HealthifyMe launches Ria, the AI nutrition coach

HealthifyMe has unveiled its conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled nutritionist Ria.

The advanced AI coach, which has been under works for a while, will be launched in the coming months in Beta.

Developed under the codename ‘Project Amadeus’, Ria uses key learnings obtained from HealthifyMe’s 150 million tracked meals (20 billion+ macro/micro nutrients) and 10 million message exchanges (1 billion+ words) between coaches and clients.

Amadeus is the next step to “Jarvis”, the AI that has been assisting coaches to become more efficient by learning from their interactions with clients. Like fellow “intelligent assistants” Siri and Assistant, Ria can answer questions around nutrition and fitness via both audio and text. It can do so in more than 10 languages and provides personalised responses based on the users’ lifestyle habits.

Ola raises $1.1 billion; Closing one more

Ola has announced its latest round of funding of US$1.1 billion led by Tencent Holdings Limited.

Ola’s existing investor SoftBank, in addition to other new US-based financial investors have also participated in this round. Tencent Holdings Limited, a leading Internet company in China, will bring significant expertise to Ola as it furthers its leadership position across the mobility market in India.

Ola is also in advanced talks with other investors to close an additional US$1 billion as part of the current financing round, concluding a total raise of over US$2 billion.

With its latest round of funding, Ola will be making strategic investments in supply, technology, and cutting edge innovations to build for the country’s unique transportation needs. The company will make significant technology investments into Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning capabilities to solve for India’s unique mobility problems. By doubling down on penetration, Ola intends to go deeper into the Indian market to serve the vast majority of Indians who are looking for affordable and reliable commute and transportation.

This startup is saving Ganges by making incense sticks from floral waste

The Ganges, which is virtually synonymous with Indian civilization, is dying.

Every year 80,00,000 metric tonnes of waste flowers are dumped into river Ganges. Toxic Arsenic, Lead and Cadmium from the harmful farm-runoff, pesticides and insecticides used to grow flowers mixes with the river water making it highly poisonous (PH 6-8.5).

These major pollutants affect lives of 400 Million people -linked to contracting dysentery, cholera, hepatitis and severe diarrhea – which are the leading causes of child mortality across India and Bangladesh.

What’s the best we can do?

Feel sad.

And then, tweet about it.

Go on Facebook and tell the world, how this is harmful to the environment.

After a few likes and Retweets, go back to your regular life.

What’s the best an entrepreneur mind can do?

Look for a solution.

Look at this as a huge opportunity.

And start solving it.

And this is what a startup is doing with floral waste.

Startup, HelpUsGreen collects floral waste from the temples in Uttar Pardesh, thus preventing 7600 Kgs waste flowers and 97 Kgs toxic chemicals from getting into the river daily.

The waste is handcrafted by rural women SHGs (Self help groups) into patented organic fertilizer and incense sticks.

One of the coolest product the company has launched is Yagya – 100% chemical free incense sticks. The product is packed in a box that [mks_highlight color=”#eeee22″] grows into a Tulsi plant! [/mks_highlight]

So far, HelpusGreen has collected 3,35,000 kilograms of flowers from temples and mosques and has flowercycled them into organic products.

The team will soon launch no-chemical bathing bars and natural body cleaners.

HelpsUsGreen Founders : Ankit and Karan
HelpsUsGreen Founders : Ankit and Karan

Inspiring, isn’t it?

[Image credit]

“Offline stores drive ~2.5X ticket size compared to online” – Rajiv of UrbanLadder [AMA]

We had a wonderful conversation with Rajiv Srivatsa, Co-founder of UrbanLadder with discussions ranging from his entrepreneurial journey to UrbanLadder’s decision to launch offline stores to product managmement process.

Here are the key excerpts from the AMA (you can join the #ProdGeeks Community here).

How is the offline launch shaping up?

Offline is shaping up really well. We probably have the most crowded furniture store in India. And one of the most beautiful. All our original capacity planning on staffing has gone for a toss – since traffic has been 3x of what we estimated. So that’s good.

