Saurabh Arora had his best poker face on during a July 2017 interview with The Ken when he said the revenues of Lybrate, the telemedicine startup he founded, were growing. The company’s financials for the year ending March 2017 hadn’t been filed yet. However, Lybrate’s revenues had grown to Rs 22.4 crore ($3.3 million) for the year ending March 2016 despite the company only being founded in 2014, so it was hard to doubt him.
At the time, we were seated in Lybrate’s plush Faridabad office, situated right next to the premises of online eyewear retailer Lenskart. The office was bustling with activity and brimming with promise. After all, Lybrate’s telemedicine business model—connecting millions of Indians without access to primary care to doctors, via technology—had already been executed successfully by other companies in various developing and developed countries. China’s largest insurer Ping An’s service Good Doctor and US-based Teladoc are shining examples.
Arora seemed poised to replicate these success stories in the world’s second-most populous nation. Just over two years into its existence, the company was already India’s leading telemedicine startup in terms of funding. At the time, it had raised about $11.4 million (Rs 78.4 crores) from the likes of Tiger Global and Ratan Tata.
But while Arora seemed bullish on Lybrate’s fortunes, he seemed reluctant to ascribe a figure to the company’s latest revenues. On being pressed for a number, he hesitantly agreed. The company’s corporate communications team soon followed up with a three-page fact sheet on Lybrate’s business: over 100,000 doctors, a total of 6 million monthly searches, health queries and consults with doctors, and 4.5 million app downloads. Heady numbers.
Tucked away amidst all that was the company’s expected revenue. In the body of the email, Lybrate said it was ‘expecting to clock’ Rs 25 crore ($3.6 million) in the year ending March 2017.
The March 2017 results were, indeed, a turning point for the company. Just not for the better. According to the company’s official filings sourced from research platform Tofler, the actual revenue Lybrate finally declared for that year was Rs 16.19 crore ($2.3 million). A drop of 28% from the year before. The following fiscal year, its revenues improved to Rs 19.01 crore ($2.8 million), still well below its 2016 peak.
As Lybrate’s fortunes went south, so too did its funding. It had an influx of $3 million (Rs 20.6 crore) in 2017, the source of which is unclear as the company did not announce it. Various ex-Lybrate employees all explain this funding differently. Some say it was a bridge round; others say it is debt funding, and others were told that it is an income tax refund.