The company started by selling automatic fish-feeders installed with data-collecting sensors to Indonesian fish farmers. The sensors would pick up any movement in the pond that would indicate the fish were looking for food. Another sensor picked up the sound fish made while eating. With these combined inputs, the automatic fish-feeder would dispense the appropriate amount of feed. This seemingly inconsequential tech started a revolution.
In early 2018, Gibran was looking for funding. He had already sold a few feeders to farmers, and the results were exceptional. But the business model was not an easy sell to the conventional VCs.
“I had met with some VCs, but they were hesitant about going into a ‘traditional’ market with an IoT-based solution.”
Gibran would ask the VCs to come out to see the ponds, in hopes that the potential market in fish ponds and farmers’ testimonials would speak for themselves
After concluding a pitch meeting with Paul Santos, Wavemaker Managing Partner, and Gavin Lee, General Partner and lead on eFishery, the Wavemaker team decided to visit the ponds as part of the due diligence process.
“I spent a whole day with Gibran,” recalls Gavin. “I woke up at 5am, then from 6am to 9pm, we went around 3 to 4 fish farms, then also visited the warehouse. I was back in Jakarta at 10pm, and hopped on a flight later that night. It was a long day.”
What Gavin learned during the tour was that farmers who had been using eFishery feeders were getting about 5 harvests a year compared to the average 3.
Because of the eFishery feeder, fish were eating clean and maturing faster. With the increase in harvest cycles, farmers were making close to double what they earned previously.
After that visit, Gavin green-lit the biggest first cheque Wavemaker had written at the time. In late 2018, eFishery raised US$4 million for their Series A. All was going well until the pandemic started.
During Covid-19, eFishery was experiencing collection problems for their feeder subscription. Farmers were struggling to sell their fish due to low demand during lockdown. But instead of canceling the farmer’s subscription, Gibran decided he wanted to set up a payment schedule – leading to the ‘By Now, Pay Later’ downstream service.
At each pivotal moment, the ‘farmers first’ motto held true.
To avoid wasting harvest, eFishery bought the farmers’ produce and put it in a cold storage. That was the beginning of their most successful downstream service, eFishery Fresh, a marketplace which uses data to pinpoint when a pond would mature. It led to an efficient production timeline where ‘harvest to delivery’ is a day or two.
Earlier this year, eFishery successfully concluded their Series C, raising US$90 million with some of the most prominent investors in Asia. Their next phase is to take the number of ponds with feeders from 150,000 to 1 million, crossing borders. Their marketplace sells both fish and shrimp with a growing customer base. With their steady downstream services, eFishery was able to lower their fish and shrimp feeder subscription price, from US$20 per month to US$11. They aim to lower the cost yet.
“One farmer said to me, ‘now I have enough income to get my son and daughter to higher education.’ For me, that is big,” says Gibran.
There are too many binary scenarios: either business or goodwill. Yet here is a business solution that creates less waste and toxins in production. The farmers are happier, the suppliers are happier, and people are happier to be getting fresher and better quality fish. To aid this sort of cultural revolution that disturbs the inefficiencies of previous methods is why Wavemaker exists. But we also invest in people, not just solutions. That is a core value Wavemaker shares with Gibran.
Innovation works. Putting people first works, too. Now more than ever, impact and business must go hand-in-hand.