29 Nov Ag Entrepreneurship – 4 Questions to Answer Before Starting a Business in Agriculture
Part of a blog series highlighting the five categories of the AgGrad 30 Under 30. Nominate someone you know who is doing great work in agriculture in their 20s at www.30under30.ag.
Entrepreneurship, especially in ag, can be both challenging and rewarding.
Like anything else, where you start on your entrepreneurial journey does not have to look anything like where you end up.
For me, I’m three years into full time entrepreneurship. There have been tremendous ups and downs. I still have a long way to go to realize the vision I have for my business.
I have learned some valuable lessons that I think can help all aspiring entrepreneurs out there.
When I talk about “ag entrepreneurship” I’m talking about building your own company that is in some way associated with the agricultural supply chain. This could be farming/ranching, a business that sells to producers, transportation, processing, marketing, recruiting (in my case), AgTech, etc.
This could be B2C (business selling to an individual customer), or B2B(business to another business).
As I’ve spoken with others who’ve started businesses, i have learned there are four questions to make sure to ask yourself before embarking on an entrepreneurial venture.
No need to worry yet about a business name, logo, website, or even a business plan.
Start with these four questions:
- “Who (SPECIFICALLY) is the customer I want to serve?” The more specific you can get here with regards to details like profession, location, age, business size (if B2B), income (if B2C), hobbies, etc. the more likely you are to be successful. If your answer is “everyone”, “anyone in agriculture”, “all farmers”, or “consumers”, I would strongly caution you that you are setting yourself up for failure. This is where a lot of people fail before they even get started. Make sure you know every detail about your perfect customer. Sure, a lot of other people might be interested in buying what you’re selling. It’s vital that you know who is going to jump for joy at your product or service and say “shut up and take my money!”. Those are the customers you want to serve. Usually, this is an ultra-specific segment of the marketplace. Know everything you can about those ideal customers.
- “What (VERY SPECIFIC) problem am I solving for that (VERY SPECIFIC) customer?” If you are not meeting a need or solving a problem, you do not have a business. And eventually, maybe you’ll solve a lot of problems for that customer. You want to launch your business, however, on solving one very specific problem. When nobody has heard of your company, it really helps to be able to point to a very clear problem that you solve for a very real customer. Some new entrepreneurs get hung up on the fact that they don’t want to be known for something very specific in case they want to grow later. This causes many people to make the mistake of being too vague and fall into the trap of trying to cater to too many people (remember #1 above). Don’t worry about this. Being known for something specific is a way better problem to have than not being known for anything at all. There are a multitude of options for when you want to expand your business later. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Once you think you know what problem you solve, ask yourself (or better yet – an ideal potential customer) WHY that is a problem. Keep asking why it’s a problem until there are no more answers. This will give you a very clear picture of the problem you are solving for your ideal customers.
- “How is my solution better?” No matter how great you are (and I’m sure you’re really great), there is always a risk in a customer switching their business to you or buying your product for the first time. You are unproven. What if they regret it? What if you can’t back up your claims? What if the customer looks foolish for trying something new and it not working out? In starting a business, you must have a very clear value proposition and be able to clearly differentiate yourself from the alternatives. Perhaps you say “there are no alternatives”. In that case, the alternative is no action from the customer at all, which can actually be the most difficult competition to overcome. Make sure you know what makes your solution better, and make sure it’s a factor that actually matters to the customer. Is your product or service just different for different sake? Or is it actually better in a critical way for the customer?
- “Is my solution something they are willing and able to pay for?” For your business to work, you have to be profitable at a price point that the customer is willing to pay. This one can be tough, because often people will act supportive of your business idea, right up until you start asking them to pay you. Make sure that the amount you need to charge is a “no brainer” for what the customer will get in return. Generally, people don’t want to give you money unless they are really feeling the pain of the problem you solve. Make sure they are feeling the pain enough that they are going to give you real money when you start trying to sell them your product or service.
These are not easy questions to answer.
Dreaming is much more fun. Creating business plans, brainstorming company names, designing logos, building websites, etc are all a lot more appealing.
But if you can gain clarity on the answers to these four questions, you will avoid many of the pitfalls that cause the majority of new businesses to fail.
There will still be challenges in agricultural entrepreneurship, such as:
- Capital (many agricultural ventures can require a lot of up front capital)
- Commoditization (commoditized industries are much more difficult to differentiate)
- Consolidation (large players dominate agribusiness)
- Customer Adoption (many farmers are tired of the “latest and greatest” false promises)
- Connectivity (two words: rural broadband)
And those are just the C’s!
But there are impressive people who are overcoming these challenges and serving real customers with real solutions. They are starting entrepreneurial ventures in agriculture.
Do you know any of them?
If you know any that are in their 20s, make sure you nominate them for the AgGrad 30 Under 30. We want to share the stories of these impressive young entrepreneurs with the rest of the industry.