That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, speaks to John McClean, Antrim, founder of FarmFLiX, an online video platform dedicated to delivering relevant agricultural content.
He discusses his agricultural roots, establishing the business, navigating the Covid-19 pandemic, and capturing content across Ireland and the UK to fill a schedule of 54 content slots to fill in a year.
CC: Do you hail from a farming background?
I grew up in a big farming circle from my mother and father’s families. We lived next door to my grandfather, a first-generation contractor with the steam engine powering his thresher back in the 1940s.
He and my grandmother both moved from Co. Donegal to Mid-Ulster, where he set up a business that the McClean family still operate today.
That yard was a big part of my childhood experience. My father was a schoolteacher, but we also had a hobby farm and lightweight contracting activities on the side.
Dad never had the acres to take it to the next level, so my path took me into software engineering, which I later parked when video creation took over my life.
My frustration with the ‘agri’ DVDs of the noughties, which were often created by people without a love of the industry, had me thinking I could do better after some short videos I had made were going well on a YouTube channel I set up in 2007.
Following the success of ‘Fulla The Pipe’ and not having enough hours in a week, I decided in the summer of 2011; it was now or never.
With my daughter, Eva Rose, due to be born in November, I reckoned that at the age of 30, I would never summon the courage up ever again to give up a steady salary to pursue the dream.
Things might have been different if the cost of entry to farming was about one-tenth of what it currently is. In that case, farming itself would have been the dream instead of spectating from the sidelines.
Catherina: When did you launch FarmFLiX?
John: FarmFLiX was launched in 2016 after I chose to leave my previous business.
I was frustrated by the creative limitations of the DVD delivery format and realised its lifespan was nearing an end since the mobile networks were steadily improving.
It was also important to me to be the first out of the gate with a video-on-demand streaming service dedicated to agriculture.
Like so many ideas from the past that I could have or should have tried, this one was not going to slip past me without giving it my best shot.
Like any idea, it was chewed over in my mind many times.
As any new business owner will explain – you start something because you want to do it, and if you are successful, the business will thrive.
This means you get more and more ‘things’ on your plate as you start managing the business and end up doing less and less of what you set out to deliver.
My departure from my previous business meant I once again had time on my hands to devote to something new.
After much soul-searching about what my next project would be, FarmFLiX was still the front runner in my thoughts, thanks to my love of machinery and video creation.
Catherina: What is FarmFLiX’s objective and purpose?
John: Our objective is to create quality agricultural entertainment geared toward the farming community who work in this industry.
I learn something new every day when we are out making these documentaries, and it is important to me that those nuggets of knowledge and unbiased experiences make the cut as a bonus for the audience.
This is not content that is watered down trying to cross over into a mainstream audience. We create real-world documentaries, and we show it, warts and all.
I do not want to paint a picture that the ag life is an easy one. No matter what your role is in farming, it is not a 9-5 walk in the park.
So much is dictated by the weather and the trials of livestock and crops that I have the utmost respect for everyone who sticks with this industry.
After all, everyone depends on it for our survival as a species.
I am bewildered how the carbon police have decided that livestock and not humans are going to be the end of our civilisation, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Catherina: How can people access your content?
John: People can log onto www.farmflix.tv or access content through our FarmFLiX app. To date, we have released over 300 episodes.
Catherina: What have been some of your most popular posts?
John: We have had quite a few hits that got people talking, but to name a few examples – Jonnie Neal getting fired up during the pressures of first cut, Alwyn Young rolling a trailer at the #onThePull event and the scale of the American farms we saw when we went to visit Rodney Elliott for a Stockyards tour.
Catherina: What have been some milestones since launching?
Getting to episode 100 was a significant milestone for our production team. Travelling to the USA to film was a big one too, but Covid has put a wet blanket on trips like that for the time being.
From a business perspective, getting to our break-even cost was also a very significant milestone.
That did not happen in year one, so it was a major weight off the shoulders to turn belief into reality and be free to grow the team to match what we wanted to deliver.
We have had support from InvestNI & the Newtownabbey Borough Council through the GROW scheme.
We have had a team of people working in the business from the outset, which has grown over the years.
The quality and quantity of content, which we capture and publish from start to finish, would be impossible to deliver without our team to make it happen. We put a new video in the tank every week.
Catherina: How do you generate content ideas?
John: We have a schedule of 54 slots to fill in a year, and there are thousands of farmers working 365 days of the year, so we try to tag along with a few of them on the dry days.
Catherina: Where are your followers based?
John: Our audience is predominantly UK & Ireland, and what looks like a decent number of ex-pats scattered around the globe in some very random places!
Catherina: Is there a fee to access the episodes?
John: Yes, but it is seriously good value.
Catherina: Has FarmFLiX’s success exceeded your expectations?
John: No, because we are only getting started (5 years in).
I like to think big, so we are still a good way off what I am gunning towards. There is still plenty of people who we meet on our travels who have either never heard of us or think we’re just a YouTube channel – that is both frustrating and exciting at this point in our journey.
Catherina: Do you have any regrets?
John: None – everything is a lesson, and I read somewhere a long time ago that a business should experiment while it is small because who cares if something is a failure?
Some experiments work, some do not, but either way, it is a win because the lessons from a failure are priceless.
Catherina: If you could turn back the clock, would you do anything differently?
John: I would have told my 2016 self to start the ‘behind the scenes’ vlogs on YouTube from the beginning, but other than that, very little.
Catherina: What is next in line for FarmFLiX?
John: I have always got a lot of ideas brewing in my mind, and I have to try not to overload the team with crazy projects (think #onThePull – which we will run again eventually!).
Short-term, we are always working on the episode queue and consistently trying to develop the strength and skills of the team to push the quality barrier beyond where we have set it for ourselves.
Long-term, another experimental project will make it out of the gate, and I will start the game all over again by persuading people to try it because when they do, they will love it.
I am happy with where FarmFLiX is at right now. Covid came out of nowhere and really messed with us (just like it has for so many small businesses).
We are back on track now and have been travelling through the UK and Ireland, capturing a variety of content again.
I am not one for taking the smooth sailing for granted, though; I always like to keep one eye on where things are going.
We cannot ignore the fact that we are competing with YouTube and ‘free content’, and in many ways, we are swimming against the current.
Thanks to our members, we can keep funding fresh farming documentaries that only exist because of their continued support.
Also, we can create them without bias because we are not funded by advertisers, which means we are all killer and zero filler.
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