Leading the digital transformation in the Healthcare Landscape
Practo, an Indian startup is on a mission – to help people make better healthcare decisions. Started by Shashank N.D. and Abhinav Lal in 2009, its primary platform is a search portal to find doctors; that helps patients look up and book appointments with doctors. With the recent acquisition of FitHo and several other collaborations in the pipeline, they are poised to become a major player in the Healthcare industry, providing comprehensive solutions ranging from preventive to curative healthcare. Currently, they have over 140,000 doctors listed on their portal and about 4 million consumers who use their services to search/book doctor appointments.
Their overseas ventures include Singapore, where they hold a 70% market share and their recently launched operations in Philippines. Earlier this year, this Bengaluru-based startup received a series B funding of $30million from Sequoia Capital and Matrix Partners to expand their services in India and other emerging markets. We caught up with the CEO of Practo, Shashank N.D. to know more about his company, the challenges they faced and his advice for budding entrepreneurs.
Could you briefly take us through your journey? How has the journey been so far?
We started Practo when we discovered that there was a profound need to transform the healthcare industry and center it around the patient – we call it ‘Patient First’ and this is one of the guiding lights for all decisions at Practo.
We also realized that, amazingly, despite all the technological advancements that this era has witnessed, Healthcare is one of the last industries to be completely transformed by technology. We recognized that in order to improve consumer’s healthcare experience, we had to begin with the doctors.
Traditionally, doctors are not considered to be tech-savvy and it is felt that, they have tremendous resistance towards adopting technology.
We believe the exact opposite. We understand that the reason doctors haven’t really taken to software is because up until now, software was never designed specifically for them. For example, when in 2009 I asked my doctor to email me a copy of my medical report, the doctor said he couldn’t do it because his software didn’t have an email button. Email was not new in 2009, it was widespread and yet no one had thought of putting an email button in his software. It was shocking and unbelievable.
We decided to change this and build a product that was designed from the ground up for doctors and in 2009, we launched Practo Ray – a cloud based clinic management software. We kept it cloud based so that doctors didn’t have to worry about software updates, hardware requirements, data security and data backups. This allowed them to focus on what is important – their patients.
Today it is used by doctors to manage millions of patients and healthcare records every month and we hold over 90% market share amongst all doctors using some software to manage their practice.
In 2013, we launched Practo.com – our doctor discovery platform which allows consumers find the right doctors and book instant appointments. Guided by our ‘Patient First’ philosophy, we’ve taken the unique route of listing all doctors for free (post verification of-course), we also don’t charge patients to book appointments or for doctors to receive these appointments. The entire process is completely free – because this ensures that patients have the widest possible choice.
Practo.com has grown at a sensational pace. Today we list over 140,000 doctors and every month, millions of patients search and book appointments with us and this is growing 30-40% every month! Our search volume grew 4x just in last 8 weeks – and that’s on a multi-million base! This makes us, the largest doctor discovery platform in Asia.
We are now in 35 cities in India and in 3 countries including Singapore and Philippines and will expand into many more by end of the year.
How is Practo revolutionizing the way healthcare is delivered? What is your motto?
Our mission is to help mankind live healthier, longer lives. We believe this is possible if we improve the healthcare experience for consumers by simplifying it and centering the industry around them. Globally.
This is why not only do we list doctors, but we have also built mechanisms to help consumers take better decisions. For example, after every appointment, we ask a patient for feedback on their experience with doctor and the clinic. This feedback is visible on the doctors profile and helps other patients decide on the doctor they want to see. If you think about it, today you find a doctor by asking no more than 2-3 people at best. On our platform you can read feedback from 40-50 and in some cases, hundreds of patients. This helps ensure, you can find the right doctor.
Secondly, our biggest strength is being able to create a platform that connects patients and doctors while simultaneously digitizing all their healthcare data to enable them to make better, more informed healthcare decisions every day. This requires behavioral change which is impossible to do unless you can create some really compelling experiences which is only possible if you own and understand both the doctor and patient side.
How is your market presence and reach across the country?
Earlier this year we announced our plan to expand into 35 cities in India – we have already achieved that! In a span of a couple of months we have come to notice that almost 20-25% of traffic comes from the Tier II and Tier III cities. We are already present in major Tier I cities across the country and have received a tremendous response and see a strong demand.
Besides India, we have expanded to counties like Singapore and Philippines and have plans to further increase our presence in South East Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
In Singapore specifically, we cover over 70% of doctors and are witnessing strong growth in consumer searches on our platform.
Can you mention some recent collaborations and how it contributes to your brand image?
