“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”Warren Buffett
Let us understand how people perceive the idea of being a startup and being an entrepreneur. What is the difference?
If you go to the basics and study the etymology, the word entrepreneur is derived from two words, one, French the other English. Entrependre in French means (to undertake); Enterprise in English is an establishment/organization/business unit. Therefore, an entrepreneur means a person starting an enterprise?
People want to become an entrepreneur to be their own boss and do something big, generate wealth and generate employment for others too. In that sense Henry Ford, Rockefeller, Birla and Tata started as Entrepreneurs- created an establishment, created wealth and also generated jobs, added to the GDP of the country. Later many of them made it multinational in times to come.
What Is a Startup? The term startup refers to a company in the first stage of its operations. Startups are founded by one or more potential/would be entrepreneurs who want to develop a product or service for which they believe there is a demand. These companies generally start with high costs and limited revenue which is why they look for capital from a variety of sources such as VC (venture capitalists) or PE (private Equity).
This is interesting. There is therefore, a very thin dividing line between the two; Very much blurred boundaries.
This word called startup was unheard of in the 1970’s or 80’s. This all started with telecom, and computers and later their merger. Both these flattened our planet in a way. It was to a large extent hi technology driven business with advent of computer, communication, internet and their merging seamlessly into one monolithic, communication system.
Phenomenal speed of data transfer and worldwide connectivity that changed the way we lived, the way we worked and that impacted the basic business models in a big way.
We started with agriculture economy, moved to industrial age and then to the much touted knowledge economy. In that race we lost out on agriculture- the true bread and butter without which we cannot do. You can neither eat electrons nor live on knowledge. Ultimately you got to put something in your stomach! That can never change.
Once you have reached the top two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, you still require the bottom two- food and shelter!
So back to basics and history takes a 360 degree turn- agriculture, agriculture and agriculture.
Start of the startup fever
What people refer to a startup in a common language is a guy who has an idea (but may be very little money) to solve a problem and he knows that the problem effects large number of people and therefore by solving that problem he can eventually service a huge number of people and make it big. These are called ‘startup ideas’ this is now very much the most fashionable word doing the rounds in the corporate/financial sector.
The most intoxicating part was that just an idea can make you big! I have an idea and I start something, prove the concept and look for financial support to replicate and multiply my business many fold what in financial lingo is called scalability 10X or 100 X. Ola, Uber, solved the transportation problem for people.
Naukri.Com as a job portal, OYO for room booking, PayTm for easy money exchange, Travel portals for helping you make your trip, air reservations, food delivery, hotel reservations, bus booking, cinema bookings, and the list goes on and on. These people later also created an enterprise and gave out thousands of jobs.
All went around creating applications running on laptops or smart phones and the reach was huge- these were called Apps in short. Everyone was looking for a ‘killer app’ and as time went by three new Apps came and five disappeared, and that is why (one reason) most failed and few survived. There were less killer apps but several guys got killed in the bargain- in this killer app race.
At the end of the day everyone was getting into one rabbit hole – in big cities, service orientation and convenience providers. They also penetrated into smaller towns. But things started getting saturated. These were mostly integrators and didn’t solve a ‘core’ problem or produce-I will come to this later -something tangible. These were convenience driven businesses (You can even call them technology middlemen).
What is head of Amazon? A Head delivery boy. CEO of Uber is a Taxi stand coordinator- works on commission. As surplus money flowed in, economies started looking up, middle class numbers swelled, and time available for individuals were lesser and lesser, these ideas and businesses based on these ideas, flourished.
The urban space comprising eight metros in India is now over crowded. People got into smaller towns but yet too many chasing too little ideas remained a fact.
Why people want to become entrepreneurs?
Ultimately a person leaves his job to become his own boss, wants to do something more exciting and also make good amount of money. A guy reads lots of success stories and says ‘If he can do it so can I’. But unfortunately there is one piece missing in this equation- and that is ‘living a good and a healthy life’ too! For entrepreneurs, anxiety is fast becoming a silent monster that is creeping in unnoticed. It is time that we wake up to this modern-day malady. And change track.
So you have a few problems, too much competition, it is like playing a rugby match on a table tennis table, someone will break his neck! So out of the box thinking will not work- get out of the box first and then think, look for opportunities. Get off the table tennis table to play rugby.
Today as a nation we are standing at cross roads where things are changing very rapidly.
I feel while agriculture-crisis has been the biggest bane for the nation, it provides a huge opportunity too. It is a problem that is crying for a solution!
Today almost all startups are integrators and facilitators. People are delivering food, travel and villa reservations, hotel booking, cinema booking, bus booking, Ola cabs, delivering groceries and books and almost anything under the sun to end users. Flipkart and Myantra are a case in point.
