Entrepreneur Spotlight: Mohamed Boussama

Autonomous weeding with robots

August 7, 2023

Entrepreneur Spotlight: Mohamed Boussama

Autonomous weeding with robots

August 7, 2023

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Meet Mohamed Boussama, co-founder and CTO of the Dutch Startup Trabotyx. Trabotyx is making waves in the agricultural industry by addressing the challenges faced by farmers with their mechanical weeding robots. Weed control has been a significant obstacle for farmers looking to transition to organic agriculture, and Trabotyx aims to provide an innovative solution to this pressing issue.

These robots are designed to cover extensive areas of land, up to one hectare per day, while efficiently removing a staggering 300,000 weeds. They even operate 24/7, ensuring constant weed control. Even more impressive is the fact that these robots can be remotely managed, allowing for real-time adjustments to optimize their performance. 

Here is a video that shows how it works:

From family roots to technological innovations

Growing up in a farming family, Mohamed developed a deep interest in applying technological advances in robotics and automation to help farmers enhance productivity and reduce costs. 

His journey began with building an onion planting robot during his free time. Fate intervened when he crossed paths with his co-founder, Tim, during the global startups accelerator program Antler. Together, they converged into making weeding robots in organic farming. Mohamed explains that traditionally, weeding close to the vegetables has to be done manually, which is not only time-consuming but also labor-intensive. However, the availability of people to work the land is becoming increasingly scarce, further exacerbating the challenge of manual weeding. Additionally, weeding is weather-dependent and requires careful planning. Farmers often have to commit to outside labor months in advance, which can lead to logistical challenges and potential disruptions. Mohamed shares:

“ We asked more than 100 farmers about it and it was clear that manual weeding is becoming a big issue for them and they needed a solution like the one we’re offering today”

Early Challenges - The right hardware components

The early stages of entrepreneurship is no easy feat, from transforming an idea into a tangible prototype to finally launching a product in the market. For Mohamed and Tim that wasn't an exception. One of the key obstacles they faced was the availability of hardware components, particularly due to the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.  Mohamed explains, 

“In the early days, Product was not clearly defined from a hardware perspective and we needed to quickly test and iterate. We had to get smart and design based on the components availability. I remember one weekend designing a sub-system more than 5 times, each time I figured a design that made sense, I ended up in dead-ends with parts availability and had to start over.”

However, they adapted swiftly by "designing for components available." They utilized widely accessible DIY parts, such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi, to iterate quickly and test their product. Over time, they fine-tuned their hardware design and buy in batches from with multiple suppliers 

Embracing Customer Needs and Building Trust

Trabotyx recently launched its first robot, impressing farmers with its exceptional performance. However, gaining the trust of potential customers remains a challenge. Mohamed acknowledges the hesitancy in embracing new technology on farms stating that: 

“The challenge now is to get our technology to as many customers as we can and this sometimes turns out to be tricky because some customers are still reluctant to trust this technology in their farms. It will take time before this becomes the de-facto tool for organic weeding. To address this, Trabotyx focuses on listening to customer concerns and continuously improving their software to offer choices and flexibility that cater to farmers' specific needs.

The Courage to Pivot: 

Reflecting on Trabotyx's journey, Mohamed recalls a pivotal moment that changed the course of their business. Three months away from the weeding season, they realized that their initial weeding mechanism design fell short of customer expectations. 

“We made a bunch of crazy (technical) decisions in the last two years. The last one was one month ago. But thinking in retrospect, the most remarkable early-days decision was probably what saved our product (and company) from failing. We Initially thought of a weeding mechanism that we all believed made sense and spent almost 4-5 months in design and manufacturing. Turns out, it was suboptimal and would most likely fail to reach customer acceptance. So we decided to sink it and start over. It was not an easy decision to make and it was crazy because we were 3 months away from the weeding season start”. 

Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Drawing from his own experiences, Mohamed offers invaluable advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. He emphasizes the importance of constant validation and revalidation of assumptions, urging entrepreneurs to listen attentively to customer feedback. 

“Don’t assume, always validate, revalidate. Be very attentive to your customer feedback, they know their business better than you. Work at least 2x harder and faster than your competitors. Don’t assume that you’re smarter, just put in the hours, consistently, everyday. Get your product to be at least equivalent to competition first in the shortest amount of time, then get to 3x better, 5x, 7x. Keep your speed, Keep your focus”

Additionally, he highlights the potential of junior talent, their motivation, and fresh perspective:

“When it comes to hiring, consider getting juniors, they might be far more motivated and energetic than experienced people, they’re fresh, they want to work, to learn, to make a difference. You might be surprised how fast they learn and can often give you solutions that are equivalent or even better than what a 10+ years experience delivers”.

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