Launching Athera's Odyssey 🚀
Your passport to the world of venture capital, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Welcome to the first edition of our newsletter, Athera’s Odyssey!
Every month, we will be sharing inspiring narratives and valuable perspectives that influence the future of the entrepreneurial landscape. We’ll bring you stories of founders, discuss changes in the start-up ecosystem, and encounter distinctive viewpoints, among other exciting topics.
In the debut edition of Athera’s Odyssey, we talk about:
The Life and Lessons of Einstein - Explore the Genius Behind the Theories
The Road More Travelled with redBus - Learn why Athera supported redBus despite 2008's economic crisis and gain revealing insights on resilience, foresight, and enduring strategic partnerships in tough times.
The Captain’s Perspectives 🔍
Hearty Adventures with Tricog
Discover Tricog's AI-powered revolution in heart health at an unimaginable scale, highlighting AI's vast potential in healthcare.
Introducing AI to over 15 million hearts worldwide, and more…
We know that heart disease is the number one killer worldwide, taking about 20 million lives each year. In urban India alone, it claims over 3 million lives. It pushes more people below the poverty line than any other illness, often striking family breadwinners at a young age and altering their financial path.
Dr. Charit used to believe that, as an interventional cardiologist, he could save enough lives by being in front of patients. But then he decided to put a phenomenal team together and changed that paradigm.
He proved that you can save lives at scale – we're talking about the scale of a country like India – from the length and breadth of the country. And they've done so while maintaining high accuracy completely remotely.
“I'm confident in saying that no other company on earth has achieved the level of scale and impact that our small team in Bangalore has been able to achieve.”, stated Dr. Charit
How the entrepreneurial seed was sown in an interventional cardiologist:
Like many entrepreneurs, Dr. Charit never planned on it. He was an interventional cardiologist, expecting to stay on that path until an evening in 2009. He recalls a moment vividly when a young man couldn’t be saved due to multiple delays in seeking help and had a mere 5% survival chance. He carried an inner frustration about the delay.
“At that point, I realized a few things. 5.8 billion people need access to timely healthcare. Whether you live or die doesn't depend on your bank balance; it depends on your access to healthcare.”, Dr Charit made an important fact.
Around the same time, a renowned medical journal called The Lancet published an article saying the average time from the onset of chest pain to treatment was over 400 minutes. We all know that if you treat a heart attack within an hour, you can save many lives.
So, here was an interesting problem that was as big socially as it was medically. And the solution seemed simple: identify people at risk quickly and send them for treatment. If we could do that, we could save a million lives. With this thought and motivation, Dr Charit started Tricog to make a difference.
The beginning of scale:
In 2015, Tricog began fundraising to achieve the scale it had set out for. Using initial seed money from friends, family, and personal savings to start the company, they had reached 100 customers. To further grow, they needed more capital and met with around 20 or 30 venture capitalists. As first-time entrepreneurs with different backgrounds, they found it challenging to explain their vision, especially in deep tech like cognitive computing for healthcare.
During those meetings, Dr Charit had the privilege of meeting Samir, Parag, and Rutvik.
Dr Charit quoted - “Athera team took a bet on us after thorough due diligence. They not only supplied the funding but also played a pivotal role in guiding us to build a sustainable company with a strong emphasis on positive unit economics. Currently, our company has achieved EBITDA positivity and is on track to reach cash flow positivity, thanks to Athera's invaluable contributions in shaping our leadership and cultivating a genuine partnership.”
Tricog, along with Athera’s partnership, went on to achieve an unimaginable scale.
How Dr. Charit was a visionary to introduce AI into healthcare:
Dr Charit wanted to adopt a tech-focused approach i.e. an AI solution because he recognized its potential to rapidly identify high-risk patients, and its impact in saving lives. That motivated him to harness the power of deep tech for efficient cardiac care.
Tricog stands out as one of the pioneering startups that spearheaded the integration of AI into the healthcare industry. They swiftly and accurately identified individuals at risk, revolutionizing cardiac care and setting a precedent for AI's transformative role in the medical field.
The problem Tricog aimed to solve was finding the small percentage of patients with massive heart attacks among millions of others. They built algorithms that analyze data and provide diagnoses. The medical team would then review these diagnoses, either confirming or correcting them. The algorithm learns from this process, and it all happens within six minutes.
AI can’t replace doctors; it makes them more efficient. Tricog calls it "AI plus MD." Their medical team focuses on treating critical patients while the AI sorts and prioritizes cases for them. At first, patients didn't trust AI. They wanted every single ECG to be checked by a doctor and wouldn't believe a report unless it was signed by one. However, over the last decade, the medical community's acceptance of AI has improved greatly.
