The last time IntraFish spoke with Utham Gowda he was an investment banker.

Three years later, he has vaulted directly into the seafood sector after identifying what he sees as a vast opportunity to transform the Indian seafood supply chain.

His career-change led to the founding of Captain Fresh and ambitions to capture India's $14 billion domestic seafood market and propel it into the 21st century.

"The supply chain here is three to four decades behind, globally," Gowda told IntraFish from a hotel room in the small southeastern coastal town of Karaikal, Pondicherry.

Despite the desperate COVID-19 situation in India, Gowda and his team have been allowed to travel as part of dispensations for the country's food industry operators.

"The opportunity to solve it got me excited," he said.

Retail chains get on board

Eighteen months in and having just wrapped up its pre-series A funding, Captain Fresh is preparing to scale.

The platform is currently fully managed and very operationally intensive with people on the ground buying product to match retailers' demands one by one, but the end play is a fully digitalized, AI-based system that can be scaled to serve the entire Indian domestic supply chain and beyond.

The platform for now operates solely in India's tech-centric Bangalore area, but already boasts 1,500 Indian retail customers, including all the top 10 national level players -- Tesco, Spar, Metro, Spencer, Alibaba's Big Basket and Amazon's Big Bazaar to name a few. It buys from 400-500 suppliers and right now services 150 stores daily in the 8.4 million person city, but will take that to more than 10,000 in the near future, according to Gowda.

"We are trying to set this up so it becomes a scalable platform," he said, with transactions fully digitalized and mapped to enable fast transference of product on a grand scale.

Slimming down the 'touch points'

The Indian domestic seafood scene is heavily focused on fresh product, a demand badly met by the country's desperately fragmented supply chains.

"In traditional Indian supply chains there are sometimes up to 15-20 touch points which can drastically reduce the shelf life of the fresh fish," explains Gowda.

Adding centralized trading, minimal touch points and strictly managed logistics, Captain Fresh adds 24-36 hours shelf-life to product, which will optimize costs by two to three times, he said.

The platform also brings in product grading, a concept up until now unattainable for most retailers due to the vast resources that would be needed to be on the ground, in person, sourcing selectively from a mind-boggling maze of suppliers.

"At current, no-one is matching the right product with the right demand," said Gowda.

But instead of demanding what has come to be the norm of global business, the system has no need for consolidated supply or buying bases.

"We want to work with the smallest of small suppliers and the smallest of small retailers who currently make use of agents," said Gowda, who aims for the system to have "surgical precision" in its workings.

A unique perspective

Gowda himself comes at the challenge with a unique perspective. After spending six years in India's financial sector, culminating in his role as consumer-goods focused associate VP at O3 Capital, he sharpened his seafood industry focus when he took a role as executive VP at Indian seafood exporter Nekkanti Sea Foods, now one of his main investors alongside fellow major producer Sandhya Aqua Exports.

"The analyst hat gave me perspective on where the pockets of value creation are for shareholders. And the stint at Nekkanti gave a ground level view of how to solve problems in the sector," said Gowda.

Disrupting the Asian wet market

Once scaled to its full capabilities, the platform will be transferable to any market, and gains particular advantage in those countries whose consumers are still heavily fresh product-oriented.

"Southeast Asia comes to mind in disrupting traditional wet market set-ups," said Gowda.

"We are a few years away from thinking about this, but the ambition is there."

But first will be to bring other Indian regions into its net, first across South India, then up into the East. Together, these regions give Captain Fresh a pan-India play in terms of supply. Gowda's plans are to expand fast and for that, the company will need more external funds, with the most recent cash injection a bridge to the series A funding Gowda plans for next year.

A need to be nimble

Even with the money behind them, the challenge Captain Fresh has taken on is no small task, with Indian cities famously diverse and unique in their business cultures and consumer bases.

In this vein Gowda describes what he calls their "learning muscle."

"We must be very, very efficient and learn at the local level very quickly, both on supply and demand. But not everything can be templatized. We mustn't assume anything," he said.

"As we scale, problems we face will become simpler, because of having greater might. Until then we need to be nimble."

With his trepidation, however, comes great optimism and a fundamental belief that, despite the enormous disruption and uncertainty churned up by the global pandemic, in terms of tech, Indian government policy and human resources, now is the ideal moment for entrepreneurs like himself to grasp opportunities such as this one.

"COVID is one more constraint. As a start-up we are already operating in a constrained environment," he said. "For an operation at our stage it actually brings a strong element of discipline from the start. COVID is accelerating the shift towards organized trade in every business."


Coronavirus has impacted every inch of our lives and businesses. An upcoming IntraFish Business Intelligence report offers a detailed analysis into effects of COVID-19 on the seafood industry. Get more information or pre-order your report today at and check out our current reports here.