In a recent LOOKA report titled, “Work in Africa in 2040,” survey data showed that 23% of respondents, all of which live in Lagos, Nairobi, and Johannesburg, believe their country needs farmers most in the next twenty years, just behind Software/ IT engineers (27%).
Agriculture and technology will play a pivotal role in the continent’s future. With a rapidly growing population and more than 60% of sub-Saharan Africa’s labor force being smallholder farmers, agriculture is critical to food security and employment. Technology, deserving of just as much attention, is set to shape the continent’s development as the world undergoes the fourth industrial revolution.
But how these two industries intersect will be most important. Technology provides the opportunity to make farmers more efficient. However, while agriculture includes growing crops and raising livestock, most of today’s conversation surrounding agritech is about increasing crop yields.
In Kenya, livestock accounts for 12% of GDP and 50% of the agricultural labor force. Livestock farmers stand to benefit significantly from technological advancement. Specifically, solutions that help them manage their inventory, and the Kenyan SaaS product ApigZ is doing that.
ApigZ is a cloud-based pig farm management system that helps customers perform critical pig farm management tasks. ApigZ capabilities include breeding and genealogy tracking, record entry, inventory management, expense and income tracking, farm reporting, predictive analysis, and task scheduling, from any device, at any location.
Meet Kimaru Thagana
My name is Kimaru Thagana. I’m a developer based in Kenya, working remotely for a startup in the Netherlands as a contractor and a startup in the UK on a long-term basis. Locally, I co-founded a startup with my two other colleagues, Samuel Wanjohi and Peterson Muriga, called ApigZ Solutions.
My tech journey started in high school when I was introduced to programming in my computer studies class. My teacher taught us the fundamentals of programming and introduced me to C++. Like every beginner, I started with hello world, for loops, and if statements.
When a family friend saw that programming peaked my interest, he told me about a five-month programming bootcamp. I attended the bootcamp before going to university and pursuing a bachelor’s of science in computer science.
The backstory of ApigZ?
In addition to working as a software developer, my co-founder Sam Wanjohi is a pig farmer. And like many Kenyan commercial farmers, he doesn’t live on his farm. He lives in Nairobi because of the convenience of amenities, work, and life. His farm is located in the rural areas where land is cheaper and more suitable for farming.
Running his farm remotely without any tech solutions to assist him made monitoring and evaluating his assets and inventory difficult. Before ApigZ, he was losing a lot of money. The farm manager could sell a pig and tell him it died or mismanage inventory. Desperate to solve his problem, the first rendition of ApigZ was a Google Sheet where he tracked all of his farm’s assets.
We had the idea to build ApigZ when we connected with other commercial farmers and realized they were facing the same problem. Most small and medium scale commercial farmers in Kenya, similar to Sam, don’t live on their farm. And like Sam they were losing money but don’t know how to solve the problem.
What value does ApigZ provides to the marketplace?
Record Management Analytics and Reports:
ApigZ provides clean, efficient, digitized record management. Records are an important part of running a successful farming business. You need records to get a loan from the bank because that is how they determine the value of your collateral. You also need records to generate reports and insights which help you make decisions. Records will show you if a farm asset is yielding returns.
In Kenya, if you ask the average farmer to show records of their animals, from their birth date or purchase date, they can’t. Because culturally, farming is viewed as a retirement gig. After you’ve spent your career working in corporate, you take your retirement money and build a farm. Many of these farmers don’t view agriculture as a business. It’s a pass time. You get an animal, feed it, and whatever it produces, you sell and assume you made a profit. But when you look at the records, it tells a very different story.
Task management and Scheduling:
ApigZ also provides task management and scheduling. In pig farming, you have to record various details on each pig, like if they’ve taken supplements and vaccinations, or you will mess up your breeding. Improper task management will affect how fast your farm grows, the health of your pigs, how prone they are to diseases, and the profit you make when you sell the pigs.
Task management can become complex to monitor if you’re doing it manually. How this feature works in practice, once an owner registers their farm on ApigZ, they can add their team to the platform, assign them tasks, and determine their access.
When we started ApigZ, we thought it would be up and running in 3 or 4 months, but it’s been almost 2 years now. We are planning to launch in June, but I’ll share two things that contributed to our delay.
We’ve all, my co-founders and I, had to balance building ApigZ with our full-time jobs. ApigZ is not generating revenue yet, and it’s cost money to build and test the product. We found a few farmers willing to test out the solutions, and we had to pay for servers to host the application during testing.
We’ve had cooperative and helpful test users who’ve sat with us for hours, giving us feedback on everything from incorrect naming to sharing what is important to farmers.
During this process, we learned that you can’t listen to every request, or you’ll end up being stuck in this feedback loop and never launch. It’s best to develop a roadmap and communicate what features they can expect now and what they can expect in a later version of the application.
