From his parents, who left Switzerland for North America, Tim Bucher learned risk-taking and perseverance. He became a farmer and IT entrepreneur, both on a large scale. Portrait.
This content was posted on May 19, 2022 – 09:22
Dry Creek is a valley located in the heart of Sonoma County, California. Smooth contours of hills with long rows of vineyards, olive groves and waterways form a landscape reminiscent of Italy. This also explains the many Italian names of farms in the region. This is where you’ll find tractor farmsexternal link.
Tractors are Tim Bucher’s passion. “On Sundays I spend up to ten o’clock in the country”, explains this Swiss abroad. Meanwhile, I silently think about my ideas. I am alone with myself and I reflect. Tim Bucher is a high-tech entrepreneur with a passion for viticulture-and everything he does is extremely successful.
From Switzerland to San Francisco
swissinfo.ch features profiles of Swiss people who stand out for a variety of reasons in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. This series is written by journalist Mariangela Mistretta.
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His parents arrived in California in the mid-1950s, like many others, in search of a better life. They came from Giswil, in the canton of Lucerne. He found tractor farms in the 1990s with his wife Marie Louise. She is also an engineer; they met while studying at Stanford.
With little money in the United States
Tim Bucher came to know and appreciate his family history when he once interviewed his father for a school assignment. His father told how he arrived in New York by boat with little money, not knowing what to expect.
“This story shocked me. I realized how difficult it was for them to say goodbye to their families, leave their country and face their new reality of immigrants,” she explains. His parents didn’t speak English. He reports unimaginable and frightening situations. “They were very brave. They were a source of inspiration for me,” he says.
“Dairy farming is one of the hardest jobs and as a child I had to help around the house”
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Tim Bucher learned from them the courage to take risks and perseverance. “They ignited my entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. This is expressed in a combination of agriculture and technology. These are his two great passions, which he had long pursued simultaneously. “I was very lucky not to have to sacrifice any of them,” he says.
Sales to tech giants
Tim Bucher has a sense of innovation and disruptive companies. He thus lives the culture that characterizes Silicon Valley. In more than 30 years, he has created a number of high-tech companies: cloud, augmented reality, virtual reality, games. His experience extends to electric vehicles, and he’s also created a publicly traded company. Six of his companies were sold to giants like Microsoft, Apple and Dell.
He has also held leadership roles alongside figures such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Today, he is CEO and co-founder of Agtonomy, a platform for hybrid and remotely controlled agricultural vehicles. Agriculture and technology, his two leitmotifs of life, come together here.
“I grew up on a dairy farm. Dairy farming is one of the hardest jobs there is and as a child I had to help around the house,” she says. This is how he begins to explain where his perseverance and innovative spirit comes from.
“Working on a farm is like working at a start-up,” he continues. Nothing is guaranteed, you have to take a lot of risks and make things work. It is up to you to succeed or fail.”
High tech and wine
At sixteen, he was put on trial. His Italian friends’ parents in Sonoma were winemakers and his mother understood that viticulture could be something for him. She bought him two hectares. “It was here in the Dry Creek Valley that I started making my own wine,” he says. In college, he majored in agriculture but ended up studying computer science, almost for fun.
“I lost a bet with a friend, so I took a computer course for a semester,” he says. I was deeply fascinated and almost surprised at how naturally the subject came to my mind. It was the first step on his journey that would lead him to become a major player in Silicon Valley’s early boom years.
Tim Bucher had already accepted a position at IBM even before finishing his studies. But before starting, he visited a start-up where a friend of his worked: Sun Microsystems. He was impressed by the energy there and did not take the job at IBM. “It was one of my best decisions,” he says today. There was more room for experimentation and innovation at this start-up than at the IT giant.
a valley of potential
In the early 1980s, Silicon Valley was being born, the possibilities were endless, and it would remain so until the dot-com bubble burst in 2001. For Tim Bucher, that meant a lot of work and a lot of risk. “They have advanced in areas that have not yet been explored, they have explored the potential. His whole life revolved around work. It was where my friends were, it was where I spent my free time,” he recalls.
But little by little, attitudes changed, even in California. “For the better in some ways, I have to admit,” admits Tim Bucher – reconciling work and private life has become a social value, and issues such as inclusion and environmental sustainability have become essential for companies. Back then it was different. “However, the courage to take risks was a little lost,” he laments. Today, many want to create a start-up, but the logic of profit prevails, and the desire to become rich, famous and recognized comes first.
He has no vision. The meaning of sacrifice. According to him, a true entrepreneur is someone who wants to conquer something in the world. He then tells how he decided to leave a high-paying job to create a start-up called NeXT Computer. “It was a project launched by Steve Jobs. They asked me to join them, but they only offered me half the salary I had before.” It was risky, but he was in, because he was convinced by Steve Jobs’ vision. And being paid in shares made him a co-owner. He was responsible for a company.
Between agriculture and sustainability
From the terrace of your house on the hill, the view extends over the surrounding countryside. The conversation focuses on the effects of the pandemic and climate change on the country, as well as the wildfires that have ravaged much of California. Tim Bucher talks about the difficulties faced by the hotel and restaurant sector and also by wineries. “As my wife and I both have a high-tech working background, we wanted to create a community around our farm,” he explains.
On about 17 hectares, wine and olive oil are now produced according to sustainability criteria. “The credit goes to our three children, who are sensitive to the environment from an early age,” says Tim Bucher. It all started with a photovoltaic installation. “We then developed a designed composting system and a water reuse facility,” he continues. His farm is not only a place that connects him to his origins, but also a source of inspiration for his business ideas. Here, “the impossible can become possible”.
Technology at the service of agriculture
Agtonomy is the name of his current project, which brings together all his passions: agriculture, tractors and technology. It is a start-up that aims to put high technology at the service of agricultural work. “Climate change, problems in the production chain during the pandemic, lack of skilled labor, especially for repetitive tasks, all of this affected local agriculture more than large agricultural multinationals”, he explains. Tim Bucher talks here about the difficulties he himself experienced on his own farm. At the same time, he found that most autonomous driving technologies were used on large farms. That’s how the idea came to him.
Agtonomy wants to make automated and tele-assisted services accessible to small and medium-sized properties. But not the hardware, for which there are already highly specialized companies. “We’re focusing on software to improve the performance of these machines,” he says. With Agtonomy, he is targeting local businesses that cannot afford millions of dollars for machines. He knows the reality of these farmers. Producing local and sustainable food – this is your own reality.
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