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Cropin Is Sowing Seeds Of Success In a Complex Agritech Market Krishna Kumar, co-founder and CEO, Cropin and Sujit Janardanan, chief marketing officer, Cropin tell us how

By S Shanthi

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Krishna Kumar and Kunal Prasad founded Cropin in 2010 at the peak of India's startup boom. A time when many graduates from leading tech institutes were looking at sectors such as e-commerce or fintech to chase their entrepreneurial aspirations and build a dream company as fast as they could.

But, Kumar and Prasad had their hearts set on agritech, one of the toughest and most complex segments to crack and a segment that didn't see much investment. "What motivated us was the kind of impact we could create. And, if you ask any engineer they always want to solve complex problems. We wanted to solve a problem that not many could. But, yes, when we started back in 2010, it was an EQ decision and not an IQ decision. I was disturbed by farmers' suicides. I used to wonder why people who were moving goods from one place to another were making money, but the person who was producing had no means of even having a good meal or a good education for their children," said Kumar, in an interview with Entrepreneur India.

"Why was nobody building tech for the sector? I had never bought tomatoes for less than 10 rupees in Bangalore, but why was somebody paying 30 paisa to a farmer who was just 40 kilometers down the road in Chikkaballapur. And these were some of the tough questions I was trying to ask. I didn't know the complexities of solving this issue back then. But, good I did not. In hindsight, I'm happy I did not as today I'm happy that I'm creating an impact and we have given the rest of our lives servicing this sector," he added.

With Cropin's field-tested farm-to-fork automation and predictive intelligence-based solutions portfolio that are crop and location-agnostic, Kumar and his team have so far digitized over 16 million acres of farmland, across 92 countries. Kumar is passionate about building a global ag-ecosystem intelligence platform that helps every stakeholder to maximize per acre value, while making every farm traceable.

Here are the excerpts from the interview with him and Sujit Janardanan, chief marketing officer, Cropin.

You secured funding of $13.7 million from JSR Corporation, ABC Impact and Chiratae Ventures in December 2022. How is the capital being deployed?

Krishna Kumar: This capital is getting deployed mostly towards expansion. We recently started our operations in the Netherlands. We have set up our own entity. Last year, we set up our entity in the US and also in Singapore. So, we are expanding in terms of going deeper with our customers. We want to sit closer to our strategic customers, and we are hiring people in those locations for the same. So, that's one. The second is going deep with technology. Then, we are solving some of the complex problems with AI and data sciences, which is a continuous process. And we will keep investing in that.

Tell us about Cropin's flagship product SmartFarm and recently launched product Cropin Cloud and what are the differentiating factors in these?

Sujit Janardanan: When we started our journey, the most debilitating problem statement to be solved was the lack of digitization which is "Do I have access to on-ground information? What's happening at the field level? What's happening with farmers so that I can aggregate all of that and at scale and be able to make better decisions? We improve the operations of agriculture at scale because we truly believe that the problem statement that we want to solve, and that's also our mission, is 'can we make every farm traceable, more productive and sustainable at the end of the day?

So that's what we started with SmartFarm, and which is now being rebranded as Cropin Grow, as our flagship platform product. It has been deployed across 92 countries, be it governments or social development agencies, who are running social development programs targeting the agriculture sector or agritech businesses who are working either in a structured, contracted manner, or an uncontracted manner with growers across the world.

Once these customers started aggregating these data, they started seeing the power of what they could do with having access to that information. And they said, "I want to be able to do more with this data. Can you help me build data frameworks and then eventually also intelligence frameworks that can provide predictive intelligence capabilities to our business?"

We brought a bunch of talent from across agronomy sciences and machine learning technologies, plus cloud expertise, aggregated all of this and started building this data framework layer and the AI ML or predictive intelligence-based models that could solve for agricultural problems. So that was to answer the demand from our customers because they were asking for this. Now, along this journey in the last couple of years, we clearly saw that there's been a flurry of agritech startups all over the world and everyone's trying to solve these point problem statements. Someone only focusing on a particular crop in a particular region, someone focusing on only seven specific aspects of the agriculture value chain. And that wasn't really moving the needle as far as making the agriculture sector a lot more productive and sustainable because we've got larger problems to solve on the planet with the supply of food. And we all know those challenges.

