Defining the #Agritech Platform Stack

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Many moons ago, the legendary investor Paul Graham fired off a tweet, setting off a storm in the tea cup of entrepreneurs with dreams about Tech and Platforms.

Almost five years have passed. Numerous books have been written. Innumerous blog posts have been made. And we are still not sure if we mean the same thing when we say we are building a Platform.

And there is one more problem.

We are not sure if we are building Platforms or Aggregators. They both sound the same, no? And lest you think, how does it matter, remember this. Many anti-trust battles worth billions have been fought over this “academic” distinction between Platforms and Aggregators.

This confusion is particularly worse, if you start looking at the developments happening with the domain of #Agritech. Ever since I ventured into #Agritech to drive the growth and evolution of our neoInt platform for agri-input firms, I have been coming across Platforms and Aggregators of various shades and hues.

I want to put an end to this confusion. In an age of declining attention spans, I am not going to reinvent the wheel. I am going to draw upon the works of Sangeet Paul Chowdary, author of Platform Revolution, and Ben Thompson of Stratechery fame.

How do you differentiate between Platforms and Aggregators? Here is Ben’s neat graphic to our rescue, neatly elaborated in this blog post.

Platform-Graphic-1

In Ben’s words:

Platforms are powerful because they facilitate a relationship between 3rd-party suppliers and end users; Aggregators, on the other hand, intermediate and control it.

Even if this sounds vague to you, perhaps, the most important distinction you need to understand is this: Aggregators harvest existing content, goods, and services (think of Facebook, for instance), while Platforms provide fundamental building blocks (using APIs) to create new contexts and experiences (think of an app being developed for iPhone and launched in App store).

Illustration Credit: Ben Thompson of Stratechery Fame.

 

Now that this difference is spelled out, let us put together a simple framework for understanding Platforms.

How do you define a Platform stack?

In his influential work on Foundations of Platforms, Sangeet argues that the diversity we see among platforms arise from the different configurations of one Platform Stack, comprising the following three layers.

Network/Marketplace/Community Layer

What network of buyers/sellers/users come together as participants in a platform to create value? This layer addresses this question.

Most platforms have their inherent strengths in each of the three blocks constituting this layer. An underlying social network creates the necessary building blocks to build a marketplace. Take Agrostar for instance. They seem to be going this route. Some market places are more powered by an implicit community of users than an explicit social network where people want to connect in the first place. If the distinction between community and social network is not clear, I would recommend this piece of mine.

Technology Infrastructure Layer

You have the users onto the platform. Now, what is it that you are going to build? What infrastructure are you going to create for users? This Technology Infrastructure Layer, as most infrastructure blocks go, need not be visible.

If you are looking at building a Blockchain Platform for Agriculture, a lot of action could unfold in this layer. As this article eloquently articulates, you might be perhaps building these components.

  1. A protocol to exchange value or a payment infrastructure (eg. Paypal or Stripe)
  2. A protocol to exchange data (eg. TCP)
  3. A hosting platform (most of the time AWS, Azure or another cloud service provider).

Data Layer:

Data Layer underpins most of the activities happening at the previous two layers. In this layer, any data stored on:

  1. Users/Partners
  2. Past Interactions/Transactions/Events
  3. Goods or services sold on the marketplaces.

becomes an active component of this layer.

With all definitions in place, can we now start putting things in context?

The Holy Grail of #Agritech Platforms:

If you look broadly at the end-to-end agricultural value chain, the holy grail has been to build one collaboration platform, which brings together both ends, the input side on the left, and the output side on the right, of agriculture stakeholders.

Here is one version of it. I am not claiming this to be a definitive one. One could perhaps look at this stack differently, and come up with a very different view of the Agritech Platform Stack. If you are seeing the stack differently or if you think I am missing anything critical, please join the conversation and share your comments.

Platform-Graphic-3

In a recent comment on a blog post about Technology in Agriculture by R R DasGupta, I wrote, “Right now, it feels like thousand flowers blooming.”

Now, when you look at the bigger picture where each of the #Agritech Platform startups are building platforms for each and every stakeholder in the value chain, you would know what I am talking about.

So, we have looked at Agritech Platform stack at a 25,000 foot viewpoint. How does a singular Agritech platform look at a more 10,000-foot view level?

Let me take my own platform here as an example and show how this platform stack looks like, when you go one level deeper.

neoInt is an Agribusiness Intelligence platform which provides agrochemical and seed companies with a better way to organize crop, channel, market, and field as one central source of truth.

If you break that previous statement down, we are providing four types of intelligence blocks, as illustrated with its building blocks in this framework diagram:

Platform-Graphic-4

Now how would this framework translate into Platform stack?

Platform-Graphic-5

In the data layer of this platform stack, the term Hub might perhaps needs more explanation.

When you are trying to have one central source of truth between crop, market, field, and channel, you need to have one singular master data which straddles across applications. You must be able to capture the genealogy of crops and products (Agrochemicals or hybrid seeds) and provide a 360-degree view of customers (Distributors, Retailers or Farmers) across multiple application frameworks.

Now, let us take this one level ahead.

Are you envisioning to build a Blockchain based Agricultural Commodities marketplace. We briefly touched upon the individual components in the Data layer of the Platform stack. Here is how the complete platform stack might look like, in transitioning from a regular marketplace stack to a blockchain powered stack.

Image Credit: Point Nine Blog: Will Blockchain eat the Marketplace stack?

 

These are exciting times, and my intent in sharing this framework is to look at the amount of platform components that could be brought together to bring changes in agricultural systems at scale.

Are you building an agritech platform? How are you depicting the various components that you are building? Would this framework be useful for you? Do share your comments and feedback. I am all ears.

Let us talk.

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