“When my co-founder and I started Tricog back in 2014, the term AI didn't exist yet. We were inspired by the tricorder from Star Trek, a medical device that could diagnose any condition. That's where the name Tricog comes from, and cog represents cognitive computing. Our own AI initially took about 10 minutes to make a diagnosis. Now we've reduced that time to just 30 seconds. This speed helps lower costs and makes quality cardiology advice available throughout India.”
Every day across India, Tricog helps 15,000 patients and is motivated by extending our reach to touch 100 million lives.
They started with ECG and added Echo, another modality. Now, with ECG and echo, they can diagnose any heart condition remotely. In the Philippines, an Echo would take three weeks to do; Tricog can do it in three hours. Our ECG and Echo technology is now used across 14 countries in Southeast Asia and Africa.
The future of healthcare is at home.
The problem with cardiologists is that there are very few of them, and they're only in big hospitals. We were able to bring cardiologists down to the community level and make virtual cardiologists accessible to all. The next step is bringing this service into people's homes.
With our partnership with Omron, we use the same technology to monitor people at home using devices that track weight, blood pressure, and activity levels. This way, we can give them a warning before something serious occurs.
They now have an AI system that can identify heart failure six months before it occurs. I believe we're in an amazing time for health AI, as we can gather data in real-time, transmit it, and analyze vast streams of data for millions of patients. This will provide valuable insights to prevent health deterioration.
By marrying tech and medicine, Tricog has truly accelerated cardiac care, touched a million hearts, and saved a million lives.
Here’s a detailed media coverage by Business India on How Tricog saw the Future.
Beyond the Horizons🌄
The Life and Lessons of Einstein: Exploring the Genius Behind the Theories
By Parag Dhol, General Partner, Athera VP
I finally read Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein, and it offered a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of history's greatest minds. Einstein's life was not just a journey of scientific brilliance but also a testament to human curiosity, audacity, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge.
This biography delves into Einstein's personal and professional journey, painting a vivid portrait of the man behind the scientific genius.
Imagination >>> Knowledge
To begin with, my favourite would be “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Because profound ideas were born from the simplest yet most radical thought experiments.
In the realm of science, this idea encourages us to question, explore, and think beyond the confines of current understanding, ultimately paving the way for progress and innovation.
Let me explain with some examples:
The resolution of the conundrum, "The constancy of the velocity of light is inconsistent with the law of addition of velocities," came by challenging the "absoluteness of time," leading to the development of the Special Theory of Relativity.
Similarly, the General Theory of Relativity had its origins in the notion that "If a person falls freely, he will not feel his weight." This theory extends to accelerating bodies, which contrasts with the "constant speeds" assumption in the Special Theory. Einstein's concept of gravity involved the curvature of four-dimensional spacetime, with three dimensions in space and one in time.
In addition to this, the two groundbreaking phenomena, demonstrating the bending of light under gravity, were profoundly intriguing. Einstein even detailed the experiment to observe "gravitational lensing," which was skillfully depicted in the BBC drama "Einstein & Eddington." Eddington's results played a pivotal role in elevating Einstein's fame.
I am not sure if you know but "Schrodinger's Cat" is a refined iteration of an original thought experiment attributed to Einstein. In one chapter, Einstein's debates with Niels Bohr regarding the indeterministic nature of Quantum Mechanics were equally profound. This was exemplified by Bohr's famous retort, "Einstein, stop telling God what to do!" in response to Einstein's assertion that "God does not play dice."
Einstein's Human Dimensions
In delving into Einstein's life and legacy, it becomes increasingly evident that the scientific genius who reshaped our understanding of the universe was, above all, a man of intriguing human dimensions.
Non-conformity and a deep-seated suspicion of all forms of authority were early traits that would come to define Einstein's personality. Einstein's creative brilliance came in bursts. In 1905, known as his Annus Mirabilis, he formulated a quantum theory of light, provided evidence of atomic existence, developed the Special Theory of Relativity, and introduced the iconic E=mc².
We all make mistakes, and he did too! Einstein initially underestimated the significance of mathematics in his pursuit of becoming a great physicist. The complex mathematics required to describe four-dimensional Spacetime for the General Theory almost eluded him, with German mathematician David Hilbert coming close to beating him to the discovery.
