Maya, a Dhaka-based digital healthcare startup that connects users with doctors, mental health counselors, and wellbeing experts anonymously, announced today that it has raised $2.2 million in seed funding led by Anchorless Bangladesh, a Bangladesh-focused early-stage fund, and The Osiris Group, a private equity firm focused on impact investing in Asian markets, first reported by TechCrunch. Previously, Maya had raised two rounds of investments, an undisclosed round in 2018, and from BRAC in 2017.
With the new investment, Maya plans to strengthen its newly launched telehealth platform by launching new products and explore international expansion. Maya recently launched in Sri Lanka and has started testing its service in India, Pakistan, and a few Middle Eastern countries. It is also planning to enter Southeast Asia, says the report.
Founded by Ivy Huq Russell, Maya originally started as a content based women focused platform in 2011. When we first covered Maya in 2012, it was a web platform with a stated vision “to empower women through access to information and a shared community”.
Over the past years, it has evolved into a digital healthcare platform that provides an anonymous messaging service where users can post their physical health, mental health, psychosocial and legal questions. You can get information and advice from Maya’s pool of on-demand experts through SMS and app, for their premium service it takes only a few minutes to get an answer.
In an FS report published in 2020, the company said: “it answered some 5000 questions per day and more than 2M users interacted with the platform through app, web, and chatbots in December 2019 alone. [....]
Maya uses advanced machine learning to automatically sort and detect spam and route each question to a doctor, counselor, lawyer, or other relevant experts who answer it. Users can ask their questions in Bangla, English, or Banglish and receive responses from experts in the same language.
The in-house built AI, known as Maya Expert, answers approximately 30% of the incoming questions and has 90% accuracy of answering correctly. 50% of the AI answers get a 5-star rating and it is helping the company to reduce its cost of service delivery by 15% each month on a per-unit basis.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Maya delved into telehealth, providing in-app on-demand video consultation and medicine delivery.
Maya has gone through a series of evolution over the last couple of years. From a content and information-focused web platform, it has become an on-demand anonymous messaging service where people can ask health questions to experts and now into telehealth where it is providing video consultation and medicine delivery. The company has tried a number of things over the years in an attempt to monetize its growing user base. Here is a glimpse into the transformation Maya has gone through over the years from our 2017 interview with Maya Founder Ivy Huq Russell:
“Over the past couple of years, we have tried many different things. We failed in some and some of those things have stuck with us and are helping us to grow.
During the early days of Maya, I was the only person doing everything with the help of a couple of doctors who helped out voluntarily and I am super grateful to them. It took us almost 48 hours to answer any question in an appropriate manner. Then it became 24 hours and then 12 hours and for the last couple of years it came down to 3 hours and now premium users are getting it in 10 minutes. We just launched our premium service, Maya Apa Plus, in partnership with Robi, the selling point is ‘get your answer in 10 minutes’.”
When asked about the upsides Maya Plus offers to serious users, Ms. Ivy explains:
“Accessing doctors and experts is difficult and often expensive in Bangladesh. Here we are giving you access to experts for only BDT 60 a month for app users with unlimited questions, which is the value of the internet package Robi is offering now for our premium service.
For SMS-based questions, it is important to note that we only charge once a user gets a resolution to their initial query. If the cost is even BDT 10 a day and if you get a satisfactory answer from a doctor or a lawyer or a psychiatrist, I think that is really a great option. You don’t have to pay for the consultation, brave traffic or endure any other hassle for that matter.”
Today, the company has a multi-pronged business model where it is working on a number of monetization strategies:
1. B2B premium service where employers can offer Maya as a benefit to employees. The company has done some work in the garment industry in Bangladesh.
2. The company is also looking to partner with insurance companies that can add Maya service in their bundle and Maya gets a cut from there.
3. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Maya has launched two premium services for its users: in-app video consultations and medicine delivery. The company also has a small ecommerce operation called Maya Shop where it sells healthcare and lifestyle products.
While the first two monetization strategies are reliant on third-party partners in order to work, which makes them rather weak strategies, the third one makes sense given the huge user base Maya has. However, a lot will depend on how willing people remain to take video consultation once the coronavirus pandemic ends.
The new investment is certainly going to help Maya build on its user growth, expand in a few markets, and find ways to monetize its users.
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed how we avail healthcare services in Bangladesh. Over the last year, we have seen unprecedented growth in digital healthcare solutions such as telemedicine, on-demand medicine, and medical tests, and so on.
There are now a number of significant players in the telemedicine and online pharmacy space. We have seen an increase in interest in digital healthcare services from both consumers as well as entrepreneurs amid the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, new players are routinely entering the space.
Among the existing players in the market, Digital Healthcare Solutions, Praava Health, Olwel are some of the prominent ones in the telemedicine space. Ride-hailing companies Pathao and Shohoz have also launched their respective services in healthcare.
Maya sits on a different layer of the entire healthcare stack. The company does a number of things: anonymous messaging service, video consultation, medicine delivery. All these services can be an extension of one another. Someone who took messaging service can try video consultation, then take medicine delivery, and probably shop from Maya Shop.
If messaging is the beginning, the challenge for Maya would be to have people come to Maya with serious problems that need medical attention for which people are willing to pay, which Maya then can qualify for video consultation, on and on. The challenge for Maya is that since messaging is anonymous, it can’t essentially use it as a bundle with its video consultation. This weakens the product and makes creating a bundle difficult.
Messaging is where Maya has an excellent user base, if the company can put its messaging with video consultation and other expansion efforts, it can create a powerful bundle for the company. Otherwise, Maya has to compete with players like Praava Health that offers both in-person and video consultation services along with other medical services.
Pandemic has accelerated the digital healthcare adaptation but it is hard to predict whether the demand will sustain post-pandemic. Many industry insiders suggest a technological shift, with the excellent penetration of smartphones and the internet, has happened over the last ten years creating a conducive environment for digital healthcare services, but if you look across markets, healthcare remains a tough nut to crack digitally alone.
For Maya, digital offers an opportunity of infinite scale, at the same time, it complicates whether it can offer strong enough solutions to have people rely on it for their healthcare needs.