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How the pandemic made these former Uber executives start up in the mental health space

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When we think about mental health, many things come to our mind. Depression and anxiety being the most common ones, some problems of the mind cannot even be comprehended. 

Krishna Veer Singh and his acquaintance from Uber, Tarun Gupta, were in a similar situation when they decided something had to be done in the mental health space. This led them to launch an app called Lissun in 2021. 

Gurugram-based Lissun is a mental health startup that wears multiple hats. While the entry point is an artificial intelligence (AI)-based chatbot, Krishna claims the app gets deeper as users start interacting with it. 

“Our chatbot tries to analyse the severity of someone’s mental health and accordingly prescribes necessary measures,” says Krishna. 

How did it start?

A former executive at cab aggregator Uber and online marketplace Flipkart, Krishna says he has experienced a lot of stress, which comes as a part of working in the startup ecosystem. But the pandemic hit him and his family like a ton of bricks. 

“I have worked across multiple companies to know when something is a regular stress or mental health issue. But this time, it was definitely different,” Krishna tells YourStory in an interaction. 

While it wasn’t the direct impact of family members falling sick due to Covid-19, but when his son was not keeping well and amid all the bad news circulating around, Krishna started feeling the heat.

Image: Shutterstock

 

He then decided to do something about it and started working with Tarun on starting a mental health app. 

How does it work?

If the app realises the user is suffering from day-to-day stress or is only overwhelmed, then it suggests measures, including journaling and meditation. But if the situation seems severe, then the app tries to connect users with a mental health professional. 

Lissun currently has about 10 mental health professionals working regularly with the startup. This is different from the marketplace model, where a list of professionals are listed on the website and it is up to users to connect with them. 

“Understanding a user is a gradual process and our bot does take its time to understand and then suggest any treatment as an incorrect diagnosis could be detrimental to the user,” says Krishna. 

According to the founders, the algorithm for the app was created with consultation from two mental health professionals. 

Lissun, which is currently active in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), also works with doctors in general practice, who can help with recommending their product and creating a word of mouth reference for the app. 

Credit: YourStory Design

This helps the startup invest less in acquiring customers through digital platforms, which is already pretty crowded with multiple mental health chatbots. “Reference is probably what would work best for us as people would be more likely to use the platform,” says Krishna. 

Covid-19 and mental health 

According to mental health professionals, suicides are usually caused due to some serious form of mental health issues.

In India, where suicide rates are the highest in the world, talking about depression and anxiety is still prohibited. A majority of the population is not even aware of mental health issues. But the pandemic has changed things a little bit. 

As the pandemic-led lockdowns and other stress added to work and family responsibilities, seeing the loved ones suffering and a sense of loneliness sent many into a downward spiral. This underlined the need for access to mental health professionals.

“The loneliness and anxiety associated with the pandemic has sensitised the population to acknowledge the gravity of the problem, even though mental health has been a taboo in the Indian society,” Dr Pankaj Jethwani, Executive Vice President at W Health Ventures, told YourStory, in an earlier interaction.

The market and funding

Lissun, which has so far raised $500,000 from a clutch of angel investors, charges between Rs 700 to Rs 2,500 per session. 

The startup competes with Wysa, an AI chatbot backed by Kae Capital; Lightbox Ventures-backed Inner Hour, and a slew of other mental health startups in the ecosystem.

Lissun now plans to grow its app user base through organic means. It is also tying up with more doctors who could recommend the app to those in need. 

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The guide to empowering startups on their unicorn journey

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The world of startups is booming today – there are innovative products and services that are being launched, almost every other day. Interestingly, India is fast becoming the ‘startup capital’ of the world. Over 940 startups have raised nearly 20 billion in the first half of this year, while over 100 tech startups have entered the unicorn club.

The pandemic, too, served as a catalyst, highlighting the significance of technology to scale startups. But let’s understand this – becoming a billion-dollar company is no mean feat. While most believe that funding is the most crucial component for startups – it’s also important to find the right tech partners to foster your growth.

