Ram N Kumar, the founder of NirogStreet, a technology-led Ayurveda platform from India, has raised $2.5 million in Series A funding from a clutch of investors including US-based DoorDash executive Gokul Rajaram.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine.
Kumar told indica News that he was fortunate to find an investor who could not just invest but guide. “For me, if you get a person like Gokul to help you while building a company, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Kumar said.
Rajaram told indica News that he was inspired by Kumar’s journey and compelling founding story.
“He contracted hepatitis C and got cured through Ayurvedic treatments,” Rajaram said about Kumar. “As he started researching the space, he learned that there are more than 1.1 million non-allopathic practitioners in India alone, and many more globally. These doctors were poorly served by existing infrastructure, which led him to start NirogStreet, a B2B platform to help non-allopathic doctors order medicines, connect with patients, and overall run their business more effectively and serve their patients better.
“The company is doing well and growing rapidly,” Rajaram said. “What is interesting is how much interest they get from practitioners outside India. They have decided to stay focused on India in the near-term, but this is a global opportunity.”
According to the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Ayurveda product market is at was at $3.5 billion at the end of FY18, pegged to grow at 16 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR).
NirogStreet [https://nirogstreet.com/], Kumar said, is the only company in India that has brought in 50,000 Ayurvedic practitioners globally to its platform and each doctor associated has the Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) degree. On top of this, the doctors who follow NirogSteet’s protocols and digital practice are also certified by NirogSteet.
“I come from a low middle class family, and so had to leave studies when I was in Grade 11 to look for work,” said Kumar, who traces his roots to Muzzaffarpur in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
In 2000, he founded his first business Techlus, that helped promote information about computers to people in the smaller towns of India. “I was 15-16 years old and was not even aware what entrepreneur means,” Kumar said over the phone with a hearty laugh.
He said was fascinated with the computer and he approached the computer center in town that had just one PC in a small room. Kumar offered to work there in exchange of lessons in JAVA. He eventually graduated in Computer Science from Sikkim Manipal University.
What turned his focus to Ayurveda was Kumar’s own health struggles. He said he was diagnosed with hepatitis C and doctors gave up hope of his survival. In his search of alternative medicines, Kumar’s parents landed up at an Ayurveda practitioner’s clinic in Danapur in Patna. Kumar said his parents would carry him in a bus about 80 miles one way to Danapur. Within months he started eating better and by three months he was almost cured.
Kumar said he realized that “Ayurveda in India is an unorganized sector…. Also, what I observed was people have trust in Ayurveda but they don’t trust the medicines. There is no knowledge sharing.”
He said that the Ayurvedic doctors are like small entrepreneurs but they are not tech savvy. They are legally allowed to sell medicines but there is no knowledge-sharing platform. Kumar said he saw a business model in that.
“Just an idea that I can create something where doctors can engage among themselves because a knowledge platform is not happening in Ayurveda like it is in western medicine,” Kumar said.
He first created an app, ‘NirogStreet for Ayurveda Doctors’, only for Ayurvedic practitioners from anywhere in the world. They can discuss cases with other practitioners and take opinions. The free app, launched in 2018 with 100 practitioners, today has 50,000 users.
“Ayurveda has immense potential in helping bring India on the healthcare map of the world as its leader,” Kumar said. “As a B2B2C, technology-enabled and doctor-led platform, we are consistently focusing on identifying best practices to improve the supply chain of Ayurvedic services and medicine.”
However, NirogStreet, which has over 85 employees, did not make much headway among venture capitalists in India. In 2018, it got half a million dollars from the Japanese VC firm Spiral Ventures.
“The problem with India is many times people and investors want to see if there is a copy [of the product] available somewhere. Actually, there was no copy,” Kumar said. “In a country like India if you want to bring a change it’s very difficult and a long task.”
He said the Ayurveda market was unorganized but vast.
“India has close to 9000 licensed pharmacies but the challenge is enforcement [of rules and quality control] is very weak,” he said.
He said NirogStreet has collaborated with over 30 brands after doing the due diligence.
“It is not like any brand can come onboard with us. We are very-very stringent in quality control,” he said.
“When the threat to life is immediate people will go to allopathy and when threat to life is long they go to Ayurveda,” said Kumar.
“We have close to 8000 doctors procuring from our platform in our clinic. We help them with marketing, we help them with CRM [customer resource management], and digitize their practice,” Kumar said.
Asked about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Ayurveda, he said: “Pandemic boosted the business, doctors are more open to technology … and actually it was a boost to us. Just in 12 months we grew 300 percent.”
He said: “What we are seeing with the Ayurveda is that at least it brings down the cost of treatment and Ayurveda makes you healthy, wealthy and wise. For better quality of life, Ayurveda is the only answer.”