The ticket size is approx 2.5x of online.

What are the key behavioral changes you see between people shopping furniture online vs. offline

Early to fully answer. Offline ticket sizes are higher – which means people are shopping for the bigger products / for the entire home versus single pieces of furniture online. Their expectation of touch and feel is of course higher. Their expectation of the entire catalog being present (which is almost infeasible) is also higher. Intent is higher too – since they have taken physical effort to come to a store.

Marketplace vs. Inventory model : At scale, what do you think works in furniture space?

Ikea – the largest furniture company in the world – doing some $30bn or so annually – is a full inventory model. In our experience too, the full inventory model seems to make sense given better planning, better control of quality, better vendor relations, stronger brand recall etc.

How has your definition of competition changed over the last few years?

The real learning is that – it’s too early to look at competition. In the first one or two years, you worry so much about who is first to launch something. But it’s your own mistakes, specially when you don’t do customer first thinking, that can come and hit you. Amazon / Bezos breath this philosophy well. Thankfully, we learnt that lesson early enough and have always been a lot more customer focused at this stage of our life than being competition focused.

How difficult is it for a startup like *Bewakoof* (for example) to start offline stores. What are the usual barriers while moving offline?

Starting an offline store needs to have a strong reason – for us it was about (a) Better touch and feel (b) Consumers starting to compare us online against cheaper online options whereas our product quality was far better than that (c) Trust in brand since we were not a marketplace. If you are selling smaller accessories, or some other products like that, you may have to really question strongly on if offline is critical at all. It takes a lot of effort to run good offline stores, and integrate them seamlessly with online etc. Offline is also tougher to scale. So unless there are 2-3 strong reasons like what we had, it’s not wise to think of offline, until you totally maximise online distribution and penetration via existing marketplaces.

Now with the consumer facing product decently stable and not changing too much too often, what are the main areas your product teams are busy with (and if possible a rough distribution of effort that’s going into each area)

Our big efforts for the product teams are in 3 areas currently, and possibly 1-2 new ones in the coming calendar year. For the rest of this year (next 6 months), a lot of the effort is on making sure the supply chain is geared for the single brand license we just got, making sure our omni channel customer experience is water-tight (flow of users from online to offline, tech help inside store, better discovery, help for our retail consultants to sell better etc.), and continuing initiatives on our core online storefront + mobile app + mobile web (performance, new business initiatives like exchange, gift cards etc.).

In addition in the coming year, we are going big on VR and modelling / building pretty strong user experiences specially for VR in our retail stores and the next big piece will be around fixing a lot of the data models, and ensuring that we move further towards predictive analytics / data science since that’s one area we have under-invested in.

What are 2-3 biggest pain points of your customer today ?

Some of the pain points continue –

(a) Getting a true sense of the product online given the high nature of touch and feel (it’s going to take time for us to expand on offline across all the cities we are in), specially bigger categories like sofas, mattresses, beds, etc.

(b) Tracking the product end to end – specially categories that we manufacture against orders – like wardrobes, kitchens etc. – these are not well integrated systems yet with our vendors and the customer wants to know the status of these orders since they are also longer lead times, and we don’t really do a good job there

(c) Basic knowledge and explanation on what to buy – while we have tried a bunch of things, I still think this is under-solved in our category, on helping you choose the right product for your need / budget / visual senses etc.

Now as GST centralised taxation has come into play, which is better for Urban Ladder are you into localised warehouses now or centralized warehouses?

This is a question that’s still awaiting answers :) It’s not an easy one to model, since we have also gotten a single brand license, hence we can hold our own inventory now. Because this model also includes the amount of orders that we get from the different cities, the stock levels that we need to hold closer to customer location, and the supply sources such as China, S.E.Asia, India etc. and where does it make to ship products to, on a business that’s still growing, and is undergoing a lot of changes in terms of category mix and online-offline mix, it’s very difficult to get one single solution.

