June was Krishi Janani’s “get out of the office” month. It was intense. We set out to meet as many individuals and institutions along the agriculture value chain as possible. As mentioned earlier, we are utilizing lean startup approaches to build Krishi Janani. Customer discovery and validation are THE opening steps of that approach. As Steve Blank outlines in his customer development model:
Almost all initial ideas and hypothesis are wrong. … As you “get out of the office” and test the early product with actual customers, you can refine and solidify the idea with real data that confirms and morphs the vision that you had from the beginning. (from Steve Blank Teaches Entrepreneurs How To Fail Less)
Of the many assumptions buried in Krishi Janani Executive Summary (what? you have not memorized it yet?? ;-)), there were a couple of business-critical hypotheses that needed to be tested and validated in the real world:
- Krishi Janani is built on a two-tiered subscription model – a free basic service and a paid premium service. Will farmers be open to this model? How willing will they be to pay a subscription fee to access services?
- Krishi Janani’s initial intent was to provide three different sets of services – localized information, knowledge network, and market access – for a subscription fee. Which of these are critical? What services are farmers willing to pay for?
Social Value Proposition for Farmers
We went to the field with a list of ideas for potential services and a simple exercise – which of these would have an immediate ‘hook’ that farmers would want to a) sign up and b) pay for the premium service? And, we are glad to report that there was one service that was a clear winner above all – facilitating group buying so farmers can bulk buy inputs at reduced or wholesale prices, somewhat along the lines of Groupon or Living Social. As there was a clear winner, there also was a loser – information services. For reasons too numerous to get into here, we discovered that receiving info text messages is not high priority for farmers. There is still a need for knowledge network – hyper-localized information that has been vetted by other farmers (e.g., Turmeric farms in this area are being infested with that pest. Here is a solution that has been tested and found to be working by farmers in the same area.). This would be a long-term effort for which bulk buying groups would provide a perfect entryway.
In addition to finding the social value proposition, the outing also surfaced many other learning opportunities in terms of pain relievers, gain creators, technology adoption, logistics challenges, retail partnership qualifications, and role of young women in the ag tech centers. These will feed into our decision-making during the execution stage of the project.
An interesting aside – the process of seeking answers for Krishi Janani also highlighted many other opportunities for social businesses along the ag value chain such as digital financial services, food safety assurance services, reliable quality assurance for input, etc. Hopefully someone somewhere is planning social businesses around these and other services. If you are that person, we would love to collaborate with you of course! :)
The most important aspect of all our learning is this – Krishi Janani should provide economic value first for it to consolidate farmers under one umbrella in order for it to become a viable force. Otherwise, it will not be possible to add the social or cultural value. Thanks to the farmers who helped with the co-design of this approach, Krishi Janani is taking the economic road to social impact.
Customer development emphasizes learning and discovery before execution so that bootstrapping startups can channel their scarce resources somewhat accurately during the build phase. This is precisely why our excursion ended up being so precious for Krishi Janani. So, we highly recommend all of us “get out of the office” more. ;-)