In the dynamic landscape of India’s start-up ecosystem, stories of entrepreneurs who embark on transformative journeys often stand out. The narrative of Chalo, an intra-city mobility platform revolutionizing bus commuting in tier 2 and beyond, is one such tale of innovation and perseverance. Let’s delve into the key players behind Chalo’s success: Dhruv Chopra, Mohit Dubey, Priya Singh, and Vinayak Bhavnani.
The inception of Chalo can be traced back to a pivotal moment in Mohit Dubey’s life. A software programmer from Mumbai with dreams of pursuing a career in the United States, Dubey experienced a change of heart during a visit to his in-laws in Bhopal. Witnessing the challenges faced by rural communities, particularly in accessing healthcare, inspired Dubey to explore solutions for rural India’s woes.
While his initial foray into telemedicine faced resistance, Dubey’s entrepreneurial spirit persisted. In 2005, he co-founded CarWale, an automotive classified portal, which later became a significant player in the industry. Dubey’s journey took an unexpected turn in 2013 when he realized that the future of Indian mobility lay beyond cars. Influenced by Peter Thiel’s concept of businesses with minimal competition, Dubey identified buses as the heart of transportation for smaller towns and villages.
Dhruv Chopra, co-founder of Chalo, played a crucial role in shaping the vision of the intra-city mobility platform. As Dubey’s partner, Chopra contributed to the conceptualization and execution of Chalo within the CarWale ecosystem in 2014. The aim was clear: to address the daily commute challenges faced by millions residing in tier 2 cities and beyond.
The initial years were marked by experimentation, with Chalo providing live tracking of buses and trip planning services. However, the breakthrough came in 2018 when the business model underwent a significant transformation under Chopra’s guidance. Recognizing the challenges faced by bus operators and commuters, Chalo shifted its focus to guarantee money for bus operators, ensuring daily revenue while streamlining operations.
Priya Singh, Partner at Venture Highway, an early investor in Chalo, acknowledges the complexities involved in reimagining public transport. As a key stakeholder, Singh emphasizes the importance of understanding the incentives, structural challenges, and scalability levers inherent in the public transportation ecosystem.
Investing in Chalo was driven by the size of the problem it aimed to solve in Bharat, where buses play a vital role in daily commuting. Singh recognizes that monetization remains a challenge in this price-sensitive market, but the real impact Chalo could have on public transport in India fueled Venture Highway’s belief in the startup’s potential.
Vinayak Bhavnani, who helmed Chalo from 2014 to 2017, played a pivotal role in steering the startup during its early years. Focusing on Bhopal initially, Chalo provided live tracking and trip planning services with no clear revenue model. The challenge was to navigate the complexities of public transport and gain a foothold in the market.
Under Bhavnani’s leadership, Chalo laid the groundwork for its subsequent success. While the early years were marked by limited operations and no revenues, the strategic shift in 2018, initiated by Dubey and Chopra, paved the way for Chalo’s exponential growth.
Fast forward to March 2021, and Chalo achieved a revenue of ₹28 crore in FY21, with a run-rate of ₹49 crore. The platform boasts over 6,000 buses across cities like Meerut, Mathura, Prayagraj, Shimoga, Udupi, Hubli, Jabalpur, Sagar, and Indore. Chalo’s growth trajectory accelerated post-lockdown, with a surge in demand for safer modes of transportation.
Mohit Dubey envisions Chalo as more than just a unicorn chasing valuation; it’s about creating value and becoming the largest mobility company in India. The team’s commitment to solving daily commute challenges for the masses, especially in smaller towns and villages, sets the tone for Chalo’s continued success.
Shaping the Future of Healthcare: Practo’s Visionary Duo – Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal
In the realm of digital health innovation, Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal, the dynamic duo behind Bengaluru-based Practo, have emerged as pioneers, revolutionizing how individuals approach their healthcare needs. Their journey, marked by foresight, technological prowess, and a commitment to holistic healthcare, has propelled Practo to the forefront of the Indian healthtech landscape.
One of Practo’s standout moments came during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis acted as a catalyst, accelerating the adoption of digital health solutions. Shashank ND, the co-founder and CEO, recalls how the growth they anticipated over several years unfolded in a matter of months. The pandemic not only heightened the demand for online consultations but also unveiled a significant shift in people seeking mental health support more willingly.
