Mate Knezović: How I convinced my mother and my clients that agrotech is the future
From a software user, he became an investor, and from an investor – a manager. Today, Mate Knezović is the COO of agricultural production management software AGRIVI. But it’s easy to win over the younger generations with technology, what about the older ones – have circumstances changed in the last couple of years?
For those less in the know, Matija Žulj, founder of the well-known agrotech platform AGRIVI, came up with several ideas about the digitalization of agriculture long before he was a “farmer”. That’s exactly why he started growing blueberries – to get hands-on knowledge of the needs and challenges facing farmers. But Matija was not alone in the beginning.
Mate Knezović was one of Agrivi’s first users, all the way back in 2014, when it was just an application in its initial phase, as he recalls:
Namely, I’ve known Matija since childhood, we were neighbours in the same street in Kutina, only five houses away. I knew he was working on agriculture-related software, and he knew my family owns a walnut plantation. He approached me to try out the AGRIVI software and provide him feedback straight from the plantation.
Mate agreed to test the application, and he was already attracted by the innovation behind the project. He soon became the first customer to take full advantage of and implement AGRIVI. But this also brought another challenge – the challenge of explaining to his family why “it was now suddenly necessary to digitalize our walnut plantation and how we would benefit from the investment”.
The die is cast
Following several months of use and frequent conversations with Matija about the company’s vision, Mate recalls that while he learned what an agro-technological startup is, AGRIVI was still a completely new product on the market at the time. Ultimately, Mate was very impressed by the world of digitalized agriculture and he decided to join the team working on it.
Although I had a secure corporate job after graduating from university, I decided to join the AGRIVI team, which at the time consisted of just five people. This may sound like a simple decision, but when I told my family I was moving to a startup, they asked what is that? And why was I leaving a secure job?
Although I explained our mission and vision to them, my mother was very skeptical and almost cried – whatever it was, a startup didn’t sound very convincing, nor did it provide a secure future. Then again, today she’ll say that she is proud of my decision and that I was willing to take a risk.
Agrotech then and now
And just as Mate had to explain to his parents how they would benefit from investing in digitalization, so he, Matija and the rest of the team had to do the same with each of AGRIVI’s future clients. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy at all, since there were very few such pieces of software and little was known about those in existence. They faced the hardest task – educating the market. But year after year, things slowly began to change.
You can get a good impression of how agrotech awareness spread through the agricultural industry from Mate’s experience at Agritechnica, the leading farmers’ fair held every two years in Germany.
AGRIVI decided to have a booth as early as 2015, when we presented our product and why it is important for agriculture. That year, where we first exhibited, visitors to the booth asked us “so what is this?” “What is farm management software?” We had to do a lot of explaining here of how digitalization helps the farmer.
Two years later in 2017, several participants at the fair already knew and understood what AGRIVI was doing and how we were helping to improve agricultural production. And in 2019, visitors specifically sought us out us to find out in detail what our software can do for them.
Three pebbles – that triggered an avalanche
In our agricultural industry, Mate explains, the main triggers for change and the acceptance of digital transformation are the generational shift, the digitalization of society in general and the European Union’s Green Deal.
The changeover of generations means that the younger generations were ready to take over the management of agricultural production, and recognised the opportunities afforded by the digitalization of agricultural processes. General digitalization means that the use of various certificates and payment methods have also been digitalized, so that digital-agricultural economy management was also no longer something strange.
Agriculture is the oldest industry in existence, therefore it was necessary for digitalization to become generally accepted in other segments for farmers to accept it in theirs.
Moreover, the European Union Green Deal required various regulations in digital format, which favoured the implementation of digital tools in agriculture. Farmers no longer had an option, digital reports have become a necessity. Also, food and beverage producers or food processing companies have started demanding and imposing digital regulations on their suppliers (farmers), Mate explains.
This has led to an increase of consciousness and companies’ concern about climate change, and the focus is on the traceability of agricultural production. As a farmer today, you can’t make it onto the shelves of large retail companies if you don’t have food traceability, and this cannot be shown other than through digital tools such as traceability software like AGRIVI.
What do you know about the apples you eat?
Today, the digitalization of agriculture is a key strategic path for countries around the world, with many benefits to both food producers and customers – it increases farmers’ profits by reducing costs and enabling them to set premium prices for products, which in turn improves the sustainability of agricultural production.
On the other hand, adds Mate, it gives consumers a detailed insight into food production, which enables them to make better and more informed choices and increases food safety by monitoring the entire production process.
For example, when we buy an apple today, we do not know when it was treated or what with (therefore we don’t know whether it contains pesticide residue), the number of additional nutrients used in production, or when it was planted or harvested.
The only long-term solution is the digitalization of agricultural production, which enables us to make detailed reports on each product, so that the customer can know exactly when it was planted, when and how much it was treated and supplemented, how much human labour was engaged in its production and how much machine work, the carbon footprint of the production and a lot of other useful information.
Drivers of change
AGRIVI today is not just a startup trying to make an innovative product, we really have a fantastic product, adds Mate. The development of the product was by no means linear and required several changes and adjustments.
The process of expanding to new markets and localization was especially challenging, which meant not only the adoption of new languages, but also currencies, local products and crops… Another thing that particularly marked the growth of the AGRIVI platform was pivoting from a B2C to a B2B2C strategy. Today, rather than starting with small farmers, AGRIVI starts its sales process from the large companies that work with them, and are obliged to comply with new regulations on traceability and food safety.
Their software imposes itself as the ideal solution, a platform where their suppliers (farmers) can learn all the important agronomic practices they need in order to achieve the required levels of quality and safety.
For those clients who are ready for change and digitalization, AGRIVI provides the entire digital experience. But as a company, we don’t just deliver software, we also educate. In addition to onboarding and teaching them how to use such digital tools, we also provide our clients with additional advice and education on how to successfully digitalize their agricultural production. So we’re not just B2B, meant to deliver a solution and that’s it, we provide full customer support to end users who are farmers – that’s the C-segment in our B2BC business model.
Still, Mate notes at the finish:
It is important for everyone to understand that digital agriculture, including AGRIVI, is not a magic wand that can improve the situation in the agricultural industry on its own. We are the tool that helps, but without the end users’ willingness to cooperate, digitalization in itself does not mean change.