Meet the Workaholic Problem Solver Whose Start-Up Is Reimagining India's Fresh Produce Supply Chain
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Blenders Pride Reserve Collection Presented Entrepreneur India's 35Under35 2020 list which includes some leading names from the field of entrepreneurship and Thirukumaran Nagarajan made it to the coveted list.
“There are two kinds of people. One, who find work to be a burden but they do it to earn money so they can lead a happy family life, and then there are those who get joy out of working,” says Thirukumaran Nagarajan, co-founder and chief executive officer at Ninjacart.
Founded in 2015, Bengaluru-headquartered Ninjacart is a fresh-produce supply chain start-up that leverages technology to solve problems across different parts of the equation. Apart from Thirukumaran, the start-up has five co-founders: Sharath Loganathan, Vasudevan Chinnathambi, Kartheeswaran KK, Ashutosh Vikram and Sachin Jose.
Thirukumaran, or Thiru as he is fondly called, says he never thought of becoming an entrepreneur. But working at different organizations in varying capacities always made him feel he wasn’t doing much. “I used to feel bored,” he says.
Thiru has dabbled into entrepreneurship before with an education classifieds start-up EduRaft and Shout App, which was a location-based social network. Prior to founding Ninjacart, he was part of Taxi For Sure, the cab-hailing service that was acquired by Ola in 2015.
Ninjacart’s growth has been exponential. It currently has a network of 44,000 farmers across the country and supplies to 65,000 retailers. Last year, the company raised a $100 million Series C round led by US-based Tiger Global Management.
“The desire to solve larger than life problems with the help of technology and the wide landscape of opportunity offered in the country paved the way for my dream project,” says Thiru, adding, the issues prevailing in the Indian agricultural sector as well as the impact it left behind, drove him to start Ninjacart.
According to him, it was a blend of aspirations, frustration and passion to build something valuable, rather than one sudden moment of realization, that led him to create what is now among the largest companies in the space.
“The striking feature of our idea is that it possesses a strong fundamental base. It focuses on fruits and vegetables, which are consumed by one and all, on a daily basis. This makes the industry immune from recession, as it is meeting the basic human needs,” he says.
With the likes of Accel, Qualcomm Ventures and Nandan Nilekani backing the start-up from an early stage, what was it that made the idea stand out?
Thiru says it has harnessed the ability to leverage technology and data to profitably, solve large-scale problems whilst maintaining world-class execution abilities. “Innovations such as 100 per cent traceability and one-touch method have worked wonders towards fuelling its (the company’s) endeavours.”
Coach, Not a Batsman
For Thiru, the biggest challenge as an entrepreneur has been the need to take a backseat and let others do the job.
“When you are small, your joy as an entrepreneur is to solve, work on the idea. But then as you grow, when you get people to do it, you suddenly realize there’s a lot of work done by people and you’re not really solving the problem. You’re only working with people, telling them what to do and they are getting it done.”
He says this was something that was passed on to him by Raghunandan, one of the co-founders at Taxi For Sure and a mentor to Thiru. “He said you have to be a coach, you cannot go out there thinking you are a batsman.”
Using this cricketing analogy, he goes on to explain how one needs to contribute to the larger picture by empowering others.
“You have to be a coach. You're standing out there, not doing anything, but still have to enjoy the pleasure of winning.”