Start with a keen interest in technology. Then toss in a desire to help people in need and a background that includes growing up on a small Texas farm where haymaking is the primary enterprise. You end up with 21-year-old Ivan Hernandez and a new hay classifieds Web site called HayCountry.com.
Hernandez is a senior majoring in computer science at Rice University in Houston. He hails from El Campo, where his parents and brother grow Coastal bermudagrass hay on 130 acres. He came up with the idea for the site this past summer. "I wanted to get some more-practical experience in Web-site development," he says. "With my farm background, marketing hay was something I was familiar with. And there definitely seemed to be a need for something like this, especially this summer with the drought we've been going through in this part of the country."
In designing the site, Hernandez focused on ease of use. He set up functions that allow hay buyers to quickly and easily search by hay type, packaging (large squares, small squares, round bales, etc.), quantity available and location. "It's a lot easier to use than the major competitor sites," he says. "And that's very important. People who come to a site looking to buy hay aren't going to want to spend a lot of time there. They just want to know if what they're looking for might be available. If it's too difficult to navigate around, they move on to a different site quickly."
The site also makes it easy for hay sellers to describe what they have for sale and to update their listings as inventories change. Originally, Hernandez had planned to charge sellers who post classified ads. But after hearing that many hay growers in the region were struggling due to the drought, he decided to make the postings free. "I have some company ads on the home page of the site that pay for the cost of the servers. But that's the only revenue coming in. That's okay, though. My goal in starting this wasn't to get rich. It was to provide a community service and to learn more about another aspect of technology."
To promote the site, Hernandez has utilized postings on Facebook, placed ads on Craigslist and asked friends to spread the word. During his first three months of operation, he reports, more than 220 ads have been posted and more than 13,000 people have used the site. Most have come from the southern U.S.
Hernandez has had a fair amount of positive feedback from sellers who have listed on the site, including his family. "They were only able to get one crop put up this year because of the drought. We put the entire inventory on the site, and it sold out in just a couple of days."
While he plans to pursue a career in the computer industry after he graduates next May, Hernandez intends to keep the site running. "I'd like to see it become the No. 1 site for buying and selling hay."
He's interested in hearing from hay growers with ideas on how to make the site even more useful. "One idea I have is to create a tool that would allow growers to view the geographic locations of their customers. That would help growers reduce marketing costs by efficiently targeting their customer base."
To contact Hernandez, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.