IT industry also acts like a force multiplier, but force multiplier needs a force that can be multiplied! And that force has disappeared. For instance, computers can optimize production of a car but can’t produce a car. For that you still require a plant and a shop floor and an assembly line! As a result, startups are piling one on top of the other, depend on valuation and investors who evaluate on god only knows what projection/numbers. Today it is difficult to raise finance as the market is saturated.
Two new food portals open and three shut down at the same time. There are no startups in the core business in cities today. May be there are no such opportunities.
The landscape of rural area has drastically changed over the years
The current government is making all efforts to make things better in the rural areas. We have 6.5 lack villages and around all inhabited villages have been electrified–according to the government, although this is unverified. Bandwidth consumption in rural India for the first time has become more than Urban areas. The great digital divide has been reversed. Government has made efforts to provide toilets in rural areas and the efforts are still on.
More than Ten crore toilets have been constructed across the country.
On 15 August 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced from the ramparts of Red Fort that soon there will be optical fiber connectivity reaching every village. This will be a game changer and a rural force multiplier.
Even if we take all this with a pinch of salt, we need to grant this much that a lot has happened in the last two decades and a lot will happen in the next few years. Let us look at glass half full and not half empty.
Electricity, roads and bandwidth are the quintessential for startups in the rural areas.
Our country comprises of two nations-India and Bharat. India is English speaking ie 8 metros and rest is Bharat which speaks vernacular. I am looking at big Bharat.
I also feel that one can learn from the British too. When they came to India they created an aura around them wherever they went. They created Hill stations like Shimla, Nainital and Ooty. If you want to live well you can live well in a tent too.
They created infrastructure for tea gardens in Assam. Planter’s bungalows and clubs were created way back in the beginning of last century.
Land in these small cities is far cheaper than in the metros. And that is the major cost of building a home. Labor may be cheaper and one can make comfortable homes with a generator set and tube wells. Look at ranch life in America. Look at farm houses near Delhi- they are all self-contained.
Hope this is motivating enough.
“Most people miss Opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Thomas A. Edison
Rural- Entrepreneurs is the flavor of now
What do startups do? They look for a problem, and find a solution to that problem. Over a period of time all startups looked at problems in urban densely populated metros. They never looked outside. They thought out of the box actually sitting within the box (metros was their big box). It is time to get out of the box and start thinking- management is common sense and this mantra too is common sense. Rural India is that big box- more than 6 lack villages!
“I think every challenge is an opportunity. COVID19 is an opportunity for Indian agritech startups to showcase how tech-intervention and innovation in agriculture can solve the problem of not only yield but procurement and fasten the entire agri-supply chain,” Amith Agarwal, cofounder and CEO, Agri Bazaar says in an interview
Low Investment- Yes it is
Technology has massively impacted the industry and has provided uncountable benefits to the entrepreneurs and farmers. Technology allows one to virtually start the business without investing in the farming land. It is important to work smartly rather than investing huge in land. Many farmers agree to work in collaborations due to unemployment.
Mindset is changing
Over a period of my research I noticed one major factor that a lot many well educated people (men and women both) from different walks of life with very diverse educational background have ventured into this area. That way each one brought technology and management techniques to the table- which rural India badly needed.
There are stories of people who left their well paying jobs and decided to turn around India and entered into every possible field in the food chain like, fish farming, milk farming, traditional products and related opportunities. The entire value chain in each case is of interest and the road ahead. Tractor to table that is how big this value chain is.
“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”
Go organic Go
“Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.”
Over a period of time since the slogan Jai jawan Jai kissan and a call for ‘Green revolution’ by Late PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, in our exuberance to produce more and more agricultural produce, there was a rampant use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
In 1951-52, fertilizer usage in the country averaged less than one kg per hectare,(2.5 acres) which has now risen to 133 kg per hectare, roughly 53 kg per acre! Besides this for protecting the crop pesticides which are highly poisonous are used by farmers. (Poison for rats, rodents and insects is poison for you too). It has been observed that pesticide exposures are increasingly linked to immune suppression, hormone disruption, diminished intelligence, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer.
At present, per hectare consumption of pesticides in India is 0.6 kg/hectare. Though less compared to US, UK and China, still these are very harmful for human consumption even in small quantity- slow poisoning!
In addition, earthworms and soil microbe populations are also dwindling, and we need more and more external harmful inputs every season to sustain the same production level as the earlier growing season. In our effort to cut our food imports and become a leading producer, we have harmed our soil and the health of generations to come. To add to this farmers burn stubble to make land ready for next sowing and thattoo kills bacteria and natural minerals in the soil.
This is the long and short of the problem.
Solution is to go back to basics. Cow Dung, cow pat, Cow urine or any animal Excreta that of goats, sheep can enrich the land and will reclaim health of the soil. It is that simple.
Initially it will give lesser yield but as the soil becomes healthier, you get better yield in terms of quality and quantity both. Finally Bullshit will work.
This is an urgent need of the hour at national level.
Who can Live life king size!
- People who want to become their own bosses and make money too should look elsewhere in this case think urban move rural and then go global.
