[Startups 2.0] Clover Ventures: Leading a Full Stack Agronomy Revolution

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The Bengaluru-based agritech startup transforming the food we consume and the lives of the farmers that produce it.

Founded in 2018, Clover is the brainchild of four childhood friends who, upon attempting to grow crops conventionally, came face-to-face with the gamut of inefficiencies that plagued the space. Quickly realising that technology could efficiently address these issues, they began transitioning away from traditional farming in 2020, and are today one of India’s fastest-growing agritech startups.

The founders of Clover – Avinash B R, Arvind M, Gururaj S Rao and Santhosh Narasipura

Connecting harvests and homes

Clover offers full-stack agronomy services to greenhouse farmers, and grades, packages, and sells premium quality, greenhouse-grown fresh produce — spinach, cucumber, coriander, lettuce, basil, zucchini, beans, cauliflower, etc. — through D2C, B2B and B2C channels. 

Farmers in Clover’s network typically hold one to two acres of farmland, where demand-led cultivation is done using consumption prediction and traceability, and end-to-end farm management services. The startup partners with over 60 farmers in and around Bengaluru. 

Clover also manages the collection, quality grading at the warehouse and delivery of produce to customers across 2 cities (Bangalore & Hyderabad). Our produce is also available on platforms such as Instamart and Dunzo to name a few.

In February 2021, Clover launched its direct-to-consumer app Deep-Rooted.Co offering customers in Bengaluru and Hyderabad fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to their doorsteps. It will be investing in creating farmer-facing solutions, supply chain and cold storage capabilities, and communication to help develop the brand.

With zero contamination and a commitment to creating an equitable balance between consumers and farmers, Deep-Rooted.Co delivers produce within 12 to 16 hours of harvest – the true farm-to-table experience.  

Clover’s goal is to be India’s largest virtual farmer, facilitated by their full-stack agronomy intervention on the supply side; and omnichannel presence on the demand side. Consumers will get consistent access to zero-contamination, high-quality fruits and vegetables while farmers can experience up to a 3x increase in yield and income improvements.

Where does your food come from?

The already-pressing question has only grown in importance in a post-Covid world, and Clover’s ability to consistently deliver high-quality produce cultivated under controlled conditions has seen demand skyrocket. By controlling the entire supply and distribution chain, Clover is able to provide consumers with cultivation provenance to a degree that’s virtually impossible for the average retail and dining establishment to match. This along with their lean (“but not mean”, says HR head Winston) team allowed them to pivot to meet the burgeoning demand from consumers for whom hygiene and quality were suddenly of paramount concern. 

Helping farmers make decisions

Facing uncertainty every step of the way, the conventional farmer grapples constantly with decisions such as what to grow, how best to grow, how much to invest, where to sell, etc. Clover’s ability to enhance decision-making using demand-based solutions helps alleviate these problems for farmers, raises yield and cash-flow predictability, and allows for forecasts beyond the short term. This was previously unthinkable for farmers operating traditionally and facing the brunt of climate change, emergency lockdowns, policy changes, and the like with little to no warning or assistance.

Says Avinash, “The sheer unpredictability of the yield, the right time to sell the produce, and the complete absence of technology stood out for us.” 

Whatever meagre yield the farmer was actually able to produce amidst all these uncertainties, the vast majority of profits were not made by the farmers themselves, but by intermediaries who were previously their only link to the consumer, and thereby controlled the price they could receive for their crop. These middlemen also negatively affected freshness and quality. 

With Clover, farmers have access to solutions that significantly reduce uncertainties, eliminate reliance on intermediaries, and connect farms to tables in under 24 hours. 

The tech challenges at Clover

Clover is not your typical e-commerce platform selling merchandise or even groceries. There’s nothing typical about the challenges. 

Says Srikanth, “Besides growing produce, Clover is in the material movement business, except that the material that’s being moved isn’t shoes. It’s fresh, perishable produce which is not the same even one day after harvesting or bringing it to the warehouse. So it’s criticality and uncertainty all around, and livelihoods and ecosystems that are dependent on what we are creating. Technology needs to help solve problems at scale and make sure the system is running smoothly as per plans and expectations. 

We have to be conscious of the fact that this is something produced with a great deal of labour, and something that people eat. At every step of the way.” 

