Dr. Vishal Singhal waited for the right time in the market to start his cold storage company. In this post, we share more about his journey to make an idea a reality.
Temperate Technologies Founder Vishal Singhal
Building a cold storage company has been on Vishal Singhal’s mind for the past decade. Coming from a background in mechanical engineering, the first time Singhal thought seriously about starting a venture was when he was working in the Bay Area and looking for a career change focused on something socially relevant. He took a few months to travel home to India and explore the market opportunity for cold storage. Given the amount of food that was wasted, it was obvious that there was a need – and high-level policy in India agreed – but the people he spoke to would always say that cold storage technology wasn’t necessary. “So there was need, but not demand,” Singhal says.
Singhal went on to pursue a number of other opportunities, including founding a startup based in California focused on the electronics cooling market, and didn’t return to the agricultural cold storage sector until 2015. “Since then,” he said, “I have been slowly and steadily chipping away at it.” Two things have happened since he first began speaking with farmers over ten years ago, he explained.
India has changed a lot since then, and people have a lot more money now. They want better produce, and for that, you need cold chain storage.
Temperate Technology is focused on providing both cold storage facilities and cold storage trucking. “Every customer we talk to mentions the second part – that they need cooling on a truck – and only half of people mention the ground solution,” Singhal says. Right now the supply chain in India tends to de-prioritize storage. When farmers harvest, the produce starts traveling almost immediately – but it can travel many miles before reaching the market. “2018 is when we started talking to customers and started trying to understand what was needed. We pivoted a bit in terms of technology, since our original product was not solving customers’ main need.”
For this reason, Singhal says that the ability to listen, and the ability to talk to people with an open mind, are some of the most important attributes an entrepreneur can have. “Instead of telling people, ‘This is what we’re building,’ we would say, “This is what our technology can do. We can cool x degrees in y time. That gave our potential customers an opportunity to think. They would realize, “This is how I could use this in my business.’ We had a lot more fruitful discussions, in terms of how we can be useful. That was an eye-opener for me personally.” The second most important part has been building a strong team. To do this, Singhal looks for employees with a growth mindset.
I’m doing this for the first time. I don’t always know what I’m doing – I’m learning on a day-to-day basis. To me, it’s less about what people know and more about whether they can learn and say, ‘I can give it a shot.’
Singhal says most wrong hires come from moments when the team gets excited about some prestigious degree or some experience a candidate has, rather than looking at their personal qualities. He credits Temperate Technologies’ Human Resources lead with a big part of the team’s success. “We have learned to trust her – even if we think this person is different, she is always right.”
Temperate Technologies Team: (From left to right) Shravani, Bharani, Vishal, Nikhil, Amarthya, and Masroor
Building Temperate Technologies has been a challenging journey in a still-nascent field, but the company has been gaining traction over the past year. Funding has always been one of the biggest obstacles in the cold storage space, particularly since the venture capital industry in India tends to be more focused on later-stage companies that have a product already out in the field, and given the high capex of the technology, it is hard to sell the product without offering some kind of financing to customers. However, the company was able to raise money and has received recognition from the government of India, the UN, EDF, and Social Alpha in the past year, and Singhal says the experience with Manush Labs has been a huge help in understanding how to better position the company. Manush Labs was also able to offer a was access to a wide range of connections in the agricultural space, ranging from other startups in the farm to fork sector to big companies that they would not have been able to approach otherwise.
Funding is still one of the company’s biggest focuses right now, but Singhal is optimistic about the traction Temperate Technologies has gained so far, and plans to use lessons from his previous startups to make the most of it. He credits his previous startup experience with teaching him how to use funding to move fast and get technology out the door, while operating with a lean team. He is also optimistic about the team the company has in place at the moment. “We have some really smart people who have pushed the technology, the product, and the thinking on how we should think big-picture.”