CEO of Farmsponsor Talks about Crowdfunding in Agritech and his Company’s Expansion Drive
Right early on in life, Bill Kenneths knew that he wanted to become an entrepreneur. He was also particularly interested in agriculture. Having grown up in a part of the country where everyone was fixated on crude oil, he felt the need to exemplify the fact that there are other means to making legitimate money in Nigeria. And that is exactly what he has ended up doing. He and his Co-Founder, Akpa Chike Emmanuel, started Farmsponsor about 4 years ago and have successfully built it into a major player in the Nigerian agriculture sector.
Business Elites Africa recently caught up with him and we talked about his company’s ongoing expansion drive. We also asked him numerous questions about the Nigerian agritech industry and what we should expect as 2021 continues to unfold. Enjoy the interview.
BEA: Tell us about yourself and how your entrepreneurial journey came about.
BK: My name is Bill Kenneths and I am the CEO of Globetrot Farmsponsor Nigeria Ltd, an agritech company that was established out of passion about 4 years ago. I decided to go into agriculture because in the part of the country where I found myself, everybody was just interested in oil money. If you have not gotten a job with any of the big oil companies like Shell and Chevron, nobody will regard you as someone that will ever amount to anything in life. So, my business partner and I decided to explore agriculture, poultry business to be precise. We started with just 250 birds, self-funding the business with money from our savings. And then three to four months afterwards, we decided to start raising funds through crowdfunding so as to enable us to expand our capacity. It wasn’t long before we were expanding from 3000 birds to 5000 birds and then 10, 000 birds. Right now, it is a fully-fledged business entity and we are even diversifying into other areas of the poultry value chain.
I graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. I studied Political Science, graduating in 2014. I’m from a family of two boys, and both of my parents are teachers. I’m from Ebonyi State. I started Farmsponsor with my friend and brother, Akpa Chike Emmanuel.
BEA: How did you become an entrepreneur; is it something you’ve always wanted to be or it happened out of chance?
BK: It did not happen out of chance. Right from when I was little, I always knew that I had it in me to become an entrepreneur. I remember when I was in J.S.S.1 and I had told my parents that I would like to study Economist at the university. And the reason I gave them for my choice was that I love business. As a matter of fact, I had been doing business since I was in primary school. For instance, I sold kerosene. People would come to my house to buy kerosene from me. And before long, I started distributing kerosene to their homes because I realized I could actually deliver the kerosene to my customers instead of them stressing themselves and coming all the way to my house. So, I started doing that. And I had schedule for all of them, especially my regular customers whom I knew when their kerosene would finish.
Back then, I used to buy just five litres from the filling station because that was as much as I could afford. Whenever I finished selling everything, I would go back to the filling station and buy more. My father got interested in what I was doing and decided to buy me 25 litres in order to scale my business and I soon grew it into fifty litres.
Before that time, my father had bought two goats for me when I was in primary four. And before I left primary school to secondary school, I had increased the number of those goats to 16. Unfortunately, during my first term at the boarding school, he sold off all the goats. And when I came back home for break and realized what had happened, I was very heartbroken. I was not happy at all that he sold my goats because I was too attached to all of them. They even had names.
Anyway, that was how I developed my entrepreneurial spirit. And as a grew older, my interest in agriculture grew stronger. Like I mentioned earlier, I just wanted to do something different from the typical crave for oil wealth which was prevalent in the society where I lived. And I always knew it would be agriculture. But then again, I needed to be innovative about it, which is why I went for agritech. As at that time, I would say Farmsponsor was among the first startups to emerge on the agritech space because we launched in the same year as Farmcrowdy. Right now, there are quite a number of other agritech startups.
So, that’s how we started and currently, our capacity has grown tremendously. In fact, we have invested in all the value chains of poultry business in Nigeria – from the feed mill to the commercial farm, to the hatchery, to processing plants…we’ve invested so heavily into that sector. Last year, it was all about investing in the business. By the grace of God, we were able to complete over 90% of our CAPEX projects. And we are still constructing even now, although not as much as we did last year. I call this year our year of uncommon recovery because last year we were just busy spending despite the Coronavirus pandemic.
BEA: Like you mentioned, there were just a few startups in the ecosystem when you started. Right now, however, there are so many other players. In view of the growing competition, what is your Unique Selling Proposition? What differentiates you from the others?
BK: Focus. That’s what helps us to stand out. You see, when I started I told myself that we are going to dabble into everything. Instead, we will focus on one thing and get it right before deciding if there are other things we can do. As you know, in every business (even pepper selling), there are always derivatives. There are always byproducts that can be processed from the products you are selling to do other things. And this presents immense opportunities for income generation.
For us in poultry business, poultry is a very large industry on its own. You can be an egg seller, a chicken meat seller, a feed seller, or even a chicken vaccine seller. All of these are under poultry business. All of these present immense opportunities to be exploited. We started with chicken for meat (i.e., broilers) and we have been doing just that all these years. We don’t do layers, we don’t sell eggs, and we don’t sell anything else other than chicken meat.
However, now that we have consolidated on our operation and established our name as a leader in the market, we are now going into the broiler value chain. Now we are building feed mills to serve ourselves and the public. We are also building hatcheries to serve ourselves and the public. We are also building commercial (breeder) farms to hatch our eggs, etc. All these other things are now just being incorporated into our business model. We didn’t start with them initially.
We started small and we systematically and strategically grew overtime. And it has been an awesome experience.
BEA: Last year, we saw how the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the activities of some agritech startups like Thrive Agric and H0Corn. Did it the pandemic affect you as well and in what ways?
The pandemic affected everybody, not just agritech companies. It affected every single person, including the government. However, one thing that influenced the severity of the effects the pandemic had on companies (including agritech startups) is nature of the structure they already have on ground prior to the pandemic.
You see, they call it agritech, yes. But agriculture is a physical activity and will remain so until the end of time. Technology in agriculture is supposed to enable you do the physical things a lot more seamlessly, you know. So, if you are saying you are in agritech but you don’t have any physical and tangible investments, when the rainy day comes it will just hit you so hard.
We at Farmsponsor didn’t see the pandemic coming. But we already prepared ourselves for any eventuality, which is why we have always been investing in real assets. What are these real assets? Okay, I’m in poultry business today; what are those things that aid my business operations? How can I tap into them so I can reduce my cost of operation? So, that is what we did; we started investing in those key areas that will facilitate our operations…
EDITOR’S NOTE: Read the rest of the interview on page 22 of our latest magazine edition: 25 Entrepreneurs and Brands to Watch in 2021.
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