This was where Usha’s business background and social sector experience came together. “If it were my project,” she said, “I would iterate and iterate until you have something so good that a poor farmer would voluntarily pay you for the service you provide. Then you know you are creating value for them.”
So she pivoted away from the web platform project, yet a seed had been planted in her mind. And that turned out to be a fertile place indeed.
Usha started investigating the issue – what we call sensing – visiting farmers, trying to start out from their reality. From there, a vision started to emerge about how farmers could change their plight in the long-term. But many of these farmers are not in a position to trade off short-term for long-term benefits. So Usha started prototyping with services for farmers that would save them money.
She discovered that small farmers are at the far end of the supply chain and usually at the mercy of more powerful players. Bags of seed are bought at the highest prices and often do not contain the stated quantity or are already expired. When selling produce, small farmers get terribly low prices for organic production. And the farmers are mostly powerless to do anything about it.
Usha prototyped ways of starting a buying collective. Just by buying in bulk a bag of feed could go from 730 rupees to 640. KJ was born.
THNK’s Creation Flow is a structured process that catalyzes breakthrough creativity by combining deep exploration of a new topic (Sensing), with the generation of big ideas (Visioning), rapid testing and improvement of concepts (Prototyping), and successful introduction of innovations that spread rapidly, resulting in an outsized impact (Scaling).
Usha prototyped a method where bright young women from farming communities are on mobile phones giving the farmers the prices they can get with KJ if they become a member. Membership is free if they agree to provide data on how they farm. Premium membership comes at a fee and has even better rates, the bag of feed would then cost 640 rupees.
Usha decided to commit to KJ full time. She went all in and left Washington to live full-time in India. She went back to her roots in the most literal way, living on her parents’ farm in the heart of Tamil Nadu, a state with 3.2 million farm households. 70% of these are small farmers with less than 5 acres and 1-2 cows.
KJ gained trust through making a difference for the farmers straight away. At the same time, Usha is collecting data and iterating her model until it is ready to scale.
In the first two years, 3500 farmers signed up. KJ has now two rural retail outlets where supplies can be collected and a colorful truck that functions as a mobile supply depot.