Fundraising Challenges, Less Noise and Efficient Growth & The Next Trillion Dollar Company with Tushar Vashisht Co-Founder & CEO HealthifyMe

Tushar Vashisht, Co-Founder & CEO HealthifyMe with Shripati Acharya, Managing Partner Prime Venture Partners.

Listen to the podcast to learn about:

01:30 - HealthifyMe Inspiration: Aadhaar & 100 Rupees a Day

07:00 - From Google Sheets to a Website to a Mobile App

13:00 - The Most Effective: Human, AI or Human+AI?

18:00 - Near Death Experiences in the Life of a Startup

27:00 - “Too Much Money Can Harm a Company”

32:00 - AI, HealthTech & the Next Trillion Dollar Company

37:15 - Time of Less Noise and More Efficient Growth

Read the complete transcript below

Shripati Acharya 01:00

Hello and welcome to, prime Podcast. My guest today is my good friend and I’m so delighted to have with me Tushar Vashisht, Co-founder and CEO of HealthifyMe. Welcome Tushar to Prime Podcast.

Tushar Vashisht 01:25

Shripati, It’s such a pleasure to be chatting with you on a podcast instead of our usual actual Fireside conversations, that we’ve had since almost 15 years now, since Aadhaar, I believe. So a big pleasure of mine to be here.

Shripati Acharya 01:40

Absolutely. So let’s launch off right away. So, what was the inspiration for HealthifyMe?

Tushar Vashisht 01:50

Well, as you know, it was driven by a personal experience more than anything else. When I joined Aadhaar along with you and others. I had, you know, I’d come back to India after almost nearly a decade abroad.

And I just ballooned up in size. I gained a lot of weight. I gained some, you know, 25 kgs of weight while helping the government build Aadhaar. And I realized that. And while initially I was beating myself up about it, when I kind of looked around and I read the stats, it turns out I wasn’t the only one.

The whole world, unfortunately, has become an increasingly obese and overweight place. We as humanity have gone from a malnourished civilization for the first time we’ve gone to becoming an over overweight civilization, you know, from less than 900 million people overweight we became two and a half billion people overweight or obese in the last 20 years.

So homo sapiens have predominantly been a malnourished society, but now suddenly, one in two homo sapiens are overweight or obese. And, you know, so it was driven out of personal experience and as you know, I was able to lose all that weight, become a lot fitter, you know, two half marathons. But I’ve struggled with weight since as well.

And one thing that became abundantly clear is that there are tools and solutions that are needed and that people will need to manage their lifestyle, their metabolic health and fitness. And, you know, it’s reversible. It’s not a one-way street. Initially I did that by calorie counting myself and figured that other people deserve to use tools, as well, which allowed them to track their lifestyle, metabolic health and improve it.

So that’s how, I guess, inadvertently and serendipitously, we started HealthifyMe. The other backstory is that I was living on hundred rupees a day and at the poverty line, if you remember after Aadhaar and before I started HealthifyMe. Actually at that income level, we couldn’t eat any non-Indian food. So that’s when we…

Shripati Acharya 03:45

So what was the motivation of that? Just to give a little bit of context for our listeners here.

Tushar Vashisht 03:50

Well, you know, so when I joined Aadhaar, clearly that was to help the average Indian. But I felt like I was doing it from a glass wall. You know, we used to travel in air conditioned cars and stay in the government guest houses.

It wasn’t really giving a very… I wasn’t empathetic enough to the average Indian. As I exited Aadhaar I figured before I’d get on to do what I want to, Let me go and live like the other half. So go live at the average Indian income, go live at the poverty line and see what an average Indian, what choices and constraints one feels every day.

And at that income level, you know, I couldn’t track any of the food in terms of nutrition that I was consuming because the Indian Foods database didn’t exist back then. So we started…

Shripati Acharya 04:35

So let me just put a little bit of subtext here… you choose hundred rupee per day because that is the official definition of poverty line, correct?

