“All it takes is one idea to solve an impossible problem,” said Robert H. Schuller.
The founders of Curofy – Nipun Goyal, Pawan Gupta and Mudit Vijayvergiya – stumbled upon their big idea during a midnight coffee break one seemingly unspectacular day in 2012. The idea, in case you are wondering, was brilliantly simple: a networking app only for doctors.
Unlike most healthtech startups that are developing solutions focussed primarily on patients, Curofy took a somewhat different approach: catering directly to doctors. Looking back, this was what enabled the trio to create a sustainable, scalable business, despite increasing competition in the healthcare space.
Since its inception, the healthtech startup has onboarded more than 220K verified doctors across 2,500+ cities in India. Having cemented its foothold in the Indian healthtech market, the startup is now looking to spread its wings across Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Through the use of algorithm and machine learning, the platform has also managed to create an exhaustive crowd-sourced digital repository of medical cases, while at the same time fostering a robust support ecosystem for doctors.
So far, the Gurugram-headquartered startup has facilitated more than 250K case discussions between doctors, with the daily average standing at 500+. Armed with a wide network of partners and service providers, Curofy is now aiming to fulfil different needs of doctors, including access to loans, medical devices, jobs, insurance, clinical decision support etc.
Mirroring the startup’s strong numbers are some truly impressive achievements such as winning Google’s Launchpad programme in 2015, Medtech Investing London and being one of the Vivatech Paris Winners.
As per Inc42 sources and a VCCircle report, the Gurugram-headquartered healthtech startup recently got acquired by its key investor, RoundGlass Partners, as part of an all-cash deal estimated at somewhere between $9 Mn-$12 Mn (INR 60 Cr-INR 80 Cr).
In response to Inc42’s query on this development and the way forward for the startup founders and team, Nipun declined to comment.
Before delving further, let us look back at the startup’s remarkable journey from the days at IIT Delhi to amassing a registered user base of 220K+.
A Midnight Coffee Break And The Birth Of Curofy
Three ambitious IIT Delhi graduates and close friends: Nipun Goyal, an electrical engineer who has worked with Rothschild; Mudit Vijayvergiya, who completed chemical engineering before joining a pharmaceutical consulting firm Axtria as an analyst and Pawan Gupta, an electrical engineer who spent two years as an analyst at Deutsche Bank.
The trio went on to start Curofy in 2015, as a networking platform where doctors can connect and collaborate with each other.
While the desire to launch a business together remained unabated, the trio initially started working in the healthcare sector and associated themselves with a medical tourism company. The business, according to Goyal, was lucrative and offered good margins. Essentially, all they needed to do was bring overseas patients.
However, along the way, they managed to identify a bigger problem that the medical tourism industry was thriving on: the lack of connectivity among doctors, which was in turn breeding inefficiency. It was then that they dropped that business, took jobs with MNCs and continued to research the concept of medical networking in India.
A Value Proposition Based On Real-World Needs
During their meetings with more than 1,000 doctors between 2012 and 2014, the founders realised that there was a real need for medical networking. According to Nipun, there were a lot of platforms working on improving lives of patients, but very few were working on making the practice of doctors more efficient.
During an interaction with Inc42, Curofy co-founder Nipun Goyal said, “Doctors use Facebook and WhatsApp groups to discuss cases and community issues, but that’s highly unorganised. The outlook is not professional and there is significant data loss.”
“More importantly, the aspect of networking and reputation management is lost as the entire doctor community will never be active on one FB group or one WhatsApp group. Additionally, they are spammed on these platforms,” he went on to state.
Eager to tap into this relatively untouched opportunity, they soon left their jobs and started Curofy. The team initially built a website and ran a pilot, only to realise that mobile was the way to go.
“It helped us in further understanding their needs and behaviour, which went into our mobile app design and development. We killed our website and became a mobile-only company,” Nipun averred.
In January 2015, they started the alpha phase of the app to receive user feedback and launched on the Play Store in February of the same year and later introduced the iOS app.
Curofy, on the surface, is a social networking platform for doctors, however, as we peel the layers, it emerges as a comprehensive platform for every doctor’s need to keep himself/herself updated with the latest developments in the medical world, claims Goyal.
In fact, Curofy encourages peer-to-peer collaboration in learning and solving cases to help doctors keep abreast of the newest advancements in the medical realm. To that end, the app has a content sharing module through which doctors can share cases, trending news and discussion topics with other doctors from their specialty, hospital, city and more.
