W Power 2024

How two IITians shunned the herd mentality to sell cattle online

Neetu Yadav and Kirti Jangra hustled hard to make it to the IIT, and then the duo stunned all by selling cows and buffaloes online. Can they hit the bull's eye with Animall?

Rajiv Singh
Infographics By Kapil Kashyap
Published: Sep 22, 2021 02:19:44 PM IST
Updated: Sep 22, 2021 04:09:01 PM IST

Neetu Yadav, co-founder and CEO (left) and Kirti Jangra, co-founder and COO, Animall Technologies; Image: Madhu Kapparath

Nawalpura, Rajasthan, 2019 — Neetu Yadav expected the flight to be bumpy. Rajasthan had been under a wet spell during the first week of September. The early morning flight from Bengaluru, though, stayed clear of turbulence, and landed on time in Jaipur. It was drizzling, and Yadav, who had just quit her job at online storytelling platform Pratilipi—her second in under four years—booked an Uber for Nawalpura village, some 70 km from the airport. She plugged in her earphones, switched on some Hindi music, and tried to stay calm. The thought of breaking the news to her father, a dairy farmer, was unnerving. The moment she reached home, Yadav dumped her luggage in her room and rushed to the cattle shed to milk the cows.

Some 265 km away in Hisar, Haryana, Kirti Jangra was also getting ready for a hostile reception on the same day. She drove from Gurugram to her hometown to share something startling with her family. Her father, a government employee, had taken a day off to be with her daughter who was coming back after a year; Jangra’s cousin and uncle, who were into the business of dairy farming, too, were at home to meet the former Nomura employee who was now with publishing company Penguin in Gurugram. The ambience in the house was festive. Jangra had made it to one of the top colleges in the US. The mood in the family, understandably, was ecstatic.

Jangra, though, knew that the aftermath of her revelation could be stormy. But she wanted to take the bull by the horns. She swigged a large glass of buttermilk in a few gulps, and spewed the news. “I am quitting my job,” she said. The family members cheered, and hugged her. A small-town girl from Haryana was about to leave for the US to pursue an MBA. It was a rare moment. The second part of the confession, though, stunned everybody. “I am not going to the US. I have decided to sell cows,” she professed. Her father was not amused. He looked at his daughter with dazed eyes. “Is this why you went to IIT-Delhi?” he asked. “Why did you study so much if you had to turn into a cattle trader?”

Back in Nawalpura, it was Yadav’s turn to stir a storm. “I want to sell buffaloes,” she told her father. The dairy farmer pretended as if he didn’t hear. Yadav reiterated. “Tu bhains bechegi (You want to sell buffalo)?” he looked bemused. Her father’s reaction was justified. The farmer went against everybody in his village and community to send his daughter to Kota to prepare for engineering. He even sold his cattle to arrange for her fees. Yadav, on her part, didn’t let her father down as she hustled her way to IIT-Delhi. Now, after working for close to four years, she wanted to sell cattle, and that too online. 

The girls, who were roommates at IIT-Delhi and had developed a strong bonding, decided to live their dream. All they wanted was a fair chance and ample opportunity for dairy farmers. If one wants to buy earphones, Yadav explains, there are over a dozen brands to choose from. “But if you want to buy a cow or a buffalo, what options do you have?” she asks. Yadav roped in Jangra, and along with her two colleagues at Pratilipi, she rolled out Animall—an online marketplace for cattle—in November 2019. From a small rented room in Bengaluru, the gang started operations. Yadav picked up the gauntlet from Rajasthan.

The task, and the beginning, was not easy. The idea was not only disruptive, it also looked ridiculous to all. “Internet pe bhains kaisey bikegi (how can buffaloes get sold on the internet)?” was the question posed by all. “Mazak kar rahi hai kya (are you joking)?” the farmers exclaimed. Undeterred, the girls put their blinkers on and hustled. The word soon spread like wildfire in the village. “Dimaag ghas charne gaya hai tum logon ka (you guys have gone nuts),” was the widespread jibe.

Three months down the line, in December, it was Rampal’s turn to taunt his father. The 16-year-old school dropout in Nawalpura managed to do something incredible. He sold three cows in less than 24 hours. What made the task sweet, though, was his father, a farmer, struggled for over a month to find buyers for his cattle. “Ye app nahin, aandolan hai (this is not an app, it’s a revolution,” he remarked, alluding to the Animall app which he used to sell the cows. 

A month later, in January 2020, Yadav’s father got a flurry of calls from a set of inquisitive buyers. They wanted to buy his buffaloes after getting hold of the listing on the app. He, though, didn’t crack the deal. He wanted to do something before selling. He dialled Yadav’s number and thanked her. “Am glad I backed you. Bhains bik gaye (buffaloes got sold),” he said, his voice filled with pride. 

Yadav knew it was not only the buffaloes that got sold. Animall’s story was set to find a larger audience. In the same month, Yadav raised a pre-seed funding of Rs 50 lakh from Anupam Mittal, and a few friends of the co-founders. Three months later, came the seed funding of Rs 5.75 crore from institutional investors such as Singapore-based BeeNext and Mumbai-headquartered WEH Ventures.

The Animall business, and instinct, now became strong. The herd kept growing. In October last year, Sequoia, Omnivore and others came knocking with Rs 44 crore. In April this year, a big round of Rs 102 crore took place. Yadav and his team expanded the business to Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, and in a little under two years, Animall managed to sell over 5 lakh cattle, amounting to Rs 2,500 crore of GTV (gross transaction value).