Tushar Vashisht 04:40

Actually hundred rupees a day is the average Indian income. It is the median Indian income per person exclusive of rent. With rent it was 133 rupees, exclusive of rent or 150 rupees and exclusive of rent was about 100 rupees per person per day. And that’s where kind of the hundred rupees came out and then 32 rupees was because that is the power line definition that’s what the government determines is the property line definition.

Shripati Acharya 05:10

Okay. And so how was that experience?

Tushar Vashisht 05:12

It was actually quite eye-opening, honestly. You know, we were, we had, I wrote extensively about it. But we realized that there are some very real constraints that people face at that income level, you know, like. obviously one of the core ones was that you cannot get enough protein in your diet, particularly as you start shifting towards 32 rupees a day.

The only thing one can really afford is carbs. And unfortunately the government also subsidizes only carbs, rice, sweet and sugar. So, we are intentionally converting our country into a diabetic population. Intentionally.

That was quite a shocking realization. On logistics and travel, one can’t travel more than five kilometers radius effectively. And those income levels, because the cost of transportation ends up being too high. So you’re kind of living in a bit of a prison, which doesn’t allow for job opportunities, mobility, et cetera.

So many, you know, that how insurance is largely driven but is, is a huge problem. Health or life in urban societies, because in rural societies we found that at least the village acts itself has a social insurance. Community insurance is there, any adverse effect is taken off by the wider community and, you know, you kind of pay people back.

But in urban environments, there is no absolutely no air cover for any adverse event. So I can keep going on and on. There were so many. We studied addiction. We studied nutrition, we studied energy, you know, and every day we’d go out and kinda talk about it. But the nutrition bit was interesting because we realized that people couldn’t track protein, and the only way we could realize it is to, first of all compute how many carbs and proteins and fats there are in Indian foods. And that led to the birth of a calorie counting Excel.

So we were first to create an Excel to track Indian foods and its calorie values and micronutrients and macronutrients by just searching on the internet and wherever in which corners we could find that information we would put it into an Excel. And you know, I was anyway used to the form of calorie counting. And I’d used that to lose my weight right before then, but it was in a Western diet form. It wasn’t for an Indian diet form.

And that’s when we were forced to create the first version of an Indian calorie counter in Excel. And that’s when we came up with these various insights for the government and for others. And subsequently when we started, when we exited that experiment, we started looking around as to what company to really build.

A lot of people actually started to want that excel to count their own calories and proteins and fiber and whatnot in various forums that we would communicate. So initially we would, we gave that as a Google Sheets. And then it was actually a Prime Ventures partner, Sanjay, who said, man, why are you giving it as a Google Sheet?

Give it as a website. You know, it’ll help you also run some analytics as to who’s using it, who’s not, how many people. But yeah, you know, that’s a good idea. Maybe we should convert it into a website. And it was actually, I tell you where it was at the Rotary, some rotary event he had organized back then.

So, you know, and then slowly that website turned, it turned into a mobile app, and then we raised our angel round and, and that just kind of got the whole spire, you know, that just got, that snowball moving. And, you know, 10, 11 years later, Healthify is what it is today.

Shripati Acharya 08:25

So tell me like, what is HealthifyMe today in terms of its product? And then I’ll delve into you know, what are some of the observations from there.

Tushar Vashisht 08:35

So HealthifyMe is a solution to drive behavior change, that then improves metabolic health. Obviously allowing people to lose weight, get fitter or reverse their medical condition as a consequence of that.

And the way we drive this behavior change is through three things. We have a free app that people can download and use that to measure their own lifestyle aspects around their diet, exercise, fitness, sleep and stress. And we have a team of a thousand coaches that people can use to accelerate their journey of behavior change.

These are people who keep our customers accountable, provide diet and fitness plans and strategies, and do regular, monthly, weekly connects to engage and motivate our clients. And finally, we have a series of connected hardware equipment that you get as free as part of different subscription tiers that you buy.

These are, connect continuous glucose monitors, connected smart scales, blood work that we run to understand what’s happening inside your body and how can we improve that with an evidence-based solution. We also have a strong AI practice underlying our coaching behavior. Our large language model was called Riya that helped our coaches be very efficient and effective at what they do.

