Agriculture is a huge sector of opportunity for a country like India. Startups can bring about a much needed revolution in this sector which is grappling with inefficiencies. Founded by Amit Sinha, Ashok Prasad and Chetan Singh, Akshamaala is one such startup that works with farmers in rural India to help them make farming a commercially sustainable and profitable model. Their services are a complete package, from identifying the right crops, to selling at the right price, besides agronomy and agri-education services.
The motivation to start up
Speaking of their impetus, Amit says, “we had this belief that there is a big opportunity in reaching out to the non-metro population. We believed the bottom of the pyramid could be effectively tapped and a sustainable business created out of it, if the execution challenges were effectively met”. The company which initially started out with reaching out to overall rural population for all kinds of information needs, is now focused only on farmer’s needs, who form the largest part of the rural population.
While working on various assignments with farmers on behalf of the enterprises, the team realized that farmers were ready to pay for agriculture support services, if someone promised to deliver value. They also realized the dearth of commercial ventures of a large scale, primarily led by knowledge sharing and advisory services to farmers. “We wanted to offer services very similar to what the Government agencies provide for free. And we knew the farmers would be ready to pay, primarily for two reasons, they have little faith on the quality of the service from the Government and when you pay for a service, you can demand for it to be relevant and effective” says Ashok.
Once the scope of services and the customer base was narrowed down, the company decided that they need to base the business on a technology platform, in order to be effective in reaching out to the vast rural population in India. “Even though the impact of the business is social, the key factor is commercial sustainability which is perhaps the only way that change can be brought on a massive scale” says Chetan, of their decision.
The Business model
Akshamaala, through its services, addresses the needs of the farmers such as:
- Identifying the most remunerative and sustainable crop to grow
- On-ground farm support, including soil testing
- Financial support to the farmers,
- Help in executing farm activities, and
- Marketplace access and knowledge and inputs for selling the produce at optimal prices.
The services are provided to the farmers directly and through their association with other agri-input brands.
The revenue model has two components- Farmers pay for seasonal subscriptions and additional services, such as soil testing, input provisioning and access to marketplace etc. Besides that, the company also generates revenue from enterprises, who gain access to the farmers, through their network.
The revenue model for Akashmaala clearly hinges on reaching out to more and more farmers. How far have they managed to penetrate into the market and how did they achieve this? Speaking of their outreach and growth, Amit says, “Currently the team comprises of 28 people, and keeping in mind the nature of the work, they have an eclectic mix of people in the team from agri specialists to software developers.”
The company has also kept in mind, regional challenges of their growth and developed a team capable of multilingual communication. With the right combination of technology and skill in place, Akashmaala has already reached out to and educated over 3 lac farmers, handled over 1 million farmer transactions and has the capability to interact in 9 regional languages.
While one may assume that marketing would be an interesting challenge while working in rural areas, Akashmaala’s marketing methods suggest the basic principles of marketing remain the same. “We organize farmers’ meet and awareness programs in the rural areas. We also sell free 15 day trial of our services, for the farmers to experience the value add we bring and based on their conviction and interest, they are converted into a paid customers,” says Chetan.
The way ahead looks bright, Amit says citing three main reasons why entrepreneurship in rural India, especially in the agriculture industry, is going to continue to bloom. “There is an increasing use of IT and mobile to reach out to farmers and, not to mention, the PE and VC activity focused on this sector. This is in addition to the large farmer population, mostly untapped, which can potentially be a significantly huge opportunity ”, says Ashok.
With the right team and vision, Akshamaala is raring to go. We wish their team the very best in their efforts.