An Overview Of Curofy’s Many Offerings
Owned by 911 India Healthcare, Curofy’s online medical directory creates profiles of doctors based on the information provided by them. Doctors provide their basic details to become a part of the premium network, post verification.
Additionally, medical professionals can provide referrals, share cases, call other doctors without actually accessing each other’s numbers and have access to the most recent, speciality-wise developments taking place in the fields of medicine, surgery and dentistry, thus providing a platform for collaborative learning.
Besides providing a platform for discussions, Curofy offers access to various service providers who fulfill different needs of doctors like loans, medical devices, jobs, insurance, clinical decision support tools etc.
While its core product is the Discussion Platform, among its other offerings is Library, which provides knowledge aggregated from various sources and partners to help doctors in staying updated in their practice. This includes clinical decision support tools, guidelines, journals, quizzes etc.
Other than that, there is Genie, a service that connects doctors with service providers who fulfill different needs of doctors like getting unsecured loans, buying medical devices, finding jobs or staff, insuring their practice and taking medico-legal advice. Lastly, through the Profile feature, Doctors can highlight their profile on Curofy, which enables discovery to both patients and doctors.
Based on this profile, a doctor can even get patient referrals from other doctors on Curofy.
Embracing Technology To Create A Well Knit Ecosystem For Doctors
With the world standing on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, technology has become an integral part of all successful businesses. And it’s no different, in the case of Curofy. By leveraging the power of intelligent algorithm, the startup has managed to keep its platform targeted and spam-free, while also organising and streamlining the conversations among doctors.
So, what are some of the real-world use cases of the Curofy platform?
Imagine a small town doctor coming across an unusual case and having doubts regarding the exact cause of the problems. He posts this case on the app and within a few hours, receives opinions from qualified doctors across the country.
The doctor can now consider these different lines of diagnosis or refer the patient to the right doctor based on the opinions.
Elaborating on another practical application of the technology, Goyal stated, “A doctor needs a loan for opening a new clinic. He posts his requirement on Curofy, which is automatically sent to the most relevant financial partner of Curofy. The partner directly approaches the doctor and provides an unsecured loan within 48 hours.”
Ushering In Change In The Indian Healthcare System
Although Curofy’s customer base comprises doctors only, the platform has been indirectly striving to make the country’s healthcare system more organised, by eliminating inefficiencies and streamlining the diagnosis and treatment process.
With Curofy, doctors now have an ecosystem where they can quickly discuss the case with the right set of doctors in the community and help the patient in getting a faster treatment. Additionally, the platform provides the doctors with a support system that allows them to partner with various stakeholders in the industry.
Talking about the impact that Curofy has had on the country’s medical sector, Nipun further stated, “The biggest outcome of this platform is the continuous intelligence that is been built by cataloguing these interactions and cases. With next-gen tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence at disposal, the possibilities can only be termed as revolutionary.”
On the medical industry side, even in today’s digital world, various healthcare stakeholders still rely on inefficient offline channels to create awareness about their innovations and services with the provider community. A highly engaged platform of doctors solves this problem as well.
As claimed by the founders, “Curofy is changing behaviour of doctors, making them adopt this closed social media. This enables a digital channel of communication between doctors and the industry.”
Numbers Don’t Lie: A Look At Curofy’s Current Statistics
While the intention to do good was what drove the founders to start Curofy in the first place, its continued success has been the result of careful strategising and the team’s steely-eyed focus on creating a sustainable business. The growth, Nipun believes, has been largely organic, mainly through word of mouth.
Currently, the medical networking app boasts more than 220K registered customers/clients on its platform, including super-specialists from premium hospitals like Medanta, Apollo, Max and Saket City, among others. So far, it has facilitated over 250K+ case discussions between doctors, with the current daily average being 500.
As per the filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), Curofy’s total revenue in 2016-17 stood at $162.1K (INR 1.05 Cr), which included $34.890.1 (INR 22.6 Lakh) as income from other sources. During the said period, the company reported losses of around $988.2K (INR 6.4 Cr). This was mainly because of the increase in expenses to $1.14 Mn (INR 7.4 Cr).
While Curofy’s current priority is a higher engagement of doctors over revenue, it claimed to have started making revenues in January 2017 and even reached close to breaking even by end of last year.
On the road ahead, Goyal averred, “As we delve deep, seamless communication is just tool for a broader goal. The goal now is to keep every doctor up to date with latest in the medical world, to inculcate a spirit of collaboration among them and most importantly to build an affordable healthcare system that is geography agnostic. At present, Curofy’s priority is the engagement of doctors over revenue while doing these tie-ups.”