Though the startup is in the pre-revenue stage, the investors are delighted with the scale of operations and execution of the team.  

Sameer Brij Verma, managing director at Nexus Venture Partners, explains what makes Animall special. First is the massive, unaddressed problem that the Animall team is taking a stab at. The cattle market in India is not only highly fragmented and unorganised, but it’s also among one of the least productive globally. In spite of the fact that India reportedly has the biggest cattle population in the world, when compared to second biggest Brazil, it pales in comparison in terms of quantity of milk produced. Till two years back, the average milk yield of the Gir was at 1,590 kg per lactation as compared to the Brazilian breed average of 3,500 kg. “It’s a large market and Animall has found an interesting niche,” he says. 

The second big reason to back the venture is the passion of the co-founders. The fact that most of the core team of Animall has some kind of exposure to cattle farming ensures it is in the best position to understand the pain points faced by millions of farmers. “It’s a unique Bharat problem that they are solving,” says Verma, adding that there is no precedent of such a venture in either India or globally. While there are platforms for cattle trading in some countries, they are solely B2B and meant for solving the meat problem. In India, cattle is the main source of livelihood as farmers depend on them for milk. 

Rajan Anandan, too, was impressed with the execution of the founders. At the time of investment, the managing director at Sequoia India underlines, the team was impressed with the exceptional quality of the founders, their growth curve and the opportunities being presented by a business being built in an inherently ignored and inefficient market segment. “Their early design choices show how deeply they understand their user,” he says. The founding team, Anandan lets on, is driven and authentic, displays strong leadership skills, and has deep insights into the market coupled with best-in-class product thinking. 

Animall’s effort to make a dent in the unorganised cattle market also makes sense if one takes a deep dive into the lives of the cattle farmers. Their plight gets compounded when one adds a bunch of missing link attached to farming. First, the concept of insuring cattle is more than niche; second, though cattle is costly, one can’t pledge it to take loans. So financing is conspicuous by its absence; third, the doctors—veterinarian—are missing in action; and last, the knowledge around improving production of milk is still ancient.

Yadav and Jangra, for their part, contend that they trying hard to bring some semblance of order into this market. “Our dream is to improve the lives of farmers by making dairy farming significantly more productive and profitable,” underlines Neetu Yadav, CEO and co-founder of Animall. Over 300 million cattle in India, she underlines, is distributed among 75 million dairy farmers in India. Contrast the numbers with Brazil: 230 million cattle among 2 million dairy farmers. “Imagine the fragmentation in India,” she says. What this leads to naturally, she underlines, is gross inefficiencies in farming. There was another interesting thing which Yadav and Jangra noticed. People were using the internet in Bharat for entertainment: YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok, music, videos and other stuff. “There was no utility-driven app to solve the livelihood and real problem of the users,” says Yadav.  

Though the young co-founders have taken a big gambit, they are quick to point out the ‘luck’ factor in their venture. The biggest being the support from their fathers and families. While Yadav’s father didn’t buckle under pressure and sent his daughter to Kota for coaching in engineering, Jangra was fortunate that her father realised that his US dream is not bigger than the dream of her daughter to make it big in a field nobody even looked at. 

The second stroke of luck came when Yadav was working at Pratilipi in Bengaluru. In one of the internal hackathons at the online storytelling platform, Yadav was given the task of building a solution for the next 500 million mobile users. The young girl didn’t bat an eyelid. Reason: Her family, which was into dairy farming, happened to be one such example. Yadav, who is the first woman graduate in her family and village, built Animall. Jangra, interestingly, remained core to the hackathon in spite of working in Gurugram. “She is very articulate and good with formulating strategy,” says Yadav. 

While the duo always wanted to do something together, Animall reignited their entrepreneurial instinct. “This was a market which we understood intuitively. We felt the pain and we knew the solution,” says Jangra. The friends took a room on rent for Rs 11,000 and started slogging. The initial task was to reach out to as many farmers as possible. After two months of operations, came the third stroke of luck: A meeting with Anupam Mittal. “We have always been lucky in getting hold of people who have had some tryst with cattle farming,” says Yadav.

Back in Mumbai, Mittal explains how serendipity worked. In 2019, the founder of Shaadi.com visited the Pushkar cattle fair in Rajasthan along with his friends. While the experience was overwhelming, there was also a dominant realisation. “It had turned into a carnival and was not the place it used to be to sell cattle,” he recalls. The moment he came back, he happened to meet Yadav and heard about her plans. “Every now and then you meet a founder or a founding team where the decision to invest is not confusing,” he says. Animall, he underlines, was one of those startups.

Apart from the business model, what convinced Mittal to take the bet on the rookie founders was their background. Wherever founders relate to a problem at a very deep level, he points out, they tend to solve it with a lot more passion, and they play the game for the long term. “Call it serendipity… Neetu was solving the problem which I had just encountered,” he says. 

Meanwhile, in Bengaluru, Yadav has set her vision on becoming a one-stop shop for dairy farmers in India. “Animall should be a place where they get to know anything and everything about cattle,” she says. The cattle management in India, chips in Jangra, is completely broke. “We want to fix it,” she signs off, as the co-founders get back to the task of organising the herd with their Animall app, and instinct.