For 47-year-old Aarfa Neyaz, memories of the death of her 7-year-old son around two decades ago turn fresh whenever she visits a medical facility. Her son had succumbed to tuberculosis for want of proper treatment. “We used to take him to a doctor every week with a lot of hope, not knowing that like us even the so-called doctor was clueless of his disease,” she recalls.
Similar stories are shared by many who reside in smaller towns and villages where proper health care is still a distant dream. However, with technological advancements, things are starting to change. Thanks to the internet, now we can even consult a doctor right from our bedroom.
Though health information platforms and medical teleconsultation services are mostly available in English, the idea is now being emulated in regional languages. One such start-up, myUpchar, recently raised $5 million in Series A round from Nexus Venture Partners, Omidyar Network and Shunwei Capital.
Rajat Garg, founder of myUpchar
Started by Rajat Garg in 2016, the start-up that currently provides its services in Hindi aims to reach “500 million people” residing in tier II and tier III cities by providing its services in other regional languages too. Its website gives information about various diseases and suggests their cure while allowing users to get opinions from doctors by posting their problems on the portal.
“Over the course of the last 18 months, the team has reached one milestone after another, with a relentless focus on deepening comprehension of the needs and behaviour of its target user base,” said Aditya Misra, an associate at Omidyar Network.
The company plans to launch a teleconsultation facility in a bid to make a mark in the industry dominated by the English platforms such as Practo, DocsApp and Lybrate.
A study by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India expects the size of the country’s health care industry to touch $280 billion by 2020.
The online health care industry currently has its focus on metro cities, leaving out millions of potential customers in smaller cities. This is the population that myUpchar has set its eye on.
Going by a recent survey, released by NGO Praja Foundation, every household in Indian cities spent 9.1 per cent of its total annual income on health care in 2017-18. Garg estimates this figure to be Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000. Even when one considers only the minimum estimate of Rs 10,000 and a family size of five, the total health care market in smaller cities is worth Rs 1 trillion.
The internet boom in the country has led to an exponential growth in the number of Indic language internet user base. The trend, according to a KPMG report, is expected to continue. The study estimates that of the next 326 million internet users in India, 93 per cent are expected to be local language-first users.
myUpchar’s only source of revenue at present is advertisement, which, Garg says, is grossly insufficient to even meet the expenses. The company is working on a monetisation plan but planning to implement it only after the start-up reaches the desired scale. “I can turn the company profitable right now — by cutting down expenses, but that’s not the point. We first want to reach 100 million customers,” said Garg. He plans to generate more revenue by charging a fee for teleconsultations.
The company plans to add content and provide consultation services in 13 other Indian languages.
Though a large number of health care consultation start-ups have mushroomed in the recent years, myUpchar faces little competition as it targets a completely different set of audience.
However, this may not be the same in the future. There’s the issue of acceptance as well. myUpchar is targeting a population that does not have much exposure to such platforms.
Expert Take: Monetising the content is the biggest challenge
K Ganesh, Serial Entrepreneur, Partner, GrowthStory.in
The company has shown good growth and promise. Health is one area where people tend to search online a lot. Globally, WebMD is seen as the authority site for anything related to health. The tier-II/III, non-English users need to be addressed in their vernacular language with engaging, simple content. Each language is different; the user profiles also differ across regions. So, creating a content company that serves the non-English users is a good idea.
There are several challenges to the business model: Monetising the content and traffic is the biggest one. The online advertisement rates in India are abysmal. People's tendency to pay for content is very low. Monetising through teleconsultations while good in theory, is tough in practice. Changing consumer behaviour to accept consultation online is a tall ask.
It can address monetisation through partnerships with health care service providers and get into fulfilment than just be a lead generation site through the traffic.