And subsequently we’ve opened that as well as a low cost subscription offering the pure play AI offering. So to give you a sense of scale, you know, we do about $40 million a year today, and we’ve got a quarter million paying subscribers. Half of the paying subscribers use our AI only service. The other half use some form of coaching, human coaching combined with the IOT or hardware integration. Meanwhile, we have about 3 million or so monthly active users who use our app for free to get benefit from it.

Shripati Acharya 10:30

So, going back, it is such a counterintuitive thing to get people hooked on to a behavior change. Which inevitably, every weight loss plan requires, right? And it is such a daunting thing to do. So when we think of talking to an entrepreneur and it is a consumer play, which HealthifyMe is. You always are concerned that driving behavior change is such a tough thing to do. So did you face that in your early days vs now?

Tushar Vashist 11:05

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think, you know, driving this behavior change is basically going fundamentally against evolution to an extent, right? Like evolution has trained our mind and body to consume more energy when we see energy, you know, particularly if it is sugar and fats which are high burn, kind of quick energy consumption, you know, we rush towards it.

That’s why we all love desserts. And exercising is something our bodies are tuned to deliberately not to because we are trying to conserve energy. Mind you, until 20 years ago, we were a malnourished civilization since we were created a quarter million years ago. It’s just things have changed now and our body evolution is not keeping in tandem with that change in terms of overabundance of immediate food.

So it is a fundamentally hard thing to do. Having said that, there are well established practices and principles that allow for that behavior change to happen. The first aspect of all of that is knowledge. So if you are able to see having a mirror, right?

If you’re able to see what that food or fitness or exercise is fundamentally doing to your body. And the more real time the feedback is, the stronger your behavior change happens. So the first time you track a food on HealthifyMe and you get a sense around the nutrition, protein, fat, fiber, you kind of get a sense around, oh my God, I should probably have less of this and probably have more of that.

And the other way to keep a strong behavior change is by establishing good smart goals. So these are highly measurable, accountable, result-oriented goals that you can set for yourself. Smaller goals, small also is an important piece, not lofty, tremendous goals, but small, measurable, accountable goals that you can keep to get better every day that allows for behavior change. And then finally, even our coaches play a huge role.

So, you know, left by ourselves. I think we often try… Our motivations are short lived usually, but when you have an accountable person, you know, we think of our coaches as your personal health board. That we hold you accountable, that hold you accountable to your goals that you’re set, right? So now it results in a tremendous change because now you have someone that you actually, are held accountable by and you engage with.

So I think our coaches play a very strong role in, in tying it all together and then driving that behavior change. AI can do that too, which is not as effective, to give you an example, an average paying subscriber with us loses about between five and six kgs of weight within a period of 180 days.

Will probably improve their hba1c and cholesterol count values by more than 15%. And ai, a subscription also enables to do that, but probably about two thirds of the way. So about two thirds of that result, AI is able to deliver, but the Human plus AI is kind of what really takes it to another level.

This is getting published in a fantastic Stanford paper that’s currently under peer review about the efficacy of human and efficacy of AI and efficacy of Human plus AI. And how that works with our customers. So, it’s a cool thing to look at.

Shripati Acharya 14:05

Where are your customers coming from? So I have really two questions here and let me ask both of them. One is that, you know, acquiring customers, right? So would like to get your thoughts on how much of a challenge was that for HealthifyMe and how do you actually acquire the customers? Because going B2C directly is such a tough task.. That’s one. And the second one is that I’m looking at the 250,000 paying customers and 3 million users, you said who are actually using the app? So what if the composition of that, and tell us a little bit about, where this product HealthifyMe is most effective?

Tushar Vashisht 14:40

You know, so ours is a classic case study of a B2C freemium model, you know, where we’ve basically, the reason we were able to acquire efficiently is because we have this really good, highly rated free app that creates a strong funnel for us.

So a lot of people come and engage with us and that’s what we meditated on a lot for a few years. So the first three, four years was just in building a great free solution that people can engage with and find lots of value. and then we started our monetization levers on top of that, except for just monetizing via ads cause at that time, certainly there was not a strong enough ads based revenue model that was evident in India.

