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Unveiling the dynamic power couple behind the ‘Agri Tech’ startup – The Farms

Unveiling the dynamic power couple behind the Agri Tech startup - The Farms

After knowing Samar, Anas and their business goals, I could only think of;

Coming together is beginning

Staying together is progress

And working together is Success

– Henry Ford

Samar, hailing from a conservative family, having lots of criticism and discouragement from the community and Anas from a progressive background, they form a perfect couple to compliment each other and be at their best, not just in their personal but it their professional lives too.

Running a very unconventional ‘Agri Tech’ business – The Farms, an outlet that sells ‘Certified Organic’ products based on health and wellness, I was stunned by Samar’s enthusiasm and Anas’ profound knowledge of the business.

What further puts me in awe was the grit and dedication involved. Despite being married, Samar looks after the business in the US and Anas is scaling production in Pakistan. Distance is no obstacle, If one is committed, nothing is impossible!

NIS: Let’s start with a little background of yourselves.

S: Ahhh – Sigh 🙂 I belong to a very conservative family and grew up listening to odd things like, Larkiyan yeah nahi karti, Larkiyan woh nahi karti – and all those beliefs and mindsets initially stopped me from achieving my academic as well as my professional goals. I was told that if I would do business, I may not get marriage proposals from the community!

Since men in the family never believed in women working and scaling their businesses, I carved out my own ways by getting into The Citizens Foundations and enrolling into different mentoring programs and that was the time when I stopped settling for anything or everything.

I kept on doing things I loved doing and started with a small food venture with the help of my mom and sister. Since it wasn’t that I had ever planned as a long term business, I kept looking for business ideas that are globally scalable. It was a call from within that made me search for a purpose and better plans.

During that time, I came across Anas and he offered me to join his business – The Farms. After a lot of hard work, struggles and commitment, we managed to get this rolling.

A: Fortunately, I belong to a very progressive family, where ‘NO’ has no place! Both men and women in my family are high achievers and believe in equality for everyone. If someone has a plan, we remain supportive of the person and the cause behind it.

I’m the use case here 🙂 I had a design studio and I decided to switch to Farming, my mother thoroughly supported me throughout my journey. There are a few strong traits that my family lives on like we’re being taught to be committed to our promises and be observant of punctuality – all these traits helped me move forward and succeed in farming.

NIS: So it’s really rare we see co-founders as couples. How do you feel about it? Is it hard or easy?

S: It’s hard and easy both, hard as co-founders because we get really tough on each other when it’s about our business, yet easy because we understand our likes and dislikes. Anas has been a great partner and since we’re together, it’s easier to communicate, hold meetings and decide on our way forward. However, we have outlined some principles like do or die *laugh*

A: It’s really easy I believe. We have divided our roles and domains of authority. I look after all the outdoor work like farms, trading, logistics and packaging. Whereas, Samar excels in marketing, scalability, PR and stuff so we hardly intervene yet we discuss everything and let it be the best decision for our business.

When it’s business, we put our personal life aside and when it’s personal, we don’t bring in business at home. However, as partners and co-founders, I have given complete freedom to Samar to act and explore and go as far as possible. ‘Azaad hai yeh’ *smiles* – Samar has great potential and I feel she can achieve a lot more and I’m sure she will.

NIS: So in Pakistan, dynamics of buying wheat & fruits are different, we get it everywhere from supermarkets to street hawkers…

NIS: What’s the USP of The Farms?

S: We specialise in EU and USDA certified Organic products. In Pakistan, it’s tragic to see everyone calling their products – organic yet nobody understands what it takes to call any product – an organic product.

Fortunately, we met all the protocols and advanced for EU and USDA certifications. We had to go through a lot of tests, scrutiny and standard protocols before we could call our products 100% organic.

People in the US are more conscious about wellness and organic products and that’s how we have been learning and improving to be 100% natural and organic products.

A: I would say, our USP is that we thoroughly understand ‘Farming’. I would explain it. Agriculture makes 18% of Pakistan’s GDP and there are a lot of crops that are in surplus yet, we massively lack standards and numbers.

Pakistan suffers around 40% of the total production in post-harvest losses because of mishandling and poor transportation etc. It’s a huge percentage! ‘The Farms’ stands out for its product quality, seamless logistic plans, best packaging and flawless supplies. We worked out ways to reduce as much of post-harvest loss as possible.

