In 2009, software engineer Krishna Kumar, working at US conglomerate General Electric Co. (GE) India’s state-of-the-art Bangalore office, decided that he wanted to build and work on technology solutions that would address the problems faced by the bottom half of India’s 1.2 billion strong population.
After reading former GE chief executive Jack Welch’s book Straight From The Gut, where Welch describes the innovation cycles of various technology solutions that the company builds, Kumar realized that he would possibly be better off developing such innovations on his own, rather than at a large corporation.
“In the book, Welch mentions an episode where the company came up with an energy-saving bulb that eventually had to be scrapped because the cost of manufacturing was too high,” recalls Kumar. “Through that, I got a sense of how things worked, where somebody at the top sat and decided on what innovations could go to the market.”
“That proved to be a turning point for me—I didn’t want to be the guy who sits and develops something that eventually might or might not go to the market. That day I decided I wanted to be the guy who had complete control over his own innovation,” says Kumar.
And thus in August 2010, a few months after Kumar ditched his cushy job at GE, was born CropIn Technology Solutions Pvt. Ltd—a farming technology solutions start-up that would address several pain points of hundreds of farmers across the country.
Kumar along with a few of his friends initially raised about Rs.7-8 lakh from more than dozen close associates and funds and went live shortly after.
From a small bootstrapped start-up that originated in a single-room office in Bangalore’s Indiranagar locality, CropIn now generates revenue of over Rs.1 crore per year and has ambitions of tripling that number over the next few years.
“The idea was to do something for a sector that desperately needs technology,” says 32-year-old Kumar. “We have been talking about ICT (information and communications technology) for the agriculture sector for three decades now, but there hasn’t been any meaningful technological breakthrough.”
In layman’s terms, CropIn’s software product tags thousands of acres of farming land. The tags convey the information through an Android-based smartphone app to field officers of companies, such as global beverage and food major PepsiCo Inc., that work with farmers.
“In one word, we want to make every farm and every farmer traceable,” says Kumar. “Imagine buying an apple from a store and when you scan the apple, you get information on which plot, which area, when the apple was first planted, what pesticides were used on it, etc. That’s what our technology does.”
CropIn uses an affordable cloud-based pay-as-you-go platform that impressed companies such as FieldFresh Foods Pvt. Ltd so much that they are now one of CropIn’s biggest customers, giving out Rs.12 lakh of annual business to the Bangalore-based start-up—a far cry from the early days of starting up when Kumar and his team approached several top firms and, in most cases, struggled to get their attention.
FieldFresh also happened to be CropIn’s first major customer, signing business of about Rs.60,000 to start with. Kumar recalls that getting FieldFresh opened the floodgates of business for CropIn, which prior to that was struggling to raise more funds to ensure survival.
CropIn’s technological innovations are now being used and sought by major multinational corporations such as PepsiCo that uses data generated by the startup’s crop tagging technology to empower their own field officers who, in turn, work with farmers to improve their produce.
The technology at the heart of CropIn helps farmers on several counts, most importantly, informing and educating them on ways to salvage and improve the productivity of crops.
Kumar uses the example of a tomato farm located in rural Karnataka, where farmers were facing a problem of salvaging crops that used to rot on a regular basis. CropIn’s platform analyzed that the crops were being planted on land that was exposed to humidity. To ensure their survival, the tomatoes needed to be planted on a drier tract of land.
“From the moment a farmer decides to plant or sow his seeds, it is mapped immediately onto our platform,” says Kumar.
Kumar also has an eye on the future and wants to take advantage of the Big Data analytics boom in the world of technology—with vast volumes of data being generated from tagging crops, there is a significant opportunity for CropIn to tap into.
Technology researcher Gartner Inc. estimates that the smart-computing software market, which includes data analytics and business intelligence apps, will generate $41 billion in spending worldwide in 2013, and expects that to grow to $48 billion in 2014.
Kumar says the company, which has so far raised about $250,000 in seed funding, will raise another small round of funding as it looks to expand operations. In its Bangalore headquarters, the start-up employs about 14 people currently and plans to nearly double that number next year.
“We won’t go for Series A (funding) yet though. That’s still some way off,” says Kumar.
CropIn has also received buyout offers from some large Indian corporations, but Kumar is not keen on selling yet.
“We don’t want to give control to a major company yet. The concern is always around having your own vision being under the authority of someone else,” Kumar says.
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