We are publishing an interview of Mr. Shubhendra Singh Thakur, CEO & Founder – Curopal.
Please tell us about the founders
I (Shubhendra Singh Thakur) am a 26 yr old Biology graduate from Dr. Ambedkar College Nagpur. I have done schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya Vayusena, Nagpur. Most of the college friends thought that I were a slow learner or dumb because it took me 5 years to complete a 3 year degree course. In 2017 one of my startup was recognised as a world’s youngest startup by FBstart (a startup program by Facebook). In the school times I used to be an athlete and won glory for my school in long running events.
I am fond of reading medical books and programming e-books. I am currently serving as CEO & Founder in this healthcare startup.
I have served in various fields in various roles from direct sales to IT. I became the person to do anything from programming to sales and currently as we are in the healthcare sector I keep myself updated so that we can make new healthcare products.
My skillsets include — Programming, Sales, Product design ( People call me Elon musk of nagpur😅, they say it so because being from a biology background I know programming, sales and medical and i keep learning).
Give us a brief background of what founders were doing before starting the venture.
Before barging into this entrepreneurial world i have worked for several Companies, from salesman to store incharge and and also worked in BPOs.
I started working from the age of 17 when I just cleared 12th and started looking for a job. I got my first job as a junior executive at “Starfish Business Solutions“, Nagpur and my first salary was just INR 2000/- after that I was promoted to Grammar trainer and then after leaving my studies I went to Mumbai and started working at an International call centre. Later I came back to Nagpur to continue my studies and started job as a counter sales executive at a local store and was promoted to Store incharge after some time. But, all this resulted in backlogs in my studies because long working hours and money distracted me away from studies. Left the job focussed on studies and after graduating gave all my time to learn programming (I am a self taught programmer and for the next 1 year i just taught myself how to code, I used to sleep for just 3-4 hrs, no hanging out with friends, no trips even my girlfriend left me because she thought whatever i am doing is complete waste and i am about to ruin my life so she left me and got married ). Later on i did some groundbreaking inventions like a “women safety device”, ” a personal cooling device”, launched Tellon a campus networking app which was selected by Facebook in its FBstart programme.
List all the names of the core team members, along with their skill-sets, specific domain expertise & designated roles.
- Samprav Wankhede – He is my school time friend and currently serving as operation & lead generation – He has done engineering from Priyadarshini College Nagpur — he is the guy who is all about jugaad he knows his way to various people which could be beneficial in our startup — To me he is an important part of our company because i can rely upon him in executing tasks no matter what they are. Banda jugaadu hai so no matter what domain expertise he has he is serving our purpose. I assign him something and he finishes it off with the results.
- Monali Ridhorkar – She is also our school friend and currently serving as Marketing head. — She has done her MBA in marketing from Nagpur and served in various hospitals.Currently serving in One of the famous hospital in Nagpur she has deep roots and connections with Doctors, MR, Patients. Being from the healthcare sector she is perfectly apt for the designation. Marketing & Networking are the 2 things she helps us with.
What is the problem you are trying to solve? Can you share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
“Currently we are spending billions of dollars in treatment of diseases when we should be focussing on preventive ways so that the person doesn’t gets ill “, These are the exact words spoken by Mark Zuckerberg in his commencement speech. And we believe the same because what if we can detect the disease in its early stages saving the patient from taking severe damage to their vital organs.Save them from the expenses incurred in treatment , saving them from the pain, the mental and financial trauma.
We are solving ” Easy & affordable ways to detect diseases in their early stages”.
The rise in kidney related diseases have increased globally and it not only causes severe health problems in front of patients but also leads to financial losses. As the dialysis cost varies between 2000-3000 per sitting and the cost of kidney transplant cost 8 to 10 lakhs plus the pre & post operative care.
Thus, due to financial limitation 70% of the kidney patients on dialysis often stop the treatment within 3 months and ultimately loose their life. more then 27 million people in india are suffering from CKD and 2 lakh new patients are seen every year and in 95% of them diagnosis is done at a later stage (stage 4-5) which ultimately leads to dialysis. “People with diabetes or blood pressure are more likely to get renal diseases. CKD is believed to be a silent global killer and leads to cardiac arrests. On an average a patient undergoing dialysis has to spend 30-35000/- monthly which makes it 360000/- to 420000/- annually. 82% of CKD patients on dialysis die within 3-5 yrs of dialysis,”
The reason we chose oral cancer for our second disease is because “Maharashtra is known as the oral cancer capital in India with 10 lakh oral cancer patients every year. Majority of oral cancer patients come from places with less to no awareness and absence of better affordable medical facilities. They are mostly diagnosed in later stages when the problem has spread across and the only treatment involves surgeries, which is painful and expensive. While the current diagnosis involves invasive techniques which are costly and time consuming.
