“In the next 10 years, data science and software will do more for medicine than all of the biological sciences put together.” – Vinod Khosla, Founder of Khosla Ventures.
Vinod made this remark in 2013. This was a time when the Indian healthtech sector was burgeoning with ‘me-too’ startups in segments such as ecommerce, online magazines, doctors’ search, online consultation, and even social networking portals. The whole thing started out on only one premise – giving people a platform to address their health-related needs. However, in a country like India where the doctor-to-patient ratio is just 1/ 2000, and a majority of the population relies on ‘ghar-ka-nuskha’ (home remedies) when it comes to first opinions – something seems missing from the loop.
Saurabh Arora, working as a data scientist at Facebook in 2013, picked up one such missing thread during one of his visits to India. As he recalls,
“I happened to visit a chemist, where I figured three types of people coming to take medicine. One – with a doctor’s prescription, second – without prescription, but aware of what medicine to buy (which is not good, but still OK in our country), and third – neither do they have a prescription, nor do they know which medicine to take. At that moment, I couldn’t figure out why this is still happening in the country, but with a little digging, things became quite clear.”
He realised that there were two segments of people. One fell in the bucket of Tier I and metro cities – the busy professionals – who don’t have time to visit a doctor every time for petty issues. And second, Tier II and Tier III cities – where doctors themselves are not available. “For instance in Delhi, a gynaecologist is quite easily approachable for a woman even for minor issues. However, in Tier II, Tier III cities, with a lower tuned doctor-patient ratio, the doctor becomes a super specialist and is not as easily available to the masses.”
This intrigued Saurabh enough to dive into the roots of the existing issue. However, he was still not clear on how to proceed. As with any tech-centric initiative, all endeavours are bound to start with coding, and so, his hunt for a developer made him cross paths with Rahul Narang. Rahul was then working as a software engineer with Snapdeal. The duo got the basic product out in 2014 and Lybrate was officially launched in January 2015.
With $11.43 Mn raised in two rounds by marquee investors like Tiger Global, Nexus Venture Partners, and Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, Ratan Tata, Lybrate today has grown to over 100K doctors from multiple specialties on the platform . The app has been downloaded more than 4 Mn times and 5 Mn interactions take place on the platform every month, according to an official statement.
The Beginning, The Struggle, And The Victory
Initially, the idea was just to get a solution to the core problem of people neglecting their health due to various reasons. Saurabh and Rahul began to code, but the problem arose when they could not find a front-end maverick to carry the designing forward.
And then came the shocker – less than 1% of the doctors actually wanted to use such a platform.
A few more months of in-depth market research, talking to 70-80 doctors on a daily basis, made them realise further that a doctor discovery platform or booking an appointment online will not solve the fundamental problem they started with. Ironically, the platform still had 1,500 doctors as at that time – all work of word of mouth, email and facebook campaigns.
As Saurabh says,
“That was the moment, I left my job. I still remember…it was Friday, 18th April 2014. I then went to a couple of my mentors and one of them was Gokul Raja Ram, who is known as the man behind the Google AdSense, and discussed the idea. I had no presentation, no proof of concept. All I wanted was to scrap all of the work done and build from scratch a communication tool wherein users and doctors can talk to each other.”
Saurabh then got introduced to a few of his friends and it just kickstarted their journey at an entirely new pace. “We tried communicating with four-five investors and within two hours got replies from all of them. Things turned around when Nexus showed interest in investing and we bagged a million dollar seed round in June 2014.” Although, as Saurabh says, it took a great deal to convince Nexus as the concept was new and they didn’t have even a single line of proof to ensure their success.
From July to December that year, with their heads down, the duo got involved in building out the product and launched Lybrate – both the web and mobile app together in January 2015. As Saurabh claims, within four months they became the number one app on the Play Store. He further adds, “Now, after two years, having reached a certain scale, it’s easy to understand this logic that when you go and meet a doctor, it’s a two-way communication process and that’s what Lybrate enables. ”
From A Communication Tool To A Health Engagement Platform
Post raising $10.2 Mn in a Series A round in July 2015, the pressure to scale piled up on the team. “When you scale, you get to see a lot of things that you have not seen earlier when you are at 100-1,000 users. When you reach 10,000 or 50,000 users then you find that users have started using your product in a way that you have not anticipated before,” says Saurabh.
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Now that they had built their brand, it was time to focus on getting real business (revenue) out of it. The founders realised that in the worst scenario, they can compel a user to visit the app for consulting a doctor not more than 12 times a year. Also, being just an intermediary, the platform doesn’t know what happened at the doctor’s clinic, so it’s not a closed loop experience. And lastly, 95% of the people prefer to connect with local doctors only, and will not travel far unless it’s a super-speciality case.
Next, they allowed users to telecommunicate with doctors and established themselves as a platform to get instant first opinions. Although this was a more frequent use case as here one can even ask a query for his loved ones without the trouble of syncing their schedule with them to visit the doctor, it was still not enough.
“Healthcare in itself is a very boring topic and usually not many people are excited about the latest updates in this sector – not everyone concerns themselves with what’s the new cream that has came in the market to prevent acne, or how I can sit in a straight posture, etc. Cricket, Bollywood, iPhones – these are the things people actually got engaged with. So with that insight, we pondered upon how we could make healthcare exciting and engaging at the user end.”
This laid their focus on building awareness, engagement, and action.
