How a Banker Turned Agriculturist built Miklens Bio: An Agritech startup generating 5.4 crores per year staying bootstrapped
The journey of how Santosh Nair built Miklens Bio: An Agritech startup generating 5.4 crores per year staying bootstrapped.
One-third of India’s soil is degraded, and another 25 percent of land is facing desertification. This is a direct threat to the food security of millions across our country.
With a deadly ‘cancer belt’ forming in the Malwa region in Punjab, much hue and cry have been raised over traditional farming methods and excessive use of pesticides by farmers.
It is against this bleak environment that India is re-introducing itself to Organic Farming.
Although there have been many initiatives related to organic farming scattered all over our country, still there is lack of leadership and customized products which cater to regional requirements.
Fret not! Because Miklens Bio is changing the scenario of organic farming in India, one product at a time.
Read through this interview to know:
“How a Banker Turned Agriculturist built Miklens Bio: An Agritech startup generating 5.4 crores per year staying bootstrapped.”
🕴 Who are you?
I have been a banker for most of my life, heading HDFC bank in South India for 12 years, and Merill Lynch India, for 4 years. I have also served as the CEO of a listed BioTech company, before breaching out to start something of my own.
I’m a hardcore football lover and have played for professional football clubs in India.
My passion for agriculture led to the birth of Miklens Bio, a company in the “Pure Bio” segment which is set to revolutionize the Bio-Agri Input industry in India and eventually the world.
🤔 What’s the big deal with Miklens Bio?
Many health risks we face today have been attributed to the chemicals that are pumped into the fruits and vegetables that we consume.
At present, farmers use a variety of chemicals to provide basic nutrients to the soil and ward off pests as well as diseases.
Toxic chemicals in our diet have known to cause cancer, physical deformities, mental retardation, fertility and many other life-threatening ailments.
Not to forget the impact on soil health and yield that renders the land unfit for cultivation.
Our products offer a solution to all these ailments.
- At Miklens Bio, we believe in Residue Free Cultivation. This is set to transform the agricultural sector by increasing yields, reducing costs and environmental impact, thereby increasing profit margins.
- Miklens Bio’s revolutionary Agri Microbial Technology (AMT) offers farmers residue free agri-inputs such as MikNaturals, Mikdew, Mikpower.
Farmers now have an option to switch over to a safer alternative which is 20% cheaper than its chemical counterparts.
We are a unique company in terms of Research and Development. We have come up with 30 products in a short span of 2 years using our revolutionary Agri Microbial Technology (AMT).
🛠 What was the initial stage of Miklens Bio?
The initial stage of Miklens Bio:
- Moved into a small one-room kitchen to kick things off.
- Built our initial team of scientists so that we can come up with in-house products.
- Tested our products in the backyard. Once we were content with the results, we approached renowned institutions like the Control Union, APEDA for validation.
- After successfully securing certification, we got the patenting done before taking the products to the market for trials.
- We also kept sending samples across to small farmers so that they can try and test them. Once the farmers gave validation, we realized “Wow, this product works!” and moved it into packaging.
We positioned our products more in line with what the demand was and what the market actually needed.
👬 How did you go about building your team?
I started out my team with my colleague Dr. Nisha who has over 16 years of experience in leading R&D with extensive knowledge in Agriculture, Microbiology & Biotechnology techniques.
Next-up we needed an expert on the business development side, and thus we onboarded Mr. Chandrasekhar who has over 2 decades of industry experience.
This was followed by recruitment of Scientists, who are the backbone of our R&D. Most of them were industry colleagues and a few from the previous organization apart from HR consultants.
🛍 What was the first product that went up for sale?
No matter which farmer you are, and what you’re growing, you will need some kind of fertilizer to grow your produce.
So, we started off by selling NPK, our first fertilizer product due to its mass adoption.
💵 How did you fund the company at its initial stage?
I made a few personal sacrifices and pumped in close to 3 crores. We are still running bootstrapped. I guess that is typically how an entrepreneur’s journey starts.
