Utkarsh Apoorva, Co-Founder & CBO, Mayank Tiwari, Founder & CEO
Saurabh Agarwal, Co-Founder & CTO
From Jeff Bezos taking off with amazon.com as an online bookstore out of his garage to Elon Musk landing a SpaceX rocket back on an ocean barge after a mission into space orbit, we over the years have been fortunate enough to witness some awe-inspiring startup anecdotes unfolding in front of us. Be it any part of the world, something that unites such startups is the impact they have been able to engender in their respective market and in the minds of people at large. Bangalore-based ReshaMandi – a first-of-its-kind agritech startup that provides an AI & IoT-led digital ecosystem for the silk supply chain – is creating such a deep impact in the lives of the stakeholders of the silk ecosystem, starting from farmers to consumers.
ReshaMandi’s story is also the story of the reunion of three friends in the middle of one of the worst global pandemics that reminds you of the power of fate, luck, and sheer determination. With deep interests in fabric and weaving, Mayank Tiwari (Founder & CEO, ReshaMandi), a NIFT gold medalist with 13 years of cross-domain experience, was mulling over the ideas he had in mind just before the first lockdown hit the world and eventually our country. He waited, allowing the seed to grow in his mind and building the business plan brick by brick. Hence, as soon as the lockdown was lifted, Mayank hit the ground running – reaching out to the silk farmers of Karnataka. He was soon joined by his friends, Saurabh Agarwal (Co-Founder & CTO) – a technology wizard with multiple patents under his name, and Utkarsh Apoorva (Co-Founder & CBO) – an IITian and serial entrepreneur with global exposure.
Cut to the present, ReshaMandi is an award-winning startup that has grown rapidly to capture the $18 billion worth Silk industry of India with a whopping GMV growth to be at $30 Mn ARR in just 10 months since inception. In the process, the company has onboarded 6000+ farmers on its platform, deployed dozens of IoT devices across farms & rearing centers, and launched a D2C brand – Amraii. Today, this winner of Atmanirbhar Awards for 2021, and the Best Social Emerging Startups 2020 awards has grown its in-house strength from 12 to 80+ employees who are across Karnataka,Andhra Pradesh and other parts of India and the co-founder trio is busy expanding ReshaMandi’s wings to Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu as well. Despite their busy schedule, I recently got in touch with the men at the helm, Mayank, Saurabh, and Utkarsh and the young Turks were really excited to spare some time and share the story of ReshaMandi for our readers. Their envious friendship made the conversation quite an interesting and inspiring chat session. Let’s get right to it.
In conversation with Mayank Tiwari – Founder & CEO, Saurabh Agarwal – Co-Founder & CTO, and Utkarsh Apoorva – Co-Founder & CBO, ReshaMandi
I am cutting to the chase right away. What does ReshaMandi mean to the stakeholders of the silk supply chain? What did you do differently in order to create such a warm reputation among farmers in shut-eye time?
ReshaMandi is India's first agritech startup digitizing India’s silk supply chain and envisioning to make India the silk superpower. Our influential reputation among the stakeholders, especially farmers, has a simple reason that we walk the talk. Our processes have helped farmers improve their crop yield and quality. We are a grassroot-level enabler that works directly with sericulture farmers, fabric weavers, silk reelers, and retailers, enabling them to get the best price for their produce, reducing the time to market, and making sure that they are supplied with the best raw materials and testing kits. Farmers can sell their produce directly to us and we ensure that they get the best price in the market. We also enable the logistics aspect of the supply chain and reduce the burden on the farmer.
In the process, by striving to improve silk production and the quality of finished products, we are on course to reduce the import of foreign silk and thus giving the farmers better rates and higher demand. We want to enable reelers and weavers with high-quality silk which decreases their dependence on imports.
Being an Agritech company with deep roots on the ground is an extremely challenging task. What was the inspiration behind ReshaMandi? Tell us your story.
The concept of ReshaMandi is unique and has never been done before. This
brings its own set of advantages and challenges. The challenges were plenty but for us (the founders), the exceptional social and economic impact of ReshaMandi was enough reason to face the challenges head-on. But as we progressed towards building the ecosystem, challenges did not seem to bother the end-user - the farmer. They were in fact thrilled to see a fresh entrant into an old and forgotten sector, infusing much-needed ideas, market linkages, processes, and quality.
Reaching out to the silk farmers of Karnataka was the first step and the most important one. The majority of the silk farmers being in and around Bangalore and me being based out of Bangalore helped significantly towards getting in touch with them easily. On the very next day of the lockdown being lifted, I drove to Ramanagara, the silk capital of the world, which is 70 kilometers away from Bangalore. In the next two weeks, I worked with them, helped them achieve market linkages, took up the task of logistics upon my-self, and assured them a good rate for their produce. I guess my people skills helped me to build rapport with farmers and earn their trust quickly. For over a month, I drove up and down from Bangalore to Sarjapur daily and many times to the farms which were located in remote areas, collected the cocoons myself, and made sure it reached the Ramanagara reelers directly.
We are a grassroot-level enabler that works directly with sericulture farmers, fabric weavers, silk reelers, and retailers
I quickly realised leveraging technology was key to enable and empower these farmers. This is where Saurabh came into the picture. While he was in the US, I shared with him my vision for improving the silk industry in India and spoke of my aim to make India Atmanirbhar in silk production, which is something that the Government of India is also actively involved in presently. Saurabh was so excited. You wouldn’t believe that he did not only build the entire tech ecosystem, which has a robust AI engine and needed reservation for dozens of IoT modules, in just seven days but also came back to India via a Vande Bharat flight to join me on the ground. We set up our first procurement center in Sarjapur, on the outskirts of Bangalore.
