Jatin Singh’s strong curiosity for weather developed when he was a teenager, it was also the time when his father was a vendor of computer equipment to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).
“The idea of starting a weather forecasting company came to me when I was working in Aaj Tak news. My boss used to say that it is quite difficult to get hold of weather data, and meteorology as a subject was unexplored and not commercialized, and the possibility of what technology could offer was not there. I saw it. And on top of that I knew IMD quite well,” recalls Jatin Singh, CEO of Skymet Weather Services.
When he launched Skymet in 2003 with the intention of providing accurate and accessible weather forecasts, IMD was the only source to get the information from. Skymet would source its information from whatever was publicly available on the IMD’s website. Before that, someone would have to go to the IMD office to get the cyclostyled sheet, a weather chart which shows maximum and minimum temperature.
It took one whole year before Skymet could actually start forecasting. In 2004, the company invested in technology and brought in new people. “The biggest challenge I faced then was manpower. For a small company in 2003 to 2009 keeping IT people was quite hard, because most of people who knew meteorology worked with the government, and they wouldn’t leave their government jobs. After that it was getting machines and computers, so I would say it was people first and machines later.”
The company first hired ex-Air Force personnel who understood weather; they checked the quality, verified the data and improvised the system. Then it got into computing, generating weather forecasts through models.
Forecasting weather requires a lot of complex computing which needs sophisticated software and is expensive; a network of sensors in towns and villages helps Skymet in predicting location-specific weather. The sensors send data to a central computer in Noida, where weather data from around the world is clubbed and crunched together. After the weather forecast is verified and packaged, it is sent to different clients, including farmers.
According to him,“We have our own network of automatic 2,500 weather stations spread across 15 states of India, that make us equal or bigger than IMD. We do a lot of satellite imaging, collect satellite data, develop our own statistics tools. For the first time in India, these weather stations are streaming live data to crop insurance companies to hasten settlements.”
To farmers, it provides weather inputs through agri-extension services of Bayer Crop Sciences, BASF Agrichemicals, Monsanto and TATA Rallis. The inputs enable farmers to move quickly to diesel pumps for irrigation purposes if it doesn’t rain on time, causing the demand for power in villages to shoot up. In cities, power companies can lose a lot in a day, if they don’t get the right weather information on time. If they don’t have prior information, power companies would be sitting on a lot of power.
Singh got his first contract from Sahara Samay soon after he started the company. Later, he got contracts from Tata Power and Reliance Energy for providing weather forecasts at short intervals. In 2008, Skymet entered a new vertical: a short-term contract from Nokia Life Tools, now discontinued, was a turning point for the company. The weather forecast was used by farmers on their Nokia handsets.
In 2011, Omnivore Capital put in an undisclosed amount in Skymet and acquired 33 percent stake in the company. Omnivore is a Godrej Group-backed venture fund that invests in agriculture businesses. The investment enabled Skymet to hire more people, for R&D, and to buy and install weather sensors.
Today, Skymet provides weather infographics to The Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu, Sakshi, Mint and Dainik Jagaran, and powers weather programming in Star News, NDTV, Aajtak, Delhi Aajtak, News Express, Sakshi TV and Zee Business. Apart from providing forecasts on temperature, rainfall, humidity, etc., Skymet also provides agri-advisory and crop statistics, which has got them clients such as ICICI Bank, HDFC and Ergo.
Despite what it has accomplished and where it stands, the company is not without concerns. “Monetization of weather data is quite difficult, people always feel that it should be for free, communication strategy, how do you communicate moderate rain with somebody, and the traditional scientific Indian set up doesn’t support the business much, in a country like US this could be successful for them the data is for free, but for us it isn’t for free, and raising capital also another matter,” Singh elucidates.