Abhinav Lal, the co-founder and CTO, emphasizes that India is experiencing a revival in understanding the interconnected nature of health issues. Practo seized this opportunity to position itself as the go-to online platform for a holistic approach to healthcare, going beyond episodic consultations.
Practo’s journey into the digital health space has been multifaceted. The platform, which initially focused on aiding users in finding and consulting with doctors, witnessed a seismic shift during the pandemic. Online consultations saw a massive surge, with tele-consultations spiking by three times over the previous year in 2020. The company’s strategic investments in technology paved the way for seamless real-time appointment bookings, with over 25,000 doctors now providing online consultations. Practo’s commitment to training these doctors through its ‘academy’ underscores its dedication to maintaining high standards in online healthcare delivery.
Beyond consultations, Practo diversified into at-home diagnostics and medicine delivery, complementing its core offerings. The comprehensive software stack developed by Practo, fueled by investments and strategic acquisitions, stands as the largest in India, setting it apart from competitors.
Practo’s vision extends beyond merely facilitating doctor-patient interactions. Shashank ND envisions a shift from episodic healthcare to a more continuous and holistic model. The platform encourages users to view their healthcare needs comprehensively, storing historical information about illnesses and medications. This approach aligns with the changing landscape of healthcare in India.
Government initiatives, such as the National Digital Health Mission and plans for a unified health ID, bolster Practo’s mission. These initiatives, likened to the impact of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) on digital payments, create a conducive environment for a paradigm shift in managing health data.
As Practo looks to the future, Abhinav Lal emphasizes the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in augmenting the capacity and capabilities of doctors. While acknowledging the human-centric nature of healthcare, Lal envisions technology bridging the gap in India’s doctor-patient ratio, especially beyond metropolitan areas. Practo’s recent product, ‘Practo Plus,’ a subscription offering various services, has garnered traction among both individuals and corporate businesses. Lal sees AI and ML as tools to address India’s healthcare challenges, intervening early in lifestyle diseases and enhancing the overall health infrastructure.
While Practo isn’t profitable yet, the trajectory suggests a promising future. Gross margins have increased from 10 percent in FY18 to 35 percent in FY20. An IPO, potentially three to four years away, looms on the horizon, as Practo continues to scale its operations. Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal’s venture, born out of a need to streamline healthcare access, has evolved into a comprehensive ecosystem. As Practo pioneers innovations in digital health, their commitment to doing good while building a sustainable business positions them as trailblazers in India’s healthtech landscape.
Empowering Minds: Richa Singh’s YourDost App Redefining Mental Well-being in Corporate India
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only reshaped our understanding of physical health but has also brought to the forefront the importance of mental well-being. In the wake of financial uncertainties, shifting relationship dynamics, and reduced human interactions, a surge in mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression has prompted the development of apps dedicated to supporting mental well-being.
One such impactful app is YourDost, founded by Richa Singh in 2014. Unlike many mental health apps available to individuals, YourDost operates on a subscription-based model exclusive to companies. With clients including esteemed organizations like the CK Birla Group, Capillary Technologies, upGrad, and educational institutes such as IIT Delhi and IIT Madras, YourDost is making significant strides in addressing the mental health needs of the corporate sector.
In the past year, YourDost has witnessed a substantial increase in sessions related to issues such as anxiety, anger, frustration, and loneliness. Richa Singh, the founder, notes a 120 percent rise in the number of sessions taken by working professionals as lockdowns were initiated. The platform, catering to more than 100 corporates in the past year, has proven to be a crucial resource for employees dealing with the psychological impact of the pandemic.
YourDost stands out with its subscription-based model, providing companies access to over 900 experts available round the clock. The platform addresses a myriad of issues triggered by COVID-19, emphasizing anxiety management, relationship challenges, and burnout prevention. The app’s success is underscored by its ability to engage more than 100 corporates and secure $1.6 million in two rounds of funding.
Aneesh Reddy, co-founder and CEO of Capillary Technologies, one of YourDost’s earliest angel investors and clients, highlights the growing acknowledgment of mental health issues in the corporate sector. He sees a substantial opportunity for platforms like YourDost in the post-pandemic era, as corporations seek a scientific approach to emotion wellness programs as a long-term investment.
In a country where mental health resources are limited, with only 30 psychiatrists for every 10 million people, YourDost plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap. The app provides an avenue for individuals to seek professional help conveniently and confidentially. It is a welcome addition to the growing ecosystem of mental health apps, which includes platforms like Mindhouse, Evergreen Club, and ThinkRight.me, addressing the mental well-being of individuals.
