Saurabh Arora, former data scientist at facebook and now co-founder, Lybrate, has signed up 90,000 doctors into his platform which enables one-on-one doctor consultations, through phone or chat.
Find the best doctors in India and consult them online’ is the first thing you notice when you search for Lybrate on Google. Yet another healthcare platform to list doctors? What’s different about that? I asked Saurabh Arora, its co-founder, as we began the interview. And pat came the reply, “We don’t even compete with the likes of HelpingDoc, Practo or Medfini. Discovery (of doctors) isn’t going to solve the core problem that India’s healthcare market faces today; that of convenience and access,” he states candidly. He reinstates that Lybrate is attempting to democratise healthcare in India, by allowing people to consult with any doctor on the platform, over a quick phone conversation, text message or online video chat.
“Today, India’s healthcare problem is not about discovery, but about not having access to doctors. Convenience in metros and accessibility in non-metros are two challenges we are trying to solve through Lybrate”
A former data scientist at Facebook, Arora’s first exposure to healthcare was during his yearly visits to India, when incidents at pharmacies would have him ponder over the challenges in the country.
“At pharmacies, you can see three kinds of patients; ones who give a prescription and buy medicines, ones who know what medicines they want without a prescription, and the ones who don’t have a prescription, nor do they know what to buy and instead make the pharmacist a doctor who recommends medication based on their illness,” he recalls. Why does this happen? Because, as Arora says, the challenge in Metros (Tier I cities) is the lack of convenience. In other words, people’s lifestyle has become such that they don’t have the time to visit a doctor who is 30 minutes away, owing to work, traffic and other external factors. Hence, invariably, they wait until the illness becomes unmanageable or, they self-medicate. In non-metros, the challenge is the exact opposite. They are willing to pay, they have time to travel, but they have no access to specialists or super specialists. This, Arora says, is the core healthcare problem in India. And this is what Lybrate set out to solve, when it was founded by Arora and his co-founder, Rahul Narang in 2013.
Built as a neutral platform, Lybrate initially began as a mobile app for doctors, before being introduced as a healthcare app for customers. “We wanted to challenge two status quos; that not all doctors are tech savvy, and that we had to get customers on board before we sign doctors. If a doctor knows how to make a call, use Whatsapp and check email, I think that is good enough,” he opines. Quoting that there is one doctor for every 1,700 patients in India, Lybrate banks on its motto of ‘anywhere, anytime’ medical access, and enables doctors to consult more patients online and in-person, in lesser time spans. “How can we prioritise which patients need immediate attention to those who are coming for a regular check up or follow up? How do we get the doctor to consult more patients in lesser time and match the skewed ratios? How do we improve doctor-patient communication? These are some questions we are trying to address,” explains Arora.
With a total of 90,000 doctors on board managing five million user interactions per month, Lybrate has a comprehensive verification process in place to ensure that the doctors on its platform are well-qualified and credible enough to offer consultations. By the end of the year, Arora says he plans to sign up with over half a million doctors, and grow the business 10x, without revealing exact financial details.
Bringing in the big bucks
In August 2014, the company raised its first round of seed fund to the tune of US $1.23 million from Nexus Venture Partners, and followed it up with a Series A round amounting to over US $10 million from Tiger Global, Ratan Tata and existing investor, Nexus. While the funds were primarily channelised towards hiring, augmenting technology and expanding operations, Arora points out that a key advantage it offered was in creating brand presence for Lybrate to attract good talent. “The primary reason why we announced the funding round was to attract inbound traffic in terms of potential hires,” he adds. Further speaking about his fund raising know-how, Arora shares that the key lesson an entrepreneur must keep in mind when seeking external funding is to identify investors who understand the business and relate to the their vision. “When we began actively seeking external funding, many investors suggested that we build healthcare software instead of a communication platform. But, we were clear that we didn’t want to take the software route. Instead, we wanted to solve a core problem. An investor who saw the uniqueness of this model was Nexus. Hence, we struck the deal,” he recalls.
Finding the right talent
While Lybrate currently has 120 employees on board, it didn’t have a human resources team until it hired the first 50 employees. As Arora points out, the hiring strategy for Lybrate was different at different stages of the company’s growth. In the early days, Arora looked for people who were immensely passionate about the idea; in the next phase, he sought people who were smart, possessed relevant skills and were passionate about what the company is building. “After the first 50, we began getting a lot of inbound traffic. This, combined with referrals from existing employees helped us identify the rest of the team members. Today, our HR takes complete end-to-end responsibility of the hiring process and has complete authority over identifying and recruiting the right candidates,” shares Arora.
Marketing is another domain where Lybrate has built a niche for itself. Apart from the usual digital marketing efforts, Lybrate encourages its doctors to recommend other doctors to use the platform, thus expanding the healthcare network further across metros and non-metros. A third initiative it has recently launched is the ‘Lybrate – Ask the Specialist’ feature, where users can ask questions to doctors about specific health ailments.
Setting aside the question about a five-year goal, Arora plainly states, “Instead of solving multiple problems at a time, we are focussing on solving only one problem; how to enable users to consult a doctor. That remains the core of our business and we believe this is enough to make Lybrate stand out from other healthcare players operating in this space today,” he concludes.