eFarm — an online marketplace for farmers, buyers
He is a B.Arch from IIT-Kharagpur and a postgraduate in computer science from the University of Albany, New York. She has a commerce degree and an MBA.
He worked in the IT sector for 15 years in India and the US and she was in a leading private sector bank in India, helping it in implementing Six Sigma across the organisation.
Meet M. Venkatasubramanian and Srivalli Krishnan, husband and wife, who started and now run eFarm, a Chennai-based online portal that brings together farmers and buyers.
eFarm also had an on-the-ground business that helped large clients, mainly leading restaurants, source their requirement of vegetables by working directly with nearly 1,500 farmers. A setback in business, that forced them to write off a huge amount, forced them to tweak their business strategy and concentrate on the portal, eFarm Direct.
“I haven’t even done any gardening,” says Venkat, when you ask him if he had any experience in farming and why he chose this area to start his business in. On his return from the US, he was clear he wanted to start a business on his own and also that it should be in a niche area.
In the initial days, he helped sell organic vegetables grown by some of his friends near the beach in Besant Nagar in Chennai. This, he admits, was the starting point for his business idea. It germinated into a proposition and became eFarm.
Talk to Venkat and you will be surprised by some of his views that run against conventional wisdom. “You are over-emphasising the importance of the farmer and not understanding the customer,” he says, for instance. Or, he says a farmer does not know how to price his produce.
Typically, says Venkat, a farmer will tell you a price because that is what he got on some occasion. It is very often left to the market to decide. And, farmers will only talk of vegetables in terms of bags and not in actual weight. Do you know, a majority of farmers do not even have a proper weighing scale with them, asks Venkat.
He met the chefs of some leading restaurants and asked them what vegetables they would like to have. The chefs were pleasantly surprised and happy that here was someone who was actually asking them their opinion.
eFarm’s first customer was Oriental Cuisines of ‘Hot Breads’ Mahadevan. Venkat’s firm tied up with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and NGOs such as National Agro Foundation to work with some progressive farmers.
There is no data in the industry and that is what eFarm set out to correct. He and Srivalli used technology to collect and build a database – extent of the farm, soil type, vegetable grown, input costs (fertiliser, pesticides, labour costs for de-weeding and planting the seeds), and yield to help farmers understand how they should price their produce and what they can realistically expect in the market. eFarm worked with them and a few NGOs to grade the vegetables, weigh them correctly and guarantee a regular price to customers.
eFarm has got a Rs 1-crore investment from Mumbai Angels for a significant minority stake. Venkat and Srivalli own the majority while 10 per cent stake would be with friends and family. They would have invested about Rs 25-30 lakh of their money in the venture.
This loss and write-off prompted eFarm to tweak its business model. It has now gone slow on sourcing and selling vegetables and fruits and instead has a portal that helps farmers, input suppliers (of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides) and buyers come together. The revenue is through a fee-based registration. eFarm now has more than 5,000 registrations and the number is growing.