Healthcare information for all: mDhil

mDhil’s CEO, Nandu Madhava, envisions a healthier India by making basic healthcare information accessible to all. Nandu shares his journey with ennovent.

How was the idea of mDhil born?

After I completed my undergraduate studies in the USA, I served as a volunteer at the Peace Corps for two years. As a translator at medical clinics, I heard a common story from physicians. Many people in the developing world suffered due to a lack of access to very basic health information like the importance of breast feeding, information on sexual health, family planning etc. But these issues are still taboo and people didn’t discuss them. I realised that access to such basic health information can empower people to help their lives and lead to better health outcomes.

After completion of my service period with Peace Corps, I worked at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, went to business school at Harvard and joined a start up called Office-Tiger after graduating in 2006. Office-Tiger was acquired and was a great story for its founders and investors. I realized that I wanted to run my own company, but if I did something of my own, I wanted it to be for creating a better India. That’s when I came back to the issue of health information and started working on the business model for mDhil.

What is the objective of mDhil?

mDhil creates and distributes original health information for Indians. Our initial services were SMS based, but, we will find ourselves focusing more on mobile web content in future.

How long have you been operational? What is the size of your team?

We have been operational since 2009 and had an initial success of over 250,000 paid users to our SMS services. We have eight employees; a mix of full-time and part-time. And we have a number of volunteers, freelance writers and directors who create written, image and video content for mDhil.

Do you create content in local languages?

We have done some of our content in Hindi, but we currently focus more on English language content. In our own experience and as learnt from fellow industry players, there is greater traction around English content on the internet in India. But I think, that is going to change over a few years. As more and more people from tier-2 and tier-3 cities start using the internet, there will be a greater need for local language content and we look forward to cater to that need.

What is your revenue model?

First and foremost, we are focused on user experience. Do this right and create a user following, new revenue channels will open up. For proof, consider YouTube, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. That said, we are currently generating revenues in three different buckets. (i) We deliver SMS and value-added services via mobile carriers. (ii) We monetize traffic to our websites via advertising. (iii) We help pharmaceutical companies with their mobile health initiatives.

What are your significant learnings as a social entrepreneur in India?

There are two parts to that word ‘social’ and ‘entrepreneur’. I met a lot of people who do great work for the community and got the first part right, but, the second part is a little trickier.

Being an entrepreneur, you really have to understand what is happening in the business side of your market and how your company can grow and innovate within that market.

What are your biggest challenges?

Like many early-stage start-ups in India, fundraising had been a challenge for us. We raised our first venture capital round from a US-based group called Gray Ghost Ventures. But here in India, unfortunately, most VCs have no real experience in early-stage investing. For example, many Indian VCs have not started a venture of their own and instead come from the banking or consulting Industries. Hence, most Indian VCs resemble what is called ‘growth equity’: they expect you to have significant revenues and proven business models. This is unlike in Silicon Valley where early stage focus is essentially on identifying an opportunity that provides value, building a great team, understanding how the market context is changing, creating really great user experience, etc.

What kind of support are you looking for?

I am looking for super bright and passionate people that are interested in either health or mobile space to join the team. Also, you have to be the ‘start-up’ type…an entrepreneur at heart!

Anything else you want to tell our readers?

We address several health related topics starting from women’s health, menstruation, contraception, sexual health, family planning, smoking cessation, etc. that are relevant to India’s youth population. Please come and check out the content on our website. We look forward to your feedback!!! We also love to know which topics you want to hear more about. Feel free to interact on our Facebook page.

For any further queries write to [email protected]

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