By Hand From The Heart is a biannual Makers Market held in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Today on the blog we feature, Sanjay Dasari, co-founder of Sunny Bee, Chennai – a farm to table venture. He shares with us his start up story, his mission and the proposed showcase at By Hand From The Heart : Makers Market this July.
A bit about you and what lead you to set-up SunnyBee?
I graduated from college at Babson College (in Boston, USA), in May, 2015. Less than a month later we launched SunnyBee in Chennai, with the intent to source high quality fruits and vegetables directly from farms across India, ensuring higher transparency, lower wastage, and higher returns to farmers, though myself and my Co-Founder had a total of zero years of experience in the agriculture industry. This all started when we were discussing the viability of opening a restaurant in Chennai. The more we researched, the more we realized that the biggest complaint was about the quality of products available for the Chefs. During a brief visit to Koyumbedu Market, where most of Chennai gets it’s produce from, I saw first hand how messy and careless it was. I knew immediately I wouldn’t want to buy from there for my own restaurant, and therefore started looking at farm sourcing as an option. That’s when it all opened up. Our vision went from starting a restaurant in Chennai to setting up a pan India, professional supply chain company, to farm vegetables the right way, and transport them with the respect and hygiene that they deserve. In addition, by working directly with farmers, we had the opportunity to increase their income and give them comfort by way of guaranteeing that we would be a certain quantity of stock from their farm on a daily basis.
Tell us a little bit about your produce and how they are farmed?
We work closely with over 10,000 farmers across 9 different states in India, and support those using natural farming practices. With a very fuzzy grey line between “truly organic” and “fake organic” in India, we turned to science as the differentiator. A sample of all of our products from all of our farms are sent to local testing labs and testing against WHO standards of food safety through a gas chromatography test. This tests for surface residue, common pesticides, heavy metals, etc. When operating in an environment where organic certificates can be bought and every street has a vendor selling misshapen products as “organic” it is more important than ever to make a clear cut differentiation between what is and is not safe to consume. That’s what we focus on, on behalf of our customers.
What’s your day like at Sunny Bee?
It’s a little bit of everything, every day. I might be visiting a farm, walking through our warehouse to check on deliveries to one of our 150 wholesale clients, chatting with individual customers in our retail stores, or sitting in my bedroom trying to sort through mountains of emails. It’s en extremely exciting and ever changing environment that very few people consciously attribute to the fruits and vegetables world. Though it’s definitely not one of the most glamorous industries, it’s definitely a lot of fun.
What inspires you as an entrepreneur?
At the risk of sounding cliche, the potential to make a serious difference is really exciting to me. There are so many apps or E-Commerce websites these days that have grabbed all the headlines for the amazing work that they’re doing, but with SunnyBee there’s an opportunity to touch the lives of countless people. We sell vegetables, which everyone interacts with at least 3 times a day, minimum. The number of people who would be benefited from a few changes in this industry is impossible to imagine, but that’s the kind of tangible change that get’s me out of bed every morning.
Would you like to share any success story in your business experience?
During the floods of December, 2015, our company was less than 6 months old. Our warehouse was flooded, most of our vehicles were flooded, and our team was scattered around the city with no way of getting in touch. But we knew that since we were selling essential items like bread, milk, eggs, and vegetables, our customers would be equally reliant on our services. So after taking just 1 day off and using our Dost trucks to pick up our staff from our the city, we were back in operation like nothing happened. The outpouring of customer support and graciousness was amazing, combined with the selfless attitude of our team. It was at that moment that my Co-Founder and I knew our company’s culture was heading in the right direction.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?
“Understand the ‘Why’, not just the ‘How’.” Though it might sound obvious, as a 21 year old entrepreneur, I had no shortage of advice coming my way, for customers I met at the sales point, farmers I met on the back end, or uncles and aunties at family reunions. The best piece of advice came from my father, which was ironically advice about all the advice I was receiving. He said to understand the “Why” of what we’re doing and the decisions we’re making, so that we can continually pivot and change our strategy to ensure we reach our goals. If I didn’t understand the “Why” and just focused on the “How” we might still be doing the same thing today that we were two years ago.
Name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running this business?
There are people who are smarter than me. In an incredibly humbling series of events, I finally learned to swallow my pride and defer to people with more experience in the relevant field so that decisions could be taken faster and with a greater sense of direction. Thought I still enforced the overall goal and brand vision, I understood that micromanaging isn’t always the best way to get things done.
What will you be bringing to the makers market?
Other than some delicious watermelons and farm sourced mangoes, with unique grocery items like Lychee Honey from Bihar and Brown Basmati Rice from Dehradhun, I hope to bring a fresh perspective on the fruits and vegetables industry. Very few people these days are even concerned about how their products are grown, where they’re coming from, how the farmer is being treated, etc. When most people see a kilo of tomatoes, they see “35 INR per kg.” When I see it, I see “60 day harvesting cycle, 24 hours of transportation, 20 INR per kg to the farmer, and 29 INR per kg to the end consumer.” Hopefully more and more people in the cities start changing their thought process to be more inclusive of real issues real people without a voice are facing every day.
By Hand From The Heart: MAKERS MARKET – 20th Edition
Date: Friday – Saturday, 7th – 8th July, 2017
Time: 10:00 a.m – 8:00 p.m
Venue: Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park
Address: 132, T.T.K Road, Alwarpet, Chennai – 600018, Tamil Nadu. India