Hey, there’s a concluding part to this interview. Read that HERE.
Onyeka Akumah is the CEO and co-founder of FarmCrowdy, a platform that connects farm sponsors to farmers. Years ago, this young man had the desire to invest in Nigeria’s agriculture sector but was faced with some problems. Part of these problems was finding the right farmers who would do the actual work on the farm. In a bid to solve these problem, Farmcrowdy was birthed.
TechMoran chats with Onyeka as he shares how co-founded the startup, his bootstrap journey, their growth rate, business model and many more.
D.A: Tell us about your startup. What was the propeller behind launching Farmcrowdy.com
In February 2016, I was excited about the Agriculture space and wanted to invest some money in it along with some friends. However, the common problem I had was also the problem of over 30 million middle-class Nigerians. These problems where finding answers to questions like which farmer can I trust with my money? Which farmer will actually do the necessary work to be done on the farm? Which farmer will provide me with the updates on the farm and at harvest, which farmer will find the right market to sell what they produce?
On the flip side, I found out that over 38 million small-scale farmers suffered from the problem of finding the source to fund their farms, get the right smart-farming education and didn’t know how to scale their operations to extra land that they had access to. This gave birth to Farmcrowdy.
Farmcrowdy is Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform that created and is leading a new category of ‘farmers without farms’ who are utilizing the power of the shared economy to empower small-scale farming. In the last 9 months since launching, we have directly empowered over 1,000 small-scale farmers with necessary inputs including seeds, day-old-chicks, feeds, fertilizers, e.t.c. including training exercises, mentoring and market access to sell their farm produce.
Given how focused Nigeria is on the Petroleum sector, why did you choose to deviate from the norms?
I have always loved the application of technology in solving every day problems. In Nigeria and the rest of Africa, there is a big problem with empowering small-scale farmers and I was not ready to wait for someone else to solve the problem.
My interest in the Agriculture sector was even made better with the current focus of the Nigerian Government with it’s progressive message asking people to invest in Agriculture. This encouraged me to learn more about the space and seeing the extensive value chain excited me to use technology to solve the first stage of the chain – production.
How has Farmcrowdy fared since launch. Would you say you have made very significant progress?
We have been able to engage over 1,000 small-farmers directly and over 2,000 indirectly across 6 states in Nigeria including Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Plateau and most recently Kaduna. We currently run 4 types of farms including Cassava, Maize, Rice and Poultry with on-going farms of over 100,000 birds.
Today, we are excited about the potential of what we can do in the next farming season as we look to building more around the relationships we have with key partners like Notore, Syngenta and Leadway Assurance to cover our farms.
Did you at any time bootstrap the startup? How has funding been like?
We definitely bootstrap the start-up in the early days with each co-founder bringing in their own expertise to grow the business. We leveraged on a lot of relationship currency to get off the ground before our first Angel Investor came around.
It’s always good to keep good relationships and leave a good impression with people you’ve worked it. One day, you may need them and your relationship currency may be all you can trade with like we did in the early days of Farmcrowdy.
Do you charge investors a certain percentage on their investments or returns? If not, what is the business model?
At harvest, we sell the farm produce to processors. When we are paid, we pay our sponsors their initial sponsorship then share the profit on a 40:40:20 ratio between the Farm Sponsor, the Farmer and Farmcrowdy respectively.
Personally, I would love to invest in agriculture and a platform like Farmcrowdy. Is a starting point as easy as just signing up or there are other requirements?
When you get on Farmcrowdy, there are two things you can do – sign up as a Farm Sponsor or sign up as a Farm Follower.
As a Farm Sponsor, you’ll look through our farms and sponsor a farmer. Once this is done, you’ll be notified about the details of the farm and your personal account officer. Then, you’ll start receiving farm updates in form of pictures, videos and text about what happens on the farm throughout the farm cycle. This is made available on your personal Sponsor Dashboard. A Farm Sponsor can also visit the farm to meet their farmers and at harvest, will expect to split profit with the farmer.
A Farm Follower however, can sign up on Farmcrowdy to follow a farm to get the same pictures, videos and text updates about the farm. This is provided throughout the farm cycle on the farm followers dashboard until harvest. However, a farm follower does not split the profit at harvest with a farmer, but can consider this an educational tool to understand in real-time what is involved in a real farm.
How big is the team and how well have they impacted the startup?
There are currently 20 farmcrowdites across our Operations, Technology, People and Finance teams. This includes Farm Specialists, Agronomists, Farm Coordinators and Engineers working on our online platforms.
Our team also comprises of Akindele Phillips who is a Co-Founder and CFO of Farmcrowdy, Jimoh Maiyegun who is a Co-Founder and CTO of Farmcrowdy, Ifeanyi Anazodo who is a Co-Founder and VP, Products & Data, Tope Omotolani who is a Co-Founder and VP, Operations. All of them support me in the work with do with each team member taking responsibility for their work while coordinating together.
Tell us if you’ve ever had to fire an employee in your startup. How did you feel?
Unfortunately, there are times when you discover that you may have made a wrong decision hiring a person or while working with an individual, they decide to change from the core of the business. As much as it’s difficult to do, I have had to let go people that don’t fit into the company culture at startups I’ve worked at.
The feeling I get when doing this is not as important as how it affects the business as a whole This overrides any personal feeling one may have about this decision. As long as an individual is assessed based on the core values of the business and they are consistently not fitting, let them go before they affect your outstanding team members.
The interview continues HERE.