Why we field test our products – the secret to our success

Guest blog post by Kinya Kimathi, Kijani Testing Limited

Seven years ago, Futurepump produced the first five prototype units of a portable and robust solar water pump that they envisioned would improve the lives of small-scale farmers. Since then, the product has undergone some major improvements to become a pump that can cut the irrigation costs for small-scale farmers globally.

None if these improvements would have been possible without thorough field testing, the collection of product performance data and customer feedback. This was conducted by Kijani Testing Limited – Futurepump’s eyes and ears on the ground.

What is field testing?

There is a saying ‘the customer is always right’ and this statement is one of the key driving factors behind field testing. Ultimately, whether the customer wants to purchase defines the product’s success or failure.

Field testing involves placing a product in the context in which it is meant to be used. We look at how customers actually use the product by gathering data and feedback on natural, unguided use over an extended period of time.

For Futurepump, our main goal was coming up with a clear value proposition for the product. What problem is the product intended to solve? Does it solve this problem effectively? Do the benefits from having the solar pump outweigh the investment costs?

Kijani technician looking at a Futurepump solar pump yoke which is going to be tested

Let’s go into detail…why field test?                                       

As we’ve mentioned above, we want to see if there are any problems with the products in the environment they are intended to be used, we also want to be sure that the product is fit for purpose and that it does solve a problem for a customer.

But can’t you get all that information in a lab?

The truth is, product designers are visionaries, they see a problem and come up with solutions. Manufacturers build the solution and sell to distributors who get it into the market. But there is often a gap between creating a solution and it being accepted by the intended customer.

How the designer views the problem might be slightly different to how the potential customer views it. There might be other sub-problems that the designer missed, or the intended solution might bring up some unforeseen problems.  This is why getting a product into the hands of an actual customer is so important, it unearths certain barriers to success that might be otherwise missed until a product is launched.

And it is so important at this stage to really listen to your customers. If your product really doesn’t solve a problem for them, take what they say into consideration and don’t carry on regardless! You will spend a lot of time and money on a product that no one will buy.

What does success in field testing look like?

A successful field test will uncover the true, unbiased perception of your product and help you understand the external forces that might work for or against you.

Here are some important observations to be taken into consideration:

  • Is the product performing as expected? Are there elements that affect its performance? How common are these elements?
  • How the potential customer interacts with the product. For example, do they use the product in the same place all day? Do they move it around? How do they transport it?
  • Is it actually solving their problem for the intended customer?
  • What are the frustrations with the product?
  • Who are my competitors and what edge do I have other them?

Futurepump successfully launched their first product with distributors in 2016 . This was five iterations after the first prototype was installed in a testing site and since then the product has gone through a process of continuous improvement – field testing never stops.

From customer feedback and our work in the field, the Futurepump value proposition is now clear to communicate to customers. Futurepump solar irrigation pumps are intended to solve the problem of inefficient, expensive and unsustainable irrigation on small farms. By using free solar energy to pump water, farmers have the opportunity to grow higher value crops and additional crops in the dry season without the worry of irrigation expense. When used to increase income in this way, the benefits of a solar irrigation pump clearly outweigh the investment costs.

About Kijani Testing Limited

Thousands of potentially life changing innovations are launched every day, hundreds of thousands of dollars and hours are invested in these launches. Yet there are so many unsuccessful products. Kijani Testing Limited works towards giving innovators a better chance to successfully launching their product.

Kijani Testing Limited offers tailored field testing and advisory services for new products in the renewable energy space. Especially those looking to launch in the Kenyan market.

At the moment, we are testing over 100 products including solar water pumps, irrigation equipment, solar fridges, and solar water heating systems. These are installed in various sites where we conduct performance and market tests both manually and remotely. Kijani also has access to hundreds of farmers, demonstration sites, county government resources and potential distributors. If you are interested in finding out more, get in touch with us via hello@kijanitesting.com