Health start-up Practo is undeniably one of digital health’s biggest success stories — not just in India, but worldwide.
“A product to digitise the operations of doctors”
The company is the brainchild of Shashank ND. He founded it in 2008 with Abhinav Lal. Both were students in their final year at the National Institute of Technology in Karnataka. The idea for Practo came when Shashank’s father was to undergo knee replacement surgery. Attempts to consult a U.S. doctor for a second opinion stalled because Shashank was unable to send his father’s medical records abroad, as they were not available digitally. This roadblock inspired Shashank to, in the words of the Times of India, “[develop] a product to digitise the operations of doctors.”
This product is Practo Ray. It bills itself as “the simplest medical software to manage your practice” and is available to doctors on a monthly subscription basis. It allows them to keep a digital record of their patients’ information, including their medical history, prescriptions, billing information, and scheduled appointments. These records are available to the patients in question on request.
From dorm room to boardroom
This product possessed great potential. Nonetheless, in the stead of most great digital companies, the company had humble beginnings. It started life in a college dorm room, bankrolled by what little was in Shashank’s bank account.
Now, the company is “one of the best funded digital health startups in the world.” Practo Ray enjoys a market share in India of 90% . The launch of an online platform (www.practo.com) in 2013 to help patients find doctors and book appointments bolstered its success. It purportedly manages more than 40 million appointments every year.
The company has been in the news lately because it has picked up $55 million in its latest round of funding. Chinese company Tencent Holdings – the fourth largest internet company in the world – is the leading investor. Tencent previously invested into Practo’s series C round of funding, during which the latter acquired $90 million in funds.
Practo is declining to officially comment on its latest valuation. However, Livemint reports that the company has been valued at $600-650 million, citing “two people aware of the development.” The company was previously valued at $500 million according to the Business Standard.
“An ambitious roadmap” to go global
The company has yet to become profitable, however, despite its success. As Livemint pointed out in November 2016, the company
“recorded a five-fold increase in revenue in the fiscal year ended 31 March, while its loss widened almost five times…Practo clocked revenue of Rs165.14 crore for the year ended 31 March, 2016, as against Rs29.73 crore a year earlier. Net sales stood at Rs156 crore. Loss climbed to Rs64.61 crore from Rs12.85 crore a year earlier.”
Shashank seems undeterred. He is mobilising what Forbes called in July last year “an ambitious roadmap” for the company. The CEO is simultaneously endeavouring to improve the platform’s accessibility to India’s people – especially the rural and non-English speaking populations. He is looking to further expand overseas.
Practo is already a presence in Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore. There, its success is growing. NDTV reports that “the number of users has gone up by 66 percent in the last year.”
Practo’s latest round of funding seems to constitute vote of confidence from its investors. Shashank is accordingly optimistic. Tech Crunch quotes him as saying
“We will invest further in the countries we are in…we will go deeper in existing markets and are evaluating new regions in the Middle East and other regions…International revenue is now nearly 20-25 percent of overall revenue, so it’s growing at a good pace but we see more growth in India and internationally.”
The digital health revolution
Putting the international market aside, however, Health Issues India has written before about the potential of start-ups to transform health in India through digital technology.
Practo is a case in point of this. Its success emphasises the need for new innovations, especially in digital health technology, to revitalise India’s ailing healthcare system. The company is achieving a great deal in India. If this encourages other digital health startups, India and its people will be all the better for it.