Memoirs of AgroStar’s first ever Hackathon!

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As a company grows, it becomes even more imperative to break from the routine and do something different and exciting. Recently, at AgroStar, we had our first ‘Hackathon’, where teams of 3 had 36 hours to hack an idea and build a working model in the form of an innovative tech-based solution that will help the Indian farmers, the agriculture domain or help AgroStar serve and deliver more efficiently to our end customer, the farmer.

It was the first time ever, that our office was so high on energy and the first time ever, that non IT teams like Procurement, Agronomy, Data Analytics and Sales participated too after seeing the energy of the tech team, probably a first time ever in the history of hackathons.

What came as a pleasant surprise to all of us was how the founders stayed in office all night, supporting the teams, playing indoor-cricket with and cheering the teams. The purpose of the hackathon was mainly to break away from the routine and have some fun and that’s precisely what we did. Unlimited snacks, red bull, hot beverages, cold drinks, frequently served munchies, fruits and great meals, we couldn’t have asked for more. As a surprise element we had live music performance late in the night, to give us a breather and relax. Crooning to the music and letting our hair down for an hour, we got back into our nocturnal skin, to continue hacking through the night.  

At the end of the hackathon, we had all the amazing ideas turn into working models, all in a span of 36 hours. The winning team was Team Agrobot that built a robot to facilitate the picking and sorting of products at our warehouses and make the process faster and more efficient. Some of the other brilliant ideas included a vernacular voice-based in-app search tool in our app, a tool for the internal sales team activity planning, a unified dashboard for assisted e-commerce channel partners, an interactive solution for handling farmer complaints, a virtual agri-expert who gives personalized crop-based solutions etc.

Along with the winners, to keep the spirits high, there were also spot prizes for categories like ‘Best Team Name’, ‘Best Idea Chart, ‘Best Social Media Blogger’ and ‘Fastest Submission’.

A new and first time experience for quite a lot of us, including me, I enjoyed being the DJ for 36 hours. One thing is for sure, whenever any of us we will come across the term ‘hackathon’, it will surely bring to us the super cherished memories of the successful first hackathon at AgroStar.

 

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Author: Surabhi Mathur, Executive – Content at AgroStar

 

The perfect culture at your workplace, it all begins with respect!

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A typical HR problem that I keep reading or hearing about in different forums is about lack of respect at work places. Being in HR myself and being extremely passionate about driving the right culture, I thought I must express some of my simple views on this entire subject of ‘Respect at work places’.

Today’s millennial looks for a fast paced growth in career. The environment that we work in, expects us to speak up, be visible, assertive, go the extra mile and beat the competition in pursuit of greater things or success. While these qualities take precedence, respect and humility at times take a back step, due to which, in most organizations it slowly leads to unnecessary blame games, closed mindsets, unwanted arrogance and fatal internal wars. Thus, affecting the culture and the growth of the company.

So why is respect at workplace so important?

Mutual respect builds higher and better performances, a positive work environment where everyone enjoys working together and great team spirit. This can only come through actions & behaviors of mutual respect for people and the company’s values.

Here are some simple and effective steps to foster respectful interactions at your workplace:

1.      ACCEPT – Accept people are different, forget about being perfect and enjoy the difference.

2.      LISTEN – Be a patient listener. It is very important to listen to others’ viewpoints; however strong your point of view may be.

3.      SPEAK CAREFULLY – Be careful of the words you choose to speak and the body language you express, when you speak. It will help if you use magical words like “You are right.”, “Thankyou”, “Please” and “Sorry” more often. We have to be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings or integrity.

4.      SEEK – Seek honest feedback for continuous improvement- While we should constantly retrospect into our actions, it won’t do any harm to get a third perspective. Ask “How am I doing?” to your peers, colleagues, friends, managers and yes, do include your family too for this question.

5.      LEARN – Nobody is ever perfect. We should learn from our mistakes and be willing to receive advice, corrections, and take contributions. Maybe someone’s idea is better than yours. Work together to implement the better idea and learn from that too.

6.      SHARE – Share credit for your success with others. Remember sole contributors don’t go a long way. It should all be about “WE” & not “I” or “ME”.

7.      SMILE – Keep smiling. A smile is infectious. It spreads positivity and cheer and works like magic to create a happy workplace.

8.     MODESTY – Remember that intelligence is in modesty and not in arrogance.

Simple advice if thought through and implemented by every individual in a company, will not only help individuals to grow professionally and personally, but will lead to a great company with a great culture.

 

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Author: Sujatha Bhambure, HR – Business Partner

Looking through the glass window

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Working in a start-up is the new ‘normal’. People who once worked in corporate are looking out for new avenues to change their professional course, and take a piece of the start-up pie. The dynamic work culture, crazy work hours, power naps on bean bags and the constant buzz is all that an outsider can gauge. Talking of start-ups, if you would like to know what it is like to work at AgroStar, or how their recruitment process is, read on.

As someone who recently joined AgroStar, the memory of my first interview is etched on my mind. From the time of the first phone call, till the first interview happened, I had already gotten a vibe of the work place. Asha, the one responsible for Content at AgroStar, asked me about my background, my family, and my reasons of wanting to move to Pune. Having a blog proved to be a big advantage, as she really seemed interested in knowing more about it. A few weeks later, when I had almost forgotten about this phone call, I got a call from her again, asking me to come to Pune for a personal interview. Having no idea what’s in store for me, I jumped at the opportunity.

