The First Steps are Often the Most Challenging

Originally posted on December 23, 2014 - content moved August 13, 2015

Getting ready to start a company is odd. It is essentially getting ready for the rest of your life. Dauntingly complicated and dizzyingly large, the tasks seem to be the offspring of Medusa, multiplying as they are completed. Not only that, but having to make vital decisions you have never made before, concerning things you know little about under pressure. Scary! This is a bit of what we have done so far.

We have developed a three-phase pilot program to test if this business is going to be viable:

  1. Technical Trial– test whether we can grow hydroponic fodder, how best to grow it, and different irrigation methods we can use
  2. Product Trial– test the quality and consistency of the product in order to assure that it is better than what is on the market, what affects the quality and that will we be able to consistently deliver a high level of quality
  3. Market Trial– we will start to sell it to customers and learn the best price point, market position and most effective marketing techniques. During this trial, we will see if farmers are willing to buy it, if they can see the benefits it brings, and if we can measure those benefits to show impact.

I have been working with Bas, my friend from the Netherlands, who is going to be with me for two months to help get LishaBora going and run the technical and product trials. We have been planning for January and February in order to figure out the best way to utilize the time including what tests we should run, what our success metrics are, and the procedures for running the pilot. This has helped a lot already in thinking about problems we might face and how to overcome them. Besides working with Bas, I have been doing some of the leg work to prepare for when we start in January.

Last week I concentrated on procuring land on which to start. We need enough space to have a system that can produce 500kgs of fodder each day. Right now we are estimating that we can fit this in about 100 square meters, or 10m x 10m. I went to meet my friend Peter Kanyoni, in Ndumberi, just north of Kiambu Town.

Peter Kanyoni in front of the gate for the land that he is letting us use.

Peter Kanyoni in front of the gate for the land that he is letting us use.

The site is excellent. The land is positioned on a fairly major road where there is easy access by cars and lots of foot traffic. When I took Bernard, the horticultural student who is helping with local knowledge and to build the greenhouse, to see the area, the church across the road was just letting out and there were people everywhere. Public awareness is important for marketing, since even when we are getting started, people will be aware of the things we are doing, get interested and then when we are ready to sell, they will be ready to try out the product.

View from the road when standing at the gate

View from the road when standing at the gate

Bernard, carefully trying to make sure we have enough space for the greenhouse, and me standing with.

Bernard, carefully trying to make sure we have enough space for the greenhouse, and me standing with.

Bernard and his wife on the well that is in the corner of the property

Bernard and his wife on the well that is in the corner of the property

Besides reserving the land on which to start this journey, we have also done a lot on the business side of things. Bas and I have planned out the initial system and developed the tests that we are going to run for the first two months in order to complete the Technical and Product trials. We are also getting a lot of quotes.

Kevin is a young boy who is being sponsored by Niraj and his family. Since he is in between school terms, he has been available to help with some running around. I have had him go and get prices and find suppliers for all the pieces that we are going to need in order to run the pilot program in January. This has proven to be very helpful since it has highlighted that some things should not be bought in Kenya (moisture sensors are $800 here but I can buy them for $20 in the US) When we get back from Christmas break, we will send him around with a pick-up truck to buy the different pieces he is sourcing now.

It feels good to get all these parts in place, readying ourselves for when operations start. Though we have gotten a lot done, there is still so much to do. It seems the harder we work, the more work we have to do. I guess this is part of being an entrepreneur.

This past Saturday, Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) has confirmed that they are interested in funding LishaBora and placing a long-term fellow in the company for up to 20 months. This is great news, since it will help launch the company and get things moving quickly.

All this has intensified my excitement in getting LishaBora started. Seeing that other people are also excited about the idea helps me feel confident moving forward.