I am Prajwalit Kharmate and I have been working at AgroStar as a Customer Service Representative for almost a year now. I help farmers win by providing them solutions for all farming related problems and I do that over calls.
I am AgroStar.
I have a tall mountain to climb,
where no one in the nation has trodden ever,
But I am firmly determined.
I have hundreds of hearts beating as one,
I have the best of brains calculating the sum,
of efforts that are needed to reach the goal
and I have hundreds of feet, doing the run.
The top of the mountain I cannot see now,
but my strong belief and willpower takes me along.
As I am Helping Farmers Win,
now that is exactly the mission tall.
Hungry and thirsty I may get in my quest,
But tired I will never be.
For I believe and I firmly believe in my mission
and the glory it will bring to farmers all.
As I run along, climbing up with all might.
Rain and sun I will bear strong.
For the silent prayers of thousand farmers and their families,
will continue to push my hundreds for everlasting long.
I am so happy when I see the smiles and change,
I will complete my mission and I will succeed with pride.
For my mission of Helping Farmers Win is very noble
and it’s my humble contribution to my motherland.
Penned by: Asha Panicker, Head – Content
Year 2010, the startup buzz was just starting in the country. People from business backgrounds, were slowly starting their IT ventures. The risk taking appetite of people from non-business backgrounds was still to be ignited. After the IT bubble burst post Y2K and then the crisis in 2008-09, things were slowly picking up in IT, but not motivating enough for people to venture out on their own. But yes, in the nearing times to come, ‘Product’ was to become the buzzword. What happened next, as we all know, is history and the milestones can be traced back in time.
After 6 years of working in MNCs, when you get a break in a completely new field and that too in IT, it’s a welcome change. I was the 4th employee after the founders in this startup. This was the first startup I owned. Yes, that’s right, as an employee of a startup, you are no less than the founders. We the employees, were all in it together, rolling our sleeves up, with all hands on deck right alongside the founders. Be it making tea for each other, to donning the multiple roles of HR and Admin, to getting the “right” fit of new employees to build the team or drive employee engagement, each and every day you live the dream of turning the startup in a successful venture and do whatever you can. There’s ALWAYS very little scope for ‘I’, for there’s always in abundance for everyone. You slog together, you fret together and you absolutely rock the show together.
The best memories of my first startup include spending countless nights together with the teams, making remarkably amazing apps, as we got great exposure into new generation ideas in technology. The crazy moments we shared, the highs and the lows, the knowledge we received, all of these have helped us reach where we stand today. This will be agreed by those who’ve worked with me in the said startups, my fellow entrepreneurs/partners I must say. Cannot miss mentioning that this is the place I found my mentor and guide who introduced me to the world of Project Management and has stood by me like a rock, guiding me through all important career related decisions. You get easy access to such gems when you work in a startup.
The most amazing opportunity in startups is working closely with the founders, especially if they are amazing human beings. The other best exposure for me was working closely with American entrepreneurs on their projects, for their companies. No one shares the same spirit as they do. Talking of clients, all of them from US (including 3 amazing women entrepreneurs), one hell of an amazing Brit, a genius German settled in US, 2 Indians and an Arab, they’ve all been the best clients I could have ever asked for. I consider myself really lucky to learn the traits of business and entrepreneurship from all of them and most of them continue to motivate till date. They are the best mentors to have, not because they do it themselves, but because YOU want to ignite that fire in yourself, YOU wish to learn and get influenced, take guidance and YOU want to implement all that you’ve learnt.
What I learnt from my founders is their common quote, “Do not talk to us about problems, there will always be problems. Please come to us with solutions.”
Two most important lessons I learnt from my clients is that you can easily say “No” to them if something’s not possible as planned. They will appreciate your honesty and the fact that you’ve given the true picture with logical reasons. They trust you better with that. Secondly, the most important lesson I’ve learnt from my clients is that work as hard as you can, but you’ve got to LIVE life to the fullest and make the most of it too. These people do so many different things in their life, despite having businesses to run, I’ve still got to catch up on this one.