To understand the secret sauce of what makes a startup a part of the unicorn club, a panel discussion featuring Manish Kumar, Founder and CEO, KredX; Monika Jain, Co-founder and COO, Presto; Satish Mohan, Founder and CTO, Dhiway; and Prashant Singh, Co-founder and COO, LeadSquared, was moderated by Viju Chakarapany, VP and Head of Commercial Sales – Asia-Pacific and Japan, Red Hat, at TechSparks 2022 in Bengaluru.

The journey of innovation and scalability

For startups, the decision-making process of selecting innovative technologies is not as easy, particularly when building products. Sharing her view on this, Monica revealed that as a low-code, no-code tech platform that is trying to power up other enterprises to run millions of transactions, they have to be scalable, secure, and stable.

“Open source was our first choice, and a lot of our co-founders have been contributors as well as consumers to open source. We did not fall into the typical myths that are associated with open source. I think a lot of people associate free as being sub-par, but we have noticed that these are some of the most well-tested technologies, and not just us, our customers have also liked that aspect,” she mentioned, sharing that vulnerabilities in the platform show up more quickly when one is building on top of open source.

While scaling is the natural route for most startups, it is ridden with challenges. As Prashant rightly said, forecasting is one thing, but in reality, it is exponentially harder. Since LeadSquared is taking the multi-product direction, it is important for them to differentiate between the products they need to build or buy.

“The second factor is the market. We believe that any market that can give us 10 million dollars of revenue is the right market to invest in. The third factor is profitability, which must also be considered particularly in the long run. But the most important thing is to reorganise the company, so you can defend your market share and also grab it,” he added, sharing that certain central functions like strategy and finance must also be set up.

Creation of cultural touchpoints in tech

Elaborating on the pertinent subject, Satish shared that while he was at Red Hat, he learned the important lesson of creating a certain culture, apart from building enterprise products.

“Open source is the default engine for innovation; it was not like this three decades back. Some things have changed but even today, collaborative thinking is equally important,” he said.

Most people in the startup space make the mistake of looking at a project through a single lens, believe Satish. It is critical to give back, so that it benefits the community at large. This will help them solve scalability issues and other hiccups that come their way.

“Open source is an ethos, it’s not just about license or source code. It’s about all of us coming together and nurturing the open-source model, to keep it as a hotbed for collaborative thinking and creative outcomes,” he added.

Different stages of tech in a startup

There are certain strategies that startups must follow at a fundamental level, but it is essential to know the different phases in tech that they face, shared Manish.

“The first is frugality – how much less can I pay for that tech, so that we sustain in the near future? The second phase is scalability. Can I have the tech that can scale me up from 100 customers to 1 million customers? The third stage is stability – I have 5 million or 10 million customers, can my tech be stable? The fourth piece is security. Most startups see it as a piecemeal approach, but it’s essential to think of a step ahead,” he added.

All in all, it is important to take everything into consideration to meet the high demands of customers. In the case of Monica, she believes that it is important to view any problem holistically and build it in a configurable fashion.

“Measure twice, cut once. Think through what needs to be done, plan more and get feedback from real customers. Customers get carried away, they need the right tech partner to discern,” she concluded.

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Social commerce startup Kapu, by ex-Jumia executive, comes out of stealth with $8M funding • TechCrunch

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Kapu, a social commerce startup, coming out of stealth today having raised $8 million seed funding, is hoping to help lessen the burden of buying food for Kenyan consumers, many of whom are grappling with the sky-rocketing food prices.

Kapu founder, Sam Chappatte, an ex-Jumia executive, said the startup has since inception in January this year been building a b2c e-commerce service that enables consumers buy groceries at lower prices, through online and offline channels.