We believe our brand image is really tied to the service we provide and the difference we make in people’s lives. So we do collaborations, where we can drive real impact.
Recently, we partnered with Govt. of Karnataka to help them bring doctor search to millions of citizens in Karnataka. We are also the default doctor search engine powering the Indian government’s National Health Portal.
Additionally, with an aim to strengthen our position in the digital healthcare segment, we recently acquired Fitho which is the first of several acquisitions we are exploring. The company has been one of the early players in preventive healthcare segment in India and with the acquisition, we aim at expanding our offering into the preventive healthcare space.
Fitho’s current offering will phase out over the next 2-3 months and Practo will launch a completely new preventive product that will leverage some of the technology from FitHo. It is the next step in our mission to make a single health app which offers consumers a more comprehensive solution ranging from preventive to curative healthcare.
We have a few more of these coming up and will talk about them once we’re ready to announce the collaborations!
What are some operational challenges you had to face, considering it’s a rapidly growing company?
With the aim to redefine an industry, the challenges are many but that helps us in getting better. When we started building Practo Ray, the biggest challenge (apart from gathering insights about what would be useful to doctors) was how to build a hyper-responsive product in a market where internet penetration was low and speeds not as good as what we see in many other markets. We literally counted (and still do) our performance in milliseconds to see how responsive and fast our product is and how quickly it can provide the relevant information to the user.
When building Practo.com, the biggest challenge was how do we get reliable information about doctors and clinics. We wanted information to be 100% reliable and accurate so we decided to build our own healthcare map of the world. We have an on-ground team that literally goes street by street, city by city, to capture doctor and clinic information which is then put through a rigorous verification system to ensure we only have genuine doctors with absolutely accurate details.
Tapping India and regions across the globe is complex, but we believe that the effort and hard work is crucial in building trust with the consumer.
Third challenge we faced was building the right infrastructure to scale our product. We’re growing at an extremely fast pace – From April to now, our search volume grew 4x! So obviously, the infrastructure, servers etc. have to keep up, while at the same time maintaining the highest levels of security and encryption. Hence, we keep a dedicated team that ensures our service is always available and is hyper responsive.
What are your future expansion plans?
In the future, we will continue to transform the digital healthcare industry globally and deliver on Practo’s promise of being “Your Health App”. We will add more features, products and several more categories including hospitals, diagnostic centres as well as spas, salons, wellness and fitness centres.
Our expansion will continue – both within India and internationally. We will also be focussed towards tapping the best talent pool. We’ve tripled our team to over 1200 in the last few months and we will be looking to add another 1000 people within the next few months.
What is your advice to youngsters who wish to do a startup?
Over the last 7 years that I have been building Practo, there are a few things I’ve learned. First, always optimize for the vision. Articulate the vision continuously and ensure each step you take is towards this. Vision helps align the entire team behind a common purpose.
Second, usage is king. Focus more on the usage of the product than how much the users are paying for it. Usage is the single most important metric to determine product value. Pay close attention to what your customers tell you. Product insights will come through interpretation of customer feedback.
Third, solve hard problems. At the start, try picking the tough problems to solve. These are usually the ones no one else would have tried solving. Ask yourself, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this before?’ Logically, due to technology advancements, problems that were harder to solve so far, would become easier now.
Fourth, hire A players only. That should be one of your top priorities. Only get the best of the best. They can give you exponential growth. Ensure they buy into the vision of the company and focus equally hard on retaining them. One of the keys to retention is to build a great culture from day one. It will remain through the life of the company.
Fifth, think global. One of the best things we did was launch in Singapore. The market there really stress tested our product and helped us improve by leaps and bounds which was instrumental in us getting such a high market share so quickly.
Sixth, get advisors & consultants. There are many industry experts out there. Take advantage of their expertise, its faster. Don’t try to do everything on your own.
Seventh, growth is the only oxygen for a startup. Continuously focus on the growth %. Take risks and do everything possible to grow fast.
Eighth, build great products. Never ever ship a sub-par product. Customers have an innate sense to detect carelessness. They will penalize you by moving away.
Ninth, choose the right investors. Don’t optimize for valuations, optimize for building a great product or service that people love. Investors will see value in that. Optimize more for who is investing in you than how much. Investors can be great partners in helping you grow, so they must share your medium and long term vision and their goals should be aligned to that.
Tenth, focus. You have limited resources and time. Don’t spend too much time attending conferences, networking events etc. Focus all energy on ensuring there is progress. In our earlier days, we used the mantra of ‘Code & Sell’, everything else is useless.
And finally, have fun. You will spend long hours doing this so make sure you love doing it and are excited by it. There is no room for half-heartedness.