Charlie Nichols Finding Impact

FIP 39: Product Design and Market Fit with Charlie Nichols

Charlie is co-founder of SunCulture and today we’re talking about product design and market fit. Charlie’s background is in mechanical engineering and economics, it’s the fourth company he’s founded and co-founded, though his first in Africa. He was initially drawn to Kenya by the number of technology success stories and the great market opportunity for clean energy solutions like solar power due to the high costs of grid electricity. SunCulture designs, manufacturers, finances and distributes solar powered irrigation solutions.

On this episode, we learn about:

  • How through his time in Senegal, Charlies learned that the challenge facing small commercial farmers was a lack of access to the right equipment and finance to help them scale production.
  • How the challenges you envisage when designing the product in the lab, to the those faced when setting up on the first farm, are so completely different and beyond your imagination.
  • We learn one small detail on where you locate your first prototype in relation to your office.
  • We talk about how to put together your first prototype with off the shelf products, so you can gather feedback from customers and iterate your design with your manufacturing partners in China every 6 months.
  • Capturing the different feedback from different stakeholder groups, like the farm manager and the business owner, are equally important. One was interested in the technical side and the other the commercial side.
  • How capturing feedback and new ideas in the early stages differs to how they manage them now, which is a well-structured process for deciding what to carry forward.
  • How Charlie and his team evaluate ideas based on whether they think they can drop prices of existing products in the market by 90%, and how they think it’s important to know what your value add is in the market, and stick to it as your true north.
  • Charlie tells us about a big challenge he and his team went through on the product development side, how they got through it, and what they learned.
  • How it’s important not just to be cheap, but to actually meet the specifications defined to solve the challenge in the market that you’re addressing.
  • What advice Charlie would give his younger self as he headed out to the field with his prototype under his arm. Or in fact, before he did that.

Links to resources:

Connect with Charlie:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!


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