The startup is now expanding its network of local agents that consumers can place orders with. It will soon support WhatsApp orders too. By sourcing directly from manufacturers and producers, Kapu enables group bulk-buying of groceries and claims to help consumers save up 30% of the spend on fresh produce and packaged consumer goods.

“People spending like 40 to 50% of their household income on the grocery basket is a big problem for society, but it is also a huge opportunity … The reason we started Kapu is that we think that there is a more relevant model of e-commerce that can be built to target the grocery basket, which is the biggest portion of spend for the vast majority of consumers. And if by using technology we can bring efficiency then we can have a tremendous impact on society for consumers and businesses,” Chappate told TechCrunch.

The seed round was co-led by Giant Ventures and Firstminute Capital, with participation from Founder Collective, Base Capital, Norrsken (Klarna co-founder Niklas Adalberth’s fund) and Raven One. They join Kapu’s early backers, including India’s Meesho and Brazil’s Facily co-founders, and a number of African family offices, Twitter’s Biz Stone, Supercell’s Ilkka Paananen, Tom Blomfield of Monzo and serial entrepreneur Alexander Rittweger.

Sam Endacott, partner at Firstminute capital, said in a statement: “Sam is deeply experienced in both the e-commerce and logistics category and we are thrilled to partner with him and the entire Kapu team to help alleviate the cost of living crisis on the Continent for consumers, unlock social mobility and drive growth for SMEs in the region.”

Kapu says it has 1,500 agent collection centers across Nairobi, and will, in its next phase of growth, work to fully penetrate Kenya’s capital before expanding to new markets.

Kapu’s agents, usually positioned within residential areas, takes customers’ orders, and makes deliveries the next day.

“Customers receive a notification from Kapu and also from the agents, to go pick up their goods. Many agents also deliver to consumers’ homes,” said Chappate.

Kapu said the offline channel (through agents) and online direct to consumer (via WhatsApp) models are designed to suit the Kenyan market, where e-commerce has not taken off but social commerce is showing signs of potential.

Kenya is said to have one of the highest percentages of monthly WhatsApp users in the world, according to Global Web Index’s 2020 Social Media User Trends Report — happening as the popularity of the social commerce sector surges in the region as the shift toward online shopping continues post Covid pandemic.

Kapu joins the growing list of startups that are digitizing the informal retail sector in Kenya, including Tushop, which launched last year. Kapu and Tushop are both enabling group buying of food supplies through agents and WhatsApp.

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Here’s a look into what lies ahead in India’s fintech roadmap

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Rapid advancements in technology with state-of-the-art innovation emerging every day have ensured that the global financial services industry, and fintech, in particular, is seeing exponential growth. This is true even in India, where the fintech landscape has never looked better.

EY reports that India is leading the world in the race to adopt fintech at a rate of 87 percent, over 20 percent higher than the global average of 64 percent. At this rate, it comes as no surprise that the Indian fintech market is expected to reach $200 billion by 2030. What are the next steps that fintech companies must take to inch closer to this projection?

Before we even answer the question [what’s next in the financial journey], where are we in the financial services journey, as far as the country is concerned? asks Sanjay Aggarwal, Co-founder and CTO, Money View. Sanjay was talking at the final panel discussion in the Fintech track on Day 3 of TechSparks 2022 moderated by Bhagwan Chowdhry, Professor of Finance & Faculty Director, I-Venture @ ISB.

By Indians, for Indians

India is deeply underserved in terms of financial services, especially credit, he said, adding that despite being in the top five economies in the world, India’s household debt to GDP ratio is not in the top 50.

Fintech is just making sure that financial services and products become more accessible to a larger number of Indians,he said, adding that this work involves heavy use of technology and data and it has just begun by laying a foundation for fintech companies to build on to ensure services reach every nook of the country,

Sanjay cited an example of how nearly 80 percent of Money View’s customers hail from Tier II and Tier III cities to explain the rising demand in such smaller cities and towns.