Initially we started with wheat and packaged wheat flour, we met all the requisites to achieve EU and USDA certifications. Later, we introduced high quality organically grown mangoes as premium products. The response was tremendous and within a year, we got a hike from 300 kgs exports to 3500 kgs exports.

Now we’re aggressively working on Himalayan salt and its finish products. It’s been more than four years that I started working on The Farms, we’re now scaling and looking forward to innovating farming in Pakistan.

NIS: When you say organic, you mean you don’t use pesticides or regular harvesting processes?

A: There are a lot of misconceptions with the word organic. Every other person says their product is organic, however it is not because when you say a product is organic, every single process and sources involved have to be organic.

To ensure ‘The Farms’ stands for ‘Organic Products’ we had to go through a stringent process of four years. We changed the soil, we stopped using conventional fertilisers, we had to eliminate urea from the process. We shifted layers of the soil to set the trapped gases out, conducted soil testing multiple times to ensure our land is free of urea, and conventional fertilisers.

Through this interview, I would request people to stop misusing the word ‘organic’ or claiming your product organic until it truly is. Preparing anything at home doesn’t make it organic. Call it homegrown or homemade but not organic, until you’re sure of the sources and processes involved.

NIS: How do you manage customer satisfaction with perishable goods like mangoes etc?

S: Customer Satisfaction is at the core of what we do. Fortunately, our success rate is 95% because of the packaging we do. We have come a long way in packaging too to safeguard the shelf life and quality of the perishables we sell. However, my focus is to build human connections, speak to our customers one on one to understand how they perceive our goods, and how they expect it further. 

Since our goods are perishable and can be unpredictable, we make sure we’re there to listen to, accept and replace it without any additional charges. That’s how we have been learning and improving our products, packaging and processes every single day.

A: Generally people in perishable business keep 20 to 25% contingency for damages. However, we are fortunate that we never had to keep waste contingency this high, because before we get ready to float a product, we make sure we use it thoroughly and test its pros and cons. We note every single detail of the product while personally using it, do sampling for quite a while. Once we’re confident of the product, its experience and demand, we float it in public. This is one of the main reasons, we hardly have any damages or bounce rate.

Secondly, we don’t stock products for long, we keep it running – as a result, we always end up having and delivering fresh products.

NIS: How do you conduct a competitive analysis or scale your harvest? Do you incorporate any technology?

A: We average out the yield keeping in record the yields of the past few years. Also, we keep atmospheric conditions and soil conditions intact to calculate our yield.  However, we’re looking forward to bringing as much innovation in the process as possible to ease out lengthy logistic and packaging processes.

Later, we obtained EU and USDA certifications and only use authority approved pesticides. The entire cycle of four years wasn’t easy but we made it because we wanted to bring true sense of ‘Organic’ harvesting in Pakistan.

NIS: What are the biggest obstacles you face while running a startup in Pakistan?

A: With this question, I would love to share a quote of Jon Elia “Jiss ko Parhna Chahiye woh Likh Rahey hain”. *Smile* The biggest obstacle that we face is the right knowledge of Organic Products in Agri Businesses. Very few understand what we do and that’s what I feel that Pakistan lacks knowledge about the potential of agri businesses. We’re putting out our efforts, money and time to innovate process like payment gateways, supply chain etc in the agri domain.

The second biggest obstacle is the lack of investment opportunities and this is why most of the Agri startups fail to execute their plans. If by any chance, investors come, their terms and conditions are very ruthless. Often, we see that investors don’t really take agri startups seriously.

S: I think, Anas has covered it but another challenge that we faced here in Pakistan was to sell it online. Many people discouraged us from executing it online saying who would buy ‘Aata, Daal and Mangoes’ online. We felt that we had to take up the knowledge and awareness battle about our products and processes every time we sell our products. People took a lot of time to thoroughly understand what organic means and how we are doing it.

NIS: Pakistan being an agricultural country, do you think it is availing its true potential?

A: As a nation, we greatly lack patience and consistency. Despite having the best quality products and extremely high potential, Pakistan witnessed a decrease in exports because it severely lacks in two critical aspects; one is the supply chain management and the other one is its packaging.

