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“Outsourcing forces you to be a strong company”: An interview with the director of AgriPlace

We’re happy to announce that one of our clients, AgriPlace, has been nominated for the 2016 Accenture Innovation Awards. The Accenture Innovation Awards gives the most innovative Dutch products, services, and concepts the recognition they deserve. This year, there are 11 themes in which young businesses based in the Netherlands compete for the coveted Blue Tulips, Green Tulip, and the Audience Award.

Marieke De Ruyter
Marieke De Ruyter
To help spread the word about this amazing platform, we decided to interview Marieke de Ruyter de Wildt, the Director of AgriPlace, and Oles Maiboroda, AgriPlace’s Front-End Developer in Ukraine.
Marieke told us more about the AgriPlace platform and shared her tips for building a strong international team, while Oles discussed the more technical aspects of the company’s work, including AgriPlace’s development process and tools.

Daxx: Marieke, could you start by telling us about what AgriPlace is?

Marieke: AgriPlace is an online platform for agricultural business owners that allows them to collect, manage, and share compliance data safely and easily.

Our ambition is to make food more transparent and more sustainable. As we’re becoming fussier about our food, the pile of paperwork farmers have to work through gets larger. What our product does is simplify the life of a farmer.

Daxx: How exactly does AgriPlace simplify the life of a farmer?

Marieke: The average farmer in the Netherlands needs to have at least two certificates — a food safety certificate, like the GLOBALG.A.P, and some type of social certificate, such as Fairtrade. Some farmers need to have up to 10 certificates for different supermarkets they supply.

The GLOBALG.A.P. alone requires answers to about 500 questions — that amounts to a 10-centimeter thick stack of paperwork. Filling in all of these forms takes about a week of preparation.

With AgriPlace, a farmer – let’s call him John – has a clean desk without any paperwork. He logs into our app on his mobile device or laptop, selects a standard, and gets a list of pieces of evidence that he needs to submit.

John gradually works through this list under our guidance, takes pictures of things he does on the farm, and uploads the required documents. When he’s done, 70 percent of the questions are answered automatically based on the evidence and documents he’s already submitted, so all he needs to do is finish the remaining questions.

Once John is done, he selects his auditor. The auditor receives John’s documents and questionnaire, gives him a call, and says, “Hey John, I see you’re ready for the audit, I’ll come to your farm in two weeks.”

As a result, a week of work is reduced to about two days. Besides the efficiency that digitalization brings, AgriPlace gives farmers structure and control.  

Daxx: Do the farmers and the auditors take part in developing your platform?

Marieke: Apart from our tech team, we have a team of content people who know everything about agriculture. We’re also in touch with a group of farmers, who test our solution and give us their feedback, as well as with auditors and supermarkets, as they are the ones who decide what certification farmers need.

Daxx: How often do farmers need to get these certificates? In other words, how often would they need to use AgriPlace?

Marieke: In most cases, farmers need to get a new certificate for each crop. Some crops, like potatoes, only happen once or twice a year. Others, like tomatoes, are continuous. Basically, most farmers go through audits all the time.

Daxx: Does AgriPlace work only in the Netherlands?

Marieke: We just launched our platform in the Netherlands and have about 2 thousand Dutch farmers on board, which is a lot for such a small country.

As we speak, we’re launching our platform in Spain and South Africa, and we’re getting ready for a global roll-out from 2017 onwards.

Daxx: Do all of those countries have similar food safety regulations?

Marieke: Food standards are getting more globalized every day. They’re all getting extra attention because of the 2008 Chinese milk scandal and other cases like that. These scandals attract a lot of media attention, which is a good thing for consumers, but on the other hand, it means more paperwork for farmers.

We want to unburden farmers, help them deal with food regulations more efficiently, and give them more time to farm.

In agricultural technology, or AgTech, 90 percent of startups are about drones, sensors, and other cool “toys.” Digitizing administration isn’t very sexy, but we believe it’s incredibly important, and that’s why we’re doing it.

Daxx: Could you tell us about how your company functions?

Marieke: We have a small office here in the Netherlands, where our content team and a part of our development team are located. We also have Indian, Russian, and Pakistani engineers, and, of course, Oles, the front-end developer Grid Dynamics helped us hire in Ukraine.

