Rethinking “Move Fast and Break Things”
Diagnostics is often considered to be a doctor’s market. You need to partner with hospitals or doctors or run franchisees. Healthians took the road less travelled and opted for B2C route. However, will it be able to replicate its success in South India in 2019? A HE report.
Unlike many serial entrepreneurs, Deepak Sahni is a fan of startups that take on significant and complicated problems.
He is trying to prove that a strong company is worth the tough work. His company, Healthians, a home diagnostic service provider is planning expansion to South India, with a proposed budget of Rs 50 crore.
Back when he entered the healthcare sector, he had never thought that he would compete with behemoths in the Indian diagnostic market. “I realised that I was looking at a huge issue in the Indian healthcare market,” recalls Sahni.
Projecting His Brand in the Diagnostic Jungle
Having already founded his first business at the age of 19, Sahni had found his mission.“I have worked for 14 years in the healthcare industry. I started my first venture in 2002. When I started my digital agency, I realised that many doctors were not tech-savvy and we created technical solutions for them. During 2006-2008, I represented Indian in the US for medical tourism. Our job was to showcase India as a destination for medical care. This expertise later helped me to set up international patient departments for corporate hospitals, which is a 7 billion dollar industry today. It was a turning point in my career,” he recalls.
Better known for its doctor-centric reports, the Indian diagnostic market is often under pressure with disruptions like demonetization and GST last year. However, Sahni has taken a more positive attitude towards the sector.
Over time his commitment to the healthcare industry paid off. “The idea in India is that you visit a hospital, only when you have an urgent healthcare need to be taken care of. I hired a market research firm to find out what people need to do so that they don’t land in a hospital. We got many insights about preventive healthcare like why healthy people don’t do tests and lack of awareness among sick. We wanted people to add at least ten years to their life span, that’s why we named our startup, Healthians, ” he explains.
Old Rules go up in Smoke
The company that started with Delhi NCR now has operations in 30 cities across seven states including Bangalore, Lucknow, Kanpur, Agra, Dehradun, Jaipur, Panipat, Ambala, Karnal, Mohali, Panchkula, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Amritsar, to name a few.
Sahni figured that he would require enough success on his startup road map before starting expansion. “Lot of people enter the healthcare industry think it’s similar to e-commerce. They pump in money to acquire customers fast. However, that doesn’t happen at healthcare at all. You lose your credibility if you do so. Healthcare is like a Chinese bamboo tree. It takes time to grow and then it shoots up. I haven’t seen any healthcare company growing overnight,” he adds.
But does he think that somewhere along the line, the group missed opportunities to expand? Could it be because the company was caught in its growth pangs? The answer comes even before finishing the question. Sahni points out that he has changed his business plan from an aggregator model to owning and running clinics using their technicians, to offer better service to patients. And if the end result is wizardry, getting there was more like digging a tunnel with a teaspoon. “We figured out only less than 50 percent of the bookings on our platform were fulfilled by the various diagnostic partners. That’s when I realised that I need to focus on logistics. And we don’t believe in speed and aggression,” he adds.
The Question That All Founders Face
What does he think about the work culture in Delhi, is it different from other cities? “We knew there was much competition in North India and if we were able to survive and give value to the customer in this market, we knew that we could survive in other markets too. Gurgaon is also a startup hub, which attracts talent from all over the country. It would make sense to be in Bangalore for a product based company. However, we offered both technology as well as service. Moreover, it would be hard to attract talent, if you are in Bangalore, as there are several tech-companies there,” adds the Delhiite.
“When we entered the Indian market, we had to start from scratch. There was no business model for us to replicate. However, we were always clear that we want to be patient-centric than doctor-centric. We can offer tests at affordable prices because there are no middlemen,” explains Sahni.
The overt display of social consciousness is core to the strategy of Healthians. The company has a customer base of six million households and since its founding in 2015 has done so by wrapping itself in a mantle of affordable packages and technology.
With his typical candour Sahni, points out, that he doesn’t take any stone unturned for patient safety. Healthains has taken a friendlier route, positioning itself as a modern complement to traditional diagnostic service providers. Sahni describes Healthians as an innovator sitting between diagnostic companies and inflexible hospitals. “The idea was to come up with a solution that hits the right balance of resource and convenience.”
The company also began providing solutions to the challenges associated with diagnostic tests. For example, the company sends the test results to your email address, and a doctor even explains, what the various test parameters mean for you. It also takes precaution for infection control during the process of collection of samples and also uses specific kits for storage, so that samples don’t get influenced by external parameters such as sunlight.
Finding a Pace to Avoid BurnOut
Sahni’s biggest concern these days is to promote this concept called “biased for action” within his organisation. “More than aggression, innovation matters a lot in the healthcare industry. When we entered the industry, none of the investors believed that we could build a model without the support of the doctors. I faced 12 rejections before I got my first fund. Today everyone is talking about B2C. We will be able to replicate our success in other markets too, as we believe in solving hard problems,” he concludes.