But we started monetizing that by, by a model that would further accelerate our consumer’s journey towards their goals and towards their behavior change objectives, which was the human coaching component.

So that’s how we were able to acquire and that’s how we’re still able to acquire consumers efficiently. Because our cost of acquisition from a customer’s vantage point is really zero. The customer doesn’t have to pay anything to start engaging with the HealthifyMe brand and its product. And starts to see that change.

And then in that journey with us, we are able to then monetize that by selling them to our, either the 200 Rupees a month AI service or the 2000 rupees a month coaching service or the 4,000 rupees a month coaching with a bunch of integrated gadgets, we call it healthified Pro Service, et cetera.

But the genesis of it was having a free app that also allows for good LTVs in the business, because once you're done with your paid subscription, you don't have to completely churn out and forget about us as a brand. You can continue the free journey with us all the time, but our free app is a tremendous source of engagement as well as of acquisition.

And in terms of where customers come from, well, you know, if I were to show you a map of HealthifyMe user base, it's very analogous to a night scan map of India. It looks exactly like that. So we'd like to believe wherever there is electricity there is HealthifyMe today, largely.

So it comes from a long tail of users. I think the top 10 cities power up about half of our customers in revenues, and then the long tail powers up the other half. So it's not just a metro only phenomena. It's a pretty wide phenomenon. And in fact, we solve for a lot of access to quality coaching, access to quality, knowledge, and information in those markets and areas which don't have it otherwise,

Shripati Acharya 17:10

Not just like a tier1 SCCA, it's like a customer profile. You think that it actually goes deeper?

Tushar Vashisht 17:25

I think the SCCA plus, uh, possible b plus is still, I think a and a plus is probably still the customer profile, but it's just that a and a plus is also divided quite a lot in the long tail. It's not that it only exists in tier one cities.

I think wherever there is SCCA plus HealthifyMe exists for them quite. So while it is still a little bit more upwardly mobile, top tier income levels, but it is spread out in a lot of long tail cities and towns and even villages at times. So AA plus, maybe even B plus directly uses Healthify quite efficiently today to be able to track their lifestyle for sure.

Obviously conversion rates are slightly richer in the top cities. They're slightly depressed in the lower cities, but there are exceptions to that trend also that we see.

Shripati Acharya 18:10

Let me actually change our tracs a little bit and ask you about your journey from a fundraise standpoint. We've spoken about it in the past, we have talked about it, which is that it was not a smooth sailing right from where you were at a $40 million ARR which is obviously very substantial.

So you have talked about the number of near death experiences in the life of HealthifyMe, you know, take us through a few of those cycles?

Tushar Vashisht 18:35

Yeah, I mean, look, I think, um, if there's anyone who's tuning in who's, like, just at the early days of starting a company, you should probably know that you are going to run out of money at some point or the other in this journey.

And I angel invest also myself decently, and I often tell my portfolio companies that, you know, the first time you run out of money is a good rite of passage. You can kind of check that box. And, you know, feel comfortable and happy that you're off that you know, you can kind of, that's one of the milestones, you know, you need to cross just like you need to cross a couple of other key milestones, um, and mark that date, smile, feel happy and, you know, get through it.

Cause it is gonna inevitably happen. So plan psychologically for it. But you know, the first time we had it was pretty scary as well. I mean, you were, you witnessed it. We talked about it as well at that time of raising capital. And, you know, in hindsight, obviously I know both of us wished that we had joined hands back then.

But in 2014, 2015, I think two, three years after starting the company, we didn't have a revenue model. We had a great app, very high engagement, strong product metrics, good quality. In fact, we were related by Google as the best app of India in 2014. But in 2015, late 2014… same simultaneously we couldn't really figure out a way to monetize. So we were struggling with that, that lever. And we were talking to various investors as well. And, this was a common feedback that we were getting. But once we are able to start to monetize, when people start to see the revenues trickle in, it was easy to establish a case for fundraising.

