I am in a unique position – being perhaps one of those rare agribusiness-professionals in the world, who has had operational experience in agri supply chain with multinationals like Cargill, ADM & Olam across India, Indonesia and West Africa; agri-project appraisal, consultancy and business incubation experience with the Yes Bank Group ( Bank and Family Office ), as well as a brief tenure with a start-up. I have been on ‘all sides of the table’, if that’s the right way to put it – an evaluator of tech in agribusiness firms, a participant in a start-up contest, and a jury member in a few start up contests.
Basis my experience, I have distilled a few ‘take-aways’ if you may call it, for the Founders and the Investors of Agri-Start Ups ( tech and non-tech )
- Have you estimated the Market Size correctly ?
- You competition is not necessarily from another tech company or start-up. It can be from an existing non-tech company.
- Are you really price competitive, and have you understood the unit economics of the business clearly ? Are the users able and willing to pay you for your technology ? Or, are they just using it to ‘help a start-up’ as a CSR project.
- Have you assessed the time to scale up as well as to profitably, correctly and honestly ?
- Is there really a market for your product, service or technology ? Or are the industry users just ‘tryers’ of your technology, with no real ‘felt’ need.
- Do you really have conceptual clarity on the industry, process, segment, commodity – or are you trying to impose what you may call as a ‘new approach’, but of which the agribusiness industry is dismissive of ?
- How many of your clients are real agribusiness companies ? Or are your users really into another industry masquerading as agribusiness companies or having a small portion of their portfolio into agribusiness ?
- Do you really take industry feedback honestly, or are you usually dismissive of feedback and insights from industry professionals – only to stumble later in the marketplace in front of customers ?
- And finally – does your technology really work – or do you manipulate client demos from the backend ?
- Are you investing because others have invested or do you really believe that their assessment is correct ?
- How many industry professionals have you spoken with on the price point which they are willing to pay for the new product, service or technology ?
- Are you aware of the certifications which are needed in the industry for the product, service or technology ? Does your investee company have the certification or is it ‘in talks with the certification agency and should have the certification anytime soon’ ?
- Have you correctly understood the industry which you are investing in ? Have you taken feedback from a broad range of industry users on (a) conceptual clarity, (b) price points (c) time to scale up and (d) certifications ?
- From how many sources have you checked the market size of the product, service or technology ? And, do you have a listening bias ie. do you hear only those who subscribe to your assessment or do you allow leeway to those who don’t agree with you as well ?
- What is your assessment of competition ?
- How precisely defined are your first three milestones with the investee company – do they adequately define (a) scale (b) user profile and (c) certifications ?
- How many agribusiness companies use your investee company’s product, service or technology ? Why are they not using it ? Or is your investee company’s products being used largely by non-agribusiness companies which have a fraction of an interest in agribusiness ?
- Are you aware of the risks of the business ? Have you put in a Risk Assessment and Value At Risk framework for the business as well as your investment ?
- Do you have the competency and capability to mentor your investee companies, if not directly then through industry connections ? Are the mentors from the agribusiness industry or from a different industry who are working on a guess-work basis ?
- Are you aware of the regulations and the multiple acts at the Union or Federal level which guides your product, service or technology ? What are the chances of those regulations changing ? What is the ability of the current competition to influence those policies ?
An honest assessment of the above is very critical for a founder and investor to see where they stand. Investing in agribusiness needs a very thorough and detailed understanding and appreciation of multiple nuances of the entire ecosystem. It is essential to read, hear and discuss every aspect in detail.
Else, it will be like the story of Dronacharya and his young disciples.
Once, a bunch of young and eager learners had met Dronacharya at a time of Dronacharya’s personal distress. They were very eager to know about the Chakravyuh. Drona took them under his wings and started explaining them about it. They half heard him and began navigating the Chakravyuh. The great Drona was still indulgent, but soon he saw the young disciples filled with arrogance and pride and setting new rules for navigation. This navigation was based on half truths and short cuts. Gradually, seeing no role for himself in this new world which the young disciples had created for themselves, the great Drona withdrew. They never asked Drona – nor did Drona ever tell them – that the real game of Chakravyuh was not of entering and navigating it but of coming out alive.