Learning from Farming Information Service 8Villages
8villages is one of the growing startups in Indonesia and set its sights at a market that many startups don't pay attention to. Farmers with feature phones may be a combination considered to be uncool by local startups which tend to refer to Silicon Valley where practically everyone there uses a smartphone. Indonesia is clearly a different market, similar to many growing Asian nations as feature phones are still dominant. Just because it's a feature phone market doesn't mean it can't be monetized. mig33 with its business model shows that this is possible.
This service was built when farmers, with all their limitations need accurate information to help them build and grow their plants on their fields and gardens, such as weather forecasts, precipitation rate, consumer needs, price fluctuations, and all the related expenses.
8villages which was founded by Mathieu Le Bras and Yusep Rosmansyah clearly was built with passion, because the data they supply is more than just a feed of easily obtainable data from the Internet. 8villages found a business scheme with network operators to share revenue based on SMS messages delivering the information. 8villages built a database called Lisa which is run in cooperation with academics to serve as a discussion forum for all things farming.
With the large consumer potential and 8villages' choice of partners which includes academics, it seems like this startup has taken the right path. 8villages is looking at the possibility to expand its coverage to neighboring countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines in which farmers there also face similar issues. The large potential of this field is backed by the fact that Nokia has its Life Tools suite of applications aimed at this very market in developing countries.
8villages delivers an important lesson for many in the Indonesian startup landscape about the importance of understanding the consumers and the problems to be solved. The characters of Indonesian consumers determine the development of a startup. Execution with passion to deliver a solution to a problem should help startups to survive and grow.
Consumers with feature phones do not pose a significant challenge because the use of SMS apparently is easier to monetize than through smartphone apps. Its widespread use allows for a larger traction and the small fee charged to consumers will continuously snowball. Imagine if 70% of farmers in one province become subscribers to this service. What if you add two or three more provinces? Of course, this aspect isn't the sole reason to build a technology based company in Indonesia.
As part of the startup landscape, we should ask ourselves if the service we provide will have actual benefit to the community and not just limited to profit projections. Hopefully 8villages can provide a reflection for all and something to learn from.