BEYOND all the hype around agtech, there a underlying principle that defines what it really is all about.
It is the absolute focus on the farmer.
From day one, the role of an agtech company founder is to speak with farmers and others working at the coalface to investigate unsolved problems on farm.
The key is not to preempt the conversation by mentioning any technologies or solutions. It is simply to ask them about their biggest pain points in farming contexts and then drill down to gain a better low level understanding of what actually happens.
The more farmers a founder can speak with, the better. Usually this means hundreds of farmers, as a variety of viewpoints is crucial.
By the hundredth conversation or so, distinct patterns begin to form and it is at that point founders are encouraged to come up with theories to solve the problem.
That certainly isn’t where the engagement with farmers ends, in fact it’s only the beginning of the validation process.
From then onwards, as early prototypes are created, feedback is constantly and iteratively sought from farmers to make sure they’re on track. It is an arduous process, but also a rewarding one that helps to avoid creating a product that no one wants to buy or use.
Interestingly, that is exactly the most common gripe that farmers have of agricultural technologies, that a lot of it is not actually useful.
This is because historically the process of creating new agricultural technologies has not involved the end user, the farmer, every step of the way. Many a technologist or scientist has fallen into the hubris of believing that they intuitively know the mind of the farmer.
Yet even geniuses such as Apple cofounder Steve Jobs would continue to respond to phone enquiries long after becoming CEO, so that he could remain close to the customer.
While it may not seem particularly complicated, the simple focus on the farmer is a revolution to the agricultural technology development process.
Putting aside all the buzzwords, agtech is really just about making sure the farmer is front and centre.
Andrew Lai is the managing director of agtech incubator SproutX.
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