How HealthifyMe Managed to Grow a User Base of 20 Million
HealthifyMe, an Indian fitness startup, recently announced that it crossed a big milestone of $25 million (roughly Rs. 182 crores) revenue run rate in January. This is especially significant as the revenue run rate is 25 percent higher than the projections it made in the last quarter. HealthifyMe claims to offer an accurate calorie counter for Indian, that helps you track what you eat using a database of over 100,000 types of food that are commonly eaten here, unlike most similar apps you will find that have more western recipes. HealthifyMe tells us that it has close to 1,000 nutritionists, trainers and doctors in its umbrella to help users with a diet plan, offer proper coaching, home workout plans, and more. The company aims to cross $50 million (roughly Rs. 364 crores) in ARR in the next 12 months, and it is targeting a turnover of $400 million (roughly Rs. 2,900 crores) by 2025.
Currently, the fitness app says it has a user base of 20 million, and over 400,000 paying subscribers. HealthifyMe is listed in the Editors Choice apps section on Google Play store and has an impressive rating of 4.5 stars. The app has also crossed over 10 million downloads on the app store.
Expert opinion: Mayank Rausaria, Partner, Deloitte India, says, “Fitness as an industry is undergoing huge changes, with a steady increase in launch and adoption of fitness apps, particularly in the last 12 months, due to the restrictions placed on usage of fitness clubs and sporting facilities due to pandemic. While there are many applications to choose from, apps that can offer differentiated Customer Experience will succeed in the longer run by allowing the user to improve their overall physical and mental wellbeing through customized exercise routines, diet monitoring, creating healthy competition between family & friends, and driving everyone towards a healthier lifestyle.”
TechArc chief analyst Faisal Kawoosa thinks that the fitness app industry still has a long wat to go before being disruptive. “This is a very sensitive area and unfortunately we have no Indian app emerging in this segment. Since for a fitness app you also need a device, which primarily comes from smartphone brands, we see apps also coming from them alone. GOQii has some inroads, but today it’s mostly smartphone OEMs owning this space as well. I think the sector has to go into proactive fitness which also looks at what we are consuming and what activities we do so that a balance can be struck off between input and output. Also, we need a more in-depth health profiling and not just ‘fitness’ where then deeptech (AI, ML, blockchain, etc.) can really power up things and do a lot good for overall health of users.”
We spoke to CEO and Co-Founder of HealthifyMe, Tushar Vashisht to know a bit more about the company’s success story, how it survived the pandemic, and its future plans.
1. What were you doing before HealthifyMe was brought to life? What was the conceptualisation process behind HealthifyMe?
I decided to conduct a month-long ‘Rs.100 a day’ and ‘Rs. 32 a day’ experiment in 2011 with my Co-Founder to understand lifestyles of an average Indian and someone living at the poverty line. During this time, we realized the lack of a nutritional information database for Indian foods and went on to curate an exhaustive list with the National Institute of Nutrition. This database acted as the core for the company and was the stepping-stone to my entrepreneurial journey. HealthifyMe was created in 2012 to help users track their daily food and workout routines in their quest for a healthy lifestyle.
2. When was it that you finally decided you want to start HealthifyMe?
Besides the ‘Rs.100 a day’, one of the biggest factors for the launch of HealthifyMe was my own experience with weight gain and then loss. When I first moved to India – I gained about 20 kg of weight. I lost that back by changing my diet to western foods and keeping a track of its calories. However, I couldn’t afford to do that at the average Indian income of Rs. 100 a day and so I built the first version of HealthifyMe in an excel from whatever information I could find off the web. We went on to digitise hundreds of pieces of data on Indian raw ingredients, with their micro and macro nutrients in collaboration with the National Institute of Nutrition. We then built a comprehensive database of nutritional values for standardized Indian recipes. With the help of endocrinologists, diet coaches and gym trainers, HealthifyMe, India’s first calorie tracker was eventually launched.
3. Were there any operational challenges (or any other challenges) that you faced when starting HealthifyMe?
The chief challenge was to figure out how to monetize the platform. We had built a great platform as an app but to build it from just a free app to an app that people would start to pay for was difficult. It was a huge challenge that we had to overcome but introducing nutritionists, trainers and now Ria-enabled smart plans was a huge turning point for us. Initially, Ria was launched to support the coaches. She uses key learnings obtained from HealthifyMe’s tracked meals and message exchanges between coaches and clients (in more than a billion words) and gives personalised answers to users. She can answer questions about nutrition and fitness via both audio and text and shares personalised responses based on the users’ lifestyle. Looking at the response we received from our users, we launched Ria as a separate feature and then launched Smart Plans (starting at Rs. 299) that are completely powered by Ria.
