iCow: Lessons learned in 2013, a Business Analysis

iCow is one of our most successful grantees. It has been featured in the Guardian, in MIT Technology Review and many more. This level of coverage is entirely deserved; iCow is starting to impact on farmer’s lives.  They’re increasing their income through increased milk yields and decreased disease outbreaks and are willing to pay for the service.

However, amid all this success, iCow founder Su Kahumbu has still found time to reflect on lessons learned in 2013. What she’s come up with should be highly interesting for anyone working in this sector. Here are some of her insights:

1. Reaching your audience: It is important to be able to monitor how many SMSs reach their target user. iCow found that initially only 37% actually received SMS in the morning at 7am, their original dispatch time. They identified that at this point, many farmers had not yet topped up their airtime and thus did not receive the message. They therefore adjusted their dispatch time increasing delivery to 71%. 

2. Quality of content is king. According to Su, industry average for churn (number of users who sign into then opt out of a service) is up to 70% in mobile Ag products. This is often due to users realising that content does not meet their expectations. iCow’s highest churn since its launch is 9%. The key: delivering high quality content in the right form to farmers.

3. Don’t rush scaling up. In such a nascent industry, the prospect of achieving scale and pioneering a new platform is highly exciting. However, the nature of the industry also means that the road ahead is uncertain. Scaling incrementally is the best way to manage this progression, according to Su. It may be frustrating but in iCow’s case, caution has been paying off. 

4. Be creative. Be flexible. This sector is constantly changing as are the regulations which govern it. To keep afloat, it is important to react to changes with creativity and flexibility even if it does blow a hole in your business plan!

5. Uncharted territory.  Many funders do not understand this sector. Many organisations working in this sector do not understand it either. The reason for this is clear: it is so very new. Organisations and funders alike must therefore be prepared to pioneer new ideas, partnerships and models to see what works because, frankly, no one knows just yet!

6. Judging success. At an early stage, impact evaluations are expensive and distracting. Judge initial success by your customers. If they pay and stay, you are providing a product of value.

7. Know your customer. Try to understand your customers’ needs and their level of technical literacy. Engage constantly with customers to keep up-to-date with what they want and what they think.

With this clarity, we’re sure iCow will go from strength to strength in 2014!  Thanks for being so honest and sharing this Su.