TROTRO Tractor Limited is a powerful on-demand platform that connects farmers to nearby tractor operators. Using mobile phones and GPS, it enables farmers to request, schedule and pre-pay for tractor services, giving them greater access to mechanized farming equipment, when they need it. In this way, TROTRO Tractor’s agricultural technology directly helps both farmers and tractor operators in Ghana to enhance productivity and improve incomes.
Q: Can you please introduce yourself and what you do at TroTro Tractor?
A: My name is Deborah Mansaxya. I’m the Performance Improvement Officer, Administrator and Country Evaluation Officer for TroTro Tractor. Basically, my work here is simple. I handle administrative activities, schedule meetings, ensuring that there is a lot of productivity; making sure that team members have the required energy, strength and welfare to carry out their duties.
Q: In what year did you start operations and how far have you been able to penetrate the Ghana market?
A: We started in 2016. We have MEST and we have Kosmos Innovation Challenge. We came through Kosmos Innovation Challenge. It’s just like MEST. You tour Ghana, find a problem, come up with a business idea. You present your idea, and if the idea is good enough, you get funding. That’s where we got our seed funding of USD 50,000. We started in 2016 and we’ve been in operations since then.
We’ve also started a PoC (Proof of Concept) in Zimbabwe. We are in partnership with a company there called Ecofarmer. We are following now to see how it will work.
Q: In Ghana, Zimbabwe or wherever your market is, who are you direct and indirect competitors and what do you do differently from these competitors?
A: As for competitors, I will say we are the first to market here in Ghana. There is no company that’s actually doing anything like TroTro Tractor. Our competitors might be the tractor manufacturers because we don’t own the tractors; we operate like the Uber. We just have a platform that will connect the farmer and the tractor owners.
Q: How do you charge people for your services, how do you come up with your pricing strategy?
A: We did a PoC in these farming communities. We know how farmers struggle to get the tractors and we also know how other tractor owners are charging. So if you do a PoC like that, you work with farmers. You will find out that they struggle for weeks to get the tractors and here you are, doing it in such a way that in 3 days, they are able to get a contractor.
Q: Did you ask the farmers how much they are willing to pay for the service and does that determine how much you charge them?
A: Yes, you have to do that and for us, it wasn’t much of a problem because the farmers need the tractors and so, there wasn’t much resistance. Like in Ghana alone, there is a deficit of about 13,000 tractors. The scarcity of tractor is that huge. I can see that there is high demand but low supply. So pricing is easier.
Q: I’m interested in the KIC. Can you tell me more about it? What was it like being in the program and getting the funding?
A: I started working with TroTro Tractor after they had gotten the funding already but the little that I know is that they start with applications, so you apply. Then they select the people they want to interview. After the interview, they select the people they would like to work with. You go in individually but in the end, you end up forming teams to solve a problem.
Q: Since the inception of TroTro Tractor, is there anything you have done differently from when you started?
A: Someone might call to request for a tractor service. You call the person and you get to know that the land is about 10 hectares. You get to the land and you find out that the land is even more than 10 hectares or it may even be that the land cannot be ploughed at all.
There could even be stumps and trees on it and they have to be taken out before work is done on the land. By then, you’ve lost money because you moved the tractor all the way to this particular place only for you to not to be able to do anything, then you come back. So, we have decided to work with field agents.
There are also some other processes that have changed too.
Q: What are your key metrics for measuring success?
A: Here, we don’t tell you what you have to do. You have to think about what you can do. we follow up to see if you have you been able to complete what you said you would do. We also communicate to avoid repetition of tasks.
Q: So you’re currently at Zimbabwe doing PoC. Do you have any other plans for expansion?
A: Yes. If we get any good partnership, we move.
Q: What’s the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced in the course of this business/startup?
A: It’s relative. What I might say is a challenge to me might not be a challenge to someone else here. So it’s relative.
Q: What is your advice to African startup founders and tech startups in general?
A: They should do their work. When they say they will do something, they should make sure that they do it. When you tell an investor that this is what you have to do to get their money back to them, just do it.
Integrity and Credibility are very important because if your integrity and credibility are that good, you might not get funding from one investor and you might get the funding from somewhere else. That investor can even link you up to another investor because of that credibility and integrity you have shown.
Founders should also train their emotions because it’s not easy to start a startup. Some startup teams have not worked in a company before. They just started, got money and just decided to work on the idea that they got the funding for.
Sometimes, you have this excitement and big vision only to find out that it’s never like how you thought of it. If you don’t take care, you might commit suicide because this is your passion. They should train their emotions and see startups as just work. Nothing else but work!
Q: For the current entrepreneurs-in-training (EITs), do you have any advice for us?
A: (Charles): All I have to say is just focus. Some are overzealous and think they can stand alone instead of building teams. Fine, you can come up with an idea but sometimes, look at the environment where you are in. Suppose you come from Lagos, Nigeria and you know that there’s traffic in Nigeria, try and tackle that, other than trying to get a plane in the air for people to board. Some ideas are not for this current century. Fine, we want to match up with Silicon Valley but this is Africa. Solve the problems in Africa.
(Deborah): It still boils down to credibility and Integrity. Set a reasonable target for yourself. Moreso, I will like to say that I’m very proud of all the EITs. They’ve been able to scale through all these interviews. I’m very proud of each and every one of them. That’s a really bold step.
(Mary): Thank you for your time. It’s been really nice being here today and talking with you all.