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An exclusive deep dive with Gautam Chopra, Co-Founder and CEO – BeatO, on the important service that empowers diabetics across India to stay ahead of and beat diabetes, especially during the on-going pandemic.

Even in the pre-pandemic days, India, the Diabetes Capital of the World, offered the greatest opportunity for any business providing special solutions to help diabetics. And now that we are in the throes of the pandemic that most threatens patients with co-morbidities lead by Diabetes — especially for the older people — avoiding contracting the disease perhaps offers the only safety, given that the likelihood of cures in such cases is remote.

In the given circumstances, the offerings and services of BeatO have proven to be extremely relevant, even crucial, to diabetics. The company has been offering a health monitoring application it had designed to help diabetic patients to track their glucose levels and, with their doctors’ advice,  keep themselves safe from severe complications the incurable disease, if allowed to remain unchecked and unmonitored, can cause.

Considering there is no cure for Diabetes and those it afflicts must continuously and carefully monitor themselves, and also due to the greater awareness of the criticality of keeping diabetes monitored and controlled during these COVID-threatened days, over the past 15 months, BeatO has gained even more awareness and users, and in turn, has been educating the entire community of diabetics and caregivers with the best practices across monitoring and lifestyle habits, and the convenience for patients to get medicines and other supporting treatment and preventive materials.

So here’s a deep dive into a critical service. BeatO. Through an exchange with Gautam Chopra, Co-founder and CEO, BeatO, who tells Pavan R Chawla about how BeatO has been catering to the ‘diabetes capital’ of the world, it’s easy to use app ecosystem, its complete solution of Diabetes care, the role telemedicine played in 2021, how AI and IoT are shaping the industry, BeatO’s growth plans and more.

Gautam Chopra is an alumnus of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad where he got an MBA in Finance and Entrepreneurship in 2009 after getting a Bachelor of Technology degree in Electronic and Communication from the University of Leicester, UK, Gautam has worked in Europe for seven years with the Lufthansa Group as part of the management team handling Joint Ventures and M&A. 

Gautam has also worked with Deloitte as a business analyst. And, since 2015, along with BeatO co-founder
Yash Sahgal, has been offering the popular BeatO service to help enable Indians beat diabetes

Before we speak about BeatO and what it offers, tell us the story about why, when and how you fonded BeatO, and yes, also the story behind the name.

Yash Sehgal and I founded BeatO as a simple app providing rich content for people with diabetes. We started our journey when I was then newly diagnosed with pre-diabetes and had bumped into Yash, a Type-2 diabetic himself, and both of us couldn’t find one single platform to track and manage diabetes!

Also, India is well known as the “diabetes capital” of the world affecting over 70 million Indians, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people with diabetes is rising rapidly in middle and low-income countries, and it is estimated that there will be around 100 million people with diabetes in India by 2030.

Seeing this gap, Yash and I decided to build BeatO in 2015. Both of us, as users, were customers 1 and 2 for BeatO.

Tell us about BeatO – the name, its services and pricing.

BeatO is a comprehensive digital ecosystem for chronic condition management. It is powered by AI to provide actionable insights to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, and offers an entire ecosystem to help users manage their condition. BeatO combines cost-effective hardware (the BeatO smartphone-connected glucometer) with the BeatO app ecosystem to support end-to-end management for their users.

Interestingly, the name ‘BeatO’ was chosen because the universal symbol for diabetes is a blue circle and we wanted the name itself to suggest that we enable customers to help beat diabetes. This is how the brand’s name came about.

The BeatO app ecosystem provides a complete solution of all daily needs of a diabetic, ranging from blood-glucose monitoring, in-app consultation with doctors, educators and nutritionists, scheduling medication deliveries, insurance and diagnostics to specially curated food designed for diabetics.

We built our proprietary IoT-enabled smartphone glucometer which has no battery or display and connects with the BeatO App ecosystem on any smartphone. This provides seamless exchange of data via the app between educators and our members. Analysis of the user’s monitoring readings helps our educators guide members on better lifestyle and diet to manage their condition.

With users spread across small towns in India, BeatO enables users to get consults from top endocrinologists and secondary care specialists (ophthalmologist, cardiologists, podiatrist) to help them not only manage diabetes but also its comorbidities and complications like heart disease, diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy. We also provide rich content including educational videos and food recipes which serve as an additional resource to the users.

Our diabetes monitoring starter kit costs just about Rs. 550, and is among the most affordable devices. Even one test strip on average costs about Rs 10 for the customer which is easily 40-50% more affordable than anything in the similar category out there. Our monthly subscription-based plans also fall into the affordable range, starting at Rs 149 per month.

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How has BeatO evolved over the years?