It’s also important to understand that developing the feature is not a guarantee that they’ll use it or be willing to pay for it. So be careful how you allocate your time and resources. Listen to the feedback, document it, and then decide, is this something we need to fix now, or can it be fixed later.
Price ApigZ: Value-based pricing.
Pricing ApigZ was a big issue for us earlier on. Our initial pricing model was feature-based. We calculated the labor costs, server costs, etc., to determine the total costs of the solution. Then, we divided the total costs by the estimated number of users.
This approach to pricing didn’t make sense to anyone else apart from us and led to some embarrassing moments. When we mentioned our price to a potential customer, they would give us that look, and after the meeting, we wouldn’t hear from them. Before we knew it was a pricing issue, it created some doubt. We wondered if the solution would materialize. But with some help, we realized it was our pricing, and changed to a value-based pricing model.
We connected with a founder of a FinTech startup here in Kenya who had the same problem earlier in his journey. He advised that if your marketing model is feature-based pricing, you may leave money on the table and that features don’t matter to customers. If you tell a customer your application is complex, it uses DJango, AWS servers, etc., they won’t care. But if you put a figure on the value it will provide, they will.
Now with potential customers, we ask two questions. How much are you making? And how much do you believe you’re losing because of poor record management?
Once they come up with a figure, we say that’s how much ApigZ is worth. More often than not, our proposed subscription fee is lower so the customer is getting a discount. That way we’re bargaining from a position of value. It’s always someone’s first instinct to claim your solution is too expensive. But when we ask those two questions, and they do the math, it starts to make sense.
Share your vision for ApigZ
We envision ApigZ as a software development house based in Africa, solving our agribusiness problems. ApigZ is our go-to-market and flagship product. We see our niche in the agriculture management space. In the future, we want to roll out software products for other livestock, like poultry, beef, and dairy.
Building successful software solutions in Africa?
Be involved in the ecosystem:
I recommend that developers who are building a startup to be a part of communities and ecosystems. There is some information you’ll need along your journey that is difficult to learn on your own and you won’t find in a book or video. Someone will have to tell you; this is how to do it, don’t waste your time with this or concentrate on that. Being a part of an ecosystem is paramount to a founder’s growth and development.
Being a part of a community is especially important for founders who have a full-time job and are building a startup simultaneously. Most of the accelerators that help startups with legal, accounting, and marketing are designed for full-time startup founders. A strong community can serve as a substitute.
Find the correct users for testing:
Get a reliable and cooperative group of test users. I would strongly suggest that they are computer literate but not tech-savvy. As software developers, we have blind spots so we’ll never view the system as a normal user does.
You might be tempted to spend time on the tech and not solving the problem. Sometimes, the problem can be solved with simple tech, not with a complex architecture with features that no one asked for and that don’t add value.
With the right test users, you’ll get an unbiased opinion of your product. You’ll learn if the product makes sense and where to spend your time.
Don’t overlook business/legal:
People tend to overlook the business and the legal side when they get started, but you’ll have major problems down the line if you don’t get it right initially. As a startup, you have to invest time and money in properly registering your business and getting advice from experts in tax planning and accounting.
But to hire the right accountant, you have to learn about tax planning and accounting, not to be an expert, but to properly vet. That way, you can hire someone who won’t advise you to pay more taxes than you need to and is aware of tax incentives and tax breaks that you can take advantage of.
Good HR practices matter:
Hiring people is not as simple as finding quality talent and paying them money. It’s a process, and many people overlook the onboarding step. When you hire someone, you need to agree on how work is done, who’s responsible for what, and compensation to ensure roles are clear and that no one feels that they are being shortchanged.
Built In Africa? What does that mean to you?
It means indigenous products tailored to home. Generally, software development is viewed as this thing from anywhere else but Africa, coming to Africa. Built In Africa changes that narrative because we’re building homegrown solutions for Africa that solve Africa’s unique problems.
When people hear that I have a remote job, they think it’s a big deal, but it’s only because most people are afraid of competing with everyone in the world for a job. They worry about job security and their ability to enforce contracts on an employer overseas. But similarly, employers have this same fear. They are hoping that you’re genuine, won’t divert company secrets and that you will honor the contract and NDA. So don’t be afraid. All you have to do is be genuine and trustworthy.
My personal journey to becoming a remote developer took brute force and resilience. I used to submit about 10 applications a day for almost the whole of last year. I got a lot of rejections, which no one prepares you for and can be frustrating. Especially when you know your qualifications match the job description and you get an email saying that you’re not qualified. Or the job is advertised as remote, but they’re restricted to remote in the US or UK.
Three months ago, after a year of applying, one position came back positive, and now I have two remote positions. What I enjoy most about working remotely is that it allows you to take back your 24 hours and allocate it however you want. You can get a second or third job depending on how busy you are and your level of discipline.
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