Solutions for reach and depth of services

A lot has been on the infrastructure side of things, as is in the case of the India stack and digital currency, said Souparno Bagchi, COO, Balancehero. Looking at problems of scale and depth, Souparno believes that while fintech companies have done awesomely well in scale, there is work to be done in terms of reachability, awareness, and lead indicators.

What is also going to be very interesting in the next 2-3 years is how we are going to solve the deeper problems, he said, pointing out how Balancehero is underwriting around alternate data. There is a whole universe to explore to identify solutions that include both scale and depth, which is going to be a major driver in the sector, he added.

Regulators as partners of startups

Sandhya Vasudevan, MD – Deutsche Bank and Member, Indian Angels Network noted that the bank is kicking off a series to communicate to and help fintechs understand that regulators are their partners.

She highlighted how regulators are taking care of country risks and individuals who don’t understand finance, which is essential, because you see many companies that have done extremely well and yet, they finally get caught on some regulatory issue. In Sandhya’s view, it is important to safeguard the ecosystem to prevent one failure from contaminating the whole community.

Souparno agreed that while regulators are partners of fintech companies, it may seem like the two are a binary sometimes. Given the number of sub-sectors in fintech, there is a huge need for self-regulatory organisations (SROs) within the space in India, he said, adding that there are steps that regulators are taking in this regard. More and more intermediary interfaces like the SROs could be a big leap in terms of working together, he said.

Can private entities take up monitoring?

Sanjay said that a regulator’s job is fantastic and probably the hardest as it needs to ensure responsible innovation occurs where customers are protected. That job has to be managed by an independent entity. It cannot be given to the incumbents, the large private sector players because they will just vouch for their interests, he added.

We need to be very clear – both from the regulators’ and the players’ standpoint – if it is a matter of compliance, and therefore it is 0 or 1, or is it a matter of risk, said Souparno.

Addressing customer fears and reach

Regarding the issue of people fearing fintech appliances, Sanjay highlighted government initiatives to push digital payments, such as real-time text messages after every transaction and added that communicating to people in regional languages and using voice instead of text can help reach a larger audience.

He noted that Money View has conducted successful experiments with voice such as replacing customer services executives in their call centres with a voice bot, which saw a huge uplift in response rates.

Developments in fintech

Sandhya cited the example of how blockchain can be used differently in India compared to other countries and wondered what decentralised and automated organisations can be created from this. The question that arises then is how much regulation is needed if digital currency is playing in, say, the social sector, she added. Can we be a leader in pushing those dialogues? she asked.

A development Sandhya hopes to see is quantum computing in the fintech space in India. Talking about cybersecurity, she noted that the fintech space could be vulnerable if it is not properly safeguarded. Every startup needs to have a basic level of cybersecurity in place, otherwise it can be a serious disruptor, she said.

Sandhya posed the question – how do we partner fintech with other major verticals such as mobility, agritech or the creator economy? Noting that this is something they are working on, she also highlighted that there is no database for fintech startups – which restricts how much they can be supported.

She highlighted the support from RBI for a project to boost rural women entrepreneurship among 500,000 women in Karnataka where they are trained in digital and financial literacy through an interactive medium. She also pointed towards developments regarding a cybersecurity perimeter and Meghraj, an Indian cloud.

Sandhya noted that while the government is not doing nearly enough about climate fintech, various groups are working towards impact lending, sourcing and other elements of fintech.

ISB’s work

Bhagwan highlighted the various initiatives and projects ISB is working on, one of which is a voice solution for bank balances.We are convincing the government to give us a number, 222 and BBB – Bank Balance Batao – and it is a one-trick pony, it does only one thing, he said, adding that if a customer dials BBB, the service will call them back and report their bank balance. This can alleviate consumer fears about whether their transactions have occurred safely.

Bhagwan also believes that we need to bring the human back, and added that they are bringing out a book named Hum Tech – Human technology. This would be an attempt to help vulnerable people with their transactions. Having whom he calls digital didis to help can also ease the redressal process.

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