The first time we were out of money for about three months. And, you know, it was difficult. And I remember telling my employees once that, Hey, you're all volunteers at this point, so if you'd like to continue volunteering, I'd appreciate that. And once, if we get funding, I'll make it whole for you.

But if we don't, then I don't know. I'm trying my best, but I can't promise, I can't, we can't pay salaries. Tough conversation. Thankfully everybody stayed. People were really passionate about the mission and I think everybody genuinely was having a great time working together. So they're like, we don't really care about doing anything.

So three months in we were able to secure our seed round. So we had an angel round for a crore in 2012 and then we had a seed round of a million dollars after in 2015. And 2014 was a very tumultuous period. Cause there were two, three term sheets we got, but we couldn't complete.

Either the terms weren't good or they were withdrawn, or that we couldn't convince ourselves, but we were able to land around 2015. 2016 was our series A of 6 million. Where Chirate, Inventus, Blume joined in, 2018 was our Series B led by Samsung Systema and a few other people. And then in 2021 we had a large series C..

It was actually a combination of some of the capital we had raised in 2019 as a convertible note, plus an equity raise that we did. So that was a 75 million total round. This was co-led by Leapfrog and Khosla Ventures and a bunch of other, you know, the Saudi pif guys, Elm joined and a few other partners joined from different parts of the world, Unilever and others, et cetera.

But that was a large round of series C and since then that's been going well. We had one pretty… we went, sort of minus three months in 2014. But even during Series A we kind of came close to the wire. I think we were a few weeks out of cash, maybe like two or three weeks out of cash.

And series B I think we were, you know, we were probably just like two months away or something of running out of cash. But after that it's been easy. Like, you know, after that it's been relatively easier. Series C we had a few months to go. And now onwards, I'm assuming we'll always have a few quarters to go at any given time before the next round kicks in, if at all.

It's easier to manage financially with scale, it's harder to do so when you don't have a significant business model. So yeah, and it's kind of very common to run out of money.

Shripati Acharya 22:45

Mentally, how do you deal with that situation? I mean, as an entrepreneur, you have vested so much emotionally forget the financial investments. And you have folks you're working with and all of you're excited. So while it is true that most startups will face a kind of other financial crunch at some time in their lives, in their, in their journey, how do you say you deal with it?What would you recommend in terms of just when you're, everybody has left the office and you're actually still working,

Tushar Vashisht 23:20

There’s no way to sugarcoat. It is a very tough experience to go through without a doubt. Having said that, if you, there are ways you can be ready for it, you should be aware that the company can shut down at any given time.

Anything that you do might be the last time you’re doing it so that death is a reasonable possibility helps. That when it comes, it’s not like a complete shock. That, you know, complete shutdown is a decent possibility. Second piece is that running out of money does not have to equal death. So being aware of that is also important.

But I think when you run out of money… few tricks and tips and that thing works if you are co-founding circle itself has all the relevant and complete skill sets to run a firm that really is valuable. But perhaps as you scale, at least your sort of leadership core should ideally have that set of core skill sets, that really helped us.

You know, like Sachin and I would often joke that you know what, if everything goes to zero, you and I could still kind of the minimum number of people required to run HealthifyMe is between you and I, we can kind of manage, you know, and, and we used to do, we used to say that till like shockingly late, right? Like, well past that series A.

That if it really came down to the bone, we got this. So having that comprehensiveness in the skillset is important. If you feel like that skillset resides out to a core leadership member, maybe even consider getting that person as a co-founder, that’s good. And or keeping the leadership enough infused with stock options, equity and purpose, that people stick around when the going is really, really tough, And then reward them for it, so they’ll stay loyal with you for the long time as well.

So I think because you have those relevant core set of people who will stick around and stay with you and you prepared them that and oftentimes you joke about it. Yeah. You know, we used to have these like plan A, B, and C. Plan A is to do this, plan B is to do that and plan C.

There was always that plan C that was very clear amongst the core group of people that this is a little bit of put your shell on and power through things like that. In fact, us running out of money was brilliant because it gave us the necessary hunger to pivot to find revenues. And if you may remember, even in our conversations back in the day, one of the core things we were talking about is and I still remember it, is that how do you get to hundred paying customers a month? That was an important part of our journey, that we needed to have the focus to get to a hundred paying customers a month.