4. Did you have to put in any money to start the business? When did you decide that funding was required?
I started HealthifyMe with an initial investment of Rs. 1.5 million in 2012. We then raised a Rs. 10 million angel fund from angels introduced via the Microsoft accelerator and anchored by my mentors like Raj Mashruwala and Cofounder of AppLabs Sashi Reddi. So far, we have raised over $30 million (roughly Rs. 2.1 billion) from Chiratae Ventures, Sistema, Inventus, Blume, Samsung. Being India’s first calorie counting app with an exhaustive database for Indian foods was one of the biggest strong points for our business to attract the investors’ interest.
5. Could you share some interesting stories about your initial days? What learnings have you picked up from those hustle days?
Several stories to share! One early focus we built was ensuring that we always meet our targets. No matter what. It even meant that once when we were little short of our goals – we ourselves took out our own credit cards and bought plans for our friends and families! It has built a strong culture of taking our targets and goals very personally and still stays at a scale where an individual cannot influence any outcome!
6. Is there any particular incident that is monumental in HealthifyMe’s journey?
Perhaps the day we ran out of money – we hadn’t yet cracked our monetization story but we had no funds left to pay anyone and I recall calling an “all hands” meeting with our 20 employees and mentioning to them that at that point onwards – they were all volunteers. I was still going to be at work every day. That they were free to leave but if they stuck around – I would ensure everyone gets paid with interest the moment we can afford to do that. Thankfully no one left – and the pressure forced us to innovate around our services layer.
Other key milestones perhaps were the day Ria – our AI chat bot started to handle more messages than our coaches do – sometime in late 2018/ early 2019. Making us realise that we could be an AI first company yet with coach/ human empathy integrated.
Or in late 2020 – when in COVID times – we saw huge uptake in our users and crossed our first 10 Cr/month in revenues.
7. Could you help give a sense of how far HealthifyMe has come? From when it began to where it is now
We started as a calorie counting app with 50,000 users during our year of inception and today, we are the largest holistic health & wellness platform with nearly 20 million users in India. We crossed $25 million (roughly Rs. 1.8 billion) ARR in January 2021 as compared to our initial month on month revenue of Rs. 200,000-300,000. We have built a highly scalable product with the launch of Smart Plans that are completely designed by our AI nutritionist RIA without any human intervention. Smart Plans are currently contributing 70 percent to our paid 400,000 subscriber base. We have also been operationally profitable since April 2020 with positive contribution margins, and are aiming to become EBITDA profitable in the next 12-18 months. Along with this, we have also reduced our burn rate by more than half in the last six months due to the organic lift with word-of-mouth downloads going up from 25 percent to 47 percent of our half a million monthly registrations. Apart from India, we have also expanded in international markets including UAE, Malaysia and Singapore and have received a phenomenal response from the respective markets.
8. What was it like sailing through the COVID-19 crisis? Did you see a fall in business or unexpected surge? How did you deal with it?
The outbreak of COVID-19 was a game changer for the fitness industry. With gyms being shut down, people were looking for home workout options to continue with their fitness journey. The emphasis on boosting immunity to fight with the pandemic encouraged users to join the fitness wave. Owing to the situation, we launched three new products including HealthifyStudio, a platform that offers live, interactive workout experience to people in the safety and comfort of their homes, HealthifyPlus, wherein a diet coach, a fitness coach and a doctor come together to help diagnose, guide and support people with diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, thyroid, PCOS, and cholesterol and HealthifySense to provide access to qualified counsellors on the platform, enabling the company to become a full-stack health and wellness platform.
COVID-19 added massive tailwinds to HealthifyMe’s business as well. We crossed $25 million (roughly Rs. 1.8 billion) in January 2021 and have been operationally profitable since April 2020 with positive contribution margins. The organic consumer base, sessions in app and time spent by our users has gone up by 50 percent post the pandemic. The demand for home workout sessions and Smart Plans skyrocketed during the lockdown leading to the growth of paid subscribers to over 4 lakh.
9. Any advice for young Indian entrepreneurs out there?
Don’t give up. Not in the first 1,000 days. Great things come from being resilient.
10. What are the big plans in the future?
We have been witnessing massive growth and are a revenue leader in this category. We are scaling rapidly on the back of our AI (Ria) curated smart plans. In the next 12-24 months, we are planning to expand our reach in countries including Indonesia, Australia and the Middle East.
11. What is the employee strength? Is HealthifyMe hiring currently?
Our team comprises passionate individuals who have put their heart & soul in making the company what it is today. Our total employee strength is 1,091 that includes approximately 300 people across product, marketing, and sales in addition to approximately 800 nutritionists, trainers and doctors. We are always looking for professionals who are dedicated to their jobs and have a knack for creating new products and strategies that will help us better serve our users.
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