It shouldn't surprise that entertainment was and remains one of the most searched categories for the trillions of searches made on Google. The popularity of T-Series and its viral content needs no introduction (set milestone of 100 billion views on Youtube in Feb).
The coronavirus pandemic and lock-down added to the demand for the entertainment category. Another niche category that saw an increase was Telemedicine. Although the practice has existed for a few years now, it was only in 2020 that keywords such as malaria medicine, medicine- delivery, and coronavirus vaccine gained popularity. Search trends indicate 20-25x growth.
myUpchar, a startup serving regional content, set a milestone of 150 million pageviews around this year. Surprisingly, a majority of those searches came from rural India. Does that ring a bell with Kan Khajura Teshan, that popular HUL campaign? Chances are it may.
myUpchar's Founder Rajat Garg tells us more about the journey, growth of telemedicine and the business.
Are you looking to be the WebMd of India or the T-Series of tele-medicine? Give us an overview of your business.
Rajat Garg: (Laughs) We do have many subscribers from remote corners of India accessing our Hindi medical content. Majority of our traffic comes from Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh.
We are a new-age telemedicine startup that focuses mainly on tier-2 and tier 3 cities with a vision to solve the problem of access. Our website crossed 150 million hits recently.
I am bullish about the future of regional content in telemedicine. Our traffic will be majorly driven in Hindi belts. And, once we succeed here, we will get into other regional languages.
Did you observe anything peculiar about Tier-2/3 users?
Rajat: Tier 2/3 and India's rural hinterland is a different market than metropolitan cities. The medical practice in such a terrain suffers from two challenges. 1. Will the customer pay for consultancy? And 2. competition from quacks.
We realized that quacks didn't charge a penny but were exorbitantly higher even if the customer wanted to buy simple medicines. We thought of giving medicines for free to tackle this challenge. But then stumbled upon the question of "kharcha kaise niklega?" [how do we fund ourselves].
We even opened physical connection centres and lab testing units. That idea did not materialize. We learnt that the physical world was much harder to crack than the virtual one. There are regulations, even for expansion ahead of a mile. We also realized the importance and role of partners such as NGOs. This understanding helped us partner with the local guys. As on date, we have partnerships in 70 plus cities such as Sisapur, Bareilly, Gonda etc.
India-snippets: Monthly Medicine & related Searches:
How and when did the idea of myUpchar start?
Rajat: I travelled to a number of places across India thanks to my father's nature of work. Some of the states that I have visited include Chandigarh, Rajasthan and Jammu Kashmir. In my previous venture, we could see the emerging trend in tele-medicine. There was no regional content related to tele-medicine despite significant search numbers. In the west, websites like WebMD were popular by then. In India, there was a problem of access, which we wanted to solve.
The huge demand naturally prompted us to ask… "Arey yeh koun log hain? Naye log toh sirf entertainment dekhne aate hain…" [Who are these people… Regular internet subscribers use the internet for entertainment…]
Good information will drive netizens to our website because there is a lack of credible avenues when it comes to tele-medicine. Our activities on health awareness, unique content and business strategy around promotions have managed to rake in 150 million pageviews on our website.
Can you brief us on the challenges in tele-medicine?
Government regulations were not very clear on telemedicine. There were many clearances given during the Covid and initial lockdown phase. We had a few rules to comply with while the rest were straight-forward. These rules helped clarify practicing doctors. Previously telemedicine was felt as an unethical business. Many doctors are making themselves available for online consulting and these are encouraging signals.
A challenge that remains unresolved is the need for diagnostic equipment. Patients from tier-1 cities have access to devices such as glucometer or thermometer. In tier-2 and tier-3 belts, such devices are unavailable and hence consulting can get very challenging.
Besides the two, we also face the challenge of technology. Getting a virtual video call was turning difficult. We modified user-facing options to allow uploading videos instead of a face-to-face video call. This has helped patients who have skin issues.
What about the Jio effect? Is that not helping?
Jio is certainly there to help increase user adoption. But despite Jio, we do face network issues, especially during camps and far-flung locations where connectivity still persists.
You got marquee investors Rajan Anandan, Alok Mittal and Mohit Satyanand on board. What did they ask of you?
The engagement was mostly around meeting short-term objectives. Many ventures are also driven around incremental changes. Incremental changes would not only benefit us but also contribute to the development of the country. For example, one of our major objectives was improving doctor ratio. India's doctor to patient ratio of 1:43 remains among the lowest in the world.
We managed to research into districts and realize how important telemedicine is. There are several districts that do not have a single practicing doctor. This is the "access-issue" that myUpchar wants to resolve.
You spoke about generating 150 million page-views. Is there a market lead that you are counting on?
We never looked at market-lead. Rather, our process is to ensure cure for patients. Regularly tracking patient health and sharing them with information on an ongoing basis has helped improve our loyalty and subscriber base. In the business of healthcare, trust is a very crucial aspect to build. I have seen high levels of attrition even among our competitors. It is only trust that helps build a loyal and long-term relationship.
What trends do you see developing from improved demand for telemedicine?
There will be active participation from Doctors and demand will increase. We see users opting for services like talking to the doctor. Better quality doctors joining tele-medicine will drive quacks out of jobs.
The second aspect is the emergence of medical device players. Doctors certainly need some diagnostic input like a heartbeat or basic thermometer for an error-free diagnosis. You may also find apps or smartphones with advanced functionalities emerge from this need.
Will Google, Apple, or Samsung be tempted to do something with the growth in the tele-medicine category?
Apple is actively engaged in telemedicine. Even Google is trying to figure out content that can be incorporated in their Home devices. Then we have manufacturers like Amaze, Huawei and other smart-watches that offer some input. We may see diagnostic equipment or smartphone makers offering some diagnostic element in the devices in days to come.
Disclaimer: Image is a 2018 image for representational purposes.