We want to stay small. We don’t even sell in the Netherlands – our partner does that for us. We think that we should focus on what we do best – that is making AgriPlace – and have other people who have the trust of the farmers explain and sell it.

Daxx: Why did you decide to work with Grid Dynamics and hire a developer in Ukraine?

Marieke: We had a vacancy, and after talking to a number of companies similar to Grid Dynamics in different countries, we came to the conclusion that your offering was the best.

Oles had a very good CV, but the other thing we liked was that Grid Dynamics was (and is) a very professional and forward-thinking company. We’re very happy with our partnership so far.

Daxx: You have a multinational team of people located in different locations. Isn’t it challenging?

Marieke: Multinational teams do come with their challenges, but I strongly believe in them, and not because they’re a hip thing to have.

I think that we learn different things from each other, and if we want to make a product that is globally strong, we need to have the type of different perspectives that multinational teams can provide.

Daxx: Oles, what do you think makes a remote partnership successful?

Oles Agriplace
Oles Agriplace
Oles: The success of a remote partnership relies on two factors. The first one is the professionalism of everyone involved, from the manager to the QA engineer to the developers. The other factor is a well-established development process.
Grid Dynamics: What development process do you follow?
Oles: We use Scrum, and we use it the right way with all the necessary components.

Our sprints are two weeks long. We always have daily stand-ups at 11 AM, regular sprint retrospectives and demos.

Sometimes farmers — our customers — are also there for demos, and they give their feedback on what they’ve seen and heard later to help us give them exactly what they need.

Once you have a professional team as well as a well-established development process, anyone can achieve great results in a remote partnership.

Daxx: What tools do you use?

Oles: We used to work with YouTrack, but switched to Jira since we already use other tools by Atlassian – Bitbucket and HipChat.

Daxx: How do you deal with different time zones?

Marieke: We have to strike compromises. For example, our team here would like to have a stand-up early in the morning, at about 8 AM, but we also have people in Pakistan and Oles in Ukraine, so we settled on 11 AM.

Daxx: Have you noticed any cultural differences while working with Oles?

Marieke: Based on the one Ukrainian I’ve worked with, I think Ukrainians have an absolutely superb sense of humor. We really appreciate that.

I also find Ukrainians very close to our culture, to be honest. They’re very upfront and honest in their way of working, and quite ambitious.

Daxx: Oles, what about you?

Oles: I think the Dutch are a lot more diplomatic than Ukrainians.

Daxx: Do you have any tips on how to build a strong multinational team?

Marieke: Never underestimate the importance of people. The product is all about the personalities that commit to building it. Meeting each other in real life is key to connecting and committing, so my main tip is to invest in face-time.

Swapping tasks with colleagues from time to time helps a lot too. I believe this practice really brings people together because they learn to understand what it is that they’re asking from their coworkers.

Daxx: What are your key challenges right now?

Marieke: As a startup, we have more challenges than solutions. Our biggest challenge is staying focused as our priorities keep changing.

Daxx: What advice do you have for someone who’s thinking about hiring remotely?

Oles: I’d say it’s important to never lose contact. Don’t just join discussions, initiate them — within reason, of course. Whenever an issue arises, I try to solve it myself first, and if I can’t, I just call someone in Amsterdam and discuss my problem.

Daxx: Marieke, how would you describe your experience working with a remote developer so far?

Marieke: I’m sure employment is never going to be as it was before. People move all the time, switch jobs, they’re flextime workers, they have part-time parenting jobs, they have another job, they’re studying – everything is happening at the same time. Employers have to get used to working in such an environment, and I think outsourcing teaches you to do just that.

If my team is right next to me, and we want to make, say, the next Tesla Kyiv model, we work on it iteratively. If I realize we need different colors, the team goes back to the drawing table. Redesigning takes a long time, and costs a lot too.

However, if my team is in a totally different location, communication is limited. They will ask me lots of tricky questions, so I have to be very clear about what I want and when I want it done right from the start.

This clarity of company processes is essential if you want to build a strong business. Outsourcing forces you to be a strong company.

We wish AgriPlace the best of luck in the Accenture Innovation Awards, and encourage you to support this innovative platform by voting for it here. You can vote up to three times via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (one vote per platform). Thank you!

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