MimosaTEK shares the lessons they’ve learned through market analysis, and how that research is helping them reach more farmers throughout Vietnam.
MimosaTEK helps farmers in Vietnam earn more while using less water. They’ve engineered a system of sensors to monitor everything about a crop — the amount of sunlight, the wind speed, the moisture levels of the soil — and built a phone app that provides recommendations to farmers based on the sensors’ readings. This system is precise and integrated, telling farmers in real time when to water their crops and automating irrigation at the same time with a comprehensive system that goes with the sensors. This can cut labor costs for farmers, increase their harvest, and decrease the amount of water wasted by doing away with traditional “flood irrigation” practices. Everyone wins.
Shockingly, the MimosaTEK team realized several months ago they weren’t hitting their sales targets. Farmers weren’t buying their amazing system as expected.
“We fell into a pitfall common to tech companies,” explains Lan Anh Le, COO of MimosaTEK. “We approached the product by inventing features we thought everyone would want, but it was too broad.” In other words, the system didn’t fit the needs of small farms, and MimosaTEK didn’t know why.
We had this great idea and thought customers would want our products to be more technology-oriented. But now we’re more focused on the farmers’ needs…more customer-oriented.
Securing Water For Food (SWFF) Technical Assistance Facility has been working with MimosaTEK for over a year, and Lan Anh says their sales and marketing support has been incredibly useful in addressing challenges like these. “They’ve helped us develop a systematic mindset, which made it easier for us to analyze the market.” SWFF pushes all the innovators in its program to understand the farmer’s perspective, asserting in their annual report that “innovators must be able to define their customer segments and relationships, and [understand] the value they deliver to their customer” to really deliver at scale.
“We went out to the market and talked to the farmers,” says Lan Ahn. “Including farmers of different crops to see if there were differences.” And they asked a lot of questions: Why did the product not fit some farmers’ needs? What motivated the farmers who did adopt the MimosaTEK system? Was there a way to blend the system with traditional farming? Were farmers aware of the need to save water?
The results revealed that MimosaTEK’s exhaustive approach was too much for small farms. The system includes many sensors installed in different areas across a farm, providing comprehensive data that overwhelmed farmers. The extensive system meant a steep learning curve as well as a higher cost. In some places, farmers did not have the electric requirements for automated irrigation — to fully adopt the technology, they would have to upgrade the electrical box on their water pumps as well.
The team also found that emphasizing saving water was the wrong approach to take with their customers. Their research found that most smallholder Vietnamese farmers were not very concerned with the environmental impact of using too much water in irrigation. “These farmers have a difficult life already, and since water is not taxed or priced here, they use the most they can.”
Lastly, the company discovered that crop type had a huge impact on whether a farmer readily adopted the technology. Vegetable farmers are more concerned about water savings; they need to irrigate frequently, often having to hire extra labor to help. They are more likely to adopt the technology when they are shown that MimosaTEK’s automated irrigation system can help save up to 80% of their labor costs. Coffee farmers, on the other hand, are harder to convince in this way because they do not irrigate very frequently.
Armed with this new information, MimosaTEK has started to make changes. “We realized the critical need [of farmers] was to simplify their farms,” explains Lan Ahn, so the company is adjusting their marketing to emphasize how irrigation automation can save farmer’s time, lower labor costs, and even lower their electricity bills. Lan Ahn also says they are in the process of customizing their messaging to appeal to different farmers.
Lastly, MimosaTEK has simplified their product to make adoption easier. “We’ve combined previously separate [parts of the MimosaTEK system] into a single product to simplify automation.” And now farmers can ease into the system. “They can buy the irrigation automation first, since it is the easiest to understand. Then later, after they get used to using data in their farming, they can buy the soil moisture sensing and other greenhouse products. We now take a step-by-step approach,” she adds.
The most important change though, has been MimosaTEK’s mindset. “We had this great idea and thought the customers would want our products to be more technology-oriented,” says Lan Ahn. “But now we’re more focused on the farmers’ needs. We’re transforming the company to become more customer-oriented.”