In the startup world we say that you got to solve a problem, & he faced the problem in september 2017 when his mother got diagnosed with stage 5 CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease ) at a local hospital.That time we didn’t even knew what CKD stands for? What it is? Or what are the treatments? The doctor asked us to either go for dialysis or kidney transplant. We asked for some time and for the next few months i just ran pillar to post seeking from doctors to doctors in search of a better treatment.”
In this process of meeting doctors, patients i found one thing in common and which was the core problem that majority of the patients were diagnosed at a later stage of disease, most of the times you don’t see any symptoms and sometimes we ignore them just like I did with my mother. Lack of awareness about diseases is also a reason. So instead of living with the problem i decided to work on the solution to create ways by which we can prevent deaths from these diseases , lets say we are working to save them because we want everyone to live a healthy life without spending a fortune.Hence ‘Curopal’, is here to make early detection of fatal diseases in more easily and accurate manner that too with affordable pricing.”
What challenges did you face when you were starting out?
Learning AI & Machine learning was quite tough for me and i am still working on it but the biggest challenge i faced with this healthcare endeavour is to convince doctors to help us in our work. When i started out i was alone and went from doctor to doctor and also met my college professors to help me out in the solution. Initially my parents were also worried about how i will do something like this how i will make those kits. people laugh at your face when you tell them about early detection in 60sec one of my close friend said ” Bhai kit bana raha hai ya ENO “. Another problem that i still face is educating the user that why early detection is necessary. Spreading awareness is really a hard thing because they say ” main to bilkul theek hun mujhe kuch nahi hua ” they are not ready to spend 50 -100 Rs on regular checkups but will spend lakhs on the treatment. So this mentality is really hard to change but now we are being supported by people who after knowing my story are asking for the tests.
How did you get the initial capital? What returns does it have? Tell us about the investors (if any)
Initially I utilised the money i saved from my previous income then my friend helped me in some and later i met one of our client (for whom I designed app and websites ) who is now our angel investor (Mr Dinesh he is into real estate ) he funded us with an undisclosed amount which was really needed at that time during the product manufacturing process.
Please tell us about the Product / Solution. Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
We have currently 2 products:
1) Curostix – For early detection of Kidney Disease: Curostix follows a ” Dip – Click – Detect ” methodology in which the person has to test his/her random urine through our dipstick and take a picture of the stick through our Curopal App ( which utilises computer vision) which gives the Kidney Function report in less then 90 seconds.Currently the urine test for Albumin – Creatinine is done in traditional labs is more costly and is time taking.We have made the test easy & cheap for everyone and their smartphones will now act as a urine analyzer.If abnormal the report could be shared with a nephrologists from within the app and then the user can move on to the further treatment process.
2) Oropad – For early detection of Oral cancer: Through oropad we are equipping every user with a power to self diagnose themselves for Oral cancer in 3 easy steps ” Spit – Click – Detect ” .Oropads uses chemically treated pads in which user has to spit ( fresh morning saliva ) in 60 seconds the chemical pad changes its colour. The result could be read visually or the user can use our app for the interpretation of the result.*Currently most of the Oropad users are taking on visual reading because we havent connected the oropads with the app.
The oropads check for a biomarker that is visible in the saliva when tumour formation is about to start or has taken place.
Oropads costs only 50/- rs so that people can test themselves often because Oral cancer is not just caused by Tobaco, smoking or drinking but also due to HPV which is transmitted during oral sex.
When my mother got diagnosed with CKD i started looking out for treatment and reviews of patients.The problem i used to think rare was actually pretty common and that time i knew that its a need to make sure they don’t reach to a stage from where death is much closer then life. People don’t want their blood tested at regular intervals 1) it hurts 2) its costly 3) who goes to the lab 4) ghar pe aane ka extra paisa kaun dega, with our kits every test is non invasive and the user test kit is delivered to the user upon booking ( free home delivery ) results are given in just 1 minute and our healthcare representative also guides the user about healthy lifestyle and diet.So our products are easy to use – affordable to buy – and the results are accurate plus the user gets tested at home.
What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learning that you have?
Earlier we thought that people will buy it instantly but after launching we knew that no body will buy it untill they are not aware about the problem.So our every customer is the person who first talks to us hears our story learns about our knowledge of the problem and then asks us that ” accha mera aur meri mrs ka kidney ka test karna hai ” or ” bhaiya ye moo k cancer ka checkup to karna”.The best thing in all this is they get so convinced that first they pay us the money then get tested. Print media & Social media is also helping us in spreading the need of early detection. While the word of mouth is the most beneficial for us.
What is the insight that you have about this market, which no one else has? Uniqueness about your Startup.
Most of the healthcare startups are focussing on diagnosis which are done by doctors.So they are selling their tech to the hospitals while our focus is directly on patients. Enabling them to get self tested and share the result with the doctor of their choice. We are following a traditional approach of “Get ill – Get Tested – Get Treated – Hole in Pockets – Get Discharged – And wait for the same to happen again”. No one is changing this part but we who worked on ” Stay Tested – Stay Healthy”
We are focussing on middle to low income families who mostly ignore their health issues due to the fact ki abhi faaltu k paise lag jaenge….we are giving them affordable solutions saving their time – money – efforts.