The next startup I owned was mine for just a short while, but this one gave beautiful challenges and experiences too. An energetic and a very talented team, big accounts to handle, another opportunity to manage the client engagement of all accounts alone and at the end of the short journey, a conviction to take a much needed break for myself and the family. With good memories to cherish and amazing lessons and experiences from clients at Amazon, MasterCard, Vodafone, MAERSK, Snapdeal and TCTS, it prepared me very well for the next venture that I was to join after my break. Such diverse experiences are really hard to get otherwise but luckily possible if you are in an amazing startup.
After a very refreshing and deserving break, the opportunity in the current venture, fulfilled my desire to work for a startup again. What perfect timing it was! A very complex challenge to address, a funded startup this time, a Product environment as against the Services background so far and the cherry on the pie with ‘Content Marketing’ and ‘Platform’ as the current buzz words. It was definitely the right time and the right place to start out with this venture.
If your startup has received funding, it’s like you are in a theme park, having enjoyed all the small rides and saving the ride on the highest roller coaster, for the end. The excitement, the exhilaration, the nervous moments, the joy and the laughter, all an ultimate crescendo for your startup journey. The journey here has been a year old (already) and there’s so much more to do.
In the times that we are in today, we have bold and budding entrepreneurs from all walks of life and not restricted to business families only anymore. They are brimming with ideas, running their startups with great energy and passion, they represent a generation that has come a long way to dream big. They make the unthinkable come true and raise hopes for others to follow suit and make a phenomenal difference to the world too. So, when you work for startup founders, lending your expertise, you do become a founder too, working with hundreds of fellow founders fueling success in your venture and learning business traits all the way.
Statistics state that any startup needs at least 5 years to decide whether it is successful or has it failed. So, when you work in one, celebrate startups, work hard and work smart and make it successful within 5 years. It is YOU that makes the difference, you the employee and as a founder too.
That my friends, is a startup’s view from the eye of an employee working with startups for the last 7 years with the wealth of experience working with an absolutely amazing set of people that made this experience so worthy in all the startups. The learning continues. 🙂
Author: Asha Panicker, Content
An expanse of a bottle-green colored shed, huge domes with machines, tractors, seed posters and open-aired stalls! Stalls of all different agricultural brands stood opposite each other, giving a picturesque look to the market-place. This is what a typical scène of a ‘Kheti Mela’ looks like.
The city was still in slumber at 9:00 am when I reached my destination. Since this city gets lost between big cities like Ahmedabad and Vadodara, I had modest expectations in terms of the crowd at the fair. As the day began, the fair opened up with a herd of turban clad people, looking around at new products displayed in various stalls and farm technologies the fair had to offer. They gaped at new pumps, solar lamps, seeds, etc. at different stalls.
Our stall, the AgroStar stall was designed beautifully with a red and white checkered backdrop, depicting farmers of India along with our missed call number calling itself out loud enough. Like moths to flame, farmers started gathering around our stall, attracted by our banners and the buzz. My Marketing Team, as if on cue, starts shout-outs of “Give a missed call and take your free red bag!” in the local language Gujarati. Lo! A big group of farmers swarm to our stall to grab one of our red bags.
Quite amazed by the interest for the bag, I join the bandwagon and start shouting,” One miss call”, when suddenly, I was surrounded by a sea of people with mobile phones, squeezing through the crowd, to reach out for the bag in my hand. I gave an astonished look at the red bag, for which all the farmers were vying. A few curious farmers asked me, “If we give a miss call, will we only get red bags?” To this, I replied “No sir, much more than that. We will give you a wealth of information on farming as well. Just give a missed call on this number. The red bag is a small gift for you.”
By afternoon, there was a deafening chaos at the stall for the red prize! Suddenly, a woman asked for the red bag. When I pointed out to her that she already had a red bag, she said it was for her neighbor. Such was the craze for our premium red bags!