They started with gathering insights from doctors and introducing a health feed (just like Facebook news feed), which is a continuous stream of health tips on various topics. “The best part about it is that we are a platform with over 100K doctors, covering more than 52 specialities including modern and alternative medicine. From general nutrition to critical care topics like preventive care for kidney failure – all get covered on one platform and provided a lot of information to consumers that was not easily available earlier. We became the largest source of medically authenticated information, as everything is verified by a doctor.”
The team went a step ahead, and launched videos, however, consumers initially found them boring too because of their length and dull content. “We decided to make two-three videos on a subject, keeping them short, crisp, and easy to understand. At present, we are the only healthcare tech company who has an in-house team of videographers, who visit a doctor on site, shoot the video, come back, edit it and put it online from a wide range of topics,” shares Saurabh.
To take engagement to the next level, they also started with health quizzes, which is a series of five questions, with answers with an explanation at the end. “That’s done wonders because users spent like 2-2.5 minutes on that quiz and they the information that they would usually find too bland. And it’s so engaging because most of the time it was breaking a lot of myths,” he adds..
He further adds, “We recognised the vital loophole that other platforms missed out, and fixed it with Lybrate, a platform with a communication-centric approach. While Lybrate has empowered those who want to talk to a doctor for their health issues, users who are healthy and fit find equal value in the platform. The intuitive intelligence of the system customises health tips as per the preference of the users and provides them with the content which they are interested in. This sort of customisation drives engagement and helps inculcate healthy habits in people, apart from creating awareness about various health issues.”
“Till Date, We Have Zero People On The Street”
One thing, Saurabh most excitedly mentions, is the way they have grown – organically. As he says, “The initial challenge was to create awareness amongst doctors and get them onboard. Typically, in India, people try to use human resources to scale as opposed to product and technology. For example, if you want to get doctors on board, there will be a team of people who would go out and talk to doctors, get the information and get them on the site. We built a product that had a workflow that made doctors talk about Lybrate and recommend the platform to their peers. Till date we have zero people on the street. It’s the doctors on our platform that make us visible – by sharing, recommending, and sending invites to others. A doctor sitting in Bihar got a hold of us, inquired and registered, as he got an sms from a fellow doctor in Delhi. So, we build this viral loop of doctors to get more doctors on the platform.”
Another challenge was to find passionate people who truly believed in Lybrate’s mission and vision. Finding those first set of people was a gruelling task. However, once those folks were in, the task of finding like-minded people became easier.
When talking about the competition such as Practo, 1Mg, Tricog who are solving different problems in the healthtech sphere, and have also managed to raise healthy amounts of funding and visibility, he says, “Unlike other platforms, Lybrate is not doing things in bits and pieces. It has committed itself to fixing the root cause of the country’s healthcare delivery problem. The platform, thus, focusses on communication and multiplying the presence of doctors.”
“Today, Lybrate is the easiest, frictionless, and best way to talk to a doctor. Once people are on the platform and are able to communicate with the doctor, they get hooked to it, for the convenience it provides and other valuable services being offered on the platform. Giving users a worthwhile experience and convenience is imperative for building engagement. This has led to high repeat-traffic on the platform.”
Lybrate Lab+, Lybrate Cube And More
Lybrate recently launched two new products. Lybrate Lab+, which allows for a sample pick up post the doctor advising a lab test, review of reports by Lybrate doctors and automatic sharing of those reports with doctors.
Apart from users, the platform is solving multitudes of problems that doctors face with its unique offering – Lybrate Cube. It is a comprehensive practice management solution which goes beyond offering basic services such as management of appointments, maintaining electronic medical records and electronic prescriptions, among others. Lybrate Cube provides doctors essential tools that multiply their presence, helps them manage follow-up patients online and focus on patients who need their physical presence more.
Doctor to doctor service, where doctors can interact with each other, and medicine delivery are some other interesting areas that Lybrate team have their eyes on. Also, with already a good runway lap, increasing revenues and having their war chest filled with VC money, the team is not looking for funding anytime soon.
Sharing his views on the shift he has seen in the healthcare sector since they launched Lybrate, Saurabh concludes,
“There has been a major shift seen in adoption of technology both at the users and doctors end. This has reduced the gap considerably and this was the reason we had both web and mobile platforms from day one. This also helped generate traction as people find it more comfortable to spend time on their mobile phones rather than desktops.”
“The second thing that I have observed in the past two and a half years is that users are now more aware. Earlier, it was information arbitrage – the doctor has a lot more knowledge and the user was at the doctor’s mercy. Now, users demand a lot more information from the doctor, which did not exist earlier. This has helped our platform as people are now more health aware, they are seeking for solutions like Lybrate to help rather than us trying to get their attention. This is an accomplishment for us as we are now plugging the hole in the loop we foresaw when we began.”
Online healthcare in India is at a very nascent stage. The awareness about online platforms that serve different healthcare needs of people is limited and mainly concentrated towards the urban population. Growing adoption of smartphones and internet penetration, coupled with more awareness, will push usage of these platforms. Because this is very early, the scope of market opportunity is immense for solutions that draw in consumers from all brackets..
With healthcare embracing a plethora of players like Lybrate, Doctor’s Circle, Tricog, Zoctr, Practo, Medd, Healthkart and more, each one is playing their own role in transforming the sector. While we have already talked about tele-health, home health, video consultations, we are pretty sure that the next era of wearables would take the ‘awareness-engagement-action’ loop far ahead in the coming future.