PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is the most common reproductive disorder among women that affects every 1 in 10 women of childbearing age worldwide. According to a study, 75% of women suffering from PCOS go undiagnosed due to various reasons. Not only physical health, often mental well-being of women is overlooked. According to the World Health Organization 1 in 3 women faces sexual and physical violence at home. In low-income countries like Bangladesh, the percentage of domestic violence towards women is relatively higher. According to a 2015 survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), over 70% of married women or girls in Bangladesh have faced some form of intimate partner abuse.
In most cases, women hesitate to open up about their physical and mental issues because of the social stigma and the fear of being judged by people. To address this problem, Ivy Huq Russel came up with the idea of Maya, a healthcare platform for women after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Founded as an online platform that provides healthcare information in 2011, over the past years, Maya has evolved a lot and turned itself into an anonymous messaging platform helping people, regardless of gender, with on-demand expert advice in areas like health, psychology, social problems, and legal aspects. 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 10 minutes to get an answer. The company has also launched on-demand video consultation and medicine delivery service of late.
Maya uses machine learning and natural language processing technology for its digital assistance which is able to provide automated answers with 95% accuracy. The team Maya spent more than two years developing its natural language processing technology. At present, it is available in four languages. It has worked on NLP (Natural Language Processing) technology to support Urdu, Hindi, and Arabic.
Depending on the length, complexity, and urgency of queries the users are routed to a human expert if needed. Currently, 300 licensed healthcare providers including doctors, counselors, and vetted experts are working in Maya’s platform providing one consultation every 14 seconds. About 30% of the users of the Maya app are men.
To protect the privacy of the users the app generates random IDs of the patients and the consultations are end-to-end encrypted. Out of the four million queries the platform has handled so far, about half were answered by human experts. Maya has launched premium services including in-app video consultations and prescription delivery in 2020. In February 2021, Maya raised $2.2M in a seed funding round led by early-stage fund Anchorless Bangladesh and The Osiris Group.
Let's take a comprehensive look into Maya's journey, business, and strategic ambition.
Launched in 2015, the Maya app builds on the popularity of the "Maya Apa ki Bolen" column and was designed keeping the importance of a simple user-interface and functionality in mind, but its key objective remained to provide the information the users needed.
Maya Apa, the Dhaka-based tech startup that pivoted from its earlier women-focused content platform to become an on-demand information service, raised an investment of BDT 4 crore from BRAC at an undisclosed valuation. The company has also added Asif Saleh, Senior Director, Strategy, Communications, and Empowerment of BRAC and BRAC international to the Maya board.
Maya Apa is the first Bangladeshi startup to be a part of Google Launchpad Accelerator in 2018, where a diverse group of 30+ startups from across the globe were also present. The two-week training was held at the Google Developers Launchpad Space in San Francisco in January 2018.
Maya has been considering expansion for a while now. With the investment, the startup expanded to a few new markets. It already has a collaboration with Dialog, one of the leading telecom operators in Sri Lanka, that licensed Maya’s back-end technology. The company now eyes to make its service available to anyone from anywhere.
Maya partnered up with Advanced Chemical Industries (ACI), which owns Shwapno, a leading super-shop chain with an immense customer base across numerous locations. It has teamed up with Shwapno, to provide a joint membership card, which provides access to facilities of both Maya packages and Shwapno, all with the same card.
Maya has raised $2.2 million in seed funding. The round was led by early-stage fund Anchorless Bangladesh and The Osiris Group, a private equity firm focused on impact investing in Asian markets. The funding will be used to introduce new products to Maya’s telehealth platform and on its international expansion. Maya recently launched in Sri Lanka and has started testing its service in India, Pakistan, and Middle Eastern countries. It is also planning to enter Southeast Asia.
Maya is an interesting venture in a sense that it has a compelling value proposition along with a realistic chance to change the way of life of Bangladeshi women for good. We spoke to Ivy Huq Russell about her initiative Maya, what it takes to become an entrepreneur, the state of women entrepreneurship in Bangladesh, and about what it takes to become successful.
To know more about the evolution of Maya, BRAC investment, and the future of Maya, we recently sat down with the Founder and CEO of Maya, Ivy Huq Russell. Find a lightly edited transcript of our conversation below.
During the early days of Maya, I was the only person doing everything with help from 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 became 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.