The subziwallah from IIT

Venkat Subramanian is the Founder and Managing Director of Matchbox Solutions (http://www.matchboxsolutions.in/), a company which uses technology to solve critical issues in India. Efarm (http://www.matchboxsolutions.in/eFarm.html), one such solution, uses technology to provide supply chain efficiency for procuring and delivering fruits and vegetables grown on rural farms. He can be reached through email at: venky@matchboxsolutions.in

I am an alumnus of the Class of 1995 of the Department of Architecture. The friendly folks at IIT KGP’s campus newspaper asked me to pen my thoughts on being an entrepreneur, so here goes:

I started off on the path to be the next Howard Roark of The Fountainhead fame after IIT, but then the IT buzz happened. I jumped ship, in search of unknown lands, unperturbed by the wry remarks of my peers and the disappointment of my mother, who says I gave up on my creativity to follow a ‘dumb’ career. Well, after 12 years, I realized that moms are always right – in hindsight though.

Rising up the career ladder, I hit a road bump two years ago.  IT wasn’t exciting any more – the fun in learning and doing was replaced with ‘head hunting’, ‘managing egos’,’adhering to norms’ & ‘cc-ing emails to 100 people every day’. I felt I was ‘rusting’, though technically I should have been happy – with a green card in process and the American dream half fulfilled. Suddenly I felt I had achieved everything but was left with nothing! I packed up and returned to India. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I definitely knew what I was not – being an ‘outsourced coolie’ to foreigners.

It was then that I discovered true opportunities as an entrepreneur within India. I picked the ailing agriculture sector as it was getting the least attention. Working with farmers, agricultural professionals, customers and traders, we realized the real reasons of the farmers’ crisis lie not in cultivation but in the Supply Chain. The age-old mandi system is not managed professionally and hence the huge fluctuations in availability and prices each day.

We set our aim to apply sound and economical technology solutions to solve immediate, critical problems in our own country and created revenue through economies of scale. The early sprint and agility to change course at will gives a huge advantage to a startup over entrenched competition.

eFarm, the venture we started, ties in farmers, intermediaries, logistics providers, distributors, small time retailers, all the way up to your local road side vendor into a single chain backed by the best information systems to deliver fresh, clean, low priced farm produce. It is part ebay, part dabbawala, part Amul, and part HLL, all banded into a ‘jugaadu solution’ to kick-start the agricultural supply chain.

‘So what is the crisis in the agriculture sector? My observations for two years suggest one most fundamental reason – you, the educated, elite, gen-X person with a devil-may-care attitude. No graduate today wants to do anything related to agriculture (in KGP lingo- ‘ghaasi’) as it is seen low tech. I know of several regional collectors who are former IITians and want youngsters to come in to rural India to help revive it- but there are no takers. After making it through JEE, somehow the philosophy seems to be ‘ride the wave’ rather than ‘continue to swim harder’. The contest only seems to revolve mainly around how to get jobs. Well, I don’t blame you; it took me 35 years to realize what I should have been doing all along is to sell sabzee.

In conclusion, it is not what you do that matters; it is how you do it.

2 Comments

  1. Sabyasachi Roy says:

    I was moved by the article. Thanks for sharing your views in such a beautiful way. I agree that poor supply chain/logistics is a major constraint in the agri sector. Besides, transparency in the payment systems and market information is necessary to improve the situation. Hope that many more creative professionals/ entrepreneurs like Shri Venkat joins the sector to improve the rural hinterland.

    I work in rural sector for creating sustainable livelihoods.

  2. Devipriya says:

    Good narrative; a thought provoking article venkat.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.