For now, we have one big one outside Bangalore and a couple of small ones, but the right answer will emerge only over time.

As an entrepreneur, what are some of your low moments? How have you handled ? The market has generally been brutal for all

I can write a book on that :)

I guess it’s always ups and downs. For me customer complaints (and a lot sometimes when we badly screw up), smart people leaving, some of our initiatives where we put a lot of effort not making the outcomes, etc. – all these are low moments. Of course, a part of the excitement of being an entrepreneur, is for you to go through these :)

You don’t design life to go through these, but inevitably, it’s part of the entrepreneurial journey.

Are you working on technology to create better in-store experience, like in-store personalisation suggestions on app and personalised discount coupons, counter-less walk-in systems using beacons/IoT etc. for a seamless online-offline connectivity as well as marketing as you mentioned? Do you even consider it essential in retail stores like yours or Lifestyle/Westside?

Yes. Elaborating on the kind of tech – we are starting with self-serve understanding of products, much faster billing that what is currently being done, helping retail consultants do a better job of answering customer queries, beacons and monitoring systems to understand user behavior within the store better, etc. We will get into personalisation (based on past browsing history of customer assuming privacy is taken care of) after solving the basic use cases.

Do people prefer paying for interior design consultantion while buying from Urbanladder, and how minor/major a share is that? What are the barriers faced in Interiors as the large ticket size and decision time by varied TG makes it quite necessary to get in early into user buying cycle?

We look at the interior design consultation as a means to selling our furniture and offer a great customer experience. So the charge for the consultation itself is a small one – the real value for the customer as well as for us is in buying the modular kitchens / wardrobes or the products post the consultation. It’s similar to the sofa trial service also we have – it’s a small price to make sure conversion on the core product is good. The cost of all this is subsumed that way with a higher conversion.

Are there currently any other offline stores/chains in India using such technologies? Such technology can only be fully utilised by a startup like yours which has an active online as well as offline presence. Am I right?

Products function on typical sprint cycles. We do quarterly plans where business teams align with the online product / engg. team. We have T-shirt sizing estimates on different features, and prioritisation is done based on some level of impact / effort estimation. The backlog items themselves come in after a ton of primary research, observing users on the floor, etc. Once the items are prioritised within a quarter (and typically there is a good balance of low hanging fruits and big ticket ones), the usual UX process follows (interaction design, engineering feedback, iterations, visual design, sprite, development, testing, code push, monitor, etc.) We operate with small  teams of 5-6 engineers max on any of the problems that are taken up to be solved, or any of the big areas.

To that extent, the process for the tech parts are very similar, whether they are for the online ( or app) or for the consultant. In the case of consultants though, there’s also more rigorous training and roll-out that’s planned as part of the product rollout process itself. AB testing is employed a lot more for user based features.

how much independence do individual PMs get or is the decision process more central?

A lot of decision making is completely decentralised. The different team members (for e.g. the retail business head, the engineering manager, the product manager, the UX designer) all  act as a pod whose goals are all aligned, and they make the decisions on what is taken up and what goes live.

The rest of the folks may have questions and viewpoints, but pretty much decisions are taken by that team. Accountability & responsibility end of the day lies with the pod that owns the metrics. Collaboration is critical of course.

What’s the team mix? Across engg / marketing / product / sales / support?

In the corporate office of around 300 folks, approx 25% is customer service & operations, 20% in marketing, creative & merchandising, 15% in engineering and online product, 15% in interior design and consultative sales services, 10% in product / category / sourcing, 5% each in finance, HR, others.

You talked about omni channel integrated experience. What is the % of prospect base in India demanding such seamless experience?

The first wave of omni-channel as defined from some 7-8 years back was offline companies going online. While some of them are seeing traction, no one has really cracked it because of DNA mismatch. Finally they just end up having a site with a catalog. The new wave internationally and even in India is online companies going offline. Since our DNA is more digital, we can reimagine how offline experiences should be. Of course, we don’t have the years of expertise on offline that the offline first folks have, but we can more than compensate I believe in terms of innovation.

