In this series of posts titled ‘Part of The Solution’ read about imaginative yet realistic entrepreneurs, working towards a positive social difference in India. Read on for more!
STW had the privilege of speaking with Shelley Saxena, Founder and CEO at Sevamob. He tells us about their subscription-based primary health care and financial assistance service delivered to low-income groups in Lucknow. This model has also been successfully replicated in Liberia, Africa through a franchise model. Founded in 2011, Sevamob is being recognized as a quality and dependable service among its customers.
STW: How did Sevamob come to be?
SS: The story of Sevamob is a straightforward one, admits founder Shelley Saxena. Going back a few years to when the seed of the idea was sown, Shelley co-founded Saasmob, an Atlanta based company with a development centre in Lucknow. Saasmob builds mobile-based SaaS solutions for a variety of enterprise requirements. Through the Saasmob, Shelley and team were providing advice to farmers in the US, about the type of crops to grow and how to treat and diagnose crop related diseases. This was done in partnership with the University of Georgia and University of Tennessee. At the time there was a strong motivation to replicate this advisory service in India, but it was yet to be determined the form this service would take. It was also clear that there existed an inherent technology literacy challenge in India, with the target segment not owning the requisite data-capable smart phones. Additionally there was a heavy dependence on teams of people on the ground to make any service viable and useful to an end-consumer, particularly in semi-urban and rural areas. Shelley and team had their work cut out for them.
With their expertise in mobile and cloud-based technology, they had to identify a service that was critical and valuable to the local populations and would be easily delivered at a competitive and affordable cost. A survey in the semi-rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, namely Kakori (in the mango belt), Mohanlalganj (populations involved in dairy and milk production) and low income areas in Lucknow city revealed that there was a strong need for primary health care services and insurance, due to a lack of doctors at their doorstep. The survey was detailed enough to capture specifics around what categories of medical attention was required such as gynecology and pediatrics, and was delivered with the help of a local marketing company. Very detailed results emerged from this survey. Sevamob (formerly known as Smart Gaon) was born.
STW: Can you tell us a little more about the central idea here and the solution you were looking to build?
SS: Sevamob provides primary healthcare and insurance to low-income consumers in regions of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The model has also been replicated in Liberia, Africa through a franchise model. The healthcare services are offered as a bundle of services – primary, preventive and hospitalization benefits. For just Rs.100 to 150/month, Sevamob provides healthcare to students in schools and employees in factories and services organizations. By offering groups in this manner, Sevamob is able to offer a very subsidized rate for this bundle of services. Preventive care and prescriptions are delivered on-premise by mobile clinics with the help of mobile technology. For advanced care, the teams are supported by back-office specialists, a 24 by 7 call centre and a network of 3rd party service providers like hospitals, clinics, pathologists and insurance companies. Since launching in December 2011 Sevamob now has over 3000 subscribers paying for and actively using this service in Lucknow, Kakori, Mohanlalganj and Barabanki. Their social impact includes promoting health and welfare among children thereby improving their grades through better attendance; higher productivity and incomes through improved “up-time” of workers and a safety net for emergencies in infrastructure challenged regions. Subscribers that require more advanced or specialist care and tests also enjoy cash-back benefits and purchase medicines from in-network pharmacies. In the case of hospitalization in network hospitals, subscribers can get up to Rs.50,000 cash-back for medical expenses.
STW: There have obviously been some ups and downs, can you tell us a story that really made you acknowledge you were working on all this for the right reasons?
SS: Sevamob’s true strength lies in the manner in which they have fundamentally transformed primary care for low-income consumers at an attractive price-point. This model is so successful; the proof of the pudding lies in its replication and development of clinics in Liberia, Africa. The first recollection of a memorable customer experience goes back to a survey that was conducted from their Lucknow based call centre to assess satisfaction levels among customers. A subscriber in Mohanlalganj, who said that their medical team there was ‘God-sent’, answered this survey. Never had the village there experienced any form of primary health care assistance, and there was even a request that the medical team stationed there never be moved. The experience had been wonderful and life changing for them. This feedback came as huge motivation and validation of the work Sevamob is doing. From its inception in 2011, the company bootstrapped its way to success and has received awards such as the Social Business of the Year award in 2013 from Times Research, validating this commitment and model.
STW: With every success story is also a full realiztion of where you may need to rethink or hit the drawing board again. Where was your first reality check?
SS: A huge challenge in delivering any quality service particularly to low-income or semi-educated groups involves gaining the trust of the community. Most often service companies roll into semi-urban and rural areas, with big and empty promises, taking their money but never delivering on the service. This left behind a challenging and skeptical environment for new players coming in. The entire set of Sevamob employees and network partners have to work that much harder to prove their intentions. Sevamob has overcome this by entering communities through known and trusted resellers. The reseller has existing relationships that may be leveraged for introductions and payment collections. Once the first service is delivered renewals just keep coming in and the trust is established. Renewals have consistently remained over 80%, proof that this technique works.
Sevamob has also overcome challenges in the geographical area by demonstrating a far higher value than other available providers such government centres, private practitioners or cell-phone based advisory. Where no skilled doctor wants to practice in public or private healthcare centres in these areas, Sevamob leverages mobile healthcare systems as a means to overcome this. Where the cost of setting a physical centre in these areas is extremely capital intensive as well as a challenge infrastructure-wise, they have overcome this through their mobile clinics. All of these aspects facilitate a deeper and more useful engagement with the community. The mobile clinics can travel and service larger areas and communities at a better cost.
STW: Can you tell us about what you think sets you apart? Why is Sevamob better?
SS: Sevamob renders quality and consistency of service as done by none other. With standardized protocols for all services and medical records, a scalable mobile clinic system and a network of healthcare providers and assistance their ability to address a host of primary, preventive and accident related healthcare is unmatched in this region. The mobile-based technology facilitates service delivery in the most infrastructural challenged areas. Additionally, Shelley says that the entire team along with all third party providers in the network, maintain a fantastic synergy. Each member has internalized the value of delivering this quality service to these low-income communities. Sevamob has also identified a revenue model that works best for them. With three distinct streams – subscription fees, a referral fee for third party service and a license fee for replicating the technology in other regions – Sevamob is poised to make scalable and measurable impact in the way primary healthcare is delivered to low-income groups. Additionally Sevamob envisions running very targeted campaigns for interested parties among their subscriber base, ensuring full privacy and data protection, but monetizing the wealth of information they have on their target audience.
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