Episode 12 @Cordss: Innovative farmer entrepreneur
Hi listeners, I am Prateek Choudhary and welcome to Cordss podcast, Cordss is a one-to-one mentorship platform, and today on our podcast we are with an industry expert to mentor you. My guest for today is an entrepreneur who is working closely with farmers and making an impact in their life using his expertise in innovation and entrepreneurship so I welcome founder of Innoveo Exports Vaibhav Sharma. Vaibhav has done his masters in innovation and entrepreneurship from Europe worked with multiple companies like bioMérieux, Amadeus IT Group, started his own startup called Imprigo which also became part of government incubator and now currently working with farmers at Innoveo Exports and for a fun fact, Vaibhav is a Hindustani classical singer and a blogger too. So Hi Vaibhav, how are you? Hello Prateek, thank you so much for inviting me to your podcast and I look forward to answering all your questions. Yeah, I am also really interested and excited to know your story so Vaibhav feel free to share your story and please tell exactly what you do at Innoveo Exports, and then we can move to a specific question that we have for you.
Sure-Sure, so what we're trying to achieve at Innoveo exports is that we are connecting with farmers across India and as we all know that the agricultural sector is segregated into you know there are small and marginal farmers and then there are bigger farmers and there are big middlemen as well so it's a very interesting space however the majority of the farming that is being done in India is for is related to you know the staple food, for example, wheat or maize or cotton. These are the things that that the farmers focus on generally however there is also another aspect or another farming that is being done and which is also quite lucrative that they're not aware about and that is the farming of aromatic and medicinal plants. Okay! So the government has a whole department and working on it so basically, it is the directorate of aromatic and medicinal plants and they have like multiple research organizations as well. So what I'm trying to explain here is that there is a section of farmers who cultivate things like mint for example whatever products we use today considering like you have your spearmint chewing gum you have your toothpaste or anything which involves a minty sort of flavor it comes from spearmint or peppermint or Japanese mint so these are some of the mint that is produced from the aromatic farming. Now what happens is that this kind of farming is done in pockets so, for example, you have UP region where there is more of you know that the land is more fertile so it is prone to grow certain kind of aromatic crops similarly you have Kashmir region where you have lavender you have or you have south complete for example you have Kerala where you have great spices. So all these things like flowers spices herbs and all these things are distilled into oils and into extracts and then these are sold to certain companies who then create products on them so for example all the products that you get where you have the aroma and the flavor these are made using the essential oils from the aromatic plants so what we are trying to do is that we are trying to connect this kind of marginal farmers with the international companies particularly in France and in other parts of Europe because we are already aware of the market there and we know the kind of challenges when it comes to dealing with European companies so that is the whole essence of Innoveo Exports. Okay okay! that's really interesting because
everybody is not doing that and you have chosen really a niche field, Nice! So Vaibhav as you have done your master's in entrepreneurship from Europe and why not you just started with any other idea say in India only because everyone says college is not for entrepreneurship, in fact, some of the people say it's just a bad investment then why did you choose to do masters in entrepreneurship why didn't you just start with your journey of entrepreneurship? See I did start with my journey of entrepreneurship and that is when I realized that you know to actually become a good entrepreneur you need certain things and more than anything, of course, you need an idea you need perseverance you need everything like all these are common things but it is a business at the end of the day and to run a business you need to understand a business and as engineers, it depends on how much time you have spent on learning about it but in general engineers are really not aware of many things that we should be for example we don't know how to make our accounts we are really not aware of corporate finance or of strategies or anything what we think of business uh generally comes as you know marketing or advertisement or promotional base. So these are some of the things where we think that okay so these are the commercial things and you know as even as engineers we can once we have a product we can just focus on marketing but that's not the end of it there's a lot of things that you need to care about you need to think of. How are you going to think of a market first of all how are you going to put that in numbers because you can think of a market you can create a product you can go and experiment with it but do you know how to put it in numbers do you know how to think of it that. Okay! How will I scale this in the next six months so you need to understand all of these things and particularly you don't really need and need a master's in entrepreneurship as such but for me, the course seemed to be very interesting because the course it offered me and you know a chance to visit silicon valley for 10 days and to visit certain companies. You know like the big tech companies and the other thing was that there was a live business case where we were you know we dealt with a real business case for a complete year. So that was these were like some of the very interesting things and the university is quite reputed and though the place is quiet you know it's a small place but even then there's this great opportunity because there are more like a lot of international students and everything so I thought it is you know it's quite niche it's quite interesting and I will get the opportunity to learn from peers as well as I can go around and I can see things how things happen and once I am able to develop that kind of mindset that would really enable me to, it would open up my mind it would give me a lot of ideas and it would also give me the confidence to do something in uh you know a separate thing and the most important thing is that I'll have the knowledge the basic knowledge to scale things to make things and that is very much required because after a point of time we start sort of start getting frustrated when we don't understand things.