As the outlines started to take shape, I reached out to an old friend of mine, Utkarsh who is an IITian and a serial entrepreneur with global exposure. Once again, it was the large market impact potential of ReshaMandi that got him so excited. Utkarsh joined us and even brought over his investor. He currently drives the business end of things.
Over the next month, we three worked closely on refining the business model and deeply studying the problem statements in each vertical of the silk supply chain. The answers to these problem statements took shape in the form of the ReshaMandi app, and tons of offline growth initiatives many of which are already disrupting the Silk market. As the months rolled by and the business grew, we shifted from a small room in HSR Layout to We Work premises in Bellandur. Hiring took up pace towards December and at the moment, our employee strength is 80+.
While I was talking to some of your employees earlier, they also mentioned some inspiring names and stories aligned with the starting of the company. One of them was about one of your managers ‘Modushing Mahanta’. What’s his real story?
Modu used to run a tea stall, right next to the procurement center that we set up. Covid hit and this led to losses for him. I hired him as our first employee to run the center. Modu now is the cluster manager for south Karnataka and runs the show for us! The core belief of ReshaMandi is the belief in people. From a simple man who could not use a smartphone, to running an entire cluster with massive numbers on a daily basis, Modu is a prime example of the desire to learn and grow.
The journey of ReshaMandi is also about experiences. For instance, Prabhakar Reddy and Srinivas Reddy were the first customers of ReshaMandi. They are farmers from the Sarjapur area of Bangalore. They wholeheartedly supported my plan to help them get better rates and improve their yield. I felt the love they have for fellow humans from the fact that they invited me, a complete stranger who did not know a word of Kannada, to their homes. We inter-acted through a mix of English and Hindi. When there is something unique, powerful, and impactful to be discussed and learned, language is never a barier. As a testament to these genuine relationships that I was able to build, they work with Resha-Mandi even today and interact and help spread the word among their fellow farmers and friends.
On the other hand, Kaleem is our first reeler who purchased cocoons from us.
He was one of the most helpful assets we have ever worked with. He has helped us with contacts and improving our presence in the areas of heavy silk production. Many of the reelers who work with us do not go to the Mandi anymore. They rely on ReshaMandi for good-quality cocoons.
Technology is a huge part of the eco-system ReshaMandi is building. How do you leverage the latest technologies like AI and IoT to improve the yield and quality?
To improve the yield and quality of output, one of the best approaches is to enable technology at the farm level. This is a significant aspect of the business for ReshaMandi. IoT-enabled devices have been deployed at silkworm rearing centers and mulberry plantations across the state of Karnataka. By using AI-enabled crop tracking, and providing IoT-led advisories directly to app users, we remove the risk of crop failure by 80 percent, and hence provide the farmers with higher production capacity and eventually get higher revenue. The cocoon quality has improved dramatically and hence the rates that the farmer gets have gone up by over 35 percent!
On the other hand, we have been meticulous while developing the user interface of our platform, making sure that the app really talks their language, while providing information, advisories, consulting, and solutions to the farmers’ problems. The user interface supports 4 vernacular languages as well.
How would you describe the socio-eco-nomic impact created by ReshaMandi?
Our business model ensures that there is a significant social impact at the grassroots level and helps in improving crop utilization and revenue. We improve the income of farmers, reelers, and weavers by giving them market link-age and channeling the de-mand for high-quality silk, which the farmers can supply, decreasing the import of foreign silk. Our services enable the aggregation of demand, which ensures all stakeholders produce their goods with market intelligence, thereby getting assured income. We take pride in saying that by introducing one-click scientific testing methods, directly on the app, we are making the Indian silk industry more competitive.
By digitizing the process of sales and procurement, we make sure that farmers are able to get their dues on time. Additionally, we have been able to improve farmers’ income by 35-55 percent by improving cocoon quality by using technology as an enabler and infusing it with a human touch which in turn helps a Reeler realise better margins through improved quality of yarn, better quality inputs and an efficient market linkage. These yarns thus compete with Chinese quality helping a weaver realise better margins while reducing the final Silk Fabric price for the Retailers by 30% and more.
“ReshaMandi is India's first agritech startup digitizing India’s silk supply chain and envisioning to make India the silk superpower”
Environmental Impact is another facet. Typically, there happens to be a lot of wastage in the silk industry. But, everything that this sector generates as a by-product has considerable value. Despite our young age (ten months), we have figured out methods to re-cycle waste by tying up with stakeholders in other industries. ReshaMandis’ business model revolves around the concept of the circular economy. For ex-ample, the pupae from silk cocoon are being supplied to the aqua industry as fish feed, among others. By re-using and ensuring that waste products either re-enter the cycle or get used in other processes, we are opening up revenue opportunities for farmers and reducing environmental impact.
When it comes to our in-house, as a ten-month-old startup, we have been striving hard to ensure that our employees are benefited from the rapid growth of the brand. We also have a clear vision of gender equality and diversity. Our female employees form 20 percent of the workforce currently and are aiming to achieve a higher ratio by the end of the month. About 50 percent of the employees are from the rural segment -villages, and typically do not have a degree. The minimum salary offered is 30 percent higher than the minimum wage defined by the government, and attractive incentives are offered on top of it as well. The average income improvement for rural employees with ReshaMandi is over 300 percent.
What is the future roadmap of ReshaMandi?
Something that started from three individuals with diversified capabilities coming together over a cup of tea and planning to change the landscape of silk in India, has turned into a major operation, directly impacting millions. We are on course to become one of the most successful startups in the agritech space in India, in under a year. Such disruption has never been seen before and has generated a huge amount of interest within the deep reaches of the silk belt of India. As ReshaMandi looks towards the future, there is hope and happiness for silk stakeholders in India.