Practo to expand into fitness and personal care segments

Practo’s planned expansion into these segments comes eight months after it acquired Delhi-based fitness and health solutions firm FitHo Wellness Services Pvt. Ltd.Practo’s planned expansion into these segments comes eight months after it acquired Delhi-based fitness and health solutions firm FitHo Wellness Services Pvt. Ltd.

Bengaluru: Practo Technologies Pvt. Ltd, one of India’s most funded online healthcare start-ups, has decided to look beyond doctors and diagnostic labs and expand to spas and fitness centres.

The categories have been live on Practo’s website since early December, confirmed a company spokesperson. Practo’s planned expansion into these segments comes eight months after it acquired Delhi-based fitness and health solutions firm FitHo Wellness Services Pvt. Ltd.

Practo started in 2008 as a product company offering practice management software to doctors using a software-as-service model, in which software is licensed on a subscription basis to customers. In 2013, it launched a consumer-facing doctor discovery and appointment booking site and added diagnostics as a category in July this year.

The online service provider will now aggregate spas, salons and fitness centres—categories that many start-ups have tapped but in which no clear winner has emerged as yet.

“We are currently testing out various models. These tests are being run in multiple cities and of course at launch we will have a reasonably large footprint in India,” a Practo spokesperson said in response to an emailed query.

The company now earns its revenue from the practice management software Practo Ray and a sponsored listing service for hospital and clinics called Practo Reach. Listing is free for doctors and consumers are not charged for searches.

The company’s latest move is unlikely to immediately boost its revenue, as listing and discovery is free for institutions and consumers.Even so, the move should give Practo significant traction among users, experts say.

None of Practo’s competitors, including nearest rival Lybrate, has ventured beyond doctor discovery and practice management products yet.None of its rivals have the financial muscle or user base to match Practo’s.

“Practo has a lot of traction on the customer side. It will become a very serious competitor for everybody in the market. There is a good possibility that if the top two or three companies do a great job at aggregation, then they will be able to sail through and anybody beyond the top three will have a tough time raising funds,” said Abhishek Goyal, co-founder of Tracxn, a start-up tracker.

According to a 2014 report by consulting firm KPMG, the so-called beauty and wellness industry in India is expected to touch Rs.80,370 crore in 2017. At least 200 start-ups in the beauty and wellness and fitness categories have together raised $9.6 million from institutional investors, according to Tracxn.

The number pales before Practo, which has so far raised $124 million. Practo claims to facilitate more than 10 million searches every month. More than 200,000 doctors, 5,000 diagnostic centres and 8,000 hospitals are on its platform.

Apart from Fitho, the company has acquired hospital information management solution provider Insta Health Solutions, product outsourcing firm Genii, and Qikwell Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which has expertise in appointment scheduling at hospitals, over the past year.

Practo’s expansion is part of a wider trend in which well-capitalised consumer Internet companies are entering new businesses. A case in point is Zomato Media Pvt. Ltd, which started out as a restaurant discovery platform thriving on advertising revenue, but rolled out food delivery after start-ups such as Swiggy (Bundl Technologies Pvt. Ltd) and TinyOwl Technologies Pvt. Ltd emerged.

Experts say a massive war chest and lack of sizeable competition gives Practo the luxury to test multiple categories, unlike e-commerce where Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and Paytm are fighting a pitched battle with very little scope for error.

“I expect Practo to get into doctor at home, telemedicine etc. The segment is not as competitive as e-commerce. Because there is lesser competition, they (Practo) will start getting into a bunch of nearby businesses,” said Tracxn’s Goyal.

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Amazon pumps Rs1,696 crore into Indian unit

The latest infusion, which came in December, is the single largest tranche of funds received by Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd, the Indian unit of Amazon, since 2014, according to documents filed with the Registrar of Companies. Photo: Reuters

The latest infusion, which came in December, is the single largest tranche of funds received by Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd, the Indian unit of Amazon, since 2014, according to documents filed with the Registrar of Companies. Photo: Reuters

Bengaluru: Amazon.com Inc., the world’s largest online retailer, has infused an additional Rs.1,696 crore into its Indian unit, arming it with more ammunition in its battle with local rivals Flipkart and Snapdeal to become the country’s largest e-commerce firm.