We haven’t progressed in exploring or tapping into new markets. We sell our raw products to India and they just pack in top of the line packagings and sell it across the globe under their label. Why can’t we do this ourselves? We must aggressively work on introducing new packagings and excel in supply chain management or else, we may lose on a few other avenues too! It’s all over the news that India has beaten China in delivering finished products at cheaper prices and where’s Pakistan heading?

Furthermore, Farmers are surrounded by debts, living in deprived conditions, they are underpaid for their work. This is all because there are a lot of middlemen involved and the government has not to check on it. 45% of the paki businesses are connected with Agri (directly or indirectly), if we ensure the right distribution of wealth, it will boost the economy, increase production and will eliminate poverty.

NIS: So Anas, you are enrolled in Dice Fellowship by The British Council, how is it helping you and your startup?

A: Dice’s slogan is Karobar Barhao! It is one of the best programs to understand the processes like scalability, design, marketing, budgeting, finances etc. It is a great program to be in. The second cohort is going to start in July and I would definitely recommend it to potential startups to try their luck out.

NIS: Samar, you’re looking after the offshore activities. What’s your take on sales and marketing of perishable organic products?

S. Sales and marketing is a huge challenge however, I accidentally came into it after Anas made me realised that I’m really good at it. *laugh*

I started with micro marketing to analyse the gaps. Initially, I used to cook ‘Roti’ with our organic ‘wheat flour’ and let people try it. I studied how customers relate to our products, about their moods and feel when they buy and then word of mouth worked out wonders for us. 

Mindsets in both the countries are different, so I applied a different sales and marketing strategy in the US and it took me 1.5 years to place the right product, create the right demand and now we are importing Himalayan salt products in the US. I feel human touch is very important so I personally interact and understand the customer so eventually, I know their expectations and needs around our products.

The only thing that I find more promising in the US is that people here do give potential products a chance, they inquire and are flexible to give it a try. For now I’m focused on exploring the demands of one state, with time I will take our products to other states as well.

Overall, I don’t really curate high-end strategies, I keep it simple but around human elements.

NIS: Where do you see ‘The Farms’ in the next 5 years?

A. Firstly, our goal is to expand our production and exports, but at the same time, I would like our youth to engage and come into farming. We have started collaborating with a few schools and universities to introduce farming as a skill for kids to understand it is not just a rural game, in fact, it has a lot to do with the urban crowd.

When I entered farming, I did everything myself, from sowing to cultivation, watering, harvesting and realised that our youth is never exposed to this and that’s why we don’t pay enough attention that lies within this domain.

Secondly, we’re all focused to devise systems, and innovate the processes involved so InshAllah in the next 5 years, we will reach a point where a lot would be done to help the cycle – farmers, middlemen, retailers and exporters altogether.

NIS: One piece of advice from each of your for the startups coming into this field. 

A: I would personally suggest all the startups that business is not everyone’s cup of tea. One has to be serious about what they are doing. Thoroughly work on the MVP and meet the requisites, otherwise, it’s not going to work.

Please, do work on self-management, time management and self discipline when it comes to business. If you have opted for a business, then start taking yourself and your business seriously. This will lead you to success. One of my mentors said, it takes a decade for any business to make substantial growth and money, so be patient and take your startup very seriously.

S: I would suggest all women entrepreneurs to be very decisive if starting out any business because if they won’t take their startups seriously, nobody would take it seriously. I have learned this lesson the hard way and would suggest the same.

Also, most of the businesses fail because we don’t really focus on team building. If you can’t afford to pay the employee, take in on equity and learn to distribute work so nobody is drained out.

Ahhhhh – I will not quit before saying that I thoroughly enjoyed and learned loads from them! And also, I’m drooling over their organic products that I will definitely try and so can you! All you need is to click here and get yourself some fresh organic products 🙂 Dont forget to follow them on Facebook for the latest additions in their organic food list.

Having anything to add? Feel free to share it in the comments below!

Madiha Ahmed
Madiha Ahmed
Madiha (Yusuf) Ahmed is an Independent Journalist, ideally reports technology updates, social happenings and covers features. Professionally, she is serving as a Manager Content in a Digital Agency and specialises in Content Curation, Strategy and Marketing.

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