Democratizing knowledge in agriculture
After resigning from my job in December 2019 to learn Data Science, I never realized the world will change so drastically. The pandemic hit and all my plans were shattered. Luckily, I was able to secure an internship in a startup, but I was not satisfied. I had time and most importantly, nothing to lose. I had hit rock bottom. At that time, I thought let’s give entrepreneurship a chance. I had always dreamt of starting my own business in my college time after my failed stint at YourBooks.
Since my first job, I was enticed by agriculture. It was quite uncanny, neither did I have any agricultural background nor any knowledge, but I always felt food is the most important aspect of everyone’s life and we take it too much for granted. All the time at my first job, I kept track of the developments in agri-tech in India, 2019–20 was the start of a golden time for this space. Plus, the pandemic made people realize the importance of food, boosting the boom of agri-tech startups. And I decided, it’s now or never, the time seems correct & I was rightly positioned. I started my research in agri-tech, this was my — ‘One day’ to ‘Day One’ moment.
After detailed research, I realized even the agri-tech field is crowded with many startups in the marketplace, supply chain & advisory domain. Many people were trying to solve the market linkages problem. I had my vision fixated on the ‘knowledge sharing’ part in agriculture. My initial idea was a Q&A platform for agriculture, something similar to Quora or StackOverflow. I know now that it sounds ridiculous. But at that time, I was convinced this could be great.
With all this happening, one fine day I received a message from my college friend — Tejas, who was completing his master's in Barcelona. He was returning to India and was totally fixated upon starting something of his own. He wanted to use all his learning and was committed to an entrepreneurial journey. He knew I had a knack for startups, so he casually asked me if I am doing anything. So I told him my idea, but he was not sure of the agri-domain. He told me he would do his research and get back to me. Within a few days, he responded that he was interested, and when he returned to India, we should march forward. And just like that our journey began, two enthusiasts who want to get their hands dirty.
We met in the first week of November, which was our first meeting for AgriBuzz, yes, we decided to name our venture — AgriBuzz. Our affinity was towards the dissemination of knowledge in the agri-domain. Immediately, we structured our two-month plan. We carried out our desk research, then visited local food marketplaces to conduct our primary research. We conceptualized our first version — personalized content recommendation & QA platform.
Meanwhile, we also participated in Digital Impact Square (DISQ) agritech challenge, a TCS Foundation initiative. They gave us a chance to present our idea to them, that was the first time we pitched our idea to someone, which didn’t go the way we expected. We believed that the DISQ team was critical of our idea, more specifically our approach. They advised us to take a look at the challenge statement once more and work accordingly to modify our approach. We were discouraged from the meeting but still made sure to pursue their feedback. We made the required changes and mailed them our intention of working on the challenge statement. Frankly speaking, we had no hopes from there.
After interacting with other stakeholders, we realized that we had a solution-focused approach, we had no clear idea what problem we are solving or if it is even a real problem. We lacked the problem-focused approach, as we were fixated on our solution. This was an eye-opener for both of us, we then started looking for the real problem. One of the experts mentioned the Farmer Producer Organization (FPO) concept, which is a group of farmers who come together to start a cooperative company. FPOs are considered to be an important initiative for the overall development of agriculture in India. Even the government is targeting to establish 10,000 FPOs by 2025. We thought this was a good opportunity, and this time we used the problem-focused approach. We found out that sustainability is a great challenge for FPO, and most of the FPOs in India are struggling to carry out their businesses effectively. For this problem, we ideated a SaaS platform, KisanDesk, that would solve key aspects of FPOs like bookkeeping, inventory management, and provide advisory solutions to FPOs.
A digital platform that helps FPOs to manage their data, monitor their crop, and help deliver high-quality…
With all enthusiasm, we purchased the domain, hosted our website, and started connecting with some FPO directors. Presenting KisanDesk, we got the opportunity to participate in two other programs — SEED Starter & MANAGE AOP. Those days we considered getting into a boot camp was a validation of our idea, but boy, we were so wrong.
KisanDesk’s conceptuality was focused on FPO and the sustainability of FPO. After a detailed study of the FPO market in India, specifically, how many working FPOs are present in India, that could really use such a SaaS solution & has the capabilities of paying us, we realized that their percentage was quite less at this moment. Plus, established companies like Cropin & FarmERP were already providing such SaaS products to agri-businesses, and it won’t take them a lot of time to modify their solution for FPOs when they are ready. Thus, understanding that the market is still not ready yet and we would face strong competition from big players, we realize it’s not fruitful to venture into that area.
While all this was going, we were fortunate to get selected for the DISQ-2021 boot camp. Even today I am not sure why the DISQ team selected us, what they saw in us. All other teams in the boot camp had at least more than one year of startup experience, and here we were still trying to identify gaps and problems.
Our mentor at DISQ, Sandip sir advised us to start the discovery phase with a clean slate — focusing on the entire agri-ecosystem, understanding all the stakeholders, and focusing from the skill development & knowledge point of view. With this we started out our secondary research, understanding all the government initiatives and schemes for skill development in agriculture.
For our primary research, we visited Sahyadri Farms in Nashik. The trip to Nashik is one hell of a story, maybe some other time. In Nashik, we interacted with various experts from different institutes — Sahyadri Farms, Tata Strive, H-Square, KK Wagh College, KVK Nashik, RAMETI Nashik, and Government Agriculture Department. We also interacted with farmers and agri-students. We were able to encapsulate a lot of information and feedback for our project.
After a number of iterations & brainstorming sessions with Sandip sir, we were able to conceptualize AgriBuzz 2.0, an online skill development platform for rural youths. Still a lot of work needed to be done, at first we had a massive open online course (MOOC) platform in our mind, however after understanding the agri-learners persona we were sure such type of pedagogy won’t work. Thus, we ideated a cohort-based approach with an asynchronous and live component. Now our offering was taking shape, we needed to get some validations for our identified problem and conceptualized solution. For validations, we presented our idea to a few farmers, agri-students, rural youths, on-field people, & experts from different backgrounds. We received various positive feedbacks and a lot of suggestions from an implementation point of view.
Right now, we are moving forward with the contrarian truth that — ‘Digital learning is the future of agriculture’, i.e. skill development in agriculture will be happening virtually in coming years. We also know that currently, our target addressable market — digitally literate agri-learners, is a niche market, but it is growing with increasing internet and technology penetration in rural India. In our interaction with agri-experts, we understood that content would be our moat here.
In this journey, Radhika & Amey tagged along and we became a team of four. After 12 weeks of DISQ boot camp, we presented our pitch to the jury members, and here we are now, finally incubated at DISQ and marching forward.