Data is indispensable for businesses today. It mitigates risk and helps them take action to plug gaps and channel their resources accordingly. Would it not be a boon for small farmers too and make agriculture profitable?
That’s what drove two young techies from farm families to set up Fyllo, a Mumbai and Nashik-based startup that offers farmers a data-driven decision support system on a mobile app by capturing information from the field.
At the heart of this system designed by Sudhanshu Rai and Sumit Sheoran is an Internet of Things (IoT) device.
“We deploy an IoT device at the farm that bridges the data gap between farmers and farms,” says Sumit. “The IoT device contains an array of sensors and sends data to our cloud servers. We analyse the device, crop and soil data using machine learning and agronomy models to provide actions and insights on the app. Farmers view the data with alerts and insights on the app and make decisions.”
Adds Sudhanshu: “Our USP is providing actionable insights. By getting data from the farms, we accurately tell farmers what to do and when to do it. We have worked extensively on different soil types and crops and provide a simple user interface for actions to be taken at the farm.”
In effect, the IoT-based system is designed to help farmers produce export-quality crops at low risk and production cost. The service is available for select horticulture crops, such as grapes, at present.
Going back to the roots
The two founders have been involved in agriculture since childhood. Sudhanshu, who grew up in Latghat village of Uttar Pradesh, graduated in computer science from APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University in 2011 and went on to work with Infosys subsidiary EdgeVerve.
Sumit, a native of Bhiwani in Haryana, joined Sudhanshu’s team at EdgeVerve after graduating in computer science from IIT Roorkee in 2016. At EdgeVerve, they worked on a fintech product for three years. They also lived in the same apartment and played for the same cricket team.
“We wanted to do something together, so we tried multiple ideas before realising the big problem was in farming,” says Sudhanshu. “Our families’ inability to make confident decisions in agri-business pushed us to look for a solution, and that’s how we came up with Fyllo in April 2019.”
When they were sure about their idea, they quit their jobs and travelled to Nashik to meet some farmers.
“We talked to them about the problems we were trying to solve and came to know that they were actually facing those problems,” says Sudhanshu. “We also had some UX (user experience) wireframes of the app that we showed them. They liked it. So, we came back, manufactured our IoT device, developed the app, and sold it to those 10 farmers. We had paying customers from the very first deployment.”
Fyllo charges upfront for its IoT device, as well as for an annual subscription on the software package.
The founders have together invested Rs 15 lakh and raised an angel round from 100x.vc.
The startup’s current monthly revenue is Rs 20 lakh, and it aims to ramp this figure up to Rs 50 lakh by the end of this financial year.
The founders realised quite early that if they were going to build a product for farmers, they couldn’t operate from a metro city — they had to be in regular touch with the farmers.
“So we shifted to Nashik, and began living on farms,” says Sumit. “We started visiting customers regularly, and that’s how we have been able to show the impact in the last season.”
But connectivity was a problem in rural areas. As the IoT device needed to send data, they had to build a module where data could be sent from low-bandwidth areas.
After getting the first 10 customers, convincing a larger group to pay for the product and services was a challenge. But the founders remained confident. Today, Fyllo has more than 500 customers across five districts in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
In the next 10 months, the startup aims to offer its services in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and other parts of Karnataka, and Maharashtra.
It also plans to support 10 horticulture crops by that time, up from the current experiment with grapes.
Given that cultivation of horticulture crops has its complexities, accurate data is crucial to determine the correct amount of water and fertilisers needed for the right yield. That’s why, Sumit says, the company’s focus would be on horticulture crops for the time being. “For us, to be able to scale to field crops is very difficult right now.”
A large playing field
Fyllo operates in agritech, a sector populated by several companies working in different segments. While companies such as AgroStar and Gramophone provide inputs to farmers, the likes of Ninjacart, Bigbasket, and Crofarm connect farmers to the consumer market. Then there is DeHaat, which provides inputs, as well as storage and market linkage to farmers. AiBono is this startup's closest competition.
There are several B2B and B2C players as well in the aggregating supply chain. Exporters such as Mahindra Agri, InI Farms, and Sahyadri Farms also have a considerable presence in the sector.
While the Indian startup ecosystem has produced 39 unicorns (till December 21, 2020) so far, there is yet to be one in farming. That only means the field is wide open.
Data from the World Bank shows that India has more than 150 million farming families spread over half a million villages. According to a report by VC firm Omnivore, almost half the Indian villages will have good road connectivity by 2030. It also predicts that automation will be a major area in farming by that time.
“Autonomous and semi-autonomous farm robots will substitute labour-intensive human tasks and drudgery in major commercial crop and animal value chains,” the report says.
“India is in very nascent stages of farm automation at the turn of the decade —unmanned vehicles have entered operations, but mostly for remote sensing (capturing data) by institutional users (for example, revenue department, insurance companies). While this will continue to be a major use case, fleet operators and large farmers will begin to demand autonomous robots for activities like weeding, spraying, and harvesting that involve a lot of labour and have high human error rates.”
Given these projections, Fyllo has the potential to become a valuable agri-tech startup.
(Edited by Lena Saha)