So basically for knowing the basic thing to run the business and for the confidence, you decided to go for masters that that's really great. So let's talk about starting a venture so what are the basic tips or the basic key points to know before starting a venture say someone is just having an idea so what are the key points to know before starting a venture? Well, it is an interesting question but to start a venture the first thing that you need is to understand, see there are two things right one thing is that you need to know your business whatever it is in whatever industry. If you are trying to create a product you're trying to create a service or you don't have any idea but you're just trying to solve a problem you just think that you know you can add some value in it or you just want to start your own for example you want to start your own [Small shop] that is also a venture right. So anything could be a venture but then at the end of the day you start your you start selling your product or first you need to think of your product second thing is that you need to think of your customer so once you know that okay this is the product that I want to either create or sell and then I know that which is the customer that I want to target then you start identifying your market right. So that is where it comes into finding your product-market fit where and that is the
biggest challenge of your whole venture because once you are able to establish that then the other thing would fall into place but the initial and the most challenging part is where you have to you know think of your idea convert it into a prototype and then test it into the real market whatever your market is so that is also a job to identify what your market is and you need to keep on iterating because you need to first make an assumption you need to support your assumption by data and validation through experts then you need to test it in the real market then based on your learning you need to pave it then you keep on pivoting until you find the real product-market fit and once you are able to do that and you may you're able to start making some revenue out of it then you can uh you can think of starting your own company. But my recommendation would be to open your like the whole compliance part wherein you start your company and everything should be done in the first two-three months because it takes a little more time here and once you have your own company and you have to take care of your legalities and everything it's also a burden on you which gives you the need to do things faster because then you also have to follow a lot of, you know things where you are more responsible your norms so it gives you more responsibility as well otherwise what happens is that sometimes you know if your project whatever idea you're working upon after the point of time you start feeling that okay so it's not working out and I might want to go for masters. I might want to go you know I might want to get another job or something so you won't be compelled to continue with your venture because of course, it is not even a venture it was just a project that you were doing so, yeah these are some of the things. Very true so yeah we have talked about the key points "How to start a venture ?" So let's talk something about what shouldn't be done in a startup, so your first venture Imprigo and it was also a part of government incubator right? Correct-Correct, Yeah So yeah and it was not so successful yeah, so it was your first venture and it was not so successful so what are the key learnings from that startup that venture, and what are the key points that you should not do in a startup? Okay so I think that's a great question because it is very important to think of the things that we should avoid right so how entrepreneurs should think is that they should make a list of all the things that could go wrong okay so if you're thinking of starting a venture take like whoever is your co-founder sit together with them and think of all the things that could not work out, for example, the first and the most common thing is that after six months you will not be able to commit to the project because you will either have commitments to your job or you will have to respond to your parents you will have to you will be fixed in certain some sort of thing so will you be able to commit to the project six months or one year down the lane when you will have zero revenue and you would have spent around fifty thousand to sixty thousand or maybe one lakh two lakh rupees. So can you do that if yes then go ahead with it and if no then how do you start a venture which is less cost-intensive or you know which demands less of your time, So list down all the problems that you could have other thing is that will your partner or your co-founder be able to stay with you and what is the kind of role that they would want to play in it that would they would you both want to work on the same things and increase the efficiency of that or would you want to divide it from the initial phase and you would want to focus more on the product side and the other person would want to focus more on the marketing side or however there should be a very good understanding between the two people right so uh write down all these things and then try to figure out what could go wrong and then be honest with yourself about can you sustain all these things down the lane and still work on your company and make it successful.
