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Posted on Jun 20, 2018
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Sayurbox Founder & CEO Amanda Susanti

 Sayurbox is a tech supported fresh produce distribution platform based in Indonesia. Founded in 2016, its customers can order organic, hydroponic, and conventional fresh produce which is sourced directly from farmers and producers as well as suppliers. The team offers deliveries seven days a week – with a focus on cutting the supply chain, waste elimination and helping farmers, producers, and their communities to achieve better access to their markets using fair trade principles to solve unfair pricing.

Sayurbox represents the first investment from Patamar Capital’s groundbreaking ‘Investing In Women Fund’- which is a partnership with the Australian Government investing in women-focused or lead businesses across the region. Patamar Capital Associate, Ellen Nio sat down with Sayurbox Founder and CEO Amanda Susanti to learn more about the company’s journey so far.   

ELLEN: Where did the idea for Sayurbox come from?

AMANDA: After graduating from University in Manchester in England, I worked for a chemical distribution company and then I helped set up a co-working space in Jakarta.  Around two years ago, I realised that I wanted to do something different. My family had some land around 50 miles from Jakarta. At the time, a farmer called Misto [pictured] was planting cassava on the land and then selling it to local village traders. Although it was an easy crop to farm, the prices he was achieving were very low and the cassava could only be harvested every six months – so his turnover was rather low.

Misto at work in the kale farm

I started talking to him and wondered if we could do something different. I began researching what restaurants and consumers needed and realised that there was a demand for more exotic and rare fresh produce. I also started to wonder if it might be more effective to grow and sell this type of produce directly to restaurants rather than selling to the village traders.

Working with Misto, we started building greenhouses and turned the land into a kale farm – which was a crop that hadn’t been harvested in the area before. Within three months, with a little practice and education, we started harvesting the first crop and began selling the kale directly to restaurants. This worked really well. We soon realised there was a demand for kale and the prices we could achieve were much higher than the cassava that had been planted there before.

Around this time, I met with Rama Notowidigdo who would become my co-founder and advisor. At the time, Rama was Head of Product at the ride-hailing and logistics company GoJek. He was really interested in agriculture because his father had been a farmer and he was intrigued by the possibilities our kale farm presented. So we started discussing more ideas and we wondered if we could expand the idea to help more farmers and sell more exotic and rare produce directly to the market?

ELLEN: When did you first realise that you were an entrepreneur?

AMANDA: When I was at University in Manchester, I was surprised at how was difficult it was to find Indonesian food. So, I started a small Indonesian catering company for the local Indonesian students who missed food from home. We found the ingredients we needed in Indonesia and then shipped them to the UK and started cooking for customers there. So I don’t know if there was any one moment when I understood I was an entrepreneur, it was more about wanting to solve a problem and wanting to build and create something.

ELLEN: Who or what inspired you to keep building Sayurbox after the original pilot farm project?

AMANDA: One of the biggest inspirations behind Sayurbox is Misto [pictured]. He was one of the original farmers that I worked with at the kale farm. As the new crops became successful, other farmers wanted to get involved and learn from him. Today, he is leading Sayurbox’s team of  local farmers. He’s become so successful at what he does – he has been able to build a house and buy a new motorbike – which is very exciting to see. 

Misto’s son, Rian, harvesting kale for Sayurbox

What is also impressive is the impact Misto’s success has had on the people around him. Before we started the kale farm, his son didn’t want to become a farmer and had moved to Jakarta. Following the farm’s success, Misto’s son, Rian [pictured]  has returned home to join the farming team.

Also, Misto’s wife has opened a “Warung” [Mom and Pop store] on the farm that sells produce to anyone who comes by. It’s the only store in the whole area, so it’s very popular with everyone from the truck drivers to the local administrator.

Today Misto is an iconic farmer and very much become the community leader, in many ways Sayurbox started with him!

ELLEN: How did you scale the idea from restaurants?

AMANDA: I was discussing the idea with Rama and sharing what a large opportunity this trial presented, especially now Misto had become a community leader. We could see that we could help other local farmers who were keen to plant their crops according to our demand- even though it wasn’t on our land. Rama had market experience from GoJek and suggested we also focus on consumers – especially because he could see they were seeking healthier and fresher produce with more variety that wasn’t always available. So that’s how we got started. We launched on Instagram initially (where we now have close to 100k followers) and then as we saw demand going up, we introduced a website and then as orders grew, we launched an app.

ELLEN: What are the biggest challenges facing Sayurbox today?

AMANDA: A lot is changing for us. On the farmers’ side, the main challenges are education and gaining trust. Operationally it is also extremely tough dealing with fresh produce due to its perishability. Educating consumers is also tough. We started off with organic and pesticide-free produce, but not enough consumers in Jakarta cared enough about this, so we have had to alter our offering. We keep trying to educate the consumer to understand the benefits of fresh and healthy produce and why it may be worth spending a little more to get the freshest and healthiest food.