The personal interview session went on for almost an hour, where we covered varied topics for discussion like agriculture, start-ups, travel, food, shopping, writing and family etc. It felt more like a coffee table conversation, than a personal interview, which was a refreshing change. After the interview ended, she gave me an office tour and introduced me to a few people.

Next was the HR round. I felt it was a bit intense, as the Head HR ditched traditional questions like ‘Why AgroStar?’ and instead asked me in-depth about my internships, a few technical questions related to them, what were my expectations from the role at AgroStar and what would be in store for me. He gave me a peek into what AgroStar work culture is like, to gauge if I can fit into the organization. Now I know, the reason why the HR round felt intense was because they take deep efforts to check for the right fit to ensure that the culture is maintained. When it ended, the day hadn’t ended, as I was given a few assignments to do post the interview, giving me a teaser of the work culture.

A few things that stood out for me during my interview process at AgroStar were, how they really gave thrust on ‘people’ who joined their organization. I was surprised at how no one asked for a hard copy of my CV at any point during the interview.

It gave me a peek into the dynamic work culture, where certain things matter more than a piece of paper.

Small things like the security guard coming up to me and asking me how my day went and if I had gotten the job yet was endearing, which made the nurturing and humble aspect of the company quite apparent. The entire hiring process took just enough time to keep me hooked. I’m still learning on the job, one thing at a time. Everyday unveils a new experience for me, with me doing something off the cuff, which is another reason why AgroStar and me were the best match.

Surabhi Mathur  Author: Surabhi Mathur, Executive – Content at AgroStar

How user research is helping us design for farmers!

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Studying farmers in the context has helped us in knowing their perceptions and building a strong connection

Any kind of business needs a comprehensive consumer research to improve its service. When the business is concerning farmers, it becomes all the more imperative to invest in knowing what the farmers’ needs are, their expectations, and most importantly, to take them along in your journey. At AgroStar, we believe in the farmer as not just a receiver of our service, but also as an active participant who, while controlling the reigns of his future, will also take our vision forward with his personalized and genuine feedback.

Consumer research has been the most helpful way to develop the right products, as any user-centric organization will agree with. The customers are no longer just a patron of a service. They are active participants in developing the vision, playing a role for their own future. Deep understanding of the customer is what makes any product arrive and stay for long in today’s world. At AgroStar, the farmer is always placed at the forefront before making any business decision.

Recently, the AgroStar cross-disciplinary team made of members from UX, Product and Engineering, visited the farmers in rural Maharashtra to gain more insight on what their most pressing concerns/needs were. We discovered that a number of farmers still do not have access to information regarding crops, crop-protection, nutrition and market scenario. Apart from that, we learnt that farmers require standard inputs of good quality and hardware at affordable prices and that too on time.

The team met 14 farmers in the age group of 25-62 years owning an average land acreage of 5 to 15 acres, with the exception of one farmer who owned 45 acres. Having spent sufficient time with each farmer , our experts could gauge the excitement of farmers on seeing the new feature of our mobile application “AgroStar-Agriculture App”, now being available in the Marathi language.  The merging of technology and their local language brought cheer to them, and increased their faith in us, as there’s hardly anyone who has concentrated a lot of efforts on the localization of apps useful to them.  Conducting field research,  meeting farmers and listening to their stories of how they currently solve issues with make-shift techniques or traditional ways and just empathizing with them has helped us build a personal connect with them.

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Farmers are eager to coach each other. There is no embarrassment in learning new things

Our mobile application, apart from increasingly becoming an indispensable part of their lives,  has also increased their expectations from us. Our content, given its right positioning and catering to the users, has helped us to connect with our target consumers  and fulfill their needs.

“Aap bahut sahi cheez kar rahe ho. Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon hame target nahi karte hai, aap bilkul sahi ja rahe ho.”

– Sharad, Bhori, Maharashtra

Farmers are eager to learn the benefits of using technology to move  away from the traditional ways of doing agriculture. Testing our app in the field has validated our ideas and at the same time revealed certain new design considerations based on how our users understand the value of online agri-knowledge and purchase. We constantly use these learnings to develop compelling features on our app. A grounded design approach that best leverages the existing learning patterns of the users is what also helps us stay ahead in our endeavor.

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While researching rural India, our insights told us that generating trust and credibility was  important to innovate for our users and solve their problems. . We realized that we need to take care of their inhibitions and help them make informed decisions. Many of the current user interface trends and patterns are not applicable to these users. New models either have to be inculcated or observed from their real life experiences. For those who have not been online before, it is very important to gradually introduce technology to them, so that onboarding is easier and it paves the way to amplify the usage in no time. 

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So, as long as we continue to design in synergy with their needs and provide more relevant information that is contextual and “smart”, we will soon have a pretty compelling and reliable one-stop solution for farming in India.

To check out more on how we are making the farmers’ lives simpler and better, by designing for them, download our app from here.

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Author: Muzayun Mukhtar, Head – User Experience at AgroStar

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The big deal of a milestone! Each one is a big step

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