Nipun Goyal On Surviving The Initial Challenges And The Road Ahead
Like most startups, gaining tractions during the initial days was a major hurdle for Curofy. According to its co-founders, the biggest challenge was to convince doctors to use the platform and then drive traffic from WhatsApp to the networking app.
Goyal explained, “We focused on retaining the doctors on the app by giving them an easy-to-use product with high utility. Providing them a spam free platform with very high relevance for each user was the key.”
“The word started spreading amongst the doctors and the network started growing rapidly. From four to five doctors a day, more than 1000 doctors started joining the app in a single day,” Nipun added.
In a bid to attain such an ambitious feat, Curofy is currently focussed on getting a foothold of the major stakeholders in the country. Utilising the funding it has raised so far, the company will further increase and improve the quality and quantity of the cases for its case repository.
Apart from that, Curofy is also working with various healthcare industry stakeholders to disrupt the way they communicate with doctors, thereby helping them to make their practice more efficient. As claimed by Nipun, the medical networking company has already collaborated with many industry partners to help them disseminate new innovations to doctors through the platform.
Along similar lines, a number of healthcare giants have joined hands with Curofy to digitise various aspects of their businesses. The medical networking startup is also said to be integrating with various platforms and service providers, who will fulfill different needs of doctors like getting them loans, medical devices, jobs, insurance, clinical decision support etc.
For instance, recently, it announced an alliance with Bajaj Finserv to provides easy access to unsecured loans and financial assistance on their app.
This strategic collaboration, according to the founders, is the outcome of a three-month-long pilot between and the NBFC, as part of which more than 1000 doctors have already received financial aid in setting up their clinics, starting their practice, expanding their business expansion, purchasing medical devices and buying real estate.
Shedding light on the company’s future plans, Nipun stated, “Facebook has proven to us that the entire marketing function of the world can be confined within the realms of a few buttons Curofy is taking the Facebook approach of buttoning various marketing functions.”
Ultimately, the healthtech company is keen on expanding its geographical reach in developing markets beyond India. To that end, it has already run pilots in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
According to an IBEF report, the overall Indian healthcare market is estimated at $100 Bn. It is expected to touch $280 Bn by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 22.9%. Globally, the healthtech sector attracted over $10 Bn funding with the market moving closer to consolidations, as per an August 2017 CB insights report.
In India alone, healthtech startups raised over $338 Mn funding across 111 deals in 2017, according to Inc42 DataLabs’ Indian Tech Startup Funding Report 2017. Some of the biggest fundings in this space were received by online pharmacy startups such as Netmeds, which secured $14 Mn funding in a round led by Cambodian investment holding company Tanncam and Sistema Asia Fund in October 2017.
Despite the increased availability of funding and the growth in the number of healthtech startups, the country’s healthcare sector continues to be crippled with inefficiencies, lack of proper infrastructure, shortage of doctors and other medical professionals, among others.
While the Union Budget 2018 has made provisions to raise health care spending by 11% to $8.2 Bn as a way of meeting critical health infrastructure gaps, at it stands currently, the problems in the Indian healthcare system are still jarringly real.
This is where startups like Curofy come in. Although not directly focussed on patients, the platform is helping create a robust infrastructure for doctors to communicate and collaborate with one another, which in turn makes the diagnosis and treatment process more efficient.
Other startups working along similar lines include Docplexus, Daily Rounds, Practo, Health Feed and PlexusMD. Globally, there are companies like Sermo and Doximity that are offering physicians a platform to connect with each other.
Despite the emergence of a number of competitors, Nipun believes that Curofy is fundamentally different in terms of the approach taken to solve the same problem. He told Inc42, “Curofy’s engagement levels are at least 10 times more than the best of them. To be honest, engagement is the key metric for determining success and failure in this segment. Curofy has already proven engagement, where others are still struggling to find it.”
Amid a population of over 1.3 Bn, the 1: 1,700 doctor to patient ratio in India is extremely poor in comparison to the prescribed ratio of 1:400 by WHO. While this directly affects the quality and accessibility of healthcare, the lower doctor to patient ratio also makes it more difficult for startups like Curofy to gain a solid footing in an already limited market.
Add to that is the fact that more 90 healthtech startups were launched in India in 2017 alone. Although the path is evidently fraught with challenges, how Curofy decides to navigate them will be its success story!