AgX Hackathon Take Aways
I had a blast at the recent AgX Hackathon event last week. The challenge was to build a business concept / solution at the cross section between farming and technology. The best part was learning from my teammates, mentors and farmers around the area. Special thanks to Michael Ryan Norton, Neal Bloom, the City of Escondido, Aquillius and Connect. I wanted to share some of my learnings from the three day event.

Explore the problem space

It’s common to want to solve a problem right away. As engineers, I think we are either trained or wired this way (or both). It takes discipline to explore the problem space. You may think you have an awe-inspiring idea on how to solve a problem, but it is important to challenge your own thinking about what a user might want.

Really what you have is a guess. You need to get out in the field and do some customer discovery work! Open-ended questions are great. Develop empathy for your prospective customers. To get the best value from the interviews, be careful about biasing or being prescriptive about how to solve a problem. Don’t ask leading questions.

Instead explore the pain points in your interviews. Ask about what happened in the past instead of what might happen in the future. They may take you in a direction that you didn't expect. They may invalidate some of your previous assumptions. This may feel disappointing, but it is actually a blessing in disguise. It can save loads of time in the long run by not wasting effort on solutions that aren't a great market fit.

Here are some open ended questions that will keep your interviewees talking:

Five golden questions¹

1. What's the hardest part about [PROBLEM CONTEXT]?
2. Can you tell me about the last time that happened?
3. Why was that hard?
4. What, if anything, have you done to solve that problem?
5. What don’t you love about the solutions you’ve tried?

Asking open ended questions:

Encourage stories: “Tell me about a time...”
Ask open ended questions: “Walk me through...”
Get to specifics: “What’s the worst...”
Don’t lead: “Would you like better this way?”
Ask WHY: The first reason might not be the real reason

Who is your customer?

Hone in precisely on your target audience. Trying to build a solution that addresses too many problems tends not to solve any of them well. That old cliche comes to mind, “A jack of all trades is the master of none.” Are you trying to build an app for all farmers or are you trying to build a solution for small farmers with 10-50 acres, who are certified organic who are less than 50 years old and are more likely to use mobile apps?

Research your competition

When you’ve come up with a potential solution to a problem, you need to research what other offerings are already on the market. Just like pain point discovery work, this can be a huge time saver. You may have an amazing, elegant and beautiful solution to a problem, but if the market is already saturated then it may be difficult to break in.

Explore how competitors compare to each other. You can slice the market in different ways. Are existing solutions web or mobile apps? Are existing solutions low or high cost? Do they focus on solving problems for small business or big business? Is there a part of the market that isn’t currently being served well by existing tools? Where does your offering fit into the overall landscape? What’s your niche and differentiates your solution from what’s already out there?

Seek early adopters

These are people that have a problem. They know they have a problem and are actively seeking for a solution. The analogy that was brought up was to find people whose hair is on fire. If you hand them a brick, they will probably try to put the fire out with the brick. However, what they really need is a bucket of water. These are the people that are most likely to engage with a solution that might solve the problem that is causing them pain.

How do you expand from there? Do you rely on word of mouth, advertising, going to conferences, meetups, farmers markets, etc? Who would make a great learning partner? What avenues work best to reach this target demographic? What are the customer acquisition costs?


1. 2024 AgTech Hackathon Customer Discovery slide deck

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