I didn’t started because its cool to have a startup or so that i may call myself a CEO or Founder in social media but i started this because there is a personal problem which led me on this path.
What is the strength of the startup and the scale of operations? Who do You Perceive as Your Competition?
Our target market & our focus on diseases which are more common among the targeted users is our strength. We believe that healthcare should be about prevention rather then about treatment. We make a bond with the end user not just by educating them about the diseases and symptoms but also on how to avoid them.We are consumer firsts and our revenue comes directly from sales made to customers rather then medical professionals.
Other startups like Biosense & pathsodh are B2B and target the medical professionals because in order the path we choose involves educate then sell.
And they tried it but failed while we have worked on it well and now customers trust us in health related stuff. I would also like to say that we are in a sector where the endgame is death a loss to family and the problem is so huge that few startups alone cannot solve it so instead of competition , collaboration is much productive because this is the era of working together.Financial losses could be covered but a life lost is permanent.
What is the revenue model? Explain your thought process.
Our revenue comes from direct sales of our testing kits.We also have healthcare plans which are catered according to the lower to middle class needs.In which we monitor our users health and let them know in case of any abnormality.
“Through our work the doctor patient gap would be bridged because the person will stay in touch with a medical professional who will ensure that the person stays healthy & in case any problematic situation arises it could be cured in less cost by early intervention.They would be saved from spending too much on expensive treatments and medicines. Instead that money could be utilised in better education of their children & better living” .
Who are the consumers that you are targeting? How is this going to affect them?
Middle to low income families with less awareness about the diseases its symptoms and treatments. The consumer in this range want to save money on health expenses like monthly blood tests, ECG, weight and other but when they save few hundred rupees on prevention they later spend 1000 – lakhs on the treatment and recovering from that ailment. We know money is limited and problems & expenses are unlimited, so keeping this in mind our solution is perfect for them , they spend less on checkups and through our health assistant someone will always be their to keep them healthy ” so the money on treatment is ultimately saved which they can utilise on other things like their children’s education, better livelihood and more savings.
How did you get your first customer?
Through word of mouth. The first kidney test kit was purchased by our neighbour who is a patient suffering from Diabetes & BP and she knew about the kit and my work through my mother. One of our patient is from the Red light area Nagpur, who i met through a contact given to me by Our Marketing head.We are serving free of cost at the Red light area.
What is the big picture of your startup? Is this Product leading to something bigger? If so, how?
Every country losses billions of dollars every year in treatment of diseases like Kidney disease, Cardiac Arrests, Diabetes, Cancer , STDs and we are still loosing the money on treatment. Developing countries face this problem more. I envisioned that one day preventive care will rule over the healthcare sector. When unicorns will start focussing on the prevention rather then cure.Lives will be saved and longer life would be achieved once we start preventing the diseases from spreading across the human body. If one could stay healthy they could be youthful for much longer time and can live more.We are on a journey of eradicating deaths due to Kidney diseases & Oral cancer and i believe that we can achieve it only if we work on the problem genuinely and not be distracted by the money and financial ups & down. Another big thing would be coming from the analyzer part of smartphone when patients can get checked at their home or office without the intervention of any medical professional it will open doors to new revolution in healthtech.Smartphones will be the new medical devices.
Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture? Please explain in details:
Currently people are more inclined towards meeting us and then buying our product. Till now i have personally performed the kidney test for users at their home and sent them the reports through my cell phone. We have currently more then 2520 subscribers from our web site. Its been 12 days since we launched our products and we have already sold a 26 oral cancer kits and 17 Kidney disease kit. We are going a bit slow as we dont have mass manufacturing unit this time. We are also serving 8 patients free of charge in the Red Light Area Nagpur.One of our patient is Mrs Nirmala Devi 57 yrs old who is our first patient suffering from Kidney disease.
What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months?
We are planning to sell at least a 2000 Kidney kits and 10000 Oral cancer kits. Oral cancer kits are in much demand right now as we are in nagpur ( 6 out of 10 people are tobacco users ) kharra is popular in here. We are looking to cover whole Red light area . We are also planning to offer our healthcare plans to offices.
What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Don’t look out for a trend to start a startup, don’t do it if only money is your long term goal, don’t do it just to look cool, don’t do it if you need a motivational video to fuel you for today and tomorrow…Do it if you really want to solve a problem no matter your education your background your skillset …so just start walking with the belief and the right people will join you and the path will start getting more clear. And remember don’t avoid mistakes the more you avoid them the worst you will be hit by them.Make mistakes — Accept them —-Rectify them and keep moving forward.
Any other information you would like to share:
Our kits are clinically approved and we are an ISO 13485 2016 certified company.