How customers (and cows) are at the heart of SomaDetect’s businessPurposeful Products
Location: New Brunswick (HQ), Ontario, New York
Industry: Agricultural Tech
Size: Growth stage start-up (15 employees)
To provide farmers with the information they need to make the best possible milk.
Making a statement
SomaDetect sells sensors, software and data analytics that allows farmers to monitor milk quality and animal health in real time. This means that illnesses can be detected and treated quickly, improving the cows’ quality of life and minimizing the impact on the rest of the herd, and improving the safety and quality of milk for consumers.
A growth-stage start-up just over two years old, SomaDetect has about 25 early adopter customers who are working with the company as they develop and refine their product.
The company’s purpose has guided them from the very beginning. Creating their impact statement – better data for farmers, better milk for consumers and better lives for cows – was one of their first steps.
Putting farmers first
SomaDetect’s purpose runs through the whole business, and the SomaDetect team talks about it almost every day, from how they choose partners and investors to how they’re developing their product.
“We talk a lot about doing farmer-centered design, as in human-centered design but for farmers, and everything we’re developing and everything we’re building is influenced by that approach,” says Bethany Deshpande, SomaDetect’s CEO. By focusing on benefiting farmers, the rest of their business model falls into place.
This farmer-first approach has helped them secure sales despite having what Deshpande jokes is “the worst sales pitch” – a product still in development. “We’re very clear that we’re looking for early adopters, we’re looking for people to partner with us and really help build something. This means letting us test things, and gather feedback, and make mistakes. It also means being able to influence the direction of the product as it is further and further refined, and ensure that the sensor does everything they would want for their farm.”
From the beginning, SomaDetect has worked directly with farmers to learn from them to inform product development. Farmers have invited them onto their farms to collect samples, milk cows and experience being farm hands. This hands-on education has been invaluable, says Deshpande. “These gifts just keep coming, I think, when you lead with purpose. I’m so excited about this.”
By maintaining their focus on their purpose and being farmer-first, they’ve found that they attract investors who share their values. When a dairy farmer – someone who would benefit from the technology and could see its potential – came on as their first investor, Deshpande says she knew their idea had promise.
“We’re not just people selling something to their industry. We want to develop a product that makes a difference to them, to their families, to their farms, and to their cows,” says Deshpande.
Attracting and motivating employees
Deshpande believes that SomaDetect’s purpose has helped them to attract, engage and keep employees.
Having a clearly communicated purpose and mission makes it easier for SomaDetect’s network of advisers, friends and mentors to recommend potential employees who are a good fit for the company. The recruitment process includes talking to recruits about the company’s mission, and asking them about their values and their interest in SomaDetetct’s purpose.
And despite being a start-up competing against established companies offering higher salaries and more perks, SomaDetect has been able to attract and keep the talent it needs to grow. Deshpande credits the company’s purpose with this.
“We ask people all the time to do things that are tedious and uncomfortable. We just spent 30 days collecting samples in a barn, which is slow and arduous, smelly and hot. Yet we have everyone in the company helping out,” says Deshpande. “This is because they understand if they do it and they do it well, it will have a much bigger impact in the world.”
We’re not just people selling something to their industry. We want to develop a product that makes a difference to them, to their families, to their farms, and to their cows.
Millennials want work that matters
In a 2017 survey, more than one-third of millennials define success as doing work that has a positive impact on society, while 81% said a successful business needs to have a genuine purpose and 78% believe the values of their employer should match their own. (Forbes, 2017)