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How this entrepreneur pivoted to survive during the pandemic

Of course you are aware of organic vegetables. If you’re not, you probably don’t pay attention to the hundreds, perhaps thousands of WhatsApp messages you get every day. Anyhow, for those who are not aware, it’s a very simple concept. Vegetables that are grown without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides are organic produce.

That’s right, if you eat only organic vegetables, you can actually avoid those – ugh – harmful chemicals that you happily swallow every day. Clearly, with healthy living becoming a high priority in today’s world, this is a very welcome idea.

There are several startups that have mushroomed to take advantage of the opportunity. Most of them don’t grow organic stuff, but instead, they collect it from farmers, clean it, package it, brand it, and finally, make it available to retailers. And one such startup, which we’ll talk about today, is a Jaipur-based company called Healthy4U, founded by a young man named Chandgi Pahalwaan.

Now here I must tell you something interesting about the subject. If you are an organic farmer, what your neighbourhood farmers do is as important as what you do. That’s right – if they were to inundate their fields with chemical fertilisers, can you imagine what happens when they irrigate these fields? Wouldn’t the water simply flow into your fields as well? So genuine organic farming cannot be done in isolation – you need a cluster of farmers, all of whom believe in the same mantra!

After a lot of research, Chandgi zeroed in on just such a cluster in Chhattisgarh. He set up a collection centre in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, from where he picked up the produce from the farmers. This produce would then be transported to his warehouse in Jaipur, cleaned, sorted, packed, and finally, delivered to retailers under the Healthy4U brand.

Business was good, and Chandgi realised that the market was just ripe for such organic produce. Not only that, customers were willing to pay a hefty premium for such stuff. He realised he could expand – set up a larger warehouse, add manpower, even expand beyond Jaipur. But for this, he needed funds.

He did approach angel investors, but somehow, the response was lukewarm. Some of the responses he got were – “too many people trying to do the same thing”, “fragmented market”, “show us more growth, and then we’ll consider it”.

Chandgi was getting frustrated. He knew he could grow the business, if only funds were available…

But then of course you know what happened. That’s right – the dreaded coronavirus hit us. And the nationwide lockdown followed. Now please take a minute to imagine what happened to Healthy4U. All transport stopped. Particularly inter-state transport. No trucks, no buses, no tempos.

And remember, Chandgi’s supplies used to come from Chhattisgarh, which meant that he had to cross two state borders to reach Jaipur in Rajasthan. No way could that happen under lockdown restrictions. And therefore, like millions of other businesses, Healthy4U came to a grinding halt!

And now we come to the most critical piece in this story, so please stop yawning and pay attention. There were two ways in which our friend Chandgi could have reacted to this situation. The easy way out was to shut down the business, curse the virus with the choicest abuses he could conjure up, and get into watching unending serials on Netflix. Many founders, of course, did exactly that. But no, Chandgi was different.

Chandgi was a fighter, and he would fight. One day, he had a brainwave. He realised that during this lockdown, even the supply of regular (not organic) vegetables was impacted. Local farmers around Jaipur could not reach the mandi or wholesale market, to sell their produce. And retailers could not reach the mandi to pick up these vegetables either.

And that’s where Chandgi sensed an opportunity. Why not pick up these regular vegetables from local farmers, and deliver them directly to these retailers? Yes, transportation would be an issue, but these were essential services, and passes could be managed.

So that’s exactly what Chandgi did. He supplied regular vegetables to retailers, and therefore kept the business alive. In fact, the business actually grew. Obviously, he didn’t sell these vegetables under the Healthy4U brand – that was strictly reserved for organic stuff. Also, this wasn’t a permanent pivot. Once the lockdown got over, Chandgi went back to organic stuff sourced from Chhattisgarh.

Now I want to tell you two very important things. First of all, Chandgi was able to pivot and keep his business alive during covid times, unlike many other founders. But the other issue is even more important. You would remember that he had been trying to raise funds, and the response was lukewarm. But now, investors suddenly woke up and started taking interest. In fact, within a few months of the lockdown being lifted, Chandgi received one crore in funding from a leading angel network.

How did this happen? Actually, it is very simple. Investors look for founders who are fighters. Not those who give up and simply wait for a crisis to blow over. And the Covid-19 pandemic has provided them with a terrific crisis, where they can actually check out the fighting abilities of founders.

And this bunch of investors realised that Chandgi was a fighter. In other words, he was a great founder to invest in.

And that’s a message to you, dear reader. Be a fighter. And you’ll find investors chasing you…..

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YS.)

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