What is CowTribe, and what problem are you trying to address?
CowTribe is a mobile-based technology company enabling access to animal health services for farmers. In recent years farmers have been favoring livestock over crops. This is due to a growing population (leading to less land available per person) and climate change, which has been depreciating land potential as well as increasing chances of flooding or drought. Furthermore, animals are easier to handle because you can move them, they can reproduce and for many farmers is cost-effective to keep livestock. Yet animal health services for farmers have been getting worse as the government increased focus on crops, thereby creating a gap for the private sector to fill.
What services does CowTribe offer?
Cow Tribe offers a platform (still in Beta stage) for farmers to access veterinary services.
1. Making appointment with veterinarians using our mobile phone app
2. Receiving alerts on disease outbreaks and vaccinations via SMS and voice messaging: farmers can subscribe for these alerts
3. Requesting veterinary drugs: currently farmers spend a lot of time traveling to cities to access these drugs. Now drugs can be purchased directly from the visiting vets.
Where did the idea come from?
We (Alima and Peter) are from remote villages and beneficiaries from cattle farming. My (Peter’s) father was the first child to go to school in his community. His own father had to sell cattle to pay for the school. When my grandfather died, the remaining animals were divided between his children, and soon all the animals died. This of course led to reduced income for the family.
Mortality in livestock is between 30 to 60% – with vaccinations, it goes down to 5%. We understand that access to veterinary services is therefore vital. My hope is that eventually buying once cow for my uncle would be enough for him to live.
What is your revenue model?
CowTribe operates a subscription model (yearly fee of $5 ) for alerts and matchmaking services. The farmers then need to pay the veterinarian directly for their services and for any drugs purchased. We are also exploring the supply of veterinary pharmaceuticals to vets/farmers directly as another revenue stream.
Please tell us about your growth path!
CowTribe started just over a year ago, and the platform now has a total of 25,000 subscribers, of which 6000+ are paying subscribers. We work in 119 communities within 6 districts in the current pilot, and we plan to expand to 6 more districts soon.
This is impressive – how did you manage to grow so quickly?
When we started, we spent 8 months in the field to subscribe as many farmers as possible. We had 6 marketing staff, going from one community to the other, talking to farmers. Along the road we started partnering with NGOs who had a large number of farmers in their databases – since then, we are leveraging this partnership route as a means to grow faster.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
So far we have been completely self-funded. We started with little savings and minimal experience. With a 75% of acquisition fee per new subscriber, this is becoming quite expensive and we realized a bit late that we needed to get ready for contacting investors – this is also one of our current priorities.
We are also facing a challenge when it comes to recruiting veterinarians to join the platform. We have close to 300 vets on the platform at the moment, however gaps in business capacity and resources to reach the rural areas remains a critical challenge. Each vet needs to be trained first by Cow Tribe in business skills. For now, CowTribe fully funds the training – vets then enter a contractual agreement with CowTribe for 2 years. This relationship led to other questions, such as: if the vet’s motorbike breaks down, who is responsible?
We understand however that for the moment we need to be flexible with the vets we work with, so that they support us in improving the platform.
How has the IBA community supported you so far?
When we joined IBA, we were excited because we saw other companies that did amazing things – we wanted to be part of this community. For us IBA creates an opportunity to be inspired and feel less lonely about the work, and we certainly did not want to be left behind! IBA’s value also became clearer since met IBA advisors Susanne and Rene, who support us in our pilot. Their continued support and expertise is overwhelming.
For the future, we would love to get more opportunities to discuss with other IBA members and get feedback from them.
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