Mindhouse, launched in April 2020, focuses on making meditation and yoga-based mental wellness solutions accessible and affordable. Pooja Khanna, co-founder of Mindhouse, notes the tremendous uptake of live interactive classes, offering content on guided meditation, yoga, natural soundscapes, music, podcasts, and sleep stories. With over 2 lakh downloads since its launch, Mindhouse has become a valuable resource for users combating stress and anxiety.
As the mental health app landscape evolves, it’s essential to recognize their role as complementary tools rather than substitutes for professional mental health care. Tanuja Babre, program coordinator at iCALL, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), emphasizes that while these apps are resourceful, they cannot replace professional mental health care. However, they serve as valuable supplements for symptom management and self-awareness.
Apps like YourDost are crucial contributors to breaking the stigma associated with mental health in India. With its corporate-focused approach, the platform not only addresses immediate concerns but also lays the groundwork for a broader mental health movement. Richa Singh’s vision has positioned YourDost as a catalyst for change, creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for mental well-being in corporate India.
ShopKirana’s Sprint to Success: The Ready, Steady, Heady Journey of Founder Sumit Ghorawat
Sumit Ghorawat‘s fascination with the phrase “ready, steady, go” from his school days took a profound turn into the world of entrepreneurship, leading to the creation of ShopKirana. In a captivating journey marked by resilience and strategic expansion, Sumit Ghorawat, along with co-founders Deepak Dhanotiya and Tanutejas Saraswat, transformed ShopKirana from a local player to a thriving B2B supply chain platform for mom-and-pop stores.
Steady Beginnings in Indore:
Founded in Indore in 2015, ShopKirana started modestly, working with a handful of kirana (mom-and-pop) stores. The team’s decision to stay rooted in Indore for four years allowed them to refine their business model, understand the intricacies of the market, and establish a robust foundation for future growth. Closing FY18 with a revenue of Rs8.92 crore, ShopKirana was poised for the next phase of expansion. In December 2018, Info Edge, known for backing Zomato, recognized ShopKirana’s potential and invested $2 million in the startup. This capital injection paved the way for ShopKirana’s entry into Bhopal and Jaipur, resulting in a remarkable spike in revenue. The FY19 revenue soared to Rs24.4 crore, setting the stage for a Series B round of $10 million in August 2019.
Exponential Growth and Pandemic Resilience:
The subsequent expansion into five more cities, coupled with a Series B funding, fuelled ShopKirana’s revenue to skyrocket, reaching over Rs200 crore by March-end FY20. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ShopKirana’s focus on technology adoption and streamlined operations doubled its revenue to over Rs400 crore a year after the lockdown.
Unlocking Kirana Potential with Technology:
ShopKirana’s success aligns with a broader trend of technology-led modernization in India’s kirana segment. With approximately 13 million kirana stores, accounting for 88% of FMCG sales, the sector presented an untapped opportunity for startups. ShopKirana addressed various pain points for kiranas, including inventory management, cost reduction, pricing transparency, and support for credit, GST, and digital payments.
Private Labels and X Factor:
ShopKirana’s foray into private labels emerged as a strategic masterstroke. Introducing in-house brands like ‘Kisan Kirana,’ ‘Safoya,’ and ‘Clean and Bold’ proved highly successful, contributing Rs100 crore to the FY21 sales. Leveraging insights from kiranas, ShopKirana filled gaps in the market, offering high-quality, affordable products directly sourced from farmers.
While ShopKirana’s private labels have flourished, challenges lie ahead. Maintaining product quality and transitioning from push to pull marketing are crucial aspects for sustained success. Additionally, potential competition from industry giants like ITC and HUL could pose threats. However, ShopKirana’s nimbleness, close kirana connections, and cost-effective distribution give it a competitive edge.
Sumit Ghorawat’s leadership, coupled with ShopKirana’s innovative approach, has positioned the company as a frontrunner in the kirana-tech segment. With plans for a heady expansion into 30 Tier II cities, ShopKirana is poised to unlock new frontiers, empowered by the lessons of readiness, steadiness, and a heady growth trajectory. As ShopKirana propels forward, it epitomizes the spirit of agility and resilience in India’s rapidly evolving start-up landscape.
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