As the sun started setting, the crowd slowly dissolved too. My eyes gazed at the sea of people who had our premium bags, and it stood out strong even in the dim light. In no time post sun set, the fair became lifeless just like a graveyard and I grabbed one of the premium red bags to join the ‘Red Army’.
More than a year of being at AgroStar, an active and shouting participant in quite a good number of agri fairs across Gujarat and Maharashtra and the energy is the same on either side for the AgroStar red bag.
Being Red Army, Being AgroStar!
Author: Neeraja Sasidharan, Marketing Executive
As a company grows, it becomes even more imperative to break from the routine and do something different and exciting. Recently, at AgroStar, we had our first ‘Hackathon’, where teams of 3 had 36 hours to hack an idea and build a working model in the form of an innovative tech-based solution that will help the Indian farmers, the agriculture domain or help AgroStar serve and deliver more efficiently to our end customer, the farmer.
It was the first time ever, that our office was so high on energy and the first time ever, that non IT teams like Procurement, Agronomy, Data Analytics and Sales participated too after seeing the energy of the tech team, probably a first time ever in the history of hackathons.
What came as a pleasant surprise to all of us was how the founders stayed in office all night, supporting the teams, playing indoor-cricket with and cheering the teams. The purpose of the hackathon was mainly to break away from the routine and have some fun and that’s precisely what we did. Unlimited snacks, red bull, hot beverages, cold drinks, frequently served munchies, fruits and great meals, we couldn’t have asked for more. As a surprise element we had live music performance late in the night, to give us a breather and relax. Crooning to the music and letting our hair down for an hour, we got back into our nocturnal skin, to continue hacking through the night.
At the end of the hackathon, we had all the amazing ideas turn into working models, all in a span of 36 hours. The winning team was Team Agrobot that built a robot to facilitate the picking and sorting of products at our warehouses and make the process faster and more efficient. Some of the other brilliant ideas included a vernacular voice-based in-app search tool in our app, a tool for the internal sales team activity planning, a unified dashboard for assisted e-commerce channel partners, an interactive solution for handling farmer complaints, a virtual agri-expert who gives personalized crop-based solutions etc.
Along with the winners, to keep the spirits high, there were also spot prizes for categories like ‘Best Team Name’, ‘Best Idea Chart’, ‘Best Social Media Blogger’ and ‘Fastest Submission’.
A new and first time experience for quite a lot of us, including me, I enjoyed being the DJ for 36 hours. One thing is for sure, whenever any of us we will come across the term ‘hackathon’, it will surely bring to us the super cherished memories of the successful first hackathon at AgroStar.
Author: Surabhi Mathur, Executive – Content at AgroStar
A typical HR problem that I keep reading or hearing about in different forums is about lack of respect at work places. Being in HR myself and being extremely passionate about driving the right culture, I thought I must express some of my simple views on this entire subject of ‘Respect at work places’.
Today’s millennial looks for a fast paced growth in career. The environment that we work in, expects us to speak up, be visible, assertive, go the extra mile and beat the competition in pursuit of greater things or success. While these qualities take precedence, respect and humility at times take a back step, due to which, in most organizations it slowly leads to unnecessary blame games, closed mindsets, unwanted arrogance and fatal internal wars. Thus, affecting the culture and the growth of the company.
So why is respect at workplace so important?
Mutual respect builds higher and better performances, a positive work environment where everyone enjoys working together and great team spirit. This can only come through actions & behaviors of mutual respect for people and the company’s values.
Here are some simple and effective steps to foster respectful interactions at your workplace:
1. ACCEPT – Accept people are different, forget about being perfect and enjoy the difference.
2. LISTEN – Be a patient listener. It is very important to listen to others’ viewpoints; however strong your point of view may be.
3. SPEAK CAREFULLY – Be careful of the words you choose to speak and the body language you express, when you speak. It will help if you use magical words like “You are right.”, “Thankyou”, “Please” and “Sorry” more often. We have to be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings or integrity.
