Inc42 & WebEngage present — “Decoding Hypergrowth” — a series capturing stories of successful businesses, the importance of intelligent engagement, and their approach to creating the same.
The year was 2015. Two friends came together in the final year of their graduation to work on increasing technology adoption across farms and solving the unorganised nature of the agriculture sector. After brainstorming with their peers, the duo — Siddharth Dialani and Sai Gole — proposed a project to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, to study the sector better.
The project helped Dialani and Gole validate their hypothesis about farms needing a parametric approach, given that there were too many variables. At the time, the duo also started pilots with actual users. Thus emerged BharatAgri, a farmer-focussed agritech platform driven by advisory solutions for deriving maximum value from farming operations.
“We are the one-stop solution for farmers when it comes to advisory (services). We provide advisory on agriculture, suggest to farmers weather insurance and other related insurance schemes, connect them with best input, equipment and implements service providers, and also inform them about banking services,” explained Dialani, cofounder and CEO of BharatAgri.
Aiming to reach more than 140 Mn Indian farmers, the startup has technical experts focussing on the platform’s UI/UX, thus ensuring smooth onboarding and boosting retention. Currently, it claims to be associated with more than 7 Lakh farmers.
“As everything is digitised, we have been able to provide quality service to the farmers associated with us. In the farming community, word-of-mouth due to better service has helped us retain the majority of existing users and onboard new ones,” added Dialani.
For a long time, the agriculture sector in India has been facing several challenges, including the lack of modern technology, high-interest rates on agri loans, and more. Indian agritech startups have identified these gaps and leveraged the opportunities which arise with them to grow rapidly. However, these startups have merely addressed 20% of the existing problems plaguing the farming sector.
A recent analysis by Inc42 Plus has revealed that the market potential for agritech startups in India is estimated to reach $24.1 Bn by 2025. The agritech space has also seen more than $467 Mn in funding between 2014 and H1 2020.
Watch BharatAgri’s Cofounder, Siddharth Dialani, Talk About The Startup’s Journey And Growth:
Agritech Boom With Digitisation
“Digitisation and precision farming are the new trends in agriculture. In 2017, we started as an offline model, but in 2019, we introduced the BharatAgri application to interact with farmers. We have been able to scale it the most during the pandemic. It was easier for us to adopt as our farmers were already familiar with the technology,” – Sai Gole, cofounder, BharatAgri
Like many other sectors, the rise of digitisation, thanks to Covid-19, has come as a major growth driver in the agritech space.
“We had to go all-digital during pandemic lockdowns. Agri input shops were closed at the time; they were not operational. Therefore, we made video calls and used the chat feature in the app so that they (farmers) could get the solutions required without travelling,” added Gole.
During that period, the startup introduced several innovative features on its platform. These include a harvesting campaign to connect farmers with buyers, enabling satellite imaging within the app for monitoring farms remotely and several other features.
The startup says that its focus on personalising its features for farmers has helped drive the adoption of these solutions. Gole also told Inc42 that these features, coupled with a dynamic crop calendar and satellite mapping with real-time monitoring, differentiates the startup from its competitors.
Although the pandemic brought forth various challenges for industries and sectors, shifting to remote working was the need of the hour during lockdowns. To counter the productivity challenges during that time, BharatAgri, a team of 30 people, decided to step back from micromanagement. “People have their own agendas to fulfil their tasks and duties, and at weekly engagement sessions like team meetings, we used to unwind,” added Gole.
To ensure that its people are well-equipped and trained, the startup provides appropriate technical training to the team based on customer feedback.
Expanding Reach Through Marketing Automation
At a time when brands find it difficult to reach out and acquire new users, customer retention takes a front-seat role for companies looking to grow and scale their already established businesses. It is rightly so, as multiple reports and several experts have always stressed on the importance of retention.
While Bain & Company and the Harvard Business School revealed that a “5% increase in retention can improve profitability by as much as 55%”, Adobe’s analysis showed that repeat customers, around 8% of the total customer base, account for 40% of sales. The martech platforms, which provide an easy way to boost retention and build the business, are a major boon for the brands in this context.
For BharatAgri, the choice of platform has been WebEngage. “Time and effort are the two factors where marketing automation helped. Our purpose was to provide the personalisation that our users deserve, and WebEngage helped with that seamlessly. We understood our user behaviour towards specific campaigns and also knew that in-app notifications performed better when we wanted users to take action after a particular event,” said Dialani.
In fact, BharatAgri realised the need for marketing automation early on. As soon as the startup saw a product-market fit, it felt the requirement for marketing automation. “We had acquired the initial set of users. The next step was to engage and retain them, and marketing automation was essential to keep users engaged. The ‘Journeys’ feature in WebEngage helped us retain existing users by providing the right nudge to them,” explained Dialani.
According to him, this feature is extremely important for the startup “because once a farmer is onboarded and comes on the platform, we have to guide him through the next steps. ‘Journeys’ helps us create the right content and management at every step.”
On the other hand, the ‘Relays’ feature in WebEngage is important for triggering activities based on some backend events of the startup.
One of the biggest challenges for the startup was the number of uninstalls, for which it quickly started several standalone campaigns with WebEngage. Thanks to its omnichannel approach, BharatAgri was soon able to reach these users and engage with them effectively.
“Uninstalls made it harder for us to have the proper funnels for our activity. Through WebEnagage’s Journeys feature, we were able to reduce it by 30-35%.” – Dialani, cofounder, BharatAgri
Challenges And Future Course
“We have expanded to Madhya Pradesh and are going to expand to five more states by the first half of 2021. We are expecting more tie-ups with companies and will also increase our team size and onboard new partners,” said Gole on the startup’s expansion plans.
BharatAgri is scaling up its business right now, but its journey has not been quite smooth. The biggest issue involved personalising its solutions. Early into its journey, the company realised that it had to serve each user individually and could not use generic content or put it under broad categories. This meant that processes were increasing in direct proportion to the number of users.
This problem increased exponentially with the sudden spurt in the number of users during the pandemic. “It was a huge roadblock because personalised advisory had to be processed multiple times every single day, leaving us with no breathing space,” elaborated Gole.
According to BharatAgri, the agriculture sector is mostly plagued by the lack of relevant solutions such as farm insurance, banking services, access to inputs, and more. To help bridge this gap, the startup has partnered with insurance companies, banks, and several input providers so that farmers can get the best solutions.
The startup is certain that the next big innovation required in this sector is precision farming, and with its satellite mapping feature in place, BharatAgri has already taken a step towards that tech-driven future.