“We didn’t jump into Agri-tech because everyone was doing it. We have a head start because we have been doing it since 2012” says Praveen Rajpal, CEO and founder of Behtar Zindagi.
Behtar Zindagi was India’s largest tele Agri Advisory service reaching farmers via all the big telecom players from Airtel, Vodafone, Idea to BSNL in 2012. Starting from there Behtar Zindagi now claims to be one of India’s largest Direct-to-Farmer platform/market with almost 1.1 million orders already delivered to 2.6 lakh transacting farmers. The platform now is connected to 3.9 million farmers across India. The start-up has already crossed a cumulative GMV of over 210 crores in on target to meet an annualised GM of 100 crore this year.
“While being the largest GSM Agri-advisory to the farmers we developed a deep understanding of two things. Firstly, the input side costs and quality is the biggest challenge that the farmers are facing today and secondly the huge potential of technology to solve problems for the large base of farmers in India . “ says Praveen.
The big problem facing the Indian farmers has been the dwindling profitability of farming. And the main reason for that has been a four- fold jump in the cost of cultivation per hectare in the last 15 years. The share of cost of labour has gone to 50%. Yet the 160 million India farmers remain the most under-served segment. They have poor access to quality inputs i.e products, knowledge & machines while raising crops & cattle. That is where the Behtar Zindagi is building itself as a platform to solve this problem at scale.
Using technology to transform what goes into raising a crop/cattle by raising the level of inputs in farming i.e. 1) Knowledge (digital literacy), 2) Effort (mechanization push) and 3) Product (choice) through India’s largest Direct-to- Farmer platform focusing on top 30 million farmers (with land holdings > 2 acre). BZ is now a technology enabled marketplace that combines Knowledge dissemination, demand aggregation, last-mile fulfillment(logistics) & farming data analytics to serve farmers pan-India at scale.
The barriers of remote geographical reach, licensing restrictions, regional crop variations and lack of product knowledge among farmers has created huge need gaps in the 3 Lakh crore (US$ 40Bn+) Agri-Inputs ( Seeds, Agro-chemicals, Live-stocks & machinery) market which the opportunity this start-up is trying to tap. Behtar zindagi aims to bridge this need gap using its deep knowledge of agri-input industry and a huge actionable farming data of farmers.
Behtar Zindagi is already connected to 3.9 million farmers and has a farming data of 5.4 + lakh farmers and built a last mile distribution reach in 400+ districts across India. The marketplace has 25,000 SKUs from 3500+ sellers and provides the best and widest choice of agri-inputs and usage knowledge. The platform also hosts few hundred hours of knowledge content to drive engagement.
As per Praveen “ We are using data play to increase our share of wallet and deepening our influence with each farmer to increase the life-time-value of each farmer. We have anywhere between 5 to 27 data points for each farmer in our database. Based on his crop, soil, cattle and purchase data we are able to predict his demand cycle, push the right advisory and then the input products and machinery.”
One of the biggest opportunity lies in reducing the labour costs in raising crops and cattle using mechanization. And it is not the big heavy machines like tractors and harvesters but small and mid sized machines like milking machines, shaft cutters that will see explosion in demand. Machines costing between Rs. 5000 to 50,000.
“We have farmers coming on the Behtar Zindagi and placing orders for machines worth more than 1 lakhs. “ says RajpaL. “ It’s a misconception that farmers won’t buy online. We have first time farmers placing orders for machines as high as 50-60k.
Technology remains at the centre of behtar Zindagi as it planning to scale upto 15 states with a focus on cash crops. From demand aggregation to knowledge based implementation guidance the core of it is an ecosystem powered by a multi-layered technology stack that Integrates Consumer Facing Linkages, Logistics & Analytics. Rajpal says that he they invested a lot in building the technology completely in-house and perfected it over last 2-3 years in Haryana. Praveen is an Engineer and an MBA from IMT Ghaziabad.
BZ founders feel that they have an advantage over the brick & mortar network that some its competitors in the agri-tech are building. According to industry expert “ The cyclical but often unpredictable nature of demands in the agri-sector makes is risky to hold inventory. An inventory light model is definitely safer but also perhaps much more rapidly scalable. To be able to provide a choice from among 25000 SKUs to the farmers is a distinct advantage that BZ has.”
One of the things Behtar Zindagi is also doing is to build a brand that the farmers can trust as partner in their journey of raising their crop & cattle. “ Winning a farmer’s trust isn’t easy but once a brand has earned it gives disproportionate returns. We are called ‘Behtar Zindagi’ and not some cool sounding tech name simply because we want to improve the lives of farmers we touch.” Says Rajpal.
The agri-tech start-ups have seen a lot of actions in 2021-2022 with funding of more than $600 mn in last few months. Agri-tech companies are increasingly gaining traction among risk investors and several such startups, including DeHaat, Gramophone, Bijak, Onato, Agrostar, Reshamandi, BharatAgri and TartanSense, have raised capital in the recent past.
Praveen says that they’re aiming to scale up to the next 15 states by the end of this year and increase the share of wallet with the farmer. The AOV ( Average-order-value) per farmer has seen a steep rise over the last year and they are hopeful that this will see a further jump as Behtar Zindagi expands into Cash-crop rich states. Behtar Zindagi has remained boot strapped till now and that’s the reason the founders say that they are perhaps ‘Indian Agri-tech’s best kept secret’ at their size and scale . But they are now in the process of raising funds for the next phase of big growth of the company.