#Asia How a loyal customer saved this startup from a sea of problems and helped it breath fresh air


The story of how former Zynga Head Shan Kadavil saved the fish e-tailer SeaToHome from the deathbed and converted it to a multi-million dollar venture


Enticed by the opportunities offered by the multi-billion dollar Indian e-commerce sector, Alappuzha-based (South India) veteran Mathew Joseph launched an online platform to scale his fresh fish exporting business in 2012. However, little did he expect that the e-commerce venture, SeaToHome, will die an untimely death within just a few months of launch.
The reasons for the failure were aplenty. While Mathew was an astute businessman, he lacked the requisite technological know-how to run an e-tailing venture. Nor did he have the so-called startup mentor to groom the business or VC investor to infuse millions of dollars into its proposed processing unit.
However, despite all the hiccups, he managed to expand to a couple of cities, drawing around 4,000 customers, before the site was pulled down sometime in 2014.

Shan Kadavil, a serial entrepreneur and Head of Zynga India, was one of Mathew’s customers.

When Shan sensed that the e-commerce platform, that he once trusted to purchase his favourite Seer Fish and Black Promfret, was closing down, he dialled Mathew.

Giving a new lease of life

“I was really pained to hear that SeaToHome was shutting down. I convinced Mathew not to shut down the venture. I knew SeaToHome had a bright future, as fish retailing in India is a US$50-billion market, which is more than the size of the Hollywood movie industry. Mathew and I worked together for a few months and eventually saved it out of the blue,” Shan recounts the story to e27. “We worked hard and added a few more items to such as poultry and mutton, and rebranded it to FreshToHome.”

Based out of Bangalore, FreshToHome has been an instant success — thanks to Shan’s expertise in technology and digital marketing, and Mathew’s business acumen. “As we moved ahead, we roped in some of my former colleagues. Within no time, we saw the venture grow fast and the number of customers shot up from 4,000 to a whopping 85,000 in 15 months, with 80 per cent being repeat customers,” Shan smiles.

FreshToHome, as the name indicates, delivers fresh and chemicals-free fish and meat at your doorsteps. Started towards the end of 2015, FreshToHome currently lists over 200 products, including chicken, duck, mutton, fresh water fish, marine water fish, shell and ready-to-cook items. The chemical-free produce is delivered at customers’ doorsteps within 24 hours of being caught from the sea.

Most of the fish available in today’s market is caught by large mechanised trawlers that are in the sea anywhere between three days to three months. By the time the trawler reaches the coast, fish could be as old as three weeks to three months and already frozen.

To ensure that the fish remain fresh, the standard practice among many Indian fish suppliers is to apply chemicals such as ammonia, chlorine or formalin. These chemicals have long-term adverse health effects. Also, when your fish is so old, it can lead to unexpected food poisoning, allergies and even serious ailments.

“Fresh fish has a remarkably different and wonderful taste compared to the chemical-free fish but unfortunately the city population doesn’t get a chance to savour the goodness of fresh,” Shan continues.

When it comes to poultry, anti-biotic and other growth promoters are used to fatten chicken unnaturally. “FreshToHome follows the internationally accepted withdrawal method whereby antibiotic is not administered one to two weeks prior to the slaughter of the broiler chicken. No such substances are used in the case of other poultry either. We promise ammonia- and formalin-free fish, and anti-biotic- and hormone-free meats. We make sure only quality items are delivered to our customers,” Shan adds.

“FreshToHome has partnered with a host of fishermen across coastal Kerala, besides meat exporters in various cities for procurement. The fishermen have been given a mobile application, wherein they can bid their produce in real time with us. This make sure they get good value for their hard work. We have representatives at all these coasts to check the quality of the produce before collecting and sending it to our Bangalore facility,” he added.

As of now, FreshToHome has around 15 trucks to procure the catch and poultry. The items are processed at its Bangalore processing unit. “The most important factor to note here is that we ensure the catch reaches the customer within 24 hours of the produce reaching the shore. We add no preservatives, other than high-quality ice,” says Shan.

All the produce are halal-certified, and there is no compromise on that, Shan says.

The startup processes six tonnes of meat and fish, and fulfils 2,000-3,000 orders per day. Shan claims the order volume doubles every three months. With plans to expand to eight cities in the coming months, the company aims to reach every nook and corner of India in future.

The venture is already operationally profitable, says Shan.

A few months ago, FreshToHome secured over “multi-million dollars” in angel funding from some of industry stalwarts: such as Facebook’s early investor Mark Pincus, David Krane of Google Ventures, Google India chief Rajan Anandan, Pete Briger of Fortress Investment Group, former SoftBank executive Pavan Ongole, and Mashreq Bank’s Abdul Azeez Al-Ghurair.

FreshToHome, which competes with startups like Licious and Zappfresh, is now planning to go to the market to raise Series A funding to scale the business further.

Golden lesson


A veteran entrepreneur, Shan has built around four startups, including Debaux and SupportSoft. Prior to joining FreshToHome as a Co-founder and CEO, Shan worked as India Head of Zynga, the creator of Farmville which once ruled the roost.

Like any other entrepreneur, Shan too had his fair share of failure in his entrepreneurial journey, but had the mettle to come out of the blue. “In my early days of career, I started a gold processing unit in Dubai, but the venture failed, thanks to steep fall in gold price sometime in 2007. My morale went low and I lost lots of money. Another venture I set up also faced similar problem. When a crisis hits me, I think of worst case scenarios — of mortgaging my home and other valuables. There is nothing worse than being pauper. It relieves some of the pain from me,” he laughs.

His advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Focus on key area. Funding should not be your primary target, good customer experience should be. Funding is a pain in the neck. But when you raise funding, be more prudent in spending. Be a responsible entrepreneur.”

Image Credit: FreshToHome

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