By Daniel Mahon
Adrian Soe Myint is the CEO of Village Link – a leading Myanmar startup that prides itself in enabling agricultural and rural communities in Myanmar prosper through the use of mobile technology.
Human Asia had the honor to interview Adrian recently.
Firstly tell us the general backdrop on the state of the agriculture industry in Myanmar right now.
Adrian: Agriculture is the backbone of Myanmar’s economy; it represents 24% of the country’s GDP and a staggering 70% of rural population in Myanmar is engaged in this sector.
However, the productivity per hectare is well below its neighbouring countries.
One of the contributing factors for the poor performance is the lack of knowledge for up-to-date farming practises amongst farmers.
Moreover, farmers do not have access to actionable intelligence such as pest and disease outbreak predictions, accurate weather predictions and market information for them to make the right decisions in their farming cycles.
On top of that, they are one of the groups that are most susceptible to the effects of climate change.
Tell us why you started Village Link. What market gap did you see?
Adrian: A lot of farming challenges in Myanmar could be overcome if the right information is delivered at the right time to the right place.
We saw that farmers had to physically approach different people or organizations to solve different problems they face on their farms.
It drains their time, energy and resources to look for the right answer or solution they need.
With astonishing smartphone and internet penetration in the country, it gave us plenty of opportunities to deploy fast and scalable solutions for farmers through the use of digital technology.
We see that there’s an opportunity for us to provide a platform where they’ll be able to access products, services and information within a few thumb presses.
Is Village Link a pure for-profit business, a social enterprise, or an NGO?
Adrian: Village link is a for-profit business that offers free service to smallholders.
Tell us more about your revenue stream, and who are the paying customers?
Adrian: Village Link’s paying customers are agribusinesses and organizations engaged in rural Myanmar.
We provide platforms for these entities to digitally engage with their rural customers and we also help generate meaningful insights derived from a combination of Geo-Satellite data.
Our revenue streams are from
2. Sponsored Contents
3. Satellite Data
4. Call Center and Other Services
You mentioned a few stakeholders in the Htwet Toe ecosystem. Who stand to gain the most from this platform?
Adrian: Smallholders are the most to gain from this platform as our information and advisory are absolutely free for them and our advice is helping them overcome many challenges they face every day.
What are your biggest challenges and obstacle right now to grow the business?
Adrian: Digital literacy and internet cost are our two biggest obstacles for us to grow our business.
Despite high penetrations of mobile and internet, a lot of Myanmar people still have very poor digital literacy.
Moreover, it’s hard to bring these people out of the Facebook ecosystem which they are accustomed to.
Farmers are also cost cautious and many of them want to use their mobile top-ups for Facebook only.
You won the Asean Rice Bowl award for agritech. What does this mean to you Myanmar startups in general?
Adrian: First, it helped us shed light on the farming issues in Myanmar and how we are trying to solve them using mobile technology.
There are opportunities to replicate our success story in the region and this might inspire other regional players to help smallholders in their own countries.
For Village Link, this award helped us promote more trust from our users and other beneficiaries.
Are you looking at more funding right now?
Adrian: We received a 2.7 million Euro grant from the Netherlands to last us well towards the end of 2020 and we are not looking for any funding at the moment.
Read more about Myanmar startups : Eating in Myanmar at your fingertips
About Adrian Soe Myint
Adrian, tell us more about yourself – your childhood background and life in general.
Adrian: I grew up all my life in a middle-class family in Myanmar.
Anyone who grew up in this country is no stranger to the difficulties our farmers face to provide us with food.
Cyclone Nargis in 2008 was a wake up call for me when I realized that those suffered the most were the farmers and a lot could have been done to mitigate the loss if only information was provided to them ahead.
My background was in chemical engineering with specialization in data modeling and prediction analytics.
It has always been my passion to solve agriculture problems in Myanmar and I’ve always felt I could use my skills in this field.
What made you step into entrepreneurship?
Adrian: Village Link was not founded by me; it was founded by 5 other owners with a mission to help farmers.
I was working as CTO in an agriculture corporate before I joined Village Link as CEO in 2019.
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and being a CEO at Village Link is probably the closest to being an entrepreneur for me.
I joined the company because I believe in their mission and it aligns with my own ambition.
If you knew what you know now 5 years ago, what would you have done differently in business or in your life?
Adrian: If I had known what I know today, I would have let go of my corporate life and joined Village Link sooner.
There are just so much more excitement and things to learn form being a part of leading company in AgriTech.
In terms of business, I would have done it differently too when it comes to designing the app; I now realize that the number of features are not as important as usefulness.
I would have kept the app simpler and cleaner for our users.
What or who is you major source of inspiration?
Adrian: My parents are my source of inspiration; both are selfless and motivated to help those in need. I aspire to become like them one day.
Parting words for budding Myanmar startups especially those who want to start an agritech business?
Adrian: If you are going to deal with farmers, first you need to understand them very well.
Their problems and our assumptions of their problems are never the same.
Next, always keep it simple for them; they don’t need sophisticated solutions as many of their problems can be easily solved with much simpler means.
Last and most importantly, build trust with farmers. No matter how effective your solution is, if they don’t trust you, they won’t use your solution.
Thank you, Adrian.
The interview was conducted by Human Asia’s contributor Daniel Mahon.
To visit Village Link, go to their website : http://www.villagelink.co/
To visit our Facebook page, go to : https://www.facebook.com/thehumanasia/