Interview with Gaurav Narang, Founder and CEO of City Greens

How is it returning to the St. Gallen Symposium? Last time you were here, you were a Leader of Tomorrow at the 37th St. Gallen Symposium.

Being here in 2007 was an experience which I always cherished. I had never seen a symposium of this large scale and it had been the first time for me to visit a place outside my home country India. Having been a Leader of Tomorrow has been an amazing experience so much that in the past I had tried to return. When I received the call that I would be invited to this year’s symposium, I was thrilled. What I enjoy especially about the St. Gallen Symposium is that whilst other business symposia are oriented to business problems the St. Gallen Symposium is always about a cause. I believe no one is really here for business most of them are here in order to contribute good ideas and something that can shape the future.

Now you are CEO and founder of the company City Greens. How did City Greens come about?

City Greens is my second venture. My first venture was into healthcare: we were into specialty pharmacy, and we built up India’s largest specialty pharmacy business. It was a very specific business model. We worked with different companies to reduce the price on medicine. Because there are one billion people in India, which is a huge market, there is the possibility of drastically decreasing the price of medicine due to the great market. One mistake that we did and that is very relevant to this year’s topic is we put purpose before capital. Fortunately, we had a very good exit since we had built a very good brand with a great network. When another company acquired us, I had to sign a waiver that I would not work in the healthcare field for 2 years. I was forced to find a new field.

Whilst in healthcare I had worked with many cancer patients and whilst studying into it I found out that many cancers are put into place due to what we are eating. If you buy something that is organic there is a certain process behind it but in India there are over 50 pesticides still in use that are illegal in various other countries. Now, I do not blame them for using pesticides because if they stop using them the productivity of the crops will drastically go down and in India importing food is not an option.

I then informed myself about growing food yourself or on farms without having to use pesticides. And I told myself I already had one company – set it up, scaled in up, made it the largest in India in terms of network and sold it. So, in my second venture I didn’t necessarily want to become rich but I wanted to do something good and that is how the company started. We are now two years into existence and so far we have not used a single drop of pesticide. Then we decided to change the business model and teach others how to do it.

Yes, I saw on your website you can not only find exactly which products you may need but also courses. Are there a lot of people wanting to know how to grow pesticide free food?

So, we get at least 3 to 4 inquiries a day, which is a lot. We do not offer more than 4 courses a year and each course only has 25 seats. The reason behind this is I believe I can truly transfer my knowledge to 25 people and a lot of the people who have visited the courses begin setting up farms.

Right now, we are setting up a pesticide free farm where we are teaching the process of growing nutritious food in an urban environment, near to cities, pesticide free.

That is wonderful that you truly take care that there is a transfer of knowledge. I believe especially in India it is crucial that the people are educated on the matter.

Yes, but the problem is the strong cost differential. In comparison to Switzerland food costs in India are 10%. But if I use my technology it will be 50%. Now for a Swiss citizen that is still a more than reasonable price yet for an Indian, food becomes 400% premium. Due to this my market is currently limited to the metros.

But people are very knowledgeable still they do not know that organic food does contain pesticides. Organic guidelines allow a list of organic pesticides as well as 20 inorganic pesticides and you still may call your product organic. Unfortunately, barely someone knows of this because as a consumer you don‘t download the policy and read it and the organic lobby will never talk about it.

So yesterday at the Leader of Tomorrow Day one of the main themes was each company must have a purpose even though it may change over the course of time. How would you define the purpose of City Greens?

Let me start with the topic of “Capital for Purpose“ before talking about the purpose of my venture. As I have previously mentioned, I had to sell out my first venture. My first venture had a strong purpose, but I made the mistake of putting the purpose before capital and it was no longer sustainable. With City Greens I also have a purpose of making sure that everyone has access to safe and healthy food. Yet this time around I am putting capital a little ahead, meaning I need to make money because only then I can make sure that it will grow to a big company and the purpose will be achieved. In my experience capital and purpose must be balanced.

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