🤝 How did you get your initial clients?
Our first 10 clients were through personal industry contacts who had confidence in the team and the research.
During this phase, few people from the USA came looking for us after hearing about our Agri-Microbial Technology through social media.
Although they took 9 months to test the product across various universities and finalise the deal, it was worth the wait. The deal helped us build credibility among the Indian farmer and distributor community.
Once someone from the USA has bought your product, the Indian dealers and retailers will never shy back.
Once the above Proof of Concept was established, we used that as a stepper to onboard new clients in various markets across India.
Once the farmer or distributor tries your product against their crop, and see positive results, they start believing in you. You start getting partnership offers and bulk orders. That’s when we started growing organically via word of mouth.
We have grown to around 110 distributors as of today. We are adding 3 to 4 distributors to our network every day. Two years from now, we are looking at about 1000 distributors all over the country.
📈 How has the product journey been from NPK to 30 odd products?
Every market has a different requirement and urgency of requirement. We capitalized on both.
If you look at Kerala, the soil is acidic, which restricts the yield of crops. Go to Maharashtra and you will encounter high pest attacks. Further North, the fluctuation in humidity causes high fungal attacks.
The government tests the soil and issues health cards so that the soil is neutral and conditions are favourable for a good yield.
We launched a pH regulator for Kerala as the soil is acidic, MIKDEW for the North to cope with high fungal attacks, and MIKROOT for Maharashtra to prevent pest attacks.
We understood the need of the market and developed products which are reasonable with better efficacy.
Being an R&D company, we had the power to customize our products as per the requirement of the customers.
💰 What is your business model and how have you grown your revenue?
The Four kind of customers who buy from us:
- Distribution model: Our C&F agents supply our products to the distributors, who then directly sell them to the farmers. We have a network of distributors across the majority of states in India, and each distributor caters to a good number of farmers in his region.
- Retail business: We also sell directly to the farmers through our website or offline means.
- Export business: We identify a distributor, say in the USA, who has an established network and sign a MoU with them. They’re given that market share exclusively for the next three years.
- Corporate Clients: Some companies like Harrison Malayalam buy in bulk from us as they have thousands of hectares of land under their management.
Four months into operation, we made revenue of some 50 odd lakhs.
But our costs were high, too. We had some of the best talents in the industry and we made sure they were paid well.
In the first year, 2016–2017, the numbers didn’t add up well and we bore a loss of 70 lakhs.
In the year 2017–2018, we did a total turnover of 5.4 crores, with a net profit of 18 lakhs.
Increasing brand visibility and building confidence among key stakeholders in the farmer community led to the huge jump in revenues.
We’re targeting around 18 crores in the next year, 35 crores following that and 500 crores till the end of 5 years.
🌋 The biggest challenges you have faced till now and how did you cope with them?
Any startup for its success needs novel technology and product, as well as its acceptability.
Since the technology was relatively new to the Indian market, the education and acceptance were comparatively slower than the competition. We had to carry out tedious ground activities with regards to the demos and trials.
Fortunately, the results of our products trials were astonishing. The exports to USA and Canada markets further strengthened our credibility.
- The biggest challenge we faced was to change the mindset of farmers who believe that yield in bio-based agriculture is less.
- When your existence becomes a threat to others in the landscape, there are risks of politically motivated actions from competitors.
- Getting good talent from the market is yet another big challenge.
🗒 What is your advice to Pushstarters starting out?
- It is important to know what you are getting into. You need to have a unique product and proposition.
- You need to identify whether a logic exists behind your product.
- Have the right kind of capital.
- And the right people. You can’t afford to have a startup and have people leaving the ship every other day, can you?
“Never Hesitate! Meditate and Achieve Great”.
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Hey! Neeraj here, the founder of Pushstart, India’s most active entrepreneur community. I release interviews with successful entrepreneurs every week. Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook | Linkedin | email@example.com | Twitter.