No room for half-heartedness

India’s National Health Policy draft 2015 intends to make healthcare a fundamental right, yet millions struggle for this every day


In a world where one can book seats in a theatre or a cab literally at the speed of thought, finding doctors is unbelievably tough. Photo: Mint
In a world where one can book seats in a theatre or a cab literally at the speed of thought, finding doctors is unbelievably tough. Photo: Mint

Access to good healthcare is critical. India’s National Health Policy draft 2015 intends to make it a fundamental right, yet millions in India and billions around the world struggle for this every day.

Even those with access have a frustratingly poor experience. In a world where one can book seats in a theatre or a cab literally at the speed of thought, finding doctors is unbelievably tough. Healthcare records management are a pain too—you either don’t get them or if you do, you have to maintain fat files and often doctors won’t have the time to go through all your reports, severely compromising the quality of healthcare you receive.

Six years ago, I went through this pain while trying to seek something as simple as a second opinion for my father’s knee surgery and thought there must be a better way! That is how Practo began—with the mission to help people live better and longer.

In 2008, while still in college, I met with several doctors to try and understand this problem better. I realized many didn’t even use a software, and most that did were pretty unhappy with it because it was poorly designed and often led to increased IT headache.

This insight led us to build Practo Ray as a SaaS (software as a service) offering, thus negating IT management by the doctor and ensuring his data is always safe in the cloud even if the computer goes down. In today’s post-PC era, this strategy has paid off as it ensures a doctor’s data is always available to him across all his devices and has garnered us over 90% market share amongst private practitioners using online practice management software.

But we still hadn’t made it easy for consumers to find the best doctors. Thus, in 2013, Practo.com was born with a mission to help people find the best doctors and book instant appointments.

While building Practo.com, data accuracy was paramount and we couldn’t really adopt the crowdsourcing models used by other industries. We built a team of experts that crawl every street in every city and get doctors listed on Practo.com. This ensures we have rich, accurate data that patients can rely on. We’ve recently added feedback so patients can provide inputs about their experiences with the doctor and the clinic to help them improve and to enable consumers to make more informed decisions.

Today, with one million plus patients booking 100,000 plus appointments a month, Practo.com is the largest doctor search engine in Asia and No. 6 in the world (and we’re climbing up fast!).

As we expand to 10 countries and 35 Indian cities next year, there are several lessons we keep close to our heart.

First, always optimize for the vision. Articulate the vision continuously and ensure each step you take is towards this. Vision helps align the entire team behind a common purpose.

Second, usage is king. Focus more on the usage of the product than how much the users are paying for it. Usage is the single most important metric to determine product value. Pay close attention to what your customers tell you. Product insights will come through interpretation of customer feedback.

Third, solve hard problems. At the start, try picking the tough problems to solve. These are usually the ones no one else would have tried solving. Ask yourself, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this before?’ Logically, due to technology advancements, problems that were harder to solve so far, would become easier now.

Fourth, hire A-players only. That should be one of your top priorities. Only get the best of the best. They can give you exponential growth. Ensure they buy into the vision of the company and focus equally hard on retaining them. One of the keys to retention is to build a great culture from day one. It will remain throughout the life of the company.

Fifth, think global. One of the best things we did was launch in Singapore. The market there really stress-tested our product and helped us improve by leaps and bounds, which was instrumental in us getting such a high market share so quickly.

Sixth, get advisers and consultants. There are many industry experts out there. Take advantage of their expertise, it’s faster. Don’t try to do everything on your own.

Seventh, growth is the only oxygen for a start-up. Continuously focus on the growth rate. Take risks and do everything possible to grow fast.

Eight, build great products. Never ever ship a sub-par product. Customers have an innate sense to detect carelessness. They will penalize you by moving away.

Ninth, choose the right investors. Don’t optimize for valuations, optimize for building a great product or service that people love. Investors will see value in that. Optimize more for who is investing in you than how much. Investors can be great partners in helping you grow so they must share your medium- and long-term vision and their goals should be aligned to that.

Tenth, focus. You have limited resources and time. Don’t spend too much time attending conferences, networking events, etc. Focus all energy on ensuring there is progress. In our earlier days, we used the mantra of “Code & Sell” everything else is useless.

And finally, have fun. You will spend long hours doing this so make sure you love doing it and are excited by it. There is no room for half-heartedness.

Shashank N.D. is co-founder and CEO, Practo.

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