Smart Watering for Smart Farming
Smart Watering is a Serbian ag-tech startup on its way to global expansion. Lazar Jovanovic, startup founder and CEO shares insights on company development, challenges, successes, and future plans.
Agriculture is one of the crucial sectors of the Serbian economy. Since IT has earned the same status in the last couple of years, we have watched how the two sectors collaborate, generating innovative solutions and exciting startups.
Smart Watering is one of the startups that has recently emerged from the "ag-tech boom" in Serbia. The team is pawing its way to success with a unique, intelligent irrigation solution. Support from the local startup ecosystem enabled Smart Watering to develop into a scaling startup with global ambitions.
We talked to the company founder and CEO, Lazar Jovanovic, to learn more about their journey and plans.
You have mentioned a few times that the idea for creating Smart Watering started from your own need. Please tell us what that need was and how it became a business.
Well, it was back in 2017. I was sitting in an office in Novi Sad as a scholarship student in a software company, and I decided to plant a hazelnut farm in my grandfather's village. Since I couldn't be present at the orchard the entire time, I needed a device to help me remotely monitor and control irrigation on my farm. I googled it and found nothing that would suit my needs. So, I sat down with a dorm mate and built a remote irrigation system prototype. At the time, we didn't know that it could be a business someday. It was a hobby project for us to solve the problem I had. However, once we started talking to people and telling them about our device (it turned out that some of those people were fruit growers), we realized they all had the same problem. Although they are present on their farms every day, they have a lot to take care of, and wasting hours and hours every day to operate irrigation was inefficient. They needed a digital assistant to do that chore for them. Once we realized that 66% of farmers globally said they have trouble finding adequate labor, we realized how big of a problem it is, and at that moment, we started a company.
What do you consider your most significant success so far?
Having more than 100 satisfied customers is the most significant success of all. We've won awards and prizes, been on the news, and all of those things are good for us, but true satisfaction and success are seeing happy customers and your business growing.
Congrats on this significant milestone. What is the most challenging situation you faced in your work?
The most challenging situation was when I first had to fire people. Of course, this is not pleasant, but sometimes necessary for the sake of business.
What stage of development is your business in at the moment?
We are at the seed stage. We currently have over 100 paying customers, among them three companies with more than 300 million EUR in turnover each. Our product is finished, and we have a product-market fit. Our unit economics are straightforward—we must go to the international market. We must put operations in place and scale the business outside our regional market.
How have programs and events you participated in in Serbia impacted your work? Which program had the most impact on your business development and why?
Over the years, I participated in many programs and realized that if you want to get the most out of the program, you need to find mentors who fit with your current development stage. So far, the best program for us was the NINJA program, organized by Digital Serbia Initiative (DSI). The reason is that, although we had predefined mentors on some general topics, we got to choose different mentors to talk to about important issues. This helped us reach international ag-tech experts that gave us an entirely new perspective on our business, business model, product, and strategy for global expansion.
Speaking about mentors, what was the most valuable advice you got from your mentors?
The best advice for us was to focus on our regional market first because we have a hardware device in our product, and after that, to continue our expansion once we are ready. After such an experience, I realized that it's essential to have someone experienced who has already run a business and operations in a startup, taking a look at you and your business with an unbiased pair of eyes.
Finally, what is next for Smart Watering?
Global expansion. Now is the right time to automate and digitize irrigation globally. The problem is significant, the market is enormous, and the solution is obviously there. And with input prices increasing during the past two years, farmers are under much pressure to make their operations as profitable as possible. Water management is an essential factor that guarantees the highest yields and profits at the end of the season.
Thank you for your time, Lazar. We wish you much success in global expansion.