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Trouble on the loose for Ninjacart as new leaks show a darker face of the startup

With new occurrences that may fade the company's integrity, crisis amounts to for ninjacart as employees face trouble putting

Ninjacart found that although consumer demand for the consumer market for online vegetables, the supply side was too fragmented. To solve some of the toughest agricultural supply chain issues at its root, Ninjacart then switched to a B2B agritech platform. When Ninjacart was launched as a B2C hyperlocal grocery delivery platform in 2015, our primary objective was to help retailers take their online inventory and deliver quality food to customers less than 60 minutes after ordering on the scale. Back then, this was still a novel concept. But developers soon realized that clients were not excited to pay a premium rate just for the marginal benefit of ordering online, especially for fruits and vegetables, with little product differentiation. Also, because Kirana owners could not aggregate real-time demand or manage inventories properly, many structural challenges and unhappy customers ended up getting only about 60 percent of what they ordered (1).

The moment of clicking for them came when the developers realized that while consumer demand for an online marketplace only for fruits and vegetables, the supply side at the end of the farmers and retailers was too fragmented to accommodate that demand. On the one hand, Kirana partners faced tedious procurement processes and proper quality management, hygiene, price, assortment, and customer understanding. On the other hand, farmers experienced unfair practices, high food waste due to a mismatch in demand for supply, and lower incomes. To solve one of the most difficult agricultural supply chain problems at its root, they switched to a B2B agritech platform, built reliable, cost-effective, and high-speed infrastructure, and allowed retailers and traders to obtain fresh produce directly from farmers every day (2).

Ninjacart’s strong reception and overall impact on society was a turning point for us, reinforcing our ambition of improving the way India produces food through enhanced farmer incomes, decreased food waste, competitive retailer prices, and safer consumer food. Local produce supply chain startup Ninjacart raised an undisclosed sum from Walmart and Flipkart in December after raising around 90 million dollars from American investor Tiger Global early last year. The deal is important, with Walmart and Flipkart trying to strengthen their direct sourcing of fresh produce for the cash-and-carry stores of Walmart India’s Best Price B2B (3) and the online grocery business Supermart Flipkart. Ninjacart supplies retailers with up to 1,500 tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, with the highest demand from Retail outlets. Thirukumaran Nagarajan, CEO, and founder of the agritech startup, an investor of Accel, Nandani Nilekani, and Qualcomm Ventures, was excited about the company’s future.

How Ninjacart settles itself in India

Supported, among many others, by investors including such as Walmart, Flipkart, Tiger Global, and Accel, Ninjacart has expanded its business all over India over the last five years, trying to deliver 1500 tonnes of vegetables and fruits every day. However, the situation was completely different because when nobody is sure which part of the network will be operational, there is a greater focus on enabling the supply. There was considerable confusion in the first few days of the lockdown. There wasn’t much clarity on how much of the establishments could’ve been opened and exactly who’s still allowed to travel and commute.

The pandemic has seen grocery delivery apps scramble to strengthen their supply chains to meet increasing demand from their customers, especially those dealing in fresh produce. In the initial days of the lockdown, Bengaluru-based B2B fresh produce supply chain company Ninjacart turned its focus to the B2C segment to link farmers with distributors and end consumers. As Thirukumaran Nagarajan says, this unique moment has taught new lessons to the agritech startup. All stakeholders need to increase awareness of technology adoption, develop a stable supply chain, and then further identify as standardizing demand and supply shortfalls (4).

Ninjacart tends to help more than a thousand farmers in Bangalore to sell more than 80 fruits and vegetables daily to over 500 retailers and restaurants. The team collects the agricultural products from farmers’ fields and delivers this to the doorsteps of companies. With its very intuitive models and targets to serve over two thousand companies, the company believes it’s also primed and ready to increase significantly in the next six months. (5) “While we have a very high demand from both farmers and businesses for our service, we have relentlessly focused over the last year on building a cost-effective, reliable, and scalable supply chain that can handle enough number of tonnes a day. Our entire organization and systems were overhauled, keeping costs and speed at the center. Today, at a cost lower than traditional supply chains, we move more than eighty tonnes of fresh goods a day from farm to store in less than 14 hours,” said CEO Nagarajan.