4. SEEK – Seek honest feedback for continuous improvement- While we should constantly retrospect into our actions, it won’t do any harm to get a third perspective. Ask “How am I doing?” to your peers, colleagues, friends, managers and yes, do include your family too for this question.
5. LEARN – Nobody is ever perfect. We should learn from our mistakes and be willing to receive advice, corrections, and take contributions. Maybe someone’s idea is better than yours. Work together to implement the better idea and learn from that too.
6. SHARE – Share credit for your success with others. Remember sole contributors don’t go a long way. It should all be about “WE” & not “I” or “ME”.
7. SMILE – Keep smiling. A smile is infectious. It spreads positivity and cheer and works like magic to create a happy workplace.
8. MODESTY – Remember that intelligence is in modesty and not in arrogance.
Simple advice if thought through and implemented by every individual in a company, will not only help individuals to grow professionally and personally, but will lead to a great company with a great culture.
Author: Sujatha Bhambure, HR – Business Partner
Working in a start-up is the new ‘normal’. People who once worked in corporate are looking out for new avenues to change their professional course, and take a piece of the start-up pie. The dynamic work culture, crazy work hours, power naps on bean bags and the constant buzz is all that an outsider can gauge. Talking of start-ups, if you would like to know what it is like to work at AgroStar, or how their recruitment process is, read on.
As someone who recently joined AgroStar, the memory of my first interview is etched on my mind. From the time of the first phone call, till the first interview happened, I had already gotten a vibe of the work place. Asha, the one responsible for Content at AgroStar, asked me about my background, my family, and my reasons of wanting to move to Pune. Having a blog proved to be a big advantage, as she really seemed interested in knowing more about it. A few weeks later, when I had almost forgotten about this phone call, I got a call from her again, asking me to come to Pune for a personal interview. Having no idea what’s in store for me, I jumped at the opportunity.
The personal interview session went on for almost an hour, where we covered varied topics for discussion like agriculture, start-ups, travel, food, shopping, writing and family etc. It felt more like a coffee table conversation, than a personal interview, which was a refreshing change. After the interview ended, she gave me an office tour and introduced me to a few people.
Next was the HR round. I felt it was a bit intense, as the Head HR ditched traditional questions like ‘Why AgroStar?’ and instead asked me in-depth about my internships, a few technical questions related to them, what were my expectations from the role at AgroStar and what would be in store for me. He gave me a peek into what AgroStar work culture is like, to gauge if I can fit into the organization. Now I know, the reason why the HR round felt intense was because they take deep efforts to check for the right fit to ensure that the culture is maintained. When it ended, the day hadn’t ended, as I was given a few assignments to do post the interview, giving me a teaser of the work culture.
A few things that stood out for me during my interview process at AgroStar were, how they really gave thrust on ‘people’ who joined their organization. I was surprised at how no one asked for a hard copy of my CV at any point during the interview.
It gave me a peek into the dynamic work culture, where certain things matter more than a piece of paper.
Small things like the security guard coming up to me and asking me how my day went and if I had gotten the job yet was endearing, which made the nurturing and humble aspect of the company quite apparent. The entire hiring process took just enough time to keep me hooked. I’m still learning on the job, one thing at a time. Everyday unveils a new experience for me, with me doing something off the cuff, which is another reason why AgroStar and me were the best match.
Author: Surabhi Mathur, Executive – Content at AgroStar
Recently, the AgroStar cross-disciplinary team made of members from UX, Product and Engineering, visited the farmers in rural Maharashtra to gain more insight on what their most pressing concerns/needs were. We discovered that a number of farmers still do not have access to information regarding crops, crop-protection, nutrition and market scenario. Apart from that, we learnt that farmers require standard inputs of good quality and hardware at affordable prices and that too on time.