So, that focus also is really valuable in those times. I remember there was this period when everybody was a salesperson for those like two, three months. So including every last engineer, customer support coach, me, everyone, like we are all trying to sell cuz we’re trying to dig ourselves off that grave.

And that was a very valuable thing, it kind of taught us what the company… it kind of created that necessity created that invention of a business model. So being prepared for it, handling it well, seeing it as an opportunity for a possible innovation to come through, is very, very helpful.

Sometimes it’s quite cathartically innovative to be in that zone. Same thing happened during our series B when I was looking at a very short runway and I was not sure what’s gonna happen. And I realized that now the company’s at a stage when it’s not like just me and Sachin can run it or we can turtle It down and you know, I needed the… it was very critical for us.

So that kind of forced us to, we all locked ourselves up by the top 10 people into Royal Orchid actually for a week. And we all like lived together and brainstormed around how can we use a strong tech solution that can change our margin profile. Cause now it was all about margins. cause that’s how Riya was born.

And literally the first version of Riya was written at the Royal Orchid with a few people. And freshly minted. I like took it for a spin to a bunch of investors and literally Samsung was one of the guys who kind of came through and yep, we see this. So I think being close to that edge actually can be quite a motivator to drive some very necessary innovation.

Shripati Acharya 27:30

That’s a good point. I think it comes across as very preachy when VCs say that, well, you know, too much money can harm a company, but it really can, uh, because the motivation to do and drive some of the changes required in the company, as you mentioned, are just not there.

Tushar Vashisht 27:50

I think particularly at an early stage, once you have the pmf, once you’ve got your unit economics geared up, I mean, then you could really use the capital. But until then, I agree with you. It can harm the company sometimes.

Shripati Acharya 28:05

And if you can use the crisis to actually not be paralyzed, but really double down on razor focus addressing the problems that you’re hearing, which are coming between you and getting a investor in is what you have done in the two cases that you mentioned.

So if you were to look back 10 years and advise your 20 something self, who’s rearing to start a health tech company? What should an aspiring entrepreneur today who’s interested in health tech think about?

Tushar Vashisht 28:45

You know, this is a question I get asked often, and I feel somewhat… being very brutally honest. I feel a bit flummoxed about it because I’m not sure what I would tell myself. I’m mean, frankly, my honest answer will be like, listen, just do you. You’re doing well. You know, just do you be good? But if I had to take a crack at things I could have done differently, I think one of them would have been is to be even mentally calmer, more patient through the crisis.

I think the first time, you know, a launch doesn’t work or the first time your demo fails or the first time you run out of money or the first time a key employee quits is just the first time you deal with something which is significantly adverse, difficult. It really crushes you as a founder cause you’re not used to that.

So obviously the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth time becomes much easier. So, and then at some point all of this, your mind gets more equanimous to the stresses and strains. So I would’ve, I would’ve told myself that, look, there’ll be a lot more failure than there’ll be a success before the eventual success comes in.

So be ready for that along the way, and don’t let it bother your head so much. It’s all part of a video game. It’s like a Mario, sometimes you see a mushroom, sometimes some duck comes and gets you or whatever, right? You kind of have to… and you get a few tries at it, so don’t worry about it. So that would’ve been at a mental level.

At a professional level, I would’ve probably told myself to spend and invest on something I’m telling myself even now is to invest a lot more of my time in hiring and maintaining good talent. So I think I certainly have been a case of somebody who takes talent for granted in that sense to an extent.

Hey listen, you are here. Go figure it out. It’s a startup. And I don’t think I… and I think I’ve waited for serendipity to hit me to hire. I’m not as aggressive and as deliberate about hiring and culture as I probably should be. And probably certainly should have been. I think I’ve gotten a lot better in the last few years.

I should have been, I would’ve told myself to think even more ambitiously and aggressively about my company, than I did. There are pros and cons. If I had thought more ambitiously and aggressively, I might not have had the patience to get here. But at the same time, I do think that…Nandan had once said, that think big cause it costs the same to think big or think small.