And even which can even pay you and you don't get bored also, the main thing i feel people get bored easily they start with enthusiasm but after few months when there is no reward no return the company didn't pay them so they start getting bored and they lose all the motivation factor Yeah? Yeah because entrepreneurship is not a fun project right it's not something that you can just you know do it no way it's not about enjoying the whole part of it because we enjoy it when we feel secure. Okay so the first thing is that we need to be secured right if you're in college you go for a project you want to question your page okay cool doesn't work out doesn't matter we are any we're going to uh go for our classes and at the end of the day we'll get jobs or something right but it's but entrepreneurship you don't have anything I mean you enter into it and you are zero if you don't have it then you don't have anything and you've already spent time and money into it so you need to make it happen right so that is the kind of thing that one should keep in mind. And it is all about commitment if you can't commit to your project for more than six months then there is no point in starting a company right if're if you just want to experiment with it uh go ahead and you can experiment with your job or even if you are I don't know whatever is your situation you can go out and experiment with but experiments don't like 99% they won't work out one percent yes it could convert into something bigger as well we don't know right? and even I was listening to Paul Graham of Y Combinator and he told the same thing that a lot of projects, for example, they are you know their summer projects or their projects which convert into other projects as well but the probability of that is very low the maximum probability of one getting success is when one is totally committed to it at least one person has to do it if all the co-founders are really you know they are part-time then it can be it would ultimately be a very big challenge. Very true-Very true, So the key learning is be committed to your startup if you really want to enter this entrepreneurship world be commended yeah? Correct-Correct yeah and think practically one has to very one has to be practical about things because it could be um i mean watching dreams and thinking about those successing uh like you know achieving those the kind of success that we want from our dreams is a very good feeling and one should go for it i totally encourage it but at the same time one has to be grounded and think of the reality also that comes into place so unless you have a lot of cash or unless you have you know financial support with you and you are ready to go forward with experimenting with your life and with your project and with financial support and moral support with from your parents um then one should go for it otherwise if you are really stuck in other things so sort your life before you go into entrepreneurship.
Very true very true! So you have been around two to three years in Europe I guess yeah? Yeah yeah, so what is the key learning from your side from Europe which you see India has potential and we can use them but we are not using them properly? So they are very like there's a there are a lot of things that we can learn from each other right that is the whole beauty of international trade and, you know intercultural management and all these kind of things and that's what attracted me to start my venture as well. See there are things which we need to understand we are not great at and we need to first start thinking as entrepreneurs if you really want to, you know have that kind of mindset what you need to have is to have uh observational skills about things so you need to think of because of problems that everywhere you need to have the eyes to observe them and once you have once you observe a problem then the next point is to start thinking of solutions and how you are going to find solutions is two things either you read a lot about them you watch a lot of things and then you sort of have an idea about it or the second thing is that you have experience. Once you have the experience you have your own mindset in a way where you can start thinking of different ideas right so what happened with me is that when I went to Europe and I tried to experience as many things as possible so I tried to you know I tried to visit other companies I tried to connect with multiple people from different nationalities and that's the beauty of Europe that you can talk to you know you can connect with multiple nationalities, you can learn about their problems you can start seeing how those companies respond their what is the kind of attitude that those people have. And because every culture is different germans will be different germans are more prone to be efficient and they're bound to their time's french people are also they are a little uh free in the way that they are more on the creative side they like to to take more things on there, for example, they take bigger lunch breaks and they always leave early but even then they are able to you know to do their work efficiently in a way that that is a little more creative but they won't have the same kind of machinery effectiveness that is what you can see in the industry as well. So it all depends upon the culture and that's the beauty of Europe and from the learnings that I got there is that "We need to adapt" that's the only thing we need to adapt and "Our companies need to adapt, our culture, our people need to adapt" and when because if you want to go for exports or any kind of international trade you need to understand that if our companies and our people cannot adapt to their culture and their understanding and their understanding of the projector and the understanding of business then you really cannot communicate well with them and without communication and without long-term relationship, no business can succeed. Very interesting point you said here we need to adapt okay so wherever as Indian farmers are not so very lean towards the innovation side so how they see any technology or any entrepreneur going to them and actually pitching them their idea so "you use this product and your farmland will be more productive" so how farmers are seeing technology? So I think it depends on the farmer where they are based particularly for example in Gujarat you take the farmers are quite interested in new technologies, as well the thing is that you need to establish a relationship with them. That's all and see technology is always
