Thoughts on the goat milk farmers as a niche
Two months ago I had selected the goat milk farmers as my market for The Foundation. After about 15 Idea Extraction calls, I am about to change markets. Here is a summary of what worked and what didn't work for me during the last two months.
SUCCESS: Creating a list of farmers
I was able to really quickly gather a list of 1.369 goat milk farmers, mainly from the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel - KvK) which lets you search and download the data of Dutch companies. By searching for the businesses' names and city in the Dutch Phone Book, I was all set up to start cold calling folks!
Notice that I did skip the emailing part. This is due to the simple fact that I don't have any email addresses, as the KvK explicitly doesn't give those out. So I jumped right into cold calling, which if you've read my earlier post about my first Idea Extraction you'll know I was very afraid to do. So I see this definitely as a success for me!
(in the process I had also generated a list of 11.895 businesses for milk cows, but as explained in my market selection post I chose to niche further down to only goat milk producers - so I haven't used that second list at all)
SUCCESS: Getting in touch with farmers
As mentioned, due to the lack of email addresses I had to jump right into cold calling farmers to set up Idea Extraction calls. Although this seemed very frightening at first, I was really surprised and pleased to find out that this method of approach was very successful. Read more about cold calling to set up IE calls and have a look at the script that I've used on these first cold calls.
All in all, I had no trouble reaching out and speaking with farmers. A definite win, and a good motivation booster.
SEMI-FAILURE: Extracting pains
I learned a lot performing these first real IE calls. Obviously about the work performed by these farmers, but I felt a good progression in the way I held the calls. The first real IE calls were more for me to orient myself in the landscape of goat milk producers, but after 3 calls or so I was able to get deeper into the issues the farmers face. A number of them mentioned the impact of having to work 7 days a week, from very early (most get up between 4 and 5 a.m.) to pretty late (9-10 p.m.), and the large price that comes with getting external folks to take care of milking their goats if they want to get away for a weekend (more than € 1.000 I was told).
When asking the question "If you had a magic wand, what would you do more or less of?", I had at least 3 different farmers tell me "Nothing", and continue explaining that they had the best job they could think of: variation of tasks (only about 10% of administration, the rest "real work"), inside and outside work, working with animals and humans, feeling connected with the Earth and their seasons, etc. That was in fact what I got from most farmers: no real push to change much in their work.
Also, all (and I mean all) the farmers with which I talked are using the same software. In general (two exception) they are very happy with both the software and the company making it, which is seen as really "taking care of their own". I even learned that the company is currently beta-testing a mobile app to be able to get access to the data on the computer while strolling in the stall (which was one of the micro-pains detected with some of the farmers that hadn't yet heard about the beta version of the app). The farmer involved in this early test told me that, bugs apart, the app solves all the issues that he had been complaining about. Which is good for the farmers!
The "all is good in the world" story I was getting (in particular after several years of the market not making profits) kind of surprised me, until I spoke with one of the larger companies. When cold calling to set up an IE call, the lady (owner) I had on the phone asked me with which other colleagues I had already talked. After giving her the list, she told me that those were mainly smaller and bio farmers. Indeed, most that I had talked to had between 400 and 1.200 goats, whereas she had more than 5.000. And they acted as a "real business", with employees taking care of most of the tasks like milking and cleaning the barn. All the others I had spoken until then where more like one-man-shows, with occasionally the spouse giving a helping hand.
Over multiple calls with this larger business, we discovered an issue that was related to the fact that they had multiple locations (again, a difference with the smaller players) that were several hours apart, and the fact that the software that all farmers are using isn't built with these larger players in mind.
Although I yet have to figure out if I can mean something to the larger players regarding the issue related to scale/multiple locations, goat milk producers is not going to be a market in which I will stay in the scope of my involvement with The Foundation.
I am definitely very happy with all the things I have learned working with the goat milk farmers, and in particular how I have been getting better at IE, but I feel there is still a long road ahead, as I somehow feel that not being able to extract a pain and the answer "I have no issues" is a sign that I'm not good enough yet.
I have started brainstorming about other markets, and will soon update you on that.