Moreover, the biography delves into Einstein's unwavering commitment to pacifism and his struggle with anti-Semitism. Einstein's unwavering commitment to pacifism aligned with John Lennon's vision in "Imagine." He endured significant hardship, particularly in the first half of his life, as he grappled with anti-Semitism.
Throughout the book, Isaacson provides a well-rounded and intimate portrayal of Einstein, offering readers a deeper understanding of both the man and his extraordinary contributions to the world of science.
Did you know?
In a playful jest, Einstein poked fun at engineers, expressing his reluctance to channel his creative energy into refining practical aspects of everyday life. Ironically, his son pursued a career in hydraulic engineering at Berkeley.
India also played a significant role in Einstein's story through his collaboration with S.N. Bose, which facilitated the publication of Bose's paper and led to the development of quantum statistical mechanics. Mahatma Gandhi, unsurprisingly, also found mention in their shared ideals.
Perhaps the most amusing episode in the book was Einstein's audacious attempt to secure a high school math teacher's position in 1908. His application included all of his papers, including the Special Theory of Relativity, only to be overlooked as one of 21 applicants, failing to make the shortlist of three.
In a nutshell, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book - endowed with science, stories, perspectives, learnings, tidbits and much more. I loved Isaacson’s last sentence in the book. It is a wonderful summary of Einstein’s life -
“And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe”.
Ecosystem Stories and Discoveries 📖
Fynding newer ways to win big!
Uncover Fynd's journey to success, emphasizing strategic pivots and adaptability in an evolving business landscape
In conversation with Harsh Shah, Co-Founder, Fynd
The world of retail has seen a dramatic shift in recent years, with the advent of e-commerce and technology becoming increasingly intertwined with our daily habits. In a candid conversation with Harsh, we learnt about Fynd’s journey from focusing on improving offline retailers' experiences to becoming an innovative omnichannel technology platform.
Rajiv Mehta, General Partner, Athera was an early investor in Fynd.
The Marathon: 2012 to 2023 and beyond
Harsh & team founded Shopsense in 2012 and set out on an interesting journey, pivoted a few times to scale and be relevant. They kept fynding newer ways to win big and were successfully acquired by Reliance.
Here’s the scoop:
They sought to bring cutting-edge technology to brick-and-mortar stores, aiming to enhance in-store experiences. However, the team soon realised that their customers were rapidly moving towards e-commerce platforms and found it challenging to scale this model effectively.
Recognizing the need for change, they pivoted in 2015 and launched 'Fynd', a platform allowing consumers to buy directly from stores with quick delivery options. Although 'Fynd' saw respectable growth, high customer acquisition costs threatened its sustainability.
An opportunity knocked on their door in 2016 when a brand approached them seeking help minimizing lost sales due to a lack of specific sizes or colors in-store. In response, they developed 'Fynd Store', enabling stores not only to capture sales but also to turn potential losses into profits through improved merchandising strategies.
“Interestingly enough, despite making less GMV than 'Fynd', ‘Fynd Store’ was significantly more profitable largely because it had lower operating and acquisition costs. Inspired by this success story and seeing untapped potential in online marketplaces like Amazon and Myntra; they decided to extend similar services offering real-time store inventory for same-day or next-day shipping – adding yet another business line under their belt.” - says Harsh.
Eventually extending their functionality even further beyond third-party platforms; they became a commerce engine providing unified solutions bridging online demand with offline supply by integrating directly onto brands' websites.
“Through these strategic transformations - enhancing offline retail experiences initially then shifting entirely online before finally acting as middlemen catering for both channels; we concluded that operating as an omnichannel technology platform is far more sustainable and profitable than running a B2C e-commerce business heavily dependent on capital investment for customer acquisition.”, adds Harsh.
The R&D Excursion
Once the omnichannel operations got going, Harsh wanted to understand consumer behavior and online shopping trends better to continue providing solutions that meet evolving market needs and the pandemic had a big role to play in shifting behavioral gears. It was now time to set up an R&D unit within Fynd.
“Every month, we have 57 billion units of inventory synced on our client platform. This is much larger than any other platform in the country. We might even be at the scale of Walmart or Amazon when it comes to the size of our inventory.”, Harsh added.
Fynd Labs leverages extensive shopping and imagery data, connectors between online and offline shopping platforms, as well as input from numerous stores managing omnichannel businesses. Identifying problem statements at both seller and customer levels; it enhances efficiency while improving overall experience across all platforms – making it essentially an incubation hub for solution-oriented opportunities.
