With AI nutrition coach Ria, HealthifyMe aims to do what Siri and Google Assistant cannot
HealthifyMe has over 200 experts that provide guidance to customers. Its latest expert, Ria, a conversational artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled nutritionist seems to be at the core of its expansion plan.
"Hi Ria, what were the unhealthy foods I had yesterday?"
"Samosa and chocolate pastry were the unhealthy foods you had yesterday. Do you want me to suggest replacements?"
"Samosa is a tasty snack item but try the grilled or baked versions of it to keep your calories in check."
The above conversation occurred onstage between Tushar Vashist, Co-founder and CEO of HealthifyMe, and Ria, a nutritionist that works at HealthifyMe. But Ria isn't human. She is in fact a conversational artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled nutritionist, which HealthifyMe claims is the world’s first nutritionist of its kind.
The unveiling was done at HealthifyMe’s annual event “Ignite”, where the company also announced that it had achieved a 4.6-star rating on Google Play Store, becoming one of the few Indian apps to have ever reached the landmark rating of over one million downloads. There are no other Indian apps rated 4.7 as per the company’s knowledge.
Tushar during the launch
Addressing a media gathering, Tushar said that the AI coach is being developed for a while and will be launched slowly in phases to beta customers and their larger user base over the next few months. He added,
We have world's largest database of nutritionists to client exchanges. We know Indians in a health context far better than Google. So, we can do a better job than Google Assistant or Siri when it comes to conversations around your personal health and fitness.
During the event, Tushar put Ria and Google Assistant through similar tests to show how each voice assistant performs. Here are some of the main highlights from the event.
Story so far
HealthifyMe is a mobile health and fitness app that combines the power of technology with real human services to deliver measurable impact. The startup was co-founded in 2012 by Tushar Vashisht and Sachin Shenoy, and incubated by Microsoft Accelerator. With three million users and over 200 coaches, it claims to be India's largest digital wellness platform. It has been featured by Google and Apple on the PlayStore and AppStore respectively, multiple times for its quality benchmarks.
The company delivers measurable results on eating habits, fitness, and weight, and claims to be a platform of choice for leading corporates and healthcare partners in India. With over 300 employees, it has offices in Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. In May 2016, HealthifyMe had raised $6 million in Series A funding led by IDG Ventures India, Inventus Capital, and Blume Ventures.
At the event, Tushar shared that lifestyle diseases are on the rise in India and across the world. While there is a growing demand for nutritionists and other healthcare professionals, they have historically faced a tough time connecting with customers. On the other side, Tushar obserevd that customers who wish to connect with healthcare professionals didn't really have an easily accessible platform to do so. Tushar summarised the situation with an analogy,
We have burning houses (people who need pro-active healthcare) on one side and firemen (healthcare professionals — nutritionists and dieticians) on the other side. But the firemen do not have hoses to douse the flames.
Healthify is positioning itself as the 'hose' to connect dieticians and nutrititionists with people who need them. Tushar said that when they started out, one nutritionist could handle 40 customers. Then through optimisations and tech integrations, they have been able to increase it to 100 customers per dietician/nutritionist.
Tushar and his team realised that further optimisations and scale would only be possible by leveraging AI and hence began exploring the possibilities. The AI solutions team of HealthifyMe comprises of data scientists, ML and NLP experts with relevant degrees from IITs, Stanford, Georgia Tech, IIMs, and they have the experience of working with companies like Google, ZS Associates, McKinsey, Mu Sigma. After working on the platform for many months, they are now releasing it to the public.
How Ria works
Tushar shared that Ria was developed under the codename ‘Project Amadeus’ and uses key learnings obtained from HealthifyMe’s 150 million tracked meals (20 billion + macro/micro nutrients) and 10 million message exchanges (1 billion + words) between coaches and clients.
Amadeus is the next step to “Jarvis”, the AI that has been assisting coaches to become more efficient by learning from their interactions with clients. Ria can answer questions around nutrition and fitness via both audio and text. It can do so in more than 10 languages and HealthifyMe claims that it can provide personalised responses based on the users’ lifestyle habits.
Tushar asked Google Now and Ria similar questions. "What should I have for dinner?"
Ria: "Here are my suggestions — Veg Raita, Baingan Bharta, Dal Khichdi. These can reach you in 35 minutes from Innerchef via Swiggy."
Google Assistant: "Here's a summary from Eating Well — green salads, lean protein, whole grains, and dessert."
Tushar remarked that Ria is able to give more personlised answers because she know's one's personal preferences and diet history (watch the demo here from 45 minute mark).
Revenue model and access to Ria
HealthifyMe works on a freemium model. The app is available for download for free and enables users to keep a track of their calories, set personal fitness goals, and measure progress. The platform claims to have the world’s largest database of Indian foods and syncs with all leading wearables including Fitbit, YuFit, MiBand amongst others, besides its own fitness band RIST.
As part of its subscription services, HealthifyMe connects users with elite nutritionists and trainers who review their progress, provide diet and exercise plans and work with the users to help them achieve their fitness goals. The current HealthifyMe subscription plans cost from Rs 999 to 1699 per month, depending on the number of coaches needed and other special packages for targeted programmes like weight loss, muscle gain, diabetes prevention.
At the event, Tushar said that Ria will be accessible initially only to those who have availed HealthifyMe's subscription plans. But the team plans to make Ria publicly accessible for short period through virtual, 'Ask-Me-Anything' sessions where Ria would answer public queries.
Sector overview and future plans
Tushar remarked that technically Ria is still a toddler (three years old) and they aim to increase her capabilities constantly in the coming months. Talking about their journey and future plans, Tushar said,
Our vision is to make healthy living accessible for all. As a first step, we used mobile and cloud to cater to Tier 2/3 cities. Now with AI capabilities, we intend to refine Ria and Jarvis to the point where they can allow us to serve beyond India using qualified nutritionists working from their homes in India but catering to the world.
Tushar also said that in the long run they aim to leverage HealthifyMe and Ria's knowledge graph to integrate with services like health, education, and finance. The use case could range from providing contextual information to health professionals or help people get better health insurance policies based on their health graphs.
On the global front, HealthifyMe competes with players like MyFitnessPal which was acquired for an estimated $475 million by UnderArmour. Among companies that leverage artificial intelligence, there is FitGenie that positions itself as a self-adjusting smart calorie counter that tells you exactly what to eat to reach your goals. Then there is AVA, which leverages human nutritionists and artificial intelligence to give personalised feedback and meal recommendations. AVA also includes an auto tracking and auto-journal feature available, through which users can send a photo of their food and in a few minutes and receive accurate calorie and macronutrient information.