Consuming a significant part of 2020, the pandemic and lockdown have proven to be a testing time for various businesses across sectors. Challenges like transportation, limited working hours, labour shortage, and restricted market access disrupted daily essentials deliveries, including fresh produce. The situation was challenging, there were many variables in terms of rules and regulations that we had to adhere to. Nobody was sure which part of the supply chain would be operational. Although entrepreneurs have come across many roadblocks, right from developing an efficient supply chain model to executing operations’ daily functioning, the pandemic turned out to a feat in itself. For many entrepreneurs and startups, the pandemic provided an opportunity to see the bigger picture.
At the outset of the pandemic, Ninjacart started engaging with stakeholders to boost their confidence and recruited a workforce. They have launched multiple initiatives during the lockdown to try and stabilize or rather help the ecosystem. Providing ‘safe food for billion people’, Ninjacart started delivering fresh produce to housing societies, colonies and extended a helping hand to Orphanages, Old-Age Homes, and Slum Areas. “We launched Harvest The Farm initiative to help farmers find buyers by partnering with Hyperlocal platforms like Swiggy, Zomato, and Dunzo. The intention was to deliver fresh produce to end consumers directly from farms”, says Thirukumaran Nagarajan, Co-founder, and CEO, Ninjacart.
Making Fresh Produce Easy to Consume
Changing the way Indian consumes fresh produce, Ninjacart empowers farmers in numerous ways by solving their problems or issues through their tech-enabled supply-chain along with increased benefits. The company sources fresh produce from farmers and directly supplies it to retailers, grocery store owners, and small businesses across 11 cities within hours of being picked up from the farms. “We work closely with farmers, providing data-driven recommendations on what crop to grow and communicate accurate pre-harvesting pricing information and demand patterns. We are a one-point sale, so farmers can focus on farming, spending more time learning new farming techniques, and retailers can enjoy the convenience of receiving fresh produce delivered at their doorstep without visiting the market in the morning”, adds Thirukumaran.
Technology is the core part of Ninjacart, the company leverages deep machine learning, data science, and mobile app-based platforms for the smooth functioning of farm to fork. Each crate has an RFID tag attached to it, which identifies easy commute routes providing real-time location information to various centres and retailers. With traceability infrastructure in place, we keep a tab on the movement of fresh produce across the supply chain, from being delivered to the Collection Centre by farmers to the end consumers or businesses.
Completing his PGDM in Finance and Operations from IIM Kozhikode, Thirukumaran has worked with ABB, Axis Bank, Aavishkar & TaxiForSure in varying capabilities. After completing his MBA, Thirukumaran began his career as an infrastructure desk indicator at Axis Bank. Planning to build something that could contribute to the larger part of the society he lived in and make a difference, he says, “When I finally had the opportunity, I decided to build something that will contribute to society and also add towards self-growth, simultaneously. Many business plans went from the drawing board to actually executed concepts like a CFA Coaching Institute which my co-founder and closest friend Sharath and I started, a Biryani Cloud Kitchen long before the ‘no physical dining space’ became a trend and EduRaft Solutions Private Limited an education and schooling company. However, sustainability and scalability were major concerns that unfortunately prevented us from really moving forward with these projects”.
Building these companies came with its own set of challenges and learnings. Still, it was only until Thirukumaran landed on the premise of Ninjacart that they realized that they had something impactful and bridged a much-needed gap in an ecosystem flooded with flaws.
Making Complicated Processes Seamless
Learning how to build a robust startup during his time in Taxi4Sure for 9 months, Thirukumaran started Ninjacart, an e-commerce platform, after converting a location-based social network app, Shout App. The journey of Ninjacart started when Thirukumaran decided to address the challenging reality of India’s disrupted Sabzi Mandi. Farmers used to sell the harvested produce to a middleman, and since their produce was perishable, they often had to compromise by selling it for a lesser value. “At the initial stage of our operations, for months, we did overnight trips to the fruit and vegetable markets to learn and understand the complicated supply chain framework. The process went from farmer to middleman to aggregator to retailer and then finally to the consumer, which was an unnecessarily complicated process”, reminisces Thirukumaran. Eliminating the middleman and any unfair trade practices followed by various stakeholders at every stage of the supply chain, Ninjacart successfully standardized every small part of the supply chain.
The core team involves six Co-Founders, including Thirukumaran, Sharath Loganathan, Vasudevan Chinnathambi, Kartheeswaran KK, and Ashutosh Vikram, and Sachin Jose, who met through CommonFloor. Joining together in 2015, they built a team that would make decisions in the company’s interests. From day one, they made sure to have a transparent relationship where one can initiate a candid or open conversation and talk about problems. “Over the years, we have nurtured a relationship of brotherhood amongst us. We are a family-like partnership, who are honest with each other, and collectively working towards building a large company. The inspiration to solve complex problems in the supply chain motivates the clan of Ninjacart. As a team, for us, a sense of purpose to decode critical real-world problems triggers ideas, innovations, and opportunities to grow”, says Thirukumaran.
Challenges experienced during the pandemic accelerated the urgency of adopting technology at each level of the supply chain, building an infrastructure that will withstand the unexpected disruptions. Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), remote sensing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and data analytics are some of the most innovative technologies that are changing the way we consume fresh produce making daily tasks more automated. It has proven effective in reducing food wastage, preserving quality, improving traceability, etc. “We have used sophisticated algorithms, leveraged big data, created a harvest the farm calendar and a mobile app-based platform. The sector is emerging but is still evolving at a very nascent stage, and technology will continue to play an important role in this transformation”, opines Thirukumaran.
Setting a goal for themselves to provide safe food for a billion people by integrating the process of residue-free farming methods, Thirukumaran concludes, “We are heavily investing in Machine Learning (ML) to improve forecasting, pricing engine optimization, and crop recommendation to farmers based on our 5 years of data and research. We look forward to adding more farmers to the Ninjacart family and associate with other partners who believe in growth and a sustainable approach. Leveraging strengths and resources to innovate for new product categories and customer segments while solving complex supply chain problems remains of prime importance to the platform”.