Of India’s 1.2 billion population, 43.6% speak Hindi as a first language. That’s just over 500 million people. And these 500 million people—close to double of the American population, mind you—have almost no access to credible healthcare information online. At least not in the language they’d rather be reading in.
The problem doesn’t end there. The little information that is available in Hindi is often unreliable, if not downright misleading. A Google Hindi search page, for instance, throws up fruit as a cure for cancer.
So, in late 2016, five people put their heads together to offer a little something to counter this massive problem. An online health content portal in Hindi to provide accurate medical information on diseases, treatments, medicines, and wellness—myUpchar (my treatment). In six months, the website was attracting a million views a month; and after a whole year, it was the most-viewed health website in India, the company claims. Over 90% of its traffic came from Hindi-speaking small cities, towns and villages in northern India.
Today, its pageviews stand at 12 million. That’s right behind competitors Delhi-based 1mg and Bengaluru-based Practo’s 19 million and 18 million pageviews, respectively, last month.
“There was no secret ingredient,” says one of myUpchar’s two co-founders, Manuj Garg. “We shared information in response to questions people asked on our Facebook page.” Basic questions. ‘What is the ideal duration of menstrual cycle?’ ‘How to treat knee pain?’
“Initially, most of them were women asking us how to delay their periods for reasons like a college event or a wedding in the family,” says Garg. When it came to answering questions on serious diseases such as dengue or cancer, Garg would consult with doctors.
But it’s not all smooth sailing.
myUpchar was supposed to be India’s answer to WebMD—a US-based health content website, which was acquired by private equity firm KKR for $2.8 billion in 2017. That dream is a long way away.
WebMD is one of the highest-viewed health platforms globally (see chart), with a strategy of earning revenue from advertising and sponsored content. But, in India, pharma companies are barred from advertising to the public. And this is where myUpchar jumped in with both feet. And without a business model.
Meanwhile, competition has sniffed an opportunity.