- Who want to make an impact in rural areas; you have more problems out there than you can think off. That is the fundamental tenet of a startup/entrepreneur- become a rural start-preneur.
- Our country has two parts, one is India that stays in big cities and the other is Bharat that is in more than 6.5 lack villages. In between you have shades of grey and patches of brown, districts, divisions and small, very small towns.
- Use your education, technology to make things better for Bharat than India and in the bargain live a great life. Social service and patriotism is a bye product.
- Government is trying hard to give loans and assistance but farmers do not have the capacity and know how to absorb these.
- Infrastructure in these rural areas has improved in the last several years. Roads, Electricity and internet connectivity has improved and work is in progress. But things are moving fast. Things hopefully will become better and better.
- Today you need not go begging to a VC if you have an Idea, you can ask the Government. Government and banks can be your PE or VC. That is what public private partnership is all about at a conceptual level. Let me tell you, easy funding days through angel investors are gone, the guys who got millions in those good old days were lucky with liberal funding. Today for a startup idea you have huge due diligence and several treacherous rounds before someone gives a tidy sum! Also too many startups mushrooming everywhere, the space is cluttered as mentioned earlier.
- You are not going to the Moon or Mars when you go rural. Many well educated people have left their jobs and got into farming. Now farming is a huge area and has so many options. Agriculture, Fisheries, Milk, milk products, food processing, Logistics and a very big value chain. You can get into any one area or make it a complete diverse chain. Most of these get heavy subsidy and tax benefits.
- There is a huge opportunity waiting for you- go grab it.
- Now you can have the first mover advantage as the play field is not a TT table but a huge marathon race track/stadium/ cross country. As of now there are not many takers who would try this out.
- Lead a healthier life. Better food, better air, use of clean energy. Use technology in the virgin pastures and not in a cluttered overcrowded scenario in metros.
- You can make your living comfortable in a small town much better and cheaper. You get a three BHK house in a metro for several Corers. In smaller towns you can live like a King in a Bungalow, in much less. Have your own security, create a ranch like environment and it is all up to you. Imagination is the limit. Imagine driving from NOIDA to Gurugram in Delhi is clocking 60 Kms each way. Why can’t you drive the same distance from your farm house to the nearest town for food and daily needs.
- I remember back in 70,s I had a friend in Punjab who had a 100 acre farm and an excellent farm house with all facilities. We used to visit him on weekends and was there permanently and had no complains. That was half a century ago! You can make ‘Jungle main Mangal’ for yourself. Fun, frolic, adventure, hard work money and healthy living now is a possibility.
- If wives can support husbands or vice versa to quite a job and start a treacherous journey of a startup with a success hit ratio of one out of twenty then why can’t they do the same for rural living in style.
- You can buy/design a caravan, your own camping equipment, all the gadgets for living in open areas.
- Americans spend so much money to buy a ranch and invest their life time savings to settle there. Remember you are not going to be Christopher Columbus but can be a close competitor and his country cousin. On October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered America; You will discover and create a new country in 2021 onwards- ‘Bharat’.
‘When you live your life in alignment with a purpose that is centered on selflessly adding value for others, opportunities become abundant and your life becomes fulfilled.’
Solving Core Problems- actually value addition.
Solving CORE problem means enhancing yield, performance and income per acre (or per farmer family), so that entire BIG BHARAT strata gets uplifted. There is no need for start-ups to do any great research. It is on the platter. Entities like ICAR and Agri Universities have/are developed/developing lots of IP. Pure research activities like those do not have commercial touch. Start-ups can play a big role in identifying the BIG impact problem areas and develop highly scalable and sustainable (from environment point of view) solution which can change the landscape dramatically.
- Those who want to make a good and healthy living and breathe well.
- Well educated people can turn around rural area and in the bargain explore virgin business opportunities. Those who had no experience in farming can make it big too. If you are a literate this is no rocket science and with efforts and willingness to learn this is possible. That is where your education and corporate experience helps.
- Many boys and girls who had farm lands (ancestral) studied in great colleges and went to cities looking for a better life. They left a gold mine back home and with your education you can turn that land into gold. For such people it is ‘Ghar wapasi’.
- Small or big doesn’t matter, you can have better yield in small patches of land too, integrate other farmers and make things tick for everyone.
- Rural India is safe- rural guys are still nice, humanly, simple and preserve their innocence.
- Last but not the least, make rural living great, comfortable and stylish – yes you can.
- From the west don’t only learnt technology; but also learn to live better, comfortable and life full of adventure and fun.
- You get subsidy on several items, loans and your income is Tax free. Do you need more?
Sometimes I wonder why Indian companies could not create a Google, a facebook or a Twitter?
We missed that boat but can we make it big in Agriculture and create worldwide brands. Yes there is a possibility. First create Big B- Big Bharat and from Urban go international Via Rural.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” ― Steve Jobs