Pivoting a venture involves finding newer avenues and opportunities for growth and expansion. Fynd’s journey is an exemplary example for start-ups to embrace change and pivot as per the market needs, and relevance.
The E-commerce Expedition
Harsh’s advice to entrepreneurs venturing into e-commerce today is acknowledging this dramatic shift in the retail landscape. Exploring different categories with automation capabilities while considering multi-platform models could prove beneficial in navigating through highly competitive markets effectively.
“E-commerce is great for quickly testing and iterating ideas with limited upfront costs. Online platforms help identify the right consumer segments, price points, and regions that work best for your products. Use this information to build an omnichannel distribution network, either through your channels or third-party ones.”
In his opinion, AI holds promising potential within e-commerce – poised to impact everything from product design right up to customer support by offering unique insights invaluable for any brand or business. The right AI models can give you an edge over the next 10-15 years.
Along with that, building communities around products or brands can be another strategy worth exploring early on given its potential for customer engagement and loyalty.
In a nutshell, whether it's offline or online; both methods hold their importance at different stages. The key lies in understanding your target customer's preferences, and testing pricing strategies effectively while gauging successful regions before channeling these insights into omnichannel distribution.
Athera’s Almanac 🗺️
The Road More Travelled with redBus
Learn why Athera supported redBus despite 2008's economic crisis and gain revealing insights on resilience, foresight, and enduring strategic partnerships in tough times
In conversation with Parag Dhol, General Partner, Athera VP
Growth comes with its share of challenges, but they can be overcome as you learn and expand. Focus on exceptional founders and businesses with strong fundamentals, rather than temporary market conditions. This principle guides us at Athera, where we invest in potential and people, placing trust in the journey, together!
15 years ago, in September 2008, we took a bold step and invested in redBus. It marked our third investment in India - one that we hold close to our hearts. We viewed (and continue to view) ourselves as long-term investors, basing our decisions on high-quality teams and growing internet marketplaces. Here's what happened:
In 2005/6, Samir Kumar, MD & General Partner of Athera, was part of the TIE EAP (Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program), where Phanindra Sama (Phani) emerged as a star!
Samir introduced Phani to the team. In 2008, during the challenging Lehman Brothers' financial crash, as we launched our very first Inventus Capital Fund and Phani was raising his Series A round, he turned to us for support.
redBus aimed to secure around 8 crores, with us committing 5 crores and needing at least 2 more. Despite our best efforts, finding investors was tough. Initial interest from two backers vanished in the wake of economic turmoil. Eventually, a few angels stepped in with smaller investments, and the round concluded in June 2009.
Fast forward four years, redBus was sold, and we reaped a significant return on our investment. What made this journey remarkable was our strong collaboration. We engaged in discussions and decisions, sometimes in agreement, sometimes not. That's the essence of working together, isn't it? Trust and a prudent risk appetite can yield extraordinary results!
Our interest in redBus was driven by its stellar team, including Phani, Sudhakar, and Charan and a robust business model. Unlike MakeMyTrip, which aggregated just six airlines with limited bargaining power, redBus had over 1,000 operators, levelling the playing field. For decades, bus operators had paid agents hefty 10%+ commissions, making redBus a fitting online agent.
redBus held a dominant position in the market and had the potential to reshape the industry. Customers gained access to a wide array of bus options without the need for physical visits, as was the case when only 5/10 options were available. redBus offered a platform that delivered real value, and we recognized the economic potential in it.
This is one of those rare deals where our initial vision remains relevant today. 😊
Initially, we anticipated the 2008 crisis would negatively impact sales, but it proved quite the opposite. In economics, there's a concept known as "inferior goods." During economic slowdowns, people tend to opt for second-hand items or more affordable alternatives. For instance, they chose bus travel over flying.
After we bolstered online booking options, more people embraced online bus ticket bookings. When we invested, only 45% of bookings were online, but within a year, it surged to 75%. The model gained strength with time.
redBus also addressed trust issues for travelers, particularly women travelling alone. Ratings, safety measures, pick-up and drop-off points, and more streamlined travel for everyone, addressing high safety concerns in India.
When we seek investments, we prioritize solid economics, strong businesses, and exceptional founders, regardless of external economic conditions. This philosophy has been the cornerstone of our early investments.
A fun fact: One of the Big 4 consulting firms advised against the deal with a detailed 50-page report. We recognized the importance of compliance and believed that challenges were surmountable. We trusted our instincts, genuinely partnered, and resolved issues alongside the redBus team, navigating through both lows and highs. We're grateful we did! :)