So think big.

So now finally we have a clear mission statement which is to healthify a billion, but I wish I had thought with that premise much earlier. And I would do things faster, easier said than done, but I think I was…I think my pace now in hindsight was excruciatingly slow. Oh man. If I had to start my…

Shripati Acharya 31:25

You also had a lot less money to work with by the way.

Tushar Vashisht 31:30

So, you know, I did, but I just had lesser awareness and I guess that’s a problem of experience, right? So I was just less aware, about what pace you can really move at. Now that I’ve tasted that, for example, if I ever, ever had to start something again, or even when I do things now, it’s just, it took me about 2, 3, 4 years to kind of get my groove of pace.

But I think I could have done that much faster at that time. Like, don’t wait for solutions to be created. Meanwhile, that now the first, anytime you wanna innovate, the first thing we often ask is why?

And when I talk to my angel companies as well, I’m like, why do you need to code for this? You shouldn’t be coding it. You should not be coding to get your PMF, right? Code after you’ve kind of gotten at least a sense of PMF pivot, super fast. So yeah, those are the things I would’ve probably told myself back then.

Shripati Acharya 32:20

Fair enough. Which are the areas in health that you’re most excited about, about new innovation, new opportunities?

Tushar Vashisht 32:30

You know, without a doubt right now, large language models, I think GPT and LLMs are gonna fundamentally reshape technology, reshape businesses, and to an extent reshape human civilizations in a big way. So I think there’s just a lot of opportunity there in practically every domain. And I’d really love to see what kind of innovations people can do in health tech.

We are ourselves working very seriously on it. But it’ll be great to get that perspective to get that knowledge to see how that people are able to make sense of using LLMs and emergent AI technologies. So, you know, I remember in the last 10 years I’ve seen a lot of technology hypes and cycles and fads coming, right?

There has been Crypto Madness, there’s been VR Madness. There’ve been IOTs that were once talked about, and oftentimes these were treated as deep tech, and AI was kind of in that picture somewhere. But in my opinion, none of the other technology stacks have scaled or are gonna have any meaningful, large impact on healthcare.

But I think LLM is huge, particularly in health tech. Why? Because healthcare at its core is an advisory service. And it’s core, right? Like we are, while there’s a…and, and it’s an advisory service based off of a lot of prompts. That’s what a doctor does. That’s what a nutritionist does. That’s what a trainer does.

That’s what either, that’s what anybody does. You get a lot of prompts in the form of diagnostics or data or systems or lifestyle, and then you provide specific actions. and or in cases motivation or knowledge or content that you provide on basis, on prompt. So that’s why I do think it’s ripe for LLMs to really be disruptive in a very large way.

And I do think that now is the time for consumer meets healthcare in a very large way and the world as well. Cuz you know, on one hand you have 3 billion people who are obese. On the other end we’ve got AI technologies that are making access extraordinarily affordable. And you have cost of collection of data and prompts is very low.

All of us have smart gadgets, device systems that are generating a lot of data. Andreeseen Horowitz just took a nice paper out talking about how they believe that the next trillion dollar company is likely to be a health tech and their words were consumer health play. And because of these trends and you know, I for sure believe in that.

And so it’ll be interesting to see how people navigate their ways towards that using AI and a bunch of these new emergent tech.

Shripati Acharya 34:55

So as we come to the end of our conversation. There’s a couple of more questions, right? This is a tough time right now in the startups funding ecosystem for 22 and continuing in 23 with funding levels down and actually startup formation also down. So, if you’re an entrepreneur, what would sort of be your advice to them?

Tushar Vashisht 35:25

I think it is stage dependent. If you’re sort of at the minus one stage where you’re thinking about jumping and doing something, I would say the time is right.

It’s brilliant and it’s always right, frankly, to take the leap. Cause you have to go through a journey of discovery, of figuring out, of doing, you know, initial pilots and data studies before you can even get to doing something. And I do think that…one should not regret anything in life.