BeatO began as a simple app providing rich content for people with diabetes. As we progressed, we noted the need for deeper engagement with customers on lifecycle management. That’s when we added monitoring, the connected glucometer and the necessary seamless exchange of data via the app between educators and our members.

Thereafter, we realized that people with diabetes could not easily access all specialized products needed in one place. Therefore, we introduced a marketplace allowing users to purchase all things related to diabetes from one platform. This was followed by the introduction of medicines and diagnostics on the BeatO app.

How many users has BeatO attracted ever since it launched in 2015? 

BeatO has over 5 lakh App downloads with more than 2 Lakh paid users, and 1.75 Lakh Monthly Active Users. We are adding about 35-40K new users every month now (+35% growth QoQ). During the pandemic itself, we have grown 4x vs pre-COVID period in sales, with frequency of usage growing by 40%.

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The main growth drivers that have attracted more consumers are increased awareness about health and emergence of strong need for remote monitoring and management.

What kind of changes or upgrades did the COVID-19 outbreak spur in the BeatO offering?

After the COVID-19 outbreak, many BeatO members were finding it difficult to visit doctors in person, which fast-tracked adoption of digital health tools to connect themselves with doctors and  manage their own health.

So we added telemedicine services on the app, through which users can consult with diabetologists, endocrinologists, and other experienced specialists directly from the BeatO app.

We were aware that many people with diabetes also have an overlap of hypertension. Seeing this need, we expanded into hypertension management amid the pandemic, as people with comorbidities have a higher need to manage their condition.

With users spread across small towns in India, BeatO enables users to get consults from top endocrinologists and secondary care specialists (ophthalmologist, cardiologists, podiatrist) to help  them not only manage diabetes but also its comorbidities and complications like heart disease, diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy.

As people with comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension are more vulnerable to complications led by COVID-19, there has been a higher focus to find go-to platforms to help manage chronic conditions.

During COVID, we also launched new offerings to provide a complete solution to people with diabetes.

In the initial days of the pandemic, we introduced a CloudClinic (telemedicine feature), which enables users to easily engage in video consultations with top doctors and specialists (endocrinologists, ophthalmologists, rheumatologist etc) across India, or even invite their own practitioner to use the platform – hence, personalizing the experience for users.

We also introduced a free virtual diabetes clinic service for 60-years-plus Type-1 users with uncontrolled diabetes. Since people with chronic conditions such as diabetes are at high risk from COVID-19 complications, they need to observe extreme precautions and reduce outdoor visits. Consequently, patients cannot visit their doctors.

The situation is more serious for people living in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, who travel to the metros to consult doctors. Without timely treatment and follow-up visits, these patients are at high risk of developing severe, life-threatening complications.  To address the concerns of such patients, BeatO opened its Virtual Diabetes Clinic – available free for users, who are identified via HealthNeuronTM – BeatO’s AI triaging system.

We launched our flagship product, ‘Diabetes Total’ which is a first-of-its-kind easy, powerful and complete plan for all things diabetes. It includes everything a person with diabetes needs ranging from health insurance, doctors consultations, glucometer, unlimited strips, medicine, diet plans and diagnostics on one app.

All data on the member’s blood-sugar levels and diets are also shared with doctors and diabetes educators on the app, which helps them consult the member better and provide better care.

Our Diabetes Total subscription plans  are affordable and comprehensive, with monthly subscription fees starting at just Rs. 999 a month.

These comprehensive diabetes management and health insurance plans  —  health insurance is in partnership with Care Health Insurance — substantially reduce medical expenses and also allow users to insure themselves with wider eligibility criteria. BeatO added this during the pandemic since it was the need of the hour.

Now, users can avail of the benefits of hospitalization coverage worth Rs 5 lakhs with cashless claims via a network of 7,000 plus hospitals, along with BeatO’s smart sugar monitoring kit and unlimited test strips and access to doctors and educators on the platform.

We are now also venturing into continuous-glucose-monitoring-based Diabetes management programs that will enable users to get targeted diet and lifestyle counselling from BeatO’s team of experts based on their dynamic glucose readings.

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How did these initiatives impact BeatO and its members? 

With the launch of these initiatives, we received positive response from our users. Within months, members on this plan increased monitoring frequency and engagement with doctors and BeatO’s diabetes educators.

This has improved their blood sugar levels, reduced risks of complications and hospitalization. Also, BeatO has expanded its offerings for people with hypertension who seek a single platform to help with hypertension management.

These efforts have led to 4x growth compared to pre-covid period in sales, with frequency of usage growing by 40%. We are also observing increased use-time and deeper engagement of users with the app.

How are BeatO’s services priced for people across the country? 

Our pricing is very affordable and provides a varied range of services for users to choose from, depending on their budgets. For example, a doctor’s consultation starts from Rs 200 and ranges upto Rs 1,000.