an enabler technology comes later first thing is your communication and your relationship with them and how you really want to solve the problem because without the problem what is the use of the technology so first establishing the problem takes time first communication relationship and then establishing the problem and then to really solve the problem efficiently then technology comes into place. So technology is always going to be an enabler because for example if I start like considering farming of aromatic crops so I know other startups as well who are you know for example they're using hyperspectral imaging or some of them are using IoT or there are a lot of different kind of startups that are using amazing technology in the aggregate sector and, the point is that we also want to eventually help farmers with this kind of technologies but our focus here is to connect to the buyers because at the end of it if you observe the Indian agricultural overall market like you know the statistics for the in agricultural exports then what you observe is that we are really not able to convert our produce into exports and our exports are very less even you can take agriculture you can take fruits and vegetables or you can make even the the the supply which is, for example, wheat or maize or anything. So we are producing a lot we are in surplus but we are not able to convert that into exports so where is the missing link then the missing link is in our ability to convert our produce into a lucrative export opportunity and that is where we need to come in we need to give them hand-holding we need to guide them about the right kind of market that they should be prepared with so if we know the trend for the market then we can ask our farmers to produce the same kind of crop then we can ask other kinds of technologies or startups or any kind of support that we need we can even try and we can we will have our own technology as well of course so we will then we can use that that will be the second or third step and then their product will be sufficient and when they will have a fixed market that is the main thing because if you don't give them a contract if you don't give them a fixed market they are never going to use for you. Very true okay so basically you are maintaining a balance between now you are acting as a mediator between a buyer and a seller? Yeah, correct-correct! Bbut also the fact that it's not you're not creating a marketplace uh like you know it is not about uh we are not making an alibaba here what we are trying to do is that we are trying to create a group of efficient people here and by that what i mean is that see the kind of data that we collect when we deal with farmers and with MSME as well is that we try to categorize them and we start and when we deal with them we gather a lot of data about what is the work that they are doing what is the quality of you know product that they're producing and what is the communication style and a lot of data about them and based on that data we try to create filters and to you know to make a group of people so that once we have communication with the right buyer and whenever there is an inquiry we are able to filter out and we are able to create a very efficient communication channel with the most suitable supplier whoever is the farmer or the MSME and in that way we create a simpler channel and we also have the right kind of knowledge to share it to the buyer so that creates a efficient channel for the whole exports and the other part is to then also create so there are a lot of different kind of things about fpos and farmer groups and everything however this is the the crux of it. Got it-Got it! So talking about innovation how innovation is bringing livelihood to the farmers how is their lifestyle has been improved or how they are making more money which eventually makes their life good and any success story of the farmer you would like to share? Yeah absolutely I mean see innovation, we need to understand innovation, first of all, innovation can be done in the product, in a process, in your mindset as well innovation could be done anywhere what is innovation at the end of the day is all about efficiency. So the more efficient you make a process so uh what happens is that