And if you don’t do something, you’re likely to regret. If you do something, probably not much of a regret. And if at all in today’s ecosystem would appreciate and reward you for taking that risk. And, you know other serendipitous parts will come as a part of doing that.

My wife Neha just started verbal. And, you know, she’s just closed her angel round and it’s amazing to see her growth in the sidelines in the last nine months or six months since she started the company to blitzing through so much of experience, knowledge, and awareness, which I didn’t see in the two years prior to that when she’s working with the large firm.

I think for them the right time is now and I think angel raising is not that hard. It’s more perennial as well. I think it is still individually driven, so I don’t think there we are seeing any much difference. So getting your initial and your angel investments is possible, is doable. India has a incredible angel investor ecosystem now, which it didn’t have back then.

So I would say absolutely it is right now. in fact it is now because by the time you’ll be ready to take any reasonable form of VC capital or growth capital. Markets would be back. So, you know, this is the best time ever. I think the greatest companies were built into recession. I read some stat.

For more senior founders, people who are at like the A or the B route. It’s definitely a difficult one, a difficult time right now. And even for the C I think everybody should look at conserving cash, conserving runway and having enough breathing room. It is good to plan for default on or default alive status.

That means that within whatever cash you have, use that to practically get to a point visibly where you can kind of become profitable if you have to. So if you, you know, you already have high conviction in your game. You build something decent, you have a pmf, you kind of have the unit economics sort of figured out at a scale.

I would say preserve, conserve cash. Look at more organic forms of growth right now. Consider doing experiments in new areas because you have luxury of time and you don’t have, probably don’t have, or align your board for not having strong pressures on growth right now.

And once you have that pressure off, you dedicate that towards innovation and new discoveries and new initiatives that can give you disruptive pathways when markets come back.

So yeah, that’s how I would make sense of the current environment…

Shripati Acharya 38:15

And it’s also a lot less noisy, right? As entrepreneurs go about both discovering their business models or growing their business models in times like this, there’s a lot less noise and less marketing dollars being spent.

So you can actually do a lot more efficient growth and lemme close with this for the future of HealthifyMe itself. So, what is next for HealthifyMe in the immediate term and perhaps in the four, five year horizon?

Tushar Vashisht 38:50

Oh, this is a phenomenal time. I’m very excited about being at HealthifyMe today. cuz I think we, look, we’ve established an India leadership position, a market dominant position here. We’ve had a cumulative user base of 35 million that have joined our system, who we have access to and who we can get back to and who trusts us. So in India, we are thinking of how we can diversify. And obviously grow our current digital fitness and fat loss subscriptions, but also diversify into areas of condition management, disease reversal.

See if we can add connected stacks onto it, like healthy foods, like supplements, snacks, staples, you know or other connected areas which can allow for our promise delivery to be that much stronger. I can see a line of sight towards India becoming a comfortable hundred million dollar business in the next couple of years.

Think through O2O models of growth, even beyond online growth, et cetera. And continue to hold the leadership position here while at the same time I’m now beginning to evaluate international expansion. We did a small pilot in Southeast Asia. We were quite inspired by that even though Covid kind of put a little bit of a shadow on it for a couple of years.

But now we are looking at the Middle East quite seriously. And you know, because if we have to help the 5 billion, then eventually we also have to be a global company. And have to be relevant and present in other markets. Our product today from a tech stack standpoint is probably superior to anyone in the world. and our pricing is the most competitive and there are inorganic, partnership driven and other ways that we are thinking of grappling the global markets as well. Taking a stab there.

So I think this is a great time to acquire companies in the market and we are looking at M&As quite significantly, both in India and abroad. Eventually the goal is to obviously Healthify a billion, but to ideally build a company that’s at least a few hundred million dollars in top line in the next, you know, five years or so.

And somewhere in that journey. Look at going public. Or look at other alternatives. And, I’m excited about what those five years will include indeed.

Shripati Acharya 40:55

And all the best for an exciting future for HealthifyMe and in your quest to Healthify a billion. And thank you for joining us, Tushar.

Tushar Vashisht 41:05

Of course. Absolutely been my pleasure as always.

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