27 Dec 2017 15:48 IST

This app cooks up diet plans and packages good food for you

Grow Fit uses data science and medical expertise to improve health and wellness

As Jyotsna Pattabiraman says, the seeds of her venture Grow Fit were sown in the early 2000s, when she was working in the Silicon Valley and when she was carrying. Jyotsna recalls that she had a series of unfortunate events that affected her health.

A computer science graduate from Bengaluru, Jyotsna worked in Bengaluru for a few years before moving to the US, where she worked in companies such as Oracle and eBay. She joined Stanford for an MBA programme, in 2000, when, she says, Silicon Valley was at its height. By the time she graduated two years later, the Valley was in its depth, but she was lucky enough to get a job at eBay. She worked in a couple of start-ups in the Valley, before moving back to India in 2008.

According to her, when she was in the US, she did not meet anybody else who had a health problem similar to hers. In India, she realised there were many others who had similar health issues.

That she wanted to do something about this was at the back of her mind, even when she worked in companies such as Knowlarity and OnMobile. “I started Grow Fit in September 2015. The idea was to just give people diet charts,” says Jyotsna.

Leveraging machine learning

Those who wanted the diet charts had to give personal information such as age, height, weight, whether they exercise regularly or not. With the data, she hoped to use machine learning and find strategies to help them.

“But when we started looking at the data which came out from those first 10,000 people who installed our app, it was quite shocking,” says Jyotsna. She did expect to find incidence of lifestyle diseases in the 40+ age group population. But then the data showed that it was more widely prevalent in the 20+ population.

Nearly 10,000 people installed the app within a month and she found that the conversion ratio was almost 70 per cent.

According to her, Grow Fit was never a company about transactions; it was about making people well so that they wouldn’t have to “go through what I went through. I just didn’t want to sell things to people. I wanted to make sure they worked.”

She also realised that exercise cannot be the primary nutrition strategy. It is necessary, but not sufficient. “The problem was the food. It was not the exercise,” she adds. Grow Fit’s R&D team helped it realise that it would have to make its own food if it wanted to achieve its objective of making people healthy.

Three products

Grow Fit now has three products – the diet chart; a range of packaged foods that is available online; and, in Bengaluru, a central kitchen that makes and delivers food in the city.

GrowthStory, the venture-builder platform of serial entrepreneurs K Ganesh and Meena Ganesh, was one of the early investors in Grow Fit, according to her. It has raised about ₹30 crore so far, with the Manipal Group leading the Series A round in June. Grow Fit’s investors include GrowthStory, the SAR Group and the Grover group.

She says close to a million people have downloaded Grow Fit’s app. It delivers about 1,000 health meals a day in Bengaluru. There are three different types of meals that if offers, at prices ranging from ₹100-330 a meal.

Health food

She adds that Grow Fit is seriously considering moving to other cities to deliver health food. According to her, she was not keen on getting into the foods business when she founded Grow Fit, which she describes as a health-tech company that uses data science, medical expertise and personalised inputs to improve the health and wellness of its customers. The pivot into making foods came when it conducted trials in January 2016 on a small group by giving them cooked food. They found that there was a noticeable weight loss among the members. When she mentioned this to Ganesh of GrowthStory, he immediately convinced her to get into the health food segment.

Jyotsna also believes that it will be difficult for the competition to overtake Grow Fit, as her company has spent a couple of years in developing IP and gaining customer insight. “No other company says we will give you an outcome,” she points out.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)