um you know when I went to Christensen Institute in San Francisco and they gave a simple, you know the answer for disruptive innovation they told that disruptive innovation is something that reduces the cost of some of a product and at the same time they are able to reach the product to a mass-market so when you create something a service or a product where you have increased the efficiency to reduce the price of it and you are able to sell it to a mass-market as well then it is a disruptive innovation until then it could be an innovation but it will not be viable in the market right. So Tesla could be an innovation before six years as well but it wasn't uh very much affordable so we could not say that it is a disruptive innovation right so one needs to understand the kind of innovation that they're doing uh when it comes to farmers, See as i told before as well there are multiple ways to increase the efficiency of the crop there are multiples multiple ways to increase uh you know the whole sector of farming uh the produce but the other way you can think is that is there an is there an efficient way to increase their sales as well or is there, for example, a farmer is doing the traditional farming can he start with aromatic farming can he try and do intercrop can he do other things as well that is also an innovative thought and how you convert that into practice is your strategy right so that is also innovation and when it is converted into execution successfully that is a complete project right so that is also kind of innovation we need to think. Okay! So that's a very insightful answer you know that's really interesting. okay, so Vaibhav what is the next emerging industry you see for any entrepreneur to step in? If you want to start anything or your interest first thing is that you should think of your interest it's all about don't think of the market don't think you know that this industry will grow or not or of course you need to do that but that is a second step that is a later step the first thing is that if you no matter what even if you join an industry or if you know to start a venture in an industry that is growing at a very high speed but if you are not really passionate about it or you don't enjoy the products or you're not really interested in it you will eventually fade out because you won't enjoy your work. So the first thing is that uh you know think of your interest deeply that what is it that really interests you whatever product line whatever industry line what is it that you have been tracking for the last one year which industry or which broad which company do you think is making a great impact and you think that you know this is the kind of uh products that would be really you know I would be interested by it so think in that manner and then the next step would be to start thinking that, okay! Once you have an idea that okay, for example, I want to go with e-commerce or I want to go I want to create something or you know, or for a communication platform or a network or you know there are so many things that are coming up now. So once you build when you once you start doing that you need
to start thinking of your prototype and your idea and one so starts building your prototype and then start selling it off however you can try and get in touch with people and then once you have the feedback you can start thinking if that is worth doing or not because see eventually going to a VC or even thinking of going to a VC is at a very later stage because initially, it's all about realizing that do you really you know can you enjoy the space and if yes then only you can innovate and you can really put your creativity in it if not you will not be able to really you know solve questions there and then you won't be able to really innovate so it's all about doing things differently and adding efficiency in it. And then the final step is to think of the of the all the metrics total addressable market serviceability market and all the different kind of metrics that the VC's use nt uh what is it long term value capital and uh you know rpo and everything so that will that all comes later on and there's no point of thinking of it unless you are confident about your industry your project and you're enjoying it so if you're if you're good with that you can go forward with it. Yeah in fact I believe customers are the biggest investor, not the VCs. Yeah-yeah, absolutely customer see customers will
not come easily nobody wants to do anything unless they really uh they don't have any option and they really are desperate to do it that is one thing or the other thing is that you are adding really a lot of value in it so that they think that okay so this is cheaper and this is nicer so I can. Yeah, very true so I think we have covered everything in this podcast any last closing line or any key points you want to say? What I would want to suggest is that if you are really interested in entrepreneurship read a lot read extensively about all the different kinds of entrepreneurs and their journeys. I listen to a lot of podcasts as well there are you know many podcasts which talk about where successful entrepreneurs have shared their stories you will realize a lot you know the kind of problems that they go through so this is just the beginning of it. For example, if someone is just a beginner and thinking of it that is my suggestion for them and if you are already on your journey to entrepreneurship then you just need to understand the kind of result that you will have to have in the future and you need to commit yourself to a longer period that's it if you commit yourself to more than a year then the probability of your success in your venture will definitely increase by 30 to 40 percent and if it is if you cannot commit to the project you know more than a year then your probability is will be less than 10% so that is what one should be aware of. Very true, so to have
any venture we need to commit to it, it's really important. So and the other aspects we learn from this podcast is communication is the most important thing in any venture technology is just an enabler first come to the communication we need to talk we need to build trust with the customers with the person we will be working so it's very important, so I think wherever we have covered everything and thank you so much for coming to our listeners would be loving it and have a lot to grab from so thank you, thank you so much! Thank you thank you! So listeners that's all for today see you next week with a new industry expert, a new story to learn from stay tuned podcast Cordss. you