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Rediff.com  » Getahead » Why Twitter's Biz Stone invested in this Indian startup

Why Twitter's Biz Stone invested in this Indian startup

May 07, 2018 08:24 IST

BITS Pilani grads identify a problem and then use technology to solve it.
Shobha Warrier reports on the Visit story.

In 2016, four 22-year-old BITS, Pilani grads -- Anurag Prasad, Vaibhav Singh, Shashvat Tripathi and Chetan Anand -- launched the healthcare app, Visit.

Two years later, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone decided to invest in Visit.

What impressed Stone about the app was the way it used technology (Artificial Intelligence) to help humanity.

'A small way of contributing to a future where AI is seen as a positive enhancement of humanity that really does improve lives,' Stone cited one reason for investing in Visit.

Other than Stone, Visit has investments from Blue Jeans Network co-founder and CTO Alagu Periyannan; Snapdeal co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal; former managing director Qualcomm Ventures India, Karthee Madasamy; and the Murugappa group's Muthu Murugappan.

 

The beginning 

Everything about BITS Pilani was fantastic except one thing; there were no doctors available anywhere near the campus.

For any emergency, students had to go to either Jaipur or New Delhi, cities around 200 km away.

The students are also at an age when they face many emotional issues, but there is no qualified professional to speak to in confidence.

If a student is depressed, s/he prefers to keep it to herself/himself, away from her/his friends and classmates.

Vaibhav Singh, one of Visit's co-founders, cites the swine flu attack in Rajasthan and Gujarat as one incident that made him and his friends discuss this issue.

"There was panic all around and we didn't have proper information or accessibility to doctors. That was when the four of us felt the need to do something about this, something to solve the problem," Vaibhav says.

"We felt when everything around us, from shopping for groceries to books to booking cabs has revolutionised, healthcare remained what it was 20 years ago."

Every day, they discovered, around 35 million people across the world search for answers to some health issue or the other.

10 million of these daily searches were from India.

"The problem when you ask questions on the Web is you get Web links and not answers to your queries or problems," says Vaibhav. "We thought, why not build an ecosystem where people get instant answers to their questions rather than multiple Web results."

According to the World Health Organisation, the world suffers from a shortage of at least 7.2 million healthcare workers.

In India, the situation is much worse, with the doctor-patient ratio at 1:2000. which means one doctor for every 2,000 patients.

So, in their final year, instead of an internship at companies, they decided to work on a thesis on developing a solution to this problem.

"In May 2015," Vaibhav recalls, "we began by talking to around 300 doctors in Delhi. The response from psychologists and nutritionists was overwhelming. It gave us the confidence that we were moving in the right direction."

They started building an AI-powered chatbot which enabled anyone to have a live chat with doctors.

In January 2016, while still at BITs Pilani, the four friends incorporated their start-up: Visit.

The first investor was MapmyIndia whose co-founder Rakesh Verma is a BITS alumnus.

"The prototype of the chatbot was ready and he was extremely happy with the way we used technology," says Vaibhav.

How Visit works

Anybody with health queries can log on to the Visit Web site.

Key in the symptoms and the bot follows up with a series of questions to predict the most probable diagnosis.

"The questions are generated by an ML (machine learning) model, trained using a knowledge base of probabilistic relationships (over 20,000) between variables such as conditions, symptoms, risk factors, past history etc," Visit's founders explain.

The person can then have a live chat with 16 doctors who work for Visit and are available 14 hours a day.

Within 30 minutes, the person is directed to a specialist.

There are more than 2,000 specialists on the Visit panel -- general physicians, dermatologists, gynaecologists, nutritionists, psychologists, sexologists, paediatricians, preventive cardiologists.

It is through tele-consult over video, phone and chat that the person connects with the specialist to get the right treatment plan.

Users can stay in touch with the medical practitioners over chat for follow-ups up to 7 days.

While chatting with the doctors working for Visit is free, visitors pay for consultation with the specialists.

Vaibhav clarifies that though individuals can log in and chat with doctors at Visit, the business model is corporate-specific.

So far, companies like the Times Group, Rolls Royce, HDFC AMC, Wipro CCLG, Religare Health Insurance have signed up with Visit to make the platform available to its employees as a health benefit.

"The need of the hour," explains Vaibhav, "is to have a place to talk to doctors. Today, people have accepted chatting as the best way of communication. Just look at how many times people open Whatsapp to chat with someone."

"We have an average of around 1,500 daily chat queries which range from general health, medicines, skin problems, diet/nutrition and gynaecology. And our app is rated 4.7/5 on the Play Store. Two years after launch, Visit has received over 200,000 chat conversations," adds Vaibhav.

Enter Biz Stone

The reason why Visit's founders approached Twitter co-founder Biz Stone for funding was because he had founded an app similar to Visit, askJelly.com

askJelly.com was a Q&A platform and when it was launched, Stone had written, 'Jelly is the only search engine in the world with an attitude, an opinion, and the experience of people to back it all up. Only Jelly can say you asked the wrong question. Only Jelly can give you answers you wanted. but didn't think to ask. Only Jelly will deliver a thoughtful answer to your anonymous question. This is all because Jelly is humanity plus technology.'

In March 2017, Jelly was acquired by Pinterest.

Anurag went to the US to meet Stone. After a demonstration, Stone commented that it was like 'Jelly for healthcare'.

Stone was impressed because the field was healthcare, that it was based in India and above all, the technology deployed was AI.

"He believed that AI could empower humans to take humanity to a different level," says Vaibhav. "It was the second investment Biz Stone made in India. Getting backed by such a person gives us a lot of credibility."

The Future

"We need to make the app 10 times better than what it is now. We have to use technology even better, have more corporate clients and also reach out to a million users by the end of 2018."

Photographs: Kind courtesy Visit

Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com