The latest infusion, which came in December, is the single largest tranche of funds received by Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd, the Indian unit of Amazon, since 2014, according to documents filed with the Registrar of Companies.

Amazon India has now received Rs.5,699 crore since July 2014, when Jeff Bezos, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Amazon, promised to invest $2 billion in India over time, the documents show.

In comparison, rivals Flipkart Ltd and Snapdeal (Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd) have raised $2.1 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively, from investors in that period.

Since launching in India in June 2013, Amazon has applied its mantra of low product prices, wide product selection, and fast and reliable delivery to gain popularity with shoppers.

Among e-commerce companies, Amazon spent the most on advertising and marketing its brand last year. It’s also investing hundreds of crores of rupees on building its supply chain network.

The logistics footprint of Amazon India grew three times to more than 2,100 cities and towns in 2015 and the company added eight warehouses last year, increasing its count to 21. It has the most warehouses and largest storage space among e-commerce firms in India, ahead of Flipkart, which has 17.

The spending has worked well so far. Last year, Amazon gained market share from Flipkart and Snapdeal.

In the June quarter, Amazon’s sales—net of discounts, product returns and taxes—surged more than 300% compared with the year-ago period, Mint reported on 15 August. Then, in the September quarter, the company witnessed a 500% year-on-year growth in volume and the number of active customers jumped 230% over the year-ago period, Amazon said.

These numbers are far higher than those reported by Flipkart and Snadpeal. While these two companies are still significantly bigger than Amazon, the US-based online retailer is catching up rapidly.

“We are very pleased with the growth momentum we are witnessing in India. At the end of Q3 2015 (July-September), we saw an approximate 500% year-on-year growth in volume, and in Q4 2015 (October-December) we sold more than we did in all of 2014. We are committed to investing aggressively with a long-term horizon and transform the way India buys and sells,” an Amazon India spokesperson said in an emailed response to queries from Mint.

India is of importance to Amazon, especially given its failure to conquer China, which is dominated by Alibaba (Alibaba Group Holding Ltd). Alibaba is also strengthening its footprint in India by investing in Snapdeal and Paytm (One97 Communications Pvt. Ltd).

India’s e-commerce market is likely to grow to $100 billion by April 2020, according to a Goldman Sachs report in October.

“Amazon has been saying that India is going to be their biggest market opportunity outside the US,” said Arvind Singhal, chairman and managing director of Technopak, a retail consultancy. “This is because, in China, they are way behind Alibaba. In India, Amazon has not only been putting money in advertising and discounting, but also investing a lot on building a physical infrastructure, including fulfilment centres, which will give them a competitive advantage over everybody else.”

Amazon’s rivals are not sitting idle.

Earlier this month, Flipkart named co-founder Binny Bansal as its new CEO, replacing Sachin Bansal, in a move that it claimed would strengthen its management bandwidth as it seeks to combat Amazon India and kick off preparations for an expected initial public offering over the next few years.

Snapdeal, on the other hand, has strengthened its senior management team and even entered the logistics business by buying a large stake in specialty logistics firm GoJavas to improve its speed of order deliveries.

The three-way battle for dominance of the e-commerce market may intensify.

“If Amazon infuses a lot of capital, it means Flipkart will have to remain on its toes. When a company becomes large, it tends to become more confident, thinking that they have clear market leadership,” said Abhishek Goyal, co-founder of Tracxn, a start-up tracker. “But if somebody like Amazon is inching close, it will prompt all local businesses to fight very hard and that will bring the best out of everybody.”

He added, “The bad part is if you get into the mad rush of giving discounts instead of focusing on customer satisfaction, you can never have enough money to fund discounts.”