Another part of the challenge is that the sector is currently entirely unorganised and runs almost exclusively on physical cash. This requires assessment of trust at different levels – from farmers at the source, to warehousing, packaging and fulfilment, to the largely credit-based Kirana store network, right on to the end-user who places a cash-on-delivery order. 

About the road ahead: “For the general trade channel, we’ve built a system on Ruby-on-Rails. We customised an open-source product for use with new code. The next plan is to build the retailer app which integrates with the sales executives’ app. The retailer app has to manage the price-quality balance autonomously. We can’t reduce either price or quality below a certain threshold.  Plus we have to figure out how to price the same produce in different locations, and how to allocate credit to some customers.

Price is never uniform. Demand is never uniform. Supply is never uniform. Quality is the only thing that’s uniform. So you can imagine what’s challenging and exciting about building something that has a lot of external dependencies”, explains Srikanth.

“We know that the people who work in the warehouse are not technologically savvy. So we need to build a system that anyone can use. You can’t change people to do things the way you’ve designed the system. The system has to be built the way people think and behave. So how to build something that anyone can use intuitively without having to think and figure things out. That’s a fascinating challenge to have.

We’re currently working towards demand consolidation and will focus next on supply. To really be able to trace the produce that a customer receives. If someone gets apples or greens that aren’t of an acceptable standard, we should be able to trace why. There is so much distrust and misinformation along with legitimate information regarding food adulteration, ripening chambers, etcetera. We want our customers to know exactly what they are eating.

We’re solving a business problem using technology. What we’ve built is for the long term. We could have taken shortcuts and used frameworks, but it was a conscious decision to build things from scratch. We are in the quality game after all, from our produce to our tech.”

Who should work at Clover? 

Typically, companies that are well-funded amass large teams of people across all levels, hire management and go for a grand start. Clover went for the approach of a lean team that actually delivers. The technology of Clover has been built by a team of just six people, some of them who joined only in the past year. 

The tech team thinks of themselves as “the titans who go about transforming things and making life easier for everyone else”. 

“Tech needs to run without worrying anyone whose work depends on it. This is not a lifestyle company. Allocating tasks and creating story cards is not our style of working. We’re looking for people who can see things across the spectrum. At Clover, everyone, including the founders, speaks with whoever is required to get things done.

Our Flutter first approach played out very well for us. Our app was built and launched in Appstore and Playstore in 30 days. It’s simple and helped us make an impact during the second wave of the lockdown. If Flutter is a technology you are working on, we would invite you to connect with Sachin Sudheendra to see what we have done! You would love the new approach we have taken. We are now focusing on our Farmer app which is transforming our Farming community.

We want people who want to solve precisely the problems we’re solving. We want people who want to make a difference, and believe they can.”, says Srikanth.

Clover’s Culture and People practices are evolving. Benefits have been put in place that ensures employees and their families are supported during these uncertain times. Their Total Rewards system is set up to be able to recognise people periodically and elevate them without having to wait for an entire year. Internships are also encouraged across all teams – Nanditha GB grew from being a Junior Agronomist in 2019 to Supply Planning Manager in 2020. Clover looks for people with an entrepreneurial mindset and has set up the ‘Total Rewards’ program to provide a market-relevant paycheck every month, an uncapped variable pay program designed to promote high performance, and an ESOP program where the wealth that’s created is shared with their people.

Clover is many things at once — a high-quality, zero-contamination fruit and vegetable cultivator, agricultural knowledge ecosystem, logistics platform, and cutting-edge tech startup. Their essence, however, can be summed up by this one comment, made in passing by Winston. 

“The photos on our app and website, and the farmer testimonials about Clover – those pictures are not from Shutterstock, and those testimonials are not from fake farmers. Those are real images of our farmers and the actual produce they cultivate every single day.” 

Want to join Clover’s mission to transform the food we consume and the lives of the farmers who produce it? Check out their openings, and apply if you like what you see.

Startups 2.0

What are the most interesting tech jobs out there?

The question that led us to start Geektrust for developers who want to get out of the same old jobs and do something challenging. Just about the time the Indian startup industry was getting to a point of maturity – stronger products, diverse and niche domains, deeper tech.

Startups 2.0 is a series that features startups where developers get to do interesting work. So far, we’ve covered a few startups in this series. You can check them out here.

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