My journey with Niro and other experiments— A founder’s take (unfiltered).

Before we get into the details, let me start by saying how much this startup experience has changed me as a person in the last one year. I feel much better: less insecurity, less ego, more positivity, and contentment. I feel like an evolved person now.

But, how’s that possible? How can failure lead to ‘contentment’, you ask! When your experiments don’t succeed, you start to question everything — your decisions, your capabilities, and your existence. And that leads to you trying to find your personal north star — the most important thing in your life. I have discovered that I love helping ambitious people. I started connecting with founders on Twitter four months ago, and started helping them voluntarily. This made me really happy, and I think of doing this part-time — as a mentor/investor.

Coming back to my startup journey:

The idea: A B2B commerce app for non-perishable agri commodities, with in-built payments, and digital ledger, to help all the stakeholders involved in the first mile agri value chain.

Wanted to solve these problems through a mobile app:

1. Lack of trust in the agri ecosystem in India

2. Long/delayed payment cycles

3. Lack of awareness about the new agri-reforms which enable privatization of Mandis, Contract Farming

4. For buyers — Lack of visibility into PAN India suppliers & transporters

5. For sellers — Restriction of selling in their local mandis

6. Expensive informal credit

What led us to think this is an interesting space:

1. Agri reforms — One Nation, One Market policy

2. New contract farming opportunities

3. Smartphone usage has increased in tier 2/3/4 cities

4. Small businesses have become digitally savvy — Thanks to Facebook, WhatsApp & TikTok

5. Consumerization of SMBs in India — Khatabook, Pagarbook, Whatsapp

The Product: Playstore Link

Accomplishments:

1. 6k members — organic

2. MVP: Built an app within a month for the pilot

3. Ops: Hired a small team in Mandsaur, MP to start our pilot with 20 traders for Soybean, garlic, dry fruits, and spices

4. 2k+ users within a month — organic

5. Market research — 80B USD TAM, 10–20M potential users — farmers, agri traders, agri SMBs

My learnings in the last 8 months:

1. The biggest challenge in B2B e-commerce in India is trust. Building trust is not easy/cheap. Startups will keep losing money in this sector until the business model is improved (embedded lending can be an efficient business model — example: OfBusiness, O’Agrifarm).

2. Monetization is very difficult (not impossible though) for startups targeting Bharat.

3. Community marketing is going to be the next big thing in organic marketing — Facebook groups, Telegram channels, WhatsApp groups. Build a niche community, grow it, keep providing value to your community members, then — monetize. Influencers have mastered this art.

4. Founders should become influencers, and embrace the build in public culture — will help you attract great talent, raise money, and get your early believers(Elon Musk, anyone?).

Other experiments:

  1. Apart from this idea, I was also fascinated by passion economy. Hence, we experimented with an idea — Lastbench: A micro-learning community

As the name suggests, Lastbench would have been a mobile app for learning non-traditional, real-world skills, which could help you monetize your passion — makeup, organic farming, culinary, and many more.

After two months, we came to the conclusion that it’s unsustainable in the long run (at least in India) — very high CAC, competition from individual creators/influencers on YouTube, and low LTV.

2. Mentorship— Mentored startups like Orapa, Transcloud, and some D2C brands.

What’s next?

I will always stay an entrepreneur at heart. That’s me. I like to experiment, take calculated risks, and enjoy the hustle. Having said that, if I were to build a startup from scratch again, I would do things a bit differently this time:

  1. Expertise — I have realized that my core expertise is product marketing, community building, and growth marketing. I hated the fund-raising experience. Some people are great at it, I am decent at it, but TBH, the process sucks for me. I would rather build something amazing that people want than go raise a million dollars (it’s hard).
  2. No delayed gratification — Founders have to sacrifice a lot. I personally lost a few good friends, my love life suffered, and I was sleeping less than 5 hours/day from the last 6 months. I am putting an end to this — health should come first. Hence, no delayed gratification. Heck, we don’t even know if we will be alive tomorrow. Hashtag YOLO 😂…
  3. Diversification — Instead of putting all my eggs in one basket (high risk, high reward startup journey), I want to build sustainable wealth over the next 10 years. That means I would be investing in public and private companies, save more, and not buy silly things (as simple as that).

Things that I am interested in (for the next 5–10 years):

  1. Global SaaS: Sector agnostic
  2. Passion Economy: But with a real business model 😉
  3. An Indian Gaming Studio: Building high quality mobile games for India with Desi stories (think of a better FAU-G or a desi Pokémon Go)
  4. A global remote product studio: Something like All Turtles
  5. Future of work/Remote work: Companies like Deel, Remote
  6. Partnership platforms for B2B/D2C brands — something like Crossbeam, Coopcommerce
  7. African startups: Interacting with some very motivated African entrepreneurs have made me realize the true potential in the rising African startup ecosystem
  8. FinTech: Embedded lending, Alt-capital for SaaS/creators — Pipe, Spotter, cool DeFi projects like Pooltogether, neo asset classes — NBATopshots.
  9. Global business education/Alt-MBA — Something like Jolt
  10. YC/Ondeck for creators
  11. New categories in Consumer Hardware — Smart mirror, fitness+gaming hardware like Quell

If you think I can help you in one way or the other, feel free to DM me on Twitter — My Twitter profile. Let’s build something that people want!!

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