Crofters: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Ups and downs with my first startup

Posted on January 3, 2018

This blog discusses my experience as a young startup founder, the challenges faced, the high points and of course, the fall. We started with three co-founders with the goal of growing fresh greens and veggies inside living rooms. After a turbulent journey of close to two years, we had to shut the company down.

The Product

Crofters’s flagship ecosystem, is an intergrated aquagardening system which helps you grow fresh food farmed in the convenience of your very living room.

We built the product for people who are keen to furnish their living room with an aquarium and a mini-garden in less than a shoe-rack’s space, gardening hobbyists living in a crowded metro with no balconies or backyards. And with the Ecosystem being a controlled system, growing plants like strawberries in a 40 degree Chennai weather was no longer a dream.

Features
The Beginning

I did not quit my job with a plan. Losing everything is sometimes the best way to reinvent yourself. I helped my friend with his newly found Start-up and at around the same time I was looking at similar Start-ups in the US picking up pace and wanted to build one for myself at home.

With close friends from college and school, who later formed the core of the company, we built the below prototype. People around us appreciated and loved the system we built, and that's when we decided to make a company out of it.

Proto

The plan was not just about being a single product company but also to provide an e-commerce platform for gardening and fish-keeping accessories.

With Kolathur, the hub of ornamental fish trade in the country being within reach for partnerships, we managed to sell our products online much cheaper than our competitors.

The momentum was very high and it carried us forward with the first order coming even before we made a stable, marketable product. Within days after delivering the first order, we installed our systems at Teach for India led school and also at workplaces.

Things were going so well. We were awarded the Best Business Startup award by IIM Ahmedabad, Innovators of the month award by Tissot and were featured in media like the Hindu.

Iim
Exporting system to the USA

An opportunity came from a MIT based company in the USA for a partnership deal and it still remains as one of the high points in my career. Not because of the deal itself but for the way we as a team worked together to achieve the goal.

We were challenged with a very short duration to ship the product and manufacturing the product was the easier task when compared to figuring out packaging, export licenses, shipping agents etc.

Export

We then got incubated by NIT Trichy's CEDI. Things were beginning to look good before it took a U turn.

The Downward Slope

Most of our team were of interns. We couldn't afford to keep them for long and they left for "real" jobs. Each departure left a dent in the team and to see the office reduce to 3-4 people from 10-15 in a matter of few months was confidence-sapping. We also lost one of our co-founders midway. With just 2 of us making decisions, differences in opinions seemed more like ego clashes. I would've loved a third perspective at that point.

The Engineer in us

All of us were first time entrepreneurs and the tag 'engineers' described us better. Maybe if we had prior experience we would have concentrated more on the business side of the things and less on making things 'cool'.

But when I look back at the whole journey I have nothing but positive experiences and Crofters has been the best phase of my life so far. There were a lot of amateur mistakes that if I were to start all over again I might do those things differently.

It has been a great learning curve and I'll carry everything forward into my next phase in life. Cheers!