Prashant Tandon’s healthcare data startup is an all-in-one platform empowering consumers to overcome the opacity of the healthcare sector. In 2007, when Tandon was at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, several fellow students were working on startup ideas. The desire to be an entrepreneur and create value was born then, he says. Back in India, he chose the healthcare sector for his startup, having gained some experience in the field while working for McKinsey’s healthcare practice after finishing business school.
In 2009, Tandon embarked on his first startup, Healthchakra.com, along with friend Sameer Maheshwari, whom he had persuaded to give up his Silicon Valley job and join him in India. The software enabled doctors to manage patients better, but the duo abandoned it within a year, as doctors were wary of sharing patient information with the platform. Their next venture, HealthKart, was a B2C venture for nutrition and wellness products. HealthKart attracted a range of venture capital investors, including Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, Kae Capital, Omidyar Network, and MakeMyTrip founder Deep Kalra.
Within two years, HealthKart became profitable. At this stage, Tandon, who had always been troubled by the opacity of the healthcare sector, saw a fresh business opportunity in empowering consumers to make informed decisions about medicine buying. This led him to set up a separate company, HealthKart Plus, in 2012. Tandon headed the new venture, while Maheshwari continued to look after HealthKart. HealthKart Plus was subsequently rebranded as 1mg. The same investors who backed HealthKart also invested in 1mg, initially at $6 million, and $15 million in a subsequent round.
Trust is currency
At its simplest level, 1mg is an online drugstore, which delivers medicines in 605 Indian cities and towns according to prescriptions uploaded on its app. Tandon attributes the growth of 1mg to the intuitive and user-friendly interface of the website and the mobile app. Customers appreciate being able to see less expensive substitutes for the prescribed drugs and side effects of each brand. With an array of brands available in the country at widely differing prices, but delivering the same therapeutic effects, 1mg empowers consumers by enabling them to make well-informed, cost-effective decisions.
“Outside of the metros, patients don’t get access to a lot of drugs,” says Tandon. “There are also huge authenticity concerns.” Previously, there was no comprehensive database of medicines available either. “We worked with distributors to get information on the latest drugs, their prices, and side effects,” he adds. “We ended up creating what is probably India’s first database of medicines.”
To further empower customers, Tandon put the database in the public domain, ready to download for anyone who wanted it. A well-meaning customer shared this as a WhatsApp post in January 2013, and the database promptly went viral, with 300,000 downloads in three days. “It made us the most popular health app by far,” says Tandon. The transparency did wonders for business too, as people began to trust 1mg. “In healthcare, the biggest currency is trust,” he adds. Tandon’s 1mg app has been downloaded over 10 million times. No wonder Tandon believes that 1mg is the Wikipedia for medicines in India.
Adding new services
Keen to become a one-stop shop for all healthcare needs, 1mg has been adding services to its platform, such as laboratory diagnostics and e-consultations. The company has already made four acquisitions to further expand its portfolio and services – it bought Homeobuy, which sells homeopathic and Ayurvedic medicines, in June 2015. In July 2016, Medd, a marketplace for booking diagnostic and imaging tests was acquired. MediAngels, which caters to a wide network of super-specialty hospitals, was acquired in December 2016, and Dawailelo was acquired in August 2017 for its impressive network across India.
Tech for the consumer
The data that 1mg has collected provides a unique perspective on drug consumption patterns. “The quality and level of the data we have is rich, deep, and nuanced,” says Tandon. “We want to take this data to a stage where we can use it to make helpful interventions. We want to get into preventive and proactive management of healthcare.” The database can be used to predict what consumers of medicines are looking for and, in time, as it expands, can even provide the government insights into disease outbreaks.
While 1mg’s data is already displaying its transformative power, Tandon believes that artificial intelligence (AI) – or machine learning (ML) – will also play a significant role in enhancing the healthcare experience in the future. Already, 1mg uses machine learning in a simple form for triaging – or deciding which customer needs attention first. While earlier queries during e-consultations were sorted manually and redirected to specific specialists based on their nature, automation now does the job, saving time for both patients and doctors. As the data gets more robust, Tandon hopes AI can give the consumer a more nuanced, focused experience.
“We are trying to create a platform, where, based on our learning of a profile, we are able to send very relevant content,” says Tandon. Personalized customer experiences based on a customer’s stage of life or disease is on the anvil. However, it’s early days for AI at 1mg, he admits.
“Improving customer experience will always be an ongoing journey. We’ve just launched a Dropbox for consumers to store prescriptions. We’ve created a pill reminder. We’re making readability for people who need assistance, whether it is voice-based or larger text.”
To tap rural areas, the 1mg app has been made available in six languages so far. A voice-based interface is also under consideration.
Partnering for growth
Tandon is keen on partnerships to fuel growth. He would like to team up with insurance companies, for instance, for outpatient insurance, or with communications service providers to enable consumer access. He is also in talks with the government to assist the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Yojna, under which the Department of Pharmaceuticals sets up fair price chemist shops across the country. “We believe healthcare will not work in isolation and we, as a platform, don’t want to stay as a closed system,” he says. “We want to partner with the rest of the healthcare ecosystem. It will give us much more access to information and data about the consumer as well.”
Tandon maintains the healthcare playing field is so vast that competition is welcome. “It’s great to have some competition as it helps develop the market,” he says. “All of us in the online health space put together are probably about 0.3-0.4% of the market. Right now the fight is not with other online players. The game is much bigger. Healthcare is recognized as a global area of interest, and I expect this space to get even more interesting.”
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