Our glucometers are smart, IoT based and priced as one of the most inexpensive devices including the kit, in the market. Even one test strip on average costs about Rs 10 for the customer which is easily 40-50% more affordable than anything in the similar category out there.  Our subscription-based plans also start from Rs 149, ranging upto Rs 999 per month.

Even our most expensive plan helps the customer save Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 annually by providing countless benefits including the health insurance, monitoring device, unlimited strips, unlimited doctor consults, nutritional support experts, discounted medicines etc.

Do you price them according to the paying power of different markets, from Tier 1 to the Tier 4 areas?  

At BeatO, we see chronic conditions as the main problem and try to lend a helping hand to serve the society. The improvement in glycemic control of a person with diabetes is a rewarding outcome to us. We have collaborated with Saksham, a charitable trust which assists individuals with Type 1 Diabetes thereby providing them with regular information, motivation and support for diabetes management.

BeatO has adopted and been assisting children with diabetes management tools to be able to control their blood-sugar levels more efficiently.

These tools include complimentary access to BeatO’s IoT devices (smartphone glucometer) and app ecosystem, along with.

BeatO will also provide its technology dashboard to Saksham’s diabetes educator to timely manage and proactively intervene based on the childrens’ sugar readings taken through HealthNeuronTM, BeatO’s AI triaging system.

We are also working with insurance companies to use data and information to make better health insurance products with the right pricing and features mix.

A person with diabetes would usually find it difficult to find health insurance for themselves. However, our diabetes management and health insurance plans enable people with both Type 1 & Type 2 to apply. It has extremely affordable health insurance for people with diabetes, both Type 1 & Type 2.

This is a game changer because almost no other company has insurance for TYPE 1 diabetics. People with high HbA1c and BP, thyroid, cholesterol also can apply. There are no pre-medical tests, only a simple tele-underwriting process. It’s renewable for a lifetime and there are no price caps on room rent.

What convinced insurance companies to extend such policies to diabetics, and Type-1 diabetics, no less?

With a solution like BeatO, which helps people manage their condition, it reduces adverse outcomes and need for hospitalization, which naturally also impacts claim ratios of health insurance companies.

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On the subject of automation and technology, how are you using AI and IoT along with software implementation at BeatO for the betterment of all connected  members? 

With the evolution of having an Mobile App/software implementation, to having IoT devices and now with AI based solutions, the system has always been able to generate a lot of learning. This in-turn has helped us create an ecosystem which allows us to enable our users with the right interventions at the right time.

The correlation of various data points provides a deeper understanding of the current situation the user is in, and can identify the means and the measures to follow. This in action means being able to provide knowledge regarding their health condition at the time the user engages in measuring his/her vitals.

In our app it can be seen in action via “Know your reading” section for every reading that get synced, or via “Insights” (AI based chatbot) diagnosing the reasons behind the irregularity in measured reading, or via intelligent triggers that get generated for health coach and/or Doctor intervention depending on the criticality of the users data trend. Hence making a solution working to better every user’s health who uses it.

The main growth drivers that have attracted more consumers are increased awareness about health and emergence of strong need for remote monitoring and management…During COVID, we also launched new offerings to provide a complete solution to people with diabetes.

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BeatO users are spread across 1500 cities, and from day one, you’ve had a total of approximately 5 lakh downloads. And now, during COVID, given BeatO’s great relevance and use for diabetes management, it could have a sharper growth curve and greater concurrency of usage. What is the tech platform BeatO rests upon, and how prepared is it for a spike in concurrent usage at any time? Who are your major tech services providers / partners? 

BeatO is a completely customized solution built from ground up with focus on Security, Concurrency and Speed. The solution at its core works with various connected devices which measure the user’s vital health information and securely synchronizes it in real time with a cloud based data analytics system to provide insights and interventions, making it available to the user at any and all times.

The system is modeled as a scalable structure utilizing multiple cloud service providers such as AWS (Amazon Web Services) and GCP (Google Cloud Platform), and has been developed as micro-solutions using variety of coding languages like python, node.js, php etc, with refined architecture for each business module hence allowing it to evolve and upscale as the rapidly as the current growth might demand.

The thumb rule for the system is to always have the capability to cater to double the audience we have today, hence allowing the head room to accommodate the spike in concurrent usage.

With the growth in the user base, the system and the offering it has, have also grown multi fold but the team building and managing it has always been a lean one. We started with a technology team of 6-7 people and now have grown to 25-30 people, involved in creating, up-scaling and managing every aspect of it, giving it the depth in understanding the solution as this needs to work effectively and efficiently.

Would you like to share a list of top cities and locations where  BeatO is being used by your paying / active subscribers? 