ELLEN: What have been the most rewarding moments of the journey so far?

AMANDA: One of the things that I really love the most is getting out and working directly with the farmers. One trip that I will always remember was when I went on a sourcing trip to the island of Flores in Indonesia with my co-founder Metha Trisnawati. It was our first time there and we didn’t know what to expect and had no idea what we might find.

Luckily we met someone who took us deep into the villages – and this is a very impoverished region in Flores.  What we found was that almost every house had an avocado tree and the villagers were growing perfect quality avocados. The thing about these avocados was that they were only harvested during two months of the year. During that period, there is an enormous oversupply – which makes them very cheap. The avocados cost around 15 US cents- but the farmers sell them to the middleman for around 4 US cents each. Because of these low prices, the villagers in Flores would often just feed the avocados to the pigs and cows or just throw them away.  They also couldn’t even ship them all the way to Jakarta or fly them to Bali. So that’s when we started sourcing avocados from them.

Ibu Hana Hia Gening receives her first payment from Sayurbox for her avocados

One memory from that trip that will always stay with me, is the story of Ibu Hana Hia Gening [pictured]. She is a 65-year-old widowed woman from the village who grows avocados. Her children have all moved away and she now lives alone in Larantuka – which is an incredibly remote part of Flores – almost four hours from the nearest airport. Before we started operating in the area, the shipping fee alone for getting her produce to Jakarta would be more than the value of the avocados itself. When we paid her for her avocados, she started crying. She wasn’t expecting to sell her avocados at all. In fact, she was expecting to throw them away for yet another year. If she had managed to sell any avocados she might have sold them for 4 cents each – but we bought them from her for 40 cents each – ten times more. That’s why she was crying. That image of Ibu was posted on our Instagram page and so far it has received more than 4.5 likes [pictured]. Our work in Flores would not be possible without the support of Mr. Anis, who has dedicated his life to supporting the local community there. He has become our contact our there who helps handle all the shipping to Jakarta. We are now trying to find more Mr. Anis’ all around the different farming areas in order to be able to scale our sourcing further.

ELLEN: Tell me about the importance you place on organic produce?

AMANDA: Early on we learned from our research that many people with illnesses- and especially mothers of newly born kids or those with children who had special needs – were finding it very difficult to find organic food and vegetables. Even in supermarkets, they were not sure if the produce was really organic or was simply just too expensive. Today, we get a lot of messages from our customers thanking us for providing them with a service you can trust.

I have always been passionate about the motivation behind Sayurbox – and seeing our teams and customers demonstrate their passion for our produce makes me even more passionate. It’s very infectious and spurs me on to keep driving everything forward. 

Sayurbox co-founders Amanda Susanti & Metha Trisnawati

ELLEN: Who or what has been the most powerful influence to help you build Sayurbox?

AMANDA: I think the person who has been the most influential in our journey so far has been Rama (our co-founder who is now an advisor). He has really pushed me to be more self-aware and to continue to improve myself. He is a great mentor. If there is a problem, he doesn’t tell you what to do, instead, he helps me think about the issues at hand and work it out for ourselves.

That’s exactly what happened in 2017 when he told me and Metha ‘Guys, you’ve got this. I think you have to do this yourselves now.’ He then stepped down from day to day management but has remained our trusted advisor and everything started to fall into place for me and Metha.

ELLEN: Tell me more about your working relationship with your co-founder Metha.

Amanda with Mr. Mider, head of farmers group in Bali.

AMANDA: Six months into the project we had around ten employees, and Metha joined us initially to learn about the tech industry and product management It was clear very early on that the chemistry between us was very good. And it continued to get stronger. Today, we don’t have to talk to each other to know what each other is thinking. We are also aligned with our goals and ambition for the firm and each other. We work very well together. Working with Metha immediately helped Sayurbox because when you are running something by yourself, it can be a rollercoaster. They say that co-founding is like a marriage: I think if I were to ever do another business or startup or in fact do anything else, I would always want her as my partner.

ELLEN: Sayurbox has a majority female founding team, how has this influenced the firm’s trajectory?

AMANDA: Basically, 90% of our customers are females and the majority of investors out there are male – so they may not be able to always relate to our customer as well as we can – they are not our customers!

Being an entrepreneur is often viewed more as a male role where you must move fast and you must be aggressive and you have to be very dominant. I often get asked if I am planning to get married soon. But a startup is also a baby, and it requires 100% of my attention!

ELLEN: What is your long-term vision for Sayurbox?

AMANDA: Our goal is to be the leading fresh produce supplier in Indonesia and then move this success out to the rest of Southeast Asia. I want us to create a new shopping experience for customers where we can focus on transparency and traceability, so everyone can really understand where their fresh produce is coming from. I also want us to focus on finding ways that technology can help farming become more efficient than it is today. We also want to provide farmers with new technologies across the eco-system. We are keen to develop products to help our farmers and suppliers. I believe the potential with Sayurbox is endless.