Q&A with Lisa & Zoe Paisley, Aggie Global Co-Founders

Written by Liz Pollock on the 18th of September, 2019

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Lisa and Zoe Paisley (“the Paisley twins”) are the co-founders of Aggie Global, a platform that connects small farms to big markets to boost farmer income and address poverty in developing countries. The twins studied agricultural science at Sydney University, have worked across Australia, Laos and Fiji, and passionately believe agricultural development has the potential to change lives by addressing global challenges like poverty and food security.

What was the pinnacle moment in your life that set you on the path to startup founder?

Growing up on the outskirts of Sydney, we had a lot of exposure to rural life and we were always outside. When we weren’t in the garden, we were with the animals chasing chickens around coops or riding Brumbies on a sheep station in the middle of whoop whoop. 

Fast forward years later, and we decided to sign up for a subject at university that included a three-week study tour in Laos. We talked with locals, stayed in a village and had the opportunity to see their farming systems firsthand. The trip was eye-opening and helped us realise the impact we could make if we brought our expertise to farmers in developing countries. These two experiences really sparked our passion for travel, the outdoors and food.

What drives you to keep going when it gets really tough?

Being a founder can be very stressful. It constantly feels like there are a thousand things to do, and no time to get them done.

“Whenever we are feeling overwhelmed, we force ourselves to stop, take a breath and remind ourselves why we are building Aggie Global.”

When we are in Fiji, this means getting out of the house and talking to farmers. Knowing farmers that are living in poverty and being able to give them a solution that brings them out of poverty… this is what inspires us everyday.

One farmer, in particular, we really enjoy working with is a man named Lepani. Lepani is the church Pasteur for three villages in Fiji, and he wants to see the farmers in his community increase crop diversity, improve yields of traditional crops and sell to profitable markets. We met him serendipitously a few years ago when were lost in Sigatoka Valley trying to find a farm. We explained what we were building, and two years on Lepani and his family are still our main contact to reach 300+ farmers.

We’ve explored his family’s villages, crashed Lepanis’ brothers’ weddings, learnt all about kava production, and seen first hand the varying lifestyles Fijians live. We are very grateful to be welcomed so warmly by Lepani, his family and his community. Without his support, we wouldn’t have access to the local knowledge required to help Aggie Global make such a big impact in Fiji.

What has been the biggest lesson you have learned in the program so far?

Trust your gut, even if it seems illogical at first.

We have conducted countless interviews so far with purchasing officers, middlemen and chefs to better understand their pain points working in Fiji and with local produce. But, we still felt like we were missing that “ah ha!” moment. So we made the difficult decision to pull back, and take a fresh perspective on customer development. 

Following our gut, we looked into hotels. The aim of a hotel is to provide exceptional experiences for its guests, right? And when you’re on an island resort in Fiji, generally the only place to eat is at your hotel. So, the food the hotels serve needs to add to that exceptional experience. With this in mind, we are now looking at how tourists perceive food in Fiji, and how hotels can improve this experience by purchasing local produce. This seems like a much more compelling value proposition than simply: buy local produce to support the community.

Looking ahead 5 years, how do you hope to have impacted the world?

Our mission is to connect the 570 million farmers around the world to markets, to boost farmer income and address poverty in developing countries.

Looking ahead just five years, we want to see the tourism industry boasting about Fiji’s incredible produce! We want to reduce Fiji’s food imports from 70% to 30%, and we want tourists to be excited about eating out in Fiji. From a business perspective, we hope to have expanded to new international markets, to help even more farmers increase their income and break the poverty cycle.

What has been your most surprising experience so far?

As part of the SheStarts program, we have to do weekly pitch practices. This has been a great learning experience so far, and gave us confidence to attend industry pitch nights outside of the program, including the Startup Vic & Rampersand “Secret Pitch” night. The surprising thing was winning the pitch night and having the opportunity to pitch in Perth in front of an international audience! Having to constantly talk about our business has helped us streamline our messaging and feel comfortable jumping on last minute opportunities with little to no prep time.

What is your advice to women who have a bold idea for a startup?

Just give it a shot. It is risky and terrifying to take the leap and throw 100% of yourself into what is, at first, only a bold idea. But, you won’t know the incredible things you can achieve until you try. If you have an idea that you believe could solve a significant problem, would you regret not giving it a good Aussie shot?

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