Ninjacart initiated as an on-demand grocery delivery service but eventually noticed that fruits and vegetables are highly inefficient and broken in the back-end supply chain. It rotated to an end-to-end B2B agri-marketing platform to solve a bigger issue. Ninjacart has a team of 170 plus individuals today. Traditionally, numerous intermediaries have been involved in getting the produce from farm to store due to marginal agriculture, poor logistic support, and consumer data. As a result, one-third of what the final consumer pays is obtained by the farmer. By allowing farmers to sell directly to businesses, Ninjacart solves this problem, maximizing farmers’ income (6).

Farmers in certain villages have seen their earnings nearly doubled over the past year, the company said. Ninjacart also guarantees that farmers with little commission or logistic support fees immediately get their bank account payment. This has helped farmers avoid lending money from ‘Mandis,’ who keep their goods captive and pay low prices, either from local money lenders who charge ridiculous interest. “The objective of Ninjacart is to solve a very neglected issue specific to India. The team’s strong technology-first thinking allows the supply chain of fruits and vegetables to be extremely cost-efficient, improving farmers’ earnings and living standards. The team had improvised a just-in-time supply chain system, despite limited cold chain facilities in India, with which they were able to obtain the fresh goods from farms to stores in less than 14 hours,” said Nandan Nilekani (7).

Changing the Mandi game

Such was the situation with Ninjacart, a startup that started as a straightforward but one-dimensional solution to India’s infamous sabzi mandis. Even before the first light of dawn, these vegetable markets are cracking; business begins at around three in the morning. The markets are filled with farmers selling produce at extremely low prices from their harvests and suppliers looking for shortcuts to engage in customer satisfaction. This old system lends itself to a convoluted supply chain, hard to navigate, and enables players to grow value from the supply chain without adding any in return to it.

With that understanding, Ninjacart modified its problem statement to address the long-standing problems faced by India’s oldest business sector and thus bring it into the modern age. The team helps farmers realize a 15 percent increase in their income through tech-incentive processes and more controlled distribution chains, providing them with a simple selling process and saving their time, allowing them to engage in much of their time on farms the market. Weekly production estimation, one-stop sales for convenient, on-time payments are part of the process. With a 99 percent fulfillment rate, they present the best prices for hygienically handled products with retailers’ one-touch method (8).

Next, these assumptions are informed to farmers and properly updated about the projected purchases. Using an estimate of national prices, the team will set both purchases and sales prices to avoid market risks. Upon harvesting the fruits and vegetables, farmers will complete the quality control test of Ninjacart and visit their easily located collection centers to sell their products at a fair price. The goods are then shipped to a fulfillment center. They undergo a second inspection and are sent to a distribution center. Finally, items are collected, selected, and packaged following retailers’ orders and delivered at the scheduled time via planned routes.

The experience does not start with instant success for many of the startup founders. What was once appeared to be issued may not create that much impact on the overall market, but something entirely unexpected could emerge. Thiru, for example, originally expected to scale up to 50 tonnes of get-go fruits and vegetables. The importance of effectively identifying the overall problem and pivoting the startup’s research problem comes into play only when the team initially faced the monstrosity of Indian agri-trading.

Allegations and more

Ninjacart was in the news recently for processing the resignations of few employees who received it as a shock the next day with their consent. The news comes with the details of their company HR executive who conducted a resignation drive by accessing certain employees’ emails. It is not known how HR could tap into their emails and perform such a crime. However, the real shocker came in the next day from the Manager himself, who accepted the resignation without a question of doubt. The company though follows a strict notice period for 15 days, one month or two month period. Some employees who chose the two months received two emails regarding their resignation scheduled for two months from the letter date and immediately allowed their resignation. The company hadn’t abided with the two-month notice in the second mail.

The email also advised the employees to furnish all paperwork and submit any devices they were offered to use as a part of their employment. Many text leaks showed the unprofessionalism of the organization in its language towards their employees. Few screenshots were leaked as well that showed the inappropriate context. No further action has As time passes, the employees may take legal actions against Ninjacart for their misuse of privacy and knowledge. Ninjacart, a leading agritech startup, didn’t have much to say. It was unresponsive to the emails that questioned the actions of the HR team. The employees are still in a dilemma as to how the HR team could access their login credentials.

Such action calls for the IT act 2000 that states that the unethical actions of any member of an organization that misuses the privacy of an employee for their benefit could face a serious penalty under the law. The employee show questioned the management about this action were hurled abuses and threatened as well. From the leaked screenshots, the statement of territory failures and shutdown might have initiated such an action by the company.