70% of BeatO’s customers are beyond Metro cities. Apart from the 6 Metros, other cities with prominent presence of BeatO comprise Pune, Jaipur, Lucknow, Kanpur, Ahmedabad, Surat, Jammu and Srinagar.

When did BeatO venture into the international  market of Singapore? How has that journey been so far? What are your growth plans for Singapore, and initiation plans for other international markets, if any?

We have recently forayed into the Southeast Asian market, setting up an office in Singapore. Our first product for diabetes management will be in partnership with a B2B partner and will go live in the next couple of months.

When you identified the space and service of BeatO as your chosen venture-focus, what was the market size then, and from your Day One share of 0%, how did you grow from 2015 to Feb 2019, and thereafter, during the pandemic-stricken times?  

If you asked if this business would have existed 10 years back, the answer is NO. Confluence of factors resulted in making BeatO what it is today – Smartphone penetration (our device is smartphone linked and powered by the app ecosystem – no smartphone/smartwatch no BeatO).

Second, percolation of data – we thrive on generating longitudinal health data for users and feeding back rich actionable insights through our AI engine and human interaction from experts/coaches/doctors. This is possible only because phones are connected through 4G and Wifi. Emergence of Jio played a big role.

Lastly, we are disrupting legacy ways of monitoring and managing chronic conditions. Hence, we needed patience and capital to disrupt the way of legacy companies in our space work. Hence having a more developed VC and startup ecosystem worked in terms of timing.

Also, we have used the COVID period as an opportunity. The emergence of need for remote care suddenly got significantly accentuated. In addition, people wanted to take better care of themselves and also financially protect themselves. This motivated us to quickly roll out new products to match these emerging needs and scale up quickly.

How did you cope with supply-side restrictions that came about due to the lockdown?

When imports started to become difficult and delays happened from China, it helped us move all our manufacturing to India. Today, we proudly say that the BeatO Curv monitoring kit, our new gen device, is 100% manufactured in India.

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So, In the last 5 years, BeatO has evolved from a simple app providing rich content for people with diabetes, to a complete ecosystem of lifecycle management for a person with a chronic condition. Where do you see BeatO reaching by the end of 2024?  

By 2024, we would have made a positive health impact in 5 Million lives, emerging as a global solution that empowers people with chronic conditions to lead a healthier and fuller life. 

How will you achieve that growth?  

Our expansion plans are based on three vectors. First, we will continue to penetrate the Indian market by going deep into diabetes with offerings (eg; insurance, IPD, subscriptions, CGM etc).

Second, we plan to expand our offering to other cardio metabolic disorders such as hypertension, cholesterol, pre-diabetes and Kidney. Third, we are also gearing up to launch our pilot programmes in international geographies this year especially in Asean and Middle East.

What lessons have you learnt from top international service providers in the same space, over the years? Your major learnings from global best services and practices? 

Definitely, we have analysed and learnt that global players like Livongo thrive on three key elements: One – great product and utilising data to drive positive health outcomes; Two: Multi-channel distribution approach, and Three: Multi chronic conditions approach

What is BeatO’s marketing philosophy?

We calibrated B2C and B2B2C approaches. Explaining the problem to people, that is,  Unchecked Diabetes results in complications, diabetes can be controlled but you find it hard  – we make it easy with BeatO.

This has been mainly led by digital activation through education about the need for management, remote monitoring and how BeatO makes management of chronic conditions easier for users. We also tested some print advertising campaigns along with influencer engagement campaigns during these years.

Over the years, our approach hasn’t really changed a lot, except, we have become much better in terms of targeting our campaigns and activating many channels. What has helped is the general comfort of people now with online platforms and payments.

Over the years, our approach hasn’t really changed a lot, except, we have become much better in terms of targeting our campaigns and activating many channels. What has helped is the general comfort of people now with online platforms and payments.

How do you deploy Performance-Based Marketing? When did you bring it in your overall marketing mix? How do you use tech-driven digital marketing / martech to inform and acquire customers at the same time? 

Performance marketing has been an integral part of our marketing efforts since inception. It allows us to be able to target the right customers, and also provide data insights to optimize our ads and communication. Also, we have been using various social media platforms Facebook, Google, Amazon, Flipkart, Affiliates as well as some ATL efforts to raise awareness about our differentiated value proposition.

When did you introduce the integrated marketplace to help users conveniently purchase necessary products and medical services from one place? 

We introduced an integrated marketplace in 2019 when we realized that people with diabetes could not easily access all specialized products needed in one place. Therefore, we introduced a marketplace allowing users to purchase all things related to diabetes from the BeatO platform. And, this was followed by the introduction of medicines and diagnostics later on the BeatO app.