They say a college degree can change your life. It’s certainly true if you find yourself with the right roommate, as then teenagers Neetu Yadav and Kirti Jangra did when they were thrown together at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.
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An Animall Technologies facility. (Image: Kirti Jangra)

Both grew up in the ‘cow-belt’, comprising the country’s predominantly Hindi-speaking states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttar Pradesh. Yadav, 26, is a dairy farmer’s daughter from Rajasthan and 28-year-old Jangra’s father is a government employee in Haryana.

Both sets of parents were upset when their daughters announced that instead of continuing their post-engineering-degree career trajectory, which for Jangra included a Master of Business Administration in the United States and for Yadav working at a startup with a regular salary, they were launching an online marketplace for trading cattle. Yadav and her colleagues had conjured the idea at an internal hackathon at Pratilipi, the storytelling platform where she worked.

“If you wanted to sell gai-bhains, why did you go to IIT?” Jangra’s angry father asked her. Adds Yadav: “I think they’re still shocked to be honest, still in denial, and still think that someday she will have a stable job.”

Their two-year-old company, Animall Technologies, is now valued at $80 million or Rs 600 crore, and variously described as an “Instagram/Amazon for cows”. They’ve raised Rs 160 crore from the country’s top venture capitalists. In the last two years, around 5 lakh cattle valued at Rs 2,500 crore have been sold on their platform, ahead of all the competition, they say.

In November, they went from marketplace/discovery platform to selling cattle themselves too. January sales are expected to hit Rs 1 crore, says Yadav. But to their families, these are just numbers in the air. “After a couple of lakhs my family is not able to interpret zeroes,” says Jangra.

Their company is one among many farmer-driven digital platforms that have flourished in the last few years thanks to increased efforts at the intersection of innovation, technology, and agriculture, an industry that still employs nearly half the population.

Dairy farming is one of the largest employers in rural India and Animall’s clients come from this industry. “100 million transactions happen every year with an average transaction value of Rs 50,000 and 80 percent of this is dairy cattle,” says Yadav, about the scope of this mostly untracked industry.

They’re also among the few women in the male-dominated agri-tech sector, and among an elite subset of female founders who have accessed early-stage funding, but they don’t like to look at it that way.

“The narrative is not about breaking the glass ceiling, that’s very limiting,” says Jangra. “For me, the idea is to ignore the glass ceiling and do whatever we want. It’s a mental barrier if we think the seats at the table are only for the big guys. I’m at the table and I’ll sit at it.”

How do you sell cattle online anyway? A lot of thought went into designing the listings on the Animall app. At first, Yadav and Jangra figured that users would be interested in the basic facts: age, lactation, price. But they found that buyers preferred a “personalised” description from the seller.

“Seedhi, samajhdhar hai, time pe khaati, soti hai,” says Yadav giving me an example of a seller pitching his disciplined cow who eats and sleeps on time.

“Genetics matters a lot,” says Jangra. “Details about how her mother and grandmother lactated, and whose semen she was impregnated with.” Aside: Sultan, a pure Murra breed bull valued at Rs 25 crore passed away recently. Other famous Indian bulls, valued at around Rs 15 crore, are called Yuvraj, Modi, and Birla.

As for photos, they found that posting pretty pictures of milch cows didn’t cut it. Buyers needed to see the animal’s udder, and how it looked from the rear. Videos—a feature the founders thought would be under-utilised—were a hit with customers.

At first, the women couldn’t understand why usage statistics weren’t higher considering the amount of time farmers spent on the app. Until Yadav observed her father one day. “He kept scrolling, ‘she’s so beautiful’, ‘see her height’, ‘this detail is inaccurate’. He was on the app for 40 minutes, just commenting, scrolling,” she says.

“My father is our user and I thought it would be easy but my assumptions and hypotheses have been challenged almost every other day,” adds Yadav, about her life as an entrepreneur.

At the midpoint of the year, the all-milk price forecast for 2022 is a whopping $26.20 per hundredweight (cwt), according to the June 2022 USDA/ERS Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report.

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