Farmster has developed a digital marketplace to help them connect over an SMS Chatbot to the outside world
Please introduce yourself and your startup Farmster to our readers!
Sure! I’m Dr. Adam Abramson, founder of Farmster – a big market for small farms. In developing countries, agriculture looks very different than in the West. Instead of massive farms of thousands of hectares, most food is grown on small farms 2 hectares or less. And instead of 1-2% of the population in agriculture, more than half of the population does farming. In fact, small-scale farming is the most popular job in the world. By far. Over 500 million people have that job description, and most are not on LinkedIn. They don’t even have the internet. So Farmster has developed a digital marketplace to help them connect over an SMS Chatbot to the outside world. At this point, the focus is to connect them to buyers and help solve the 40% of post-harvest loss that they experience.
How did you get the idea to Farmster?
I’ve been researching small-scale farming economies for 10 years, first during my PhD and after during postdoctoral research. I received the real inspiration for Farmster when I was working on a Gates Foundation-funded project in Zimbabwe using a simple mobile phone platform to help small farmers share and receive information. That’s when I saw the potential to create something focused on one of their biggest problems – marketing their produce.
How difficult was the start and what challenges you had to overcome?
I suppose it’s still the start, but we’re further along than a year ago when we really started. One of my greatest challenges has been losing my technical cofounder at a pretty critical stage in our development (a few months ago). I’ve since recruited someone to fill the position, but it was a big effort, and a lot of “needless” costs in time and energy. But I think you learn from every experience. One benefit is we have a new set of eyes on our product, which brings more perspective, which is always good.
Working in emerging markets is always challenging. I’ve spent so much time talking to our team in Tanzania on WhatsApp this past year. It’s hard to manage a business remotely, and I don’t recommend it, but it has been necessary for me at this point. My next step is to move to Tanzania and be on site, at least for the awkward post-launch stage.
The last challenge has been the chicken and the egg. It happens on so many levels. The Farmster marketplace only works for buyers if there are enough farmers, and vice versa. Investors want to see traction, which requires capital. And they want to see a great team, which, without capital, requires a great product, which requires a great team.
Who is your target audience?
Farmster targets small-scale farmers, now focusing on the 6 million farmers in Tanzania. Conversely, we target the buyers of their produce, which includes middlemen who buy at low prices at the farm gate and sell at high prices at the local markets. It also includes vendors at markets, and even large industries and supermarkets–anyone who sources produce locally.
What is the USP of your startup?
Farmster is the only scalable marketplace solution that does not require the internet. This is really important because other solutions leave out the majority of farmers by design. Unlike a phone call, an SMS has the advantage of arriving to a user even if their phone is out of battery, or turned off, or out of signal. It will arrive eventually. And a chatbot enables programmable information to be sent at scale. Building a website for small farmers is like giving petrol to someone riding a bike. They’ll need it at some point, but it doesn’t help them now. By gaining data from these farmers now, we can build their digital profiles before they get the internet.
Can you describe a typical workday of you?
These days, I bounce around a lot between the 8200 Social accelerator in Tel Aviv, meetings with investors and potential partners, and working from home. I usually start my day with a WhatsApp call to Tanzania to hear about the progress and get feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
Where do you see yourself and your startup Farmster in five years?
Our goal is to be active in Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria and India in five years. That’s about 150 million farmers in those markets. If I can be a part of a solution for that many people that is even mildly successful, I’m going to be pretty happy.
What 3 tips would you give other Start-up founders on the way?
Never give up, but make a realistic part-time or flexible supplemental income plan, especially if you have a family.
Make sure you have a founder’s agreement in writing with vesting of shares even if your co-founder is your best friend.
Networking is always a good idea, but don’t look for investors at a “networking event.” Look for partners, mentors, champions, future hires, and new perspectives on your idea.
More information you will find here
Thank you Adam Abramson for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.