India s agricultural ecosystem has started to see some startup activity in the last few years based on the belief that tech and data could be the answer to ambiguity, confusion and opaqueness in the agricultural industry. Different startups use different approaches to disrupt the traditional operational patterns of the industry. One such startup, Ninjacart, founded by Thirukumaran Nagarajan, KK Kartheeswaran, Ashutosh Vikram, Sharath Loganathan and Vasudevan Chinnathambi, focuses on the B2B supply chain for fruits and vegetables.
Ninjacart had started out in 2015 as a hyperlocal delivery platform for groceries, which it delivered in 60 minutes or less. But the startup realised that this was not a sustainable business model.
We were working with around 60 kirana stores in Bangalore. Whenever a B2C order came, we would have a supply issue and find out that prices were uncertain or quality was inconsistent, says Vasudevan Chinnathambi, co-founder, Ninjacart.
Ninjacart realised that the fundamental problem in the farm produce supply chain was the high asymmetry in supply and demand which led to price volatility and this situation makes it a big gamble for a farmer. The farmer also had to spend a huge amount of money on transport besides wasting time at collection centres. After exploring options as to how it could solve this, in early 2016, Ninjacart changed its business model.
Ninjacart now helps farmers know the exact demand for a commodity and its reigning price even before harvesting starts. It has also established collection centres for farmers within a 20 km radius so that they do not have to spend more than two hours in transporting their supplies. Also, it makes the payment directly into the bank account of the farmer within 24 hours. With all these changes, the farmer is now able to earn 15%-20% more.
Ninjacart has 120 collection centres and on a given day, we buy from 1500-2000 farmers. The entire process of moving the fruits and vegetables from farmer to retailer happens in 10-12 hours, says Chinnathambi. Ninjacart is now looking at scaling its business operations in meat supply, extend credit to farmers and offer similar services to other ecosystem partners and target new customer segments such as restaurants.
Ninjacart raised $5.5 million in Series A round of funding in February 2017 from Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani and Accel India. Despite this, Chinnathambi says that most investors were still unsure of the business model and its nature. But as Ninjacart gradually worked on improving its business model and was able to scale to 100 tonnes a day in 2017 itself and become operationally profitable, it was able to assuage investors concerns.
In early 2018, Ninjacart expanded into Chennai and Hyderabad. Soon after, it raised $30 million in equity and $5 million in debt in Series B funding round which it used to expand into seven more cities and scaled the team from 650 to 1800. In April 2019, it raised about $90 million in Series C funding from Tiger Global.
Chinnathambi says the B2B startup is now operationally profitable in Bengaluru but is yet to reach EBITDA profitability in the city. He says this will also help the startup realise what it needs to become fully profitable. The company now delivers 600 tonnes of fruits and vegetables every day across 60 different product categories to supermarkets, kirana stores and standalone shops, with about 7000 farmers on its platform.