much more efficient. Let me get the most out of this time.”24:05 How was your journey raising capital? “It’s true, it’s about networks.”25:30 “The importance of having really good investors with great connections and an understanding of the reality of how businesses are grown. That knowledge is worth every penny.”26:30 Raising money. “We will be a billion-dollar business, but we’re doing it our way.” Slow and steady wins the race.29:30 Where do you see Mercaris going? Kellee – “We have built this very deep database of cash market prices. But now, moving into becoming a financial services firm. Now we are getting ready to launch the first swap contracts on organic grains. The ideas is our data can be used to settle derivative contracts for organic grains. So we will let people hedge price risk, just like you would in any other commodity market.”30:59 Insurance products. We are the sole owner of this great price data. The data lets you build insurance products. It makes our customers very sticky.31:30 An open market place.31:43 “We’ve maintained trust in what we’re doing. We really are neutral. We never take a position.”

    1. Gotham Gal

      this is awesome!!!

    2. Donna Brewington White


      1. Gotham Gal


        1. Donna Brewington White

          Great interview, Joanne, and I am continually impressed by your ability to spot unique and interesting people and companies in which to invest.

          1. Gotham Gal

            Thanks Donna. Very much appreciated

  2. Donna Brewington White

    I listened eagerly to this podcast. I’ve been interested in Kellee and Mercaris since being introduced to both on a GothamGal post a few years back — may have simply been a list of female founders which led me to more research.Will continue to excitedly watch for new developments. I wish Kellee the best!