And that's when we decided that we were going to bring all our solutions together into one single integrated cloud platform, which is Cropin Cloud. And we see this as an ecosystem platform. The reason why I call this an ecosystem platform is through this our vision is to become the backbone for agriculture data and intelligence to flow. To every stakeholder, right from the farmer to the government. Or any other stakeholder in the middle.

Krishna Kumar: This industry is very complex. Technology adoption has not been here. And, in order to understand the complexity of this sector, I take the example of corn. The way you do corn in Maharashtra vs Odisha is very different. You may even use the same crop and variety. Now take this crop to Africa or Europe, the whole dynamic changes because the weather patterns change. And, in order to manage all different scenarios on a single platform is going to be very, very complex because the way you want to work with a customer who has got operations in 30 countries and all those countries will bring its own complexities because they have a different workflow managing those crops in that country. How do you do it as a single platform? And that's our app layer.

You have been working with state and central governments. For instance, you have worked with the central government on Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Tell us about these collaborations. What has been the outcome so far?

Krishna Kumar: There are many programs with different state governments, including Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Punjab governments. I think every startup or every company faces challenges of collections and then issues of the committees which I think should go away. We should abolish having committees and take quicker decisions instead.

So, what's your take on the budget this year for agriculture?

Krishna Kumar: I think it's very promising. There is a push towards innovation and technology, but decision-making should be faster.

After the pandemic, the agritech space started seeing a lot of interest from investors. But, there seems to be a slowdown. Your thoughts?

Krishna Kumar: I think it's the same across the board. It's not specific to agriculture or any other industry. Agriculture had a lot of interest back then and now also. But, today all the lead investors are losing money in the market because of the interest rates. So, the appetite to invest has gone down because they have to first manage their portfolio. But having said that, India is in a good position, we are still seeing investments in sectors and in the startups that are doing good, but I think you can't expect the crazy multiples, which you got in 2021.

TIMELINE

  • 2010- Cropin was founded
  • 2013- Pivoted the business from farmer focus to B2B
    • Onboarded 25+ enterprise customers
    • Moved to a bigger office and scaled out team to 50
    • Raised seed funding from Ankur Capital
  • 2016- First to pilot and deploy farm-to-fork traceability solution
    • Scaled team to 120 and moved to an even bigger office
    • Signed up first development agency project
    • Ventured into newer markets
  • 2018- Raised 8 Million USD in Series B venture round led by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Strategic Investment Fund (SIF)
    • Rolled out our Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning powered predictive modelling solution- SmartRisk
    • Received accolades for implementation of Crop Cutting Experiments under Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)
  • 2020- Crossed 150+ enterprise customers
    • Won the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Award
    • Won the AWS Innovation Challenge (SmartRisk)
  • 2021- Raised $20 million in Series C venture round
    • Opened new office in The Hague, Amsterdam
    • Expanded team to 300+
    • Won the GEF Challenge at the COP26 Summit
  • 2022- Launch of Cropin AI Labs
    • Opened subsidiaries in US and Singapore
  • 2023- Raised ₹113 crore funding from ABC Impact, Chiratae Ventures, Google, and JSR Corporation

And, what are your thoughts on celebrating unicorn status? Do you think it is a metric of success?

Krishna Kumar: Let me break this into two parts. One is, 'why there is no unicorn in agritech'. I think it's a matter of time and agritech is technically only a two to three-year-old segment while we have existed for a long time. So, today I see some agritech companies that are on the verge of that valuation, and the next phase will push them toward achieving unicorn status as well.

Second, is unicorn a measure of success? If you see the scale and huge potential in the market to capture and somebody believes in that and gives that valuation to you, you should celebrate that. But at the same time, you should also be efficient about building that business. You have to balance your unit economics versus the speed.

Tell us about your team. How are they spread? How is work divided among different departments?

Sujit Janardanan: Work is divided on what's the long-term impact, and what we need to do today. And that's how we do it.

And, starting from the leadership team to the further layers of the organization, we have only found people who are passionate about what we are doing, so that's one. And then trying to divide it by functions etc can become a little chaotic when you are a growth company as there are blurred lines. For instance, I can't say what's the line between sales and marketing or between product and engineering. But in a growth company, those lines are blurred. So, the way we divide our roles and responsibilities is, who's going to focus on the long term and short term? And we all know who's good at what. And we've kind of automatically ensured that people flow into those kinds of focus areas and manage those pieces.

S Shanthi

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Senior Assistant Editor

Shanthi specializes in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. 

 

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