We caught up with Silometer, an MVP Academy 2016 alumni building an integrated approach to crops and silos sensor monitoring, to talk about the latest improvements to their sales strategy and the prospects of near future, while entering their second year of existence.
Silometer has had its fair share of difficulties on its road in first 12 months: they’re not only building hardware as part of their setup – traditionally more difficult to devise than software -, but they’re also doing it in a tough-to-crack, mostly offline industry of agritech.
The hardware model they are currently shipping comes after 3 prototypes and 4 other MVPs tested throughout all of 2016. The final hardware system is part made of third-party equipment, part built entirely in-house – the key factor in component compatibility is finding the right suppliers and keeping a close eye on the quality and terms in which they are providing what you need. One thing stands out from Silometer’s experience in this area: as with software, building hardware is an exercise in A/B testing between suppliers of components – which are assimilated as predictable losses.
Another important aspect pointed out by the experience of Silometer building their hardware product is that of failing fast, but in a controlled environment: “You should basically do all the mistakes you can think of while prototyping, and do them with a select group of close customers – for our first pilot tests, for instance, we wanted to check how easy it was to set-up some sensors on a silo, in order for any farmer to be able to do it, so we sent up a couple of our interns and took a close look over their results. This let us understand how usable – or not – the hardware was, from the moment you took it out of the package.”
Finally, the founders made one final important point on the production side: try to standardise as much of your physical product as possible. If you can reuse as many of the components as possible for various types of setups and implementations, you will be able to optimise your raw materials supply side.
As mentioned, hardware agritech is a complicated industry, so anyone trying to develop a solution in this field has had its fair share of difficulties in its road: they’re not only building hardware as part of their setup – traditionally more difficult to devise than software -, but they’re also doing it in a tough, mostly offline industry of agritech.
Moving on to the sales side, anyone developing an agritech product should expect the traditional distribution channels to function differently than in an another tech startup: expect a lot of pre-sales face-to-face interactions, even in the last stage of the sale process; most of the times, not even the final decision of buying a product will happen remotely. Also, the entire sales cycle is much longer and involves a lot of in-person meetings, so be careful when monitoring your customer acquisition cost and the associated lifetime value.
Finally, to ramp up sales, reach out to the stakeholders in the agriculture business such as farmers’ and traders’ associations, because the people handling these organisations can create a ripple effect within the structure if they believe in your product.
Next, Silometer is preparing to ship a version of their SaaS product as a white-label version, so any sensor owner, regardless of the firmware, can implement it with full capability. At the same time, they are looking to expand their sales team with a senior manager and travelling to various industry events to exhibit their product.