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BankBazaar.com ventures into international markets with Singapore entry

BankBazaar 
has set a target of around $10 million net revenue run rate (dollar terms) for its Singapore market in the coming months.BankBazaar has set a target of around $10 million net revenue run rate (dollar terms) for its Singapore market in the coming months.

Bengaluru: A&A Dukaan Financial Services Pvt. Ltd, the company that operates online financial services marketplace BankBazaar.com, has ventured into the international market starting with operations in Singapore.

The company has appointed former global head of digital banking at Standard Chartered Bank, Aman Narain, as chief executive of its international operations to be based in Singapore.

“In India there’s a 10x potential to grow. In the Asian markets, interestingly, the household debt as a function of GDP (gross domestic product) is actually fairly large. In dollar terms, they (Singapore and other Asian markets) consume more number of mortgages, more number of credit cards than we do in the Indian market in value terms,” Adhil Shetty, co-founder and chief executive officer at BankBazaar, said in an interview.

He added that both the Singapore and Malaysia markets (in dollar terms) are larger than the Indian market.

The Singapore entity will be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Indian arm, Shetty said.

“The rationale behind this move is that we built a lot of platform-based IP (intellectual property) which is actually applicable globally. Being a very IP-based business which is not resource- or capital-intensive, essentially what we are sharing with our Singapore entity is our IP, our platform and our best practices, based on which they’re running on at full speed in their own markets.”

As part of its plans, BankBazaar will roll out its flagship credit card services first and eventually expand into personal, home and auto loans, among other services.

The company has set a target of around $10 million net revenue run rate (dollar terms) for its Singapore market in the coming months.

Shetty said the company is considering venturing into other markets like the Middle East, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia within the next few quarters.

BankBazaar will have close to 100 members working on international markets, both offshore and onsite, Shetty said.

“Technology is fundamentally altering the way we live and work, and with new rules come new players,” Narain, the newly appointed chief executive, said in a statement.

In India, BankBazaar has 950 employees; it receives five million visitors a month and has concluded dispersingRs.3,000 crore at the end of 2015, Shetty said. The company has 12 products on offer in India ranging from credit cards and personal loans to home loans and auto loans, among others from over 50 public and private sector banks and non-banking financial corporations.

BankBazaar currently offers services to non-resident Indians in markets like Singapore and Dubai for customers interested in buying property in India.

BankBazaar raised Rs.375 crore in July 2015 led by Amazon Inc., Fidelity Growth Partners, Mousse Partners and existing investors Sequoia Capital and Walden International.

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How ABVP is bringing caste violence into universities by imposing its idea of the sacred on everyone

How ABVP is bringing caste violence into universities by imposing its idea of the sacred on everyone
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The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad has a long list of taboo subjects that it considers outside the purview of discussion and contestation. To engage with these subjects or ideas is to violate the ABVP’s idea of the sacred. What has precipitated the crisis in universities is that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing also wants to impose its notion of the sacred on all students and teachers.

The tendency of one group to impose its idea of the sacred on others has its origins in the caste system, which, as we all know, is organised on the principle of purity and pollution. Any violation of the ABVP’s idea of the sacred now runs the risk of encountering violence, or invites punishment from the authorities, or both. This too is a feature of the caste system.

Taboo topics

The ABVP does not want students to discuss the hanging of Yakub Memon or Afzal Guru, or the inclusion of beef in the mess menu. It believes a seminar on human rights violations is akin to supporting Maoism, which is deemed anti-national. It opposes seminars on Hinduism unless these are unequivocally in its praise. The list is long and forever evolving.

Just how this form of imposition is linked to the caste system can be illustrated through an example. The higher your caste, the less polluting your occupation – but you would be defiled in case you were to shake hands with those whose very touch is polluting, or dine with him, or partake of beef, or remove the carcass of a dead animal.

You can choose to refrain from certain activities. That is your decision. You can, for instance, get another person to remove the carcass from your compound. You can, obviously, abstain from eating beef.