The team met 14 farmers in the age group of 25-62 years owning an average land acreage of 5 to 15 acres, with the exception of one farmer who owned 45 acres. Having spent sufficient time with each farmer , our experts could gauge the excitement of farmers on seeing the new feature of our mobile application “AgroStar-Agriculture App”, now being available in the Marathi language. The merging of technology and their local language brought cheer to them, and increased their faith in us, as there’s hardly anyone who has concentrated a lot of efforts on the localization of apps useful to them. Conducting field research, meeting farmers and listening to their stories of how they currently solve issues with make-shift techniques or traditional ways and just empathizing with them has helped us build a personal connect with them.
Our mobile application, apart from increasingly becoming an indispensable part of their lives, has also increased their expectations from us. Our content, given its right positioning and catering to the users, has helped us to connect with our target consumers and fulfill their needs.
“Aap bahut sahi cheez kar rahe ho. Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon hame target nahi karte hai, aap bilkul sahi ja rahe ho.”
– Sharad, Bhori, Maharashtra
Farmers are eager to learn the benefits of using technology to move away from the traditional ways of doing agriculture. Testing our app in the field has validated our ideas and at the same time revealed certain new design considerations based on how our users understand the value of online agri-knowledge and purchase. We constantly use these learnings to develop compelling features on our app. A grounded design approach that best leverages the existing learning patterns of the users is what also helps us stay ahead in our endeavor.
While researching rural India, our insights told us that generating trust and credibility was important to innovate for our users and solve their problems. . We realized that we need to take care of their inhibitions and help them make informed decisions. Many of the current user interface trends and patterns are not applicable to these users. New models either have to be inculcated or observed from their real life experiences. For those who have not been online before, it is very important to gradually introduce technology to them, so that onboarding is easier and it paves the way to amplify the usage in no time.
So, as long as we continue to design in synergy with their needs and provide more relevant information that is contextual and “smart”, we will soon have a pretty compelling and reliable one-stop solution for farming in India.
To check out more on how we are making the farmers’ lives simpler and better, by designing for them, download our app from here.
Author: Muzayun Mukhtar, Head – User Experience at AgroStar
Success stories have to be shared, for they motivate people inside to continue working hard with the same undying passion that helps the company reach the next levels of success. These stories shared outside also motivate people, to believe in what they’ve started and it encourages them to strategize better and work harder.
Here are some excerpts from the article about AgroStar, published in today’s city edition of Sakal, a Marathi daily that ranks among the top 10 language dailies of India.
Farmers in India, have to travel roughly 3 to 20 kms to buy quality seeds, fertilizers and other farm inputs that are required. Today, the same farmers get all their agri-input requirements delivered at their doorstep, thanks to the solutions based approach driven by AgroStar. Assured quality products, genuine bills with each delivery, call centers accessible through a mere missed call and crop specific agri information are the top line features of AgroStar.
Ever since the introduction of What’s App, when farmers also started using it, AgroStar started getting enquiries from farmers asking for a mobile app. With a lot of user experience research and analysis, the dedicated technology team at AgroStar developed an Android application that today is a one stop shop for all the solutions provided by AgroStar and it has been helping farmers with a better today and assures a brighter future.
One of the best solutions provided by AgroStar is the availability of a panel of agronomy experts who continuously provide assistance to farmers for all queries they have with farming. The agronomy panel advises on diverse topics like changing crop patterns in a region to advice on fertilizers and nutrition requirements needed for a crop type. AgroStar has been successfully providing many time-saving, cost saving and multi-beneficial solutions for the benefit of the farmers in India.
A personalized touch and a wow experience is what AgroStar truly believes in. The dedicated calls centers in Ahmedabad for the state of Gujarat, in Pune for the state of Maharashtra, and a call center in Jaipur for Rajasthan, consists of professionals with an educational background in Agriculture, from distinguished universities of India. Due to the relentless efforts of these teams, farmers today need not depend on middlemen for their requirements as they can confidently bank on AgroStar.
