The startup adheres to WHO protocols while doing doorstep pathology lab services for customers across Bengaluru and Pune.
At a glance
Startup: 5th Vital
Founders: Dr Waseem Afsar, Pratap Chandra, Harjot Sidhu, and Praveen Potluri
Where it is located: Bengaluru
Problem they solve: Healthcare services at home
When Waseem Afsar, Harjot Sidhu, Pratap Chandra and Praveen Potluri struck up an instant rapport at CallHealth, where they were all working, it was over a common desire - the need to start up. All of them had had varying levels of association and experience with entrepreneurship in the past.
In addition to an MBBS degree, Dr Waseem has an MBA from IIM Indore. Originally from Odisha, he worked in healthcare at the Indian Navy, Ministry of Health, Saudi Arabia, and Tata Hospitals. Entrepreneurship has been a long time coming for the 43-year-old, who wished to start up even in his college days.
Punjab-based BTech holder Harjot had earlier worked at Deloitte and Satyam Computers. The 34-year-old has an MBA from IIM Calcutta, and has started up with little success in the past. Jharkhand-based Pratap Chandra also holds an MBA from IIM Calcutta, and has had stints in the past with Asian Paints, IFB, and Kohler. The 37-year-old has started up, not once but twice, in the past, and has experienced failure both times.
Praveen, on the other hand, is probably the only one who has tasted some success when it comes to entrepreneurship. An MBA graduate from ISB, the 38-year-old runs a business in Hyderabad with his wife.
Learnings from CallHealth, a healthcare startup based in Hyderabad, inspired the four to build an innovative business model in healthcare with better cost efficiency and productivity. Wanting to create something of value for busy working people, they started 5th Vital in Bengaluru in 2017.
Pratap explains what the startup does. “Our customers need not travel to labs for their tests; the lab comes to their home. This model has also enabled our lab partners to now operate at 100-percent capacity utilisation, unlike before.”
In healthcare, the basic four vital parameters are body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate. The founders went with ‘5th Vital’ for their startup’s name to signify the importance of all the other biological vital parameters that are often not traced. Investigated for preventive, curative, and palliative care, these include the laboratory tests advised by physicians for blood sugar, cholesterol, liver function etc.
5th Vital was launched with an initial investment of Rs 40 lakh. The startup later raised $5,00,000 from a few HNIs and Brand Capital, the investment arm of Times of India. They are looking to raise Series A this year.
5th Vital’s services include on-site body fluid collection services, health checks, health camps, adult vaccination, and MER (Medical Examination Report done by insurance companies and as part of pre-employment health check).
When a patient books tests or health packages with 5th Vital through its call centre, website or through WhatsApp, they can also share their prescriptions. The 5th Vital’s in-house phlebotomists then reach the customer’s home and collect the samples.
Pratap explains that they ensure they are punctual for their home visits, which strictly adhere to WHO protocols. After collecting the samples, 5th Vital gets it processed via partnered labs and sends the reports online. Pratap adds that their field force management app monitors all the crucial checkpoints of the value chain.
“We own our customers and pass on a processing fee to the partner labs. In cases of reporting errors, we refund money to the customers and get the test done all over again from two unrelated processing labs,” he adds. The charges range from Rs 55 to Rs 13,200, with an average ticket size of Rs 1,442 and basket size of Rs 3,000.
To provide the samples processed from pathology labs, 5th Vital has partnered with Dr. Remedies Lab, TechMed, Thyrocare and Strand Life Sciences. It has also partnered with the likes of Vijaya Diagnostics Labs so that their customers can avail services like scans and imaging services such as X-ray, CT scan and MRI. “This is at most a customer-acquisition strategy. Since we guarantee a specific volume to our partners, they give us a better rate – which we pass on to our customers,” Pratap explains.
The startup had faced quite a few challenges in hiring and retaining high-quality phlebotomists, but have mitigated them by sound training. “Dr Waseem made sure we achieve a good blend of experience and fresh candidates and trained them so well that, today, many of our customers request us to send the same field executive to their place and nobody else,” says Pratap. 5th Vital is now a team of 27 professionals working in field ops, customer support, sales, accounts, and HR.
The startup targets the population above 30, especially those who are trying to find a work-life balance and often do not have the time to visit a diagnostics lab to get their tests done.
Initially, the founders had to brainstorm ways to reach their target audience without expending too much cash. “We tried optimising on our monthly budgets relentlessly. When we realised that marketing via billboards was not working, we shifted to print and digital media marketing. We wanted to save for operations like call centre, as they are inevitable expenses,” he says.
Pratap claims that since the launch in 2017, they have had more than 50,000 registered customers with a 25 percent repeat rate, and have conducted more than three lakh tests.
5th Vital focuses on metrics including turnaround time (TAT), customer acquisition cost (CAC), besides customer satisfaction. Pratap claims that they are growing at 1,144 percent annually, and that they plan to reach an exit rate of $4 million this fiscal. “We process more than 150 samples on a daily basis and we plan to reach 10 times that by next financial year,” he adds.
Bengaluru, being a startup-friendly city, provides plenty of opportunities to newcomers – which has been an advantage for startups like 5th Vital. However, 5th Vital competes with more established players in the ecosystem like Portea, 1mg, Healthi and Airmed Labs, all of which follow asset-heavy business model. But Pratap claims that their asset-light model is highly scalable and rapidly deployable.
According to Pratap, adherence to medical protocol for sample collection has impressed their customers and has set them apart as well, as it is not routinely practiced by a majority of other homecare providers in the industry.
Recently 5thVital launched operations in Pune. They plan to expand to Chennai, Hyderabad, and Mumbai shortly.
Home healthcare segment (diagnostics) is estimated to be worth $2 billion and is poised for a 20 percent CAGR growth. Very soon, going to a clinic/lab for tests may become a thing of the past in Indian cities.