But you also have to depend on others to subscribe to caste rules for preserving your purity. What are you to do if the pariah insists on touching you? What if the outcaste draws water from the tap you too use, or demands to drink tea from the same tumbler as yours?

Either you will adjust to this reality or you will dissuade him from polluting you by striking the fear of retribution or punishment in him. This is often at the root of horrific caste violence in the country. Indeed, for caste rules to have salience, it is vital not only for you but also for others to adhere to them as well.

Caste ethos

It is this caste ethos, and arrogance, the ABVP brings to universities, more fiercely now because the BJP government rules at the Centre. Ideas designated as sacred can’t be violated and what the ABVP views as profane must be shunned. In case some choose not to, the ABVP would pressure the authorities to take punitive action against them. It is on the fear of punishment (or violence) that the caste system breeds

Discussions on ideas that the ABVP considers taboo cannot defile its members. Whom does it defile then? It is the Mother, the deity that is India, whom we must worship. Her spirit infuses all spaces, more so the campuses. Just as Dalits were (and are still) proscribed from entering temples, certain ideas have attributes that defile Mother India.

This was indeed the theme of the statement Union Minister Smriti Irani issued following the arrest of protesting students at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Ideas of purity and pollution and religiosity are fused in the politics of ABVP, as is true of the entire Sangh Parivar.

The ABVP’s list of taboo subjects can be arranged in a hierarchy. The most profane is the idea of self-determination. Try conducting a seminar on the issue on campus. It is bound to get disrupted by boys who will later be discovered to be belonging to the ABVP.

Ask for a just trial of terrorists – and every word spoken in favour of it will lead to the defilement of Mother India. Try to get Delhi University’s Law Faculty to organise a talk on the need to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It won’t, because that is a taboo subject, as is the issue of observing human rights in Chhattisgarh.

Proscribed from university campus are even those whom the AVBP considers Naxalite sympathisers. To check this hypothesis, Delhi University should invite writer Arundhati Roy to address the students. It was the reason the ABVP cited to deny journalist Siddharth Varadrajan from speaking at Allahabad University.

Historical personalities can be assigned to a higher or lower order of profanity depending on the location of a university. It is taboo to make a critical appraisal of Shivaji in Maharashtra or Rana Pratap in Rajasthan. It is taboo, as students of Hyderabad Central University have repeatedly discovered, to demand that the college serve them beef. Outside metros, you periodically hear of the ABVP demanding a dress code for girls.

Lost ironies

The ABVP’s obsession with its list of taboos creates hilarious situations at times. The ABVP vociferously protested against philosopher Ashok Vohra at Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Udaipur. The reason: he had addressed an audience of around 100 on The Religious Dialogue: The Need in the Contemporary Times. The ABVP claimed he had insulted Hinduism.

Vohra had done just the opposite – he had criticised western Indologists, such as Wendy Doniger. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vohra wrote,

“To evaluate theories supported by these scholars one has to use their vocabulary, their descriptions and their interpretations. I chose this because American writers speak very derogatorily of Hindu gods and goddesses… (But) if you want to rebut an argument, you must quote it.”

The poor philosopher, quite clearly, missed the point. They protested against him for much the same reason as the higher castes disallow the Dalit groom to mount the mare in a wedding procession. It may not violate the principle of purity, but it certainly conveys Dalits assertion. It is possible they could feel emboldened to infringe caste rules in the future, just as a few in Vohra’s audience could become intellectually curious about Doniger and learn to question the Hindu religious tradition.

In the ABVP’s imagination, Mother India is dressed in the fabric of nationalism and Hinduism. To question either is to defile her. It is of little significance to the ABVP that its activists don’t contest these two ideas. This is because it believes Mother India would be defiled anyway because of those who are willing to debate the taboo subjects.

The ABVP has now taken upon itself to teach them a lesson for their audacity, in much the way, the dominant castes punish the transgressor of caste codes in villages. This is why our universities are now in tumult.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.

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