As on date, AgroStar has received more than 20 lakh missed calls from the three states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The Digital India initiative rolled out by the current Government has enabled the availability of smart phones and internet even in the remote rural areas of India. Strongly equipped with technological expertise in-house and due to the benefits of the Digital India initiative, AgroStar has been able to spread its usefulness to farmers with ease.
With so much more to be done, the journey has just begun. Agri-Intelligence solutions, digital disease-pest diagnostic tool to increase the yield of crops and analytics and data science backed solution recommendations for farmers to increase yields are just some of the initiatives in the pipeline. The vision is to bring a phenomenal change to farming in India and change the lives of farmers for good.
Originally posted on Linkedin Blog
Author: Asha Panicker, Manager – Content at AgroStar
3 years ago, an idea that started as a spark in Gujarat, glowed in no time into light and has today reached the adjoining states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan to spread the bright light of technology and convenience to the lives of the farmers of these 3 states. Today, farmers of these states have been empowered to overcome the challenges related to purchase of agri-inputs required for their farming needs.
AgroStar, through its direct to farmer m-commerce platform has become the preferred choice of farmers as it addresses the exact concerns of our farmers and helps them to get the necessary farm inputs with great ease. Farmers have been able to enjoy the advantages of convenience through the services provided by AgroStar. The biggest advantage that farmers have been enjoying from AgroStar has been the availability of quality products, transparency in the entire ordering and receiving experience and convenience through doorstep delivery of the agri-inputs required by them. As for technology, the AgroStar Android app helps farmers with access to a catalog of agri-inputs like seeds, crop care and protection products and the hardware products required by them, all with the play of fingers tapping and scrolling through the app, in their homes or in their farms.
Today is a day of celebration for our Maharashtra Call Centre of AgroStar, as they complete a year of starting operations. While the celebrations of this milestone are in full swing, our journey has been quite an eventful one. When the expansion from Gujarat to Maharashtra and Rajasthan was planned, the Maharashtra Call Centre started off humbly with all of 7 Customer Service Representatives. The farmers of Ahmednagar, Pune, Latur and Beed were the main actors when the story began. The typical challenges we faced included spreading awareness about AgroStar in Maharashtra, understanding the requirements of the farmers here, overcoming the challenges of delivering the goods to the farmers and procuring the products that the farmers want.
We had faced all of it when we had started in Gujarat and so we knew how to address it, albeit faster than expected this time. Strategically, while we began our relation with the farmers of Maharashtra by making available Tarpaulin sheets, pumps and crop nutrients of well known brands like Mahindra, Kisankraft, Spraywell, Honda SHPL, UPL, Dhanuka and Hi-field, within a year’s time, our platform now provides seeds of best known agri-brands like Mahyco, Kaveri, Nuziveedu, Seminis and Nunhems too, to name a few.
With over more than 1,50,000 missed calls serviced in this last one year, by our Maharashtra Call Centre, the journey has just begun. We now move forward with greater pace with the booster that we’ve received in form of the trust shown in AgroStar by the farmers.
Backed by Technology and Innovation, we dream to reach the doorstep of every farmer in the country as we promise “Unnati Aapke Dwaar” with endless efforts, to make a difference to the lives of the farmers and to India.
Originally Posted on Linkedin Blog
Author: Asha Panicker, Manager – Content at AgroStar
Technology is changing our lives and the lives of people around us. We see it everywhere – whether we want a nearby taxi or eat some cool food from a new place – technology has made it possible for you to get all that at your doorsteps with just a click.
But have you ever wondered what technology is doing to the lives of people who are responsible for the food we eat? More than 50% of India’s workforce is in agriculture and these are the people who bear the harsh sun and rains and produce the best quality produce to fulfil our appetite. They work with multiple hardships be it climatic changes, market inflations, pricing fluctuations, imports, unseasonal rainfall etc, yet continue to feed the nation. What does future hold for them? How is technology impacting their lives?