How DeHaat strengthens the roots of Bharat through technology

How DeHaat strengthens the roots of Bharat through technology

A miniature model of a rural agricultural store, perched atop a storage unit, catches my eye inside this compact office. The workspace features open-plan offices, corporate branding and motivational posters, and the model appears to be built to scale, showing the detailed layout and branding of the store.

I’m inside the Gurugram headquarters of agritech start-up DeHaat, in a nondescript commercial office building, where it also occupies several other small offices. The 10-year-old company combines technology with physical infrastructure, such as warehouses and franchise stores, to deliver app-based agricultural solutions to farmers and other relevant stakeholders. With projected monthly income of 230-250 crore in this financial year, it is one of the oldest and largest companies in the industry. His occupation of commercial real estate is indicative of how startups tend to grow – one small office at a time, until they’re big enough (and funded enough) to consolidate into a big space. of work. DeHaat also moved to a larger space in Gurugram a few weeks after my visit. It is also headquartered in Patna.

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A miniature model of a DeHaat rural agricultural store
(Pradeep Gaur)

Agritech entrepreneurs in India have attracted substantial funding and media attention in recent times, with many offering a range of emerging business models.

Build the right model

The miniature model injects flavor into the rather functional appearance of the desktop. This is a typical DeHaat center, or franchise store, run by company-appointed micro-entrepreneurs who serve nearby farmers.

There are 10,000 such centers in 11 states, mostly in western, eastern and northern India. The model’s presence in the office “reminds us of who we are, what we do, and keeps us grounded,” says Shashank Kumar, 37, co-founder and chief executive of DeHaat.

“DeHaat is a full stack model. We have tried to bring everything related to agriculture under one roof for Indian farmers,” says Kumar. “This means helping Indian farmers at every stage of their agricultural cycle, from soil testing to planting, giving them better access to quality agricultural inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and advise them in a personalized way, so that they can reduce their cost of cultivation, optimize the dosage of fertilizers, preserve the fertility of the soil or the water table.We also offer financial services and insurance, then towards the end of the season, we offer post-harvest services in terms of logistics or market liaison.”

Kumar is one of the prime examples of a highly educated entrepreneur who has returned to his farming roots.

After spending his early years in rural Bihar, where his family initially depended on a 3.2-acre farm, he graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi and worked with a consulting firm before deciding to start DeHaat. in 2012.

DeHaat’s team of four co-founders is made up of equally well-qualified graduates of IITs and IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) – a breed of entrepreneurs who are equally comfortable working locally with the Indian farmer that they collaborate with global networks. Silicon Valley type venture capitalists.

There may be a romantic appeal to this entrepreneurial trope of leaving corporate jobs for rural entrepreneurship, but I believe it needs specific characteristics to be successful.

A recipe for success

First, a boots-on-the-ground approach. As the miniature model suggests, Kumar is aware of the importance of being grounded, building a strong local physical presence and having a deep understanding of the needs of the Indian farmer, the agricultural sector, its limitations and its economic possibilities.

According to Kumar, farmers are saving significantly on costs through “better price discovery and cutting out the middleman,” and weekly harvest alerts mean better yields.

The market’s link to institutional buyers on DeHaat platforms provides better prices, he claims.

Empathy is also vital. Convincing farmers to adopt the technology is a journey that requires understanding their needs and demands.

Kumar says DeHaat works to persuade farmers that they are long-term allies, rather than seasonal middlemen.

“It’s not like we provide everything they need, but whatever we do is professional and transparent. Technology brings hope for the future, and they are connected to the latest farming techniques, to the wider world. It brings excitement,” he says.

Second, ambition. As the motivational posters on the walls point out, DeHaat wants to evolve. “We work with almost 1.3 million farmers. There are over 100 million farmers in India. And given the kind of response we get from farmers when replicating this model from one place to another, that gives me a lot of confidence. We are talking about working with 20-25 million Indian farmers over the next four and a half years,” he says.

Even though the company has grown 50 times over the past three years, that’s an ambitious number.

Finally, and perhaps incongruously, patience. Kumar and his co-founders spent years working on the business model before raising funds from outside investors. They have raised over $150 million since March 2019.

“Shashank only raised money when he knew what to do with it (the money),” says Mark Kahn, managing partner and co-founder of Omnivore, one of DeHaat’s investors.

Kumar says, “If you see our journey, for the first seven years we didn’t scale at all, our scale was very suboptimal.” He adds: “First, we built the expertise for each function. And then afterwards we digitized all the stuff and built a digital playbook. And that’s why you’re seeing 50x growth in the last 30 months. We don’t need to spend another four or five years in a new geography. We have all the right products and services that farmers need, and that’s why the gestation period for us in any new geography will be very short. If you can build the right model, if you can build an institution, growth is not a question at all.

It’s not an easy skill troika, but to succeed in Bharat, in my opinion, it’s what it takes. Just as cultures take time to grow, business models and entrepreneurs also take time to mature and prove themselves.

Read also: The story of MobiKwik, told through a perfecto

Aparna Piramal Raje meets monthly with organizational leaders to investigate the links between their workspace design and their working styles.

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