The verdict is still not out, but our first physical store trumps pretty much every other ‘offline first’ store in terms of every metric on customer experience and revenue, so customers are going to be a lot more demanding of a seamless experience, the more such companies try and solve this well.

Do you believe in north star metric funda? that is – have 1 key metric for business and have everyone align to it ? What’s UL’s key metric that you track every day

We have had debates on what it could be for us, but said, maybe we need to discover it. For this year, revenues and our focus on NPS / profitability continue to be the key metrics that we track. But I found the literature behind the north star metric pretty strong, and would be interested in at least understanding what it is for us, as part of our annual operating planning cycle that starts january.

What about more traditional companies as competition? For instance Godrej Interio already has a very strong offline presence and now they are moving online.

How does a new age company like yours compete against such a strong brand?

The real learning is that – it’s too early to look at competition. In the first one or two years, you worry so much about who is first to launch something. But it’s your own mistakes, specially when you don’t do customer first thinking, that can come and hit you. Amazon / Bezos breath this philosophy well. Thankfully, we learnt that lesson early enough and have always been a lot more customer focused at this stage of our life than being competition focused.

Actually, now we do more business than them largely (w.r.t. the B2C part of the business), and we have not even yet started doing anything offline. We are catering to 1% of the market (online – offline is probably lesser than 1-99 currently), and this is our current status. So I do believe, we would rather solve it our way in a slow and steady manner (can’t make mistakes offline as easily as you can online and wind back), and take a strong part of the 99% of the market as well!

You have been a PM for a decently long time. If there is something you wish you had known as a PM before starting UL?

The importance of investing in strong systems for the backend. I was too focused on the consumer side of things, and took the backend things a bit too late, or went for pre-packaged solutions. That’s come and bit us always.

» Join the #ProdGeeks Community for insightful conversations around business, products and growth.

Drivezy Announces Private ICO To Build Global Carsharing Marketplace

Indian peer-to-peer vehicle sharing platform Drivezy, announces the launch of its first Initial Coin Offering (ICO), to expand their footprint in the cars and bikes sharing Global marketplace. The move aims to disrupt the traditional way of how people purchase, use and sell vehicles.

Drivezy provides a platform that allows micro-ownership by connecting vehicle owners with customers to create a shared ecosystem for transportation. It allows customers to access cars at a fraction of the cost of owning them, and lets owners turn their vehicles into a revenue generating asset. This in turn allows the value of vehicles to be shared amongst the entire community.

“Considering the rising cost of important assets and resources such as housing and transportation, I believe the future is a shared one”, said CEO and Co-Founder Ashwarya Pratap Singh, “With the visible disparity between average Indian income and the cost of buying a car, rentals and sharing have become the only way that most people can afford any kind of personal transportation.”

In addition to the enormous growth of the sharing industry, another facet that Drivezy believes can change the current model of ownership is Blockchain, the technology driving Bitcoin. This technology allows individuals to transact value across the globe securely without the need for any intermediary party. Thereby, fuelling the growth of collaborative systems where all resources are shared by the members of the community.

“With the growing popularity of Bitcoin in India, we feel that this is the right time to open ourselves up to alternative means in the sharing economy. This ICO is a part of our vision to leverage the power of blockchain to build an open, secure and transparent technology to globalize the Indian car sharing marketplace.” said Ashwarya. He added, “This system will lead to the creation of almost 10 Lakh micro-entrepreneurs.”

The launch of ICO will allow Drivezy’s investors to purchase cryptographic tokens which entitles them to a share of revenue, generated by rental transactions on the platform which has shown to generate ROI of 30%. Further details regarding the ICO may be found at

Drivezy has 1,318 vehicles listed in four cities, a monthly GMV of over $950,000 per month and a 246% growth in unique customers over the last year.

The ICO will be launched in Japan at a Conference hosted by AnyPay. It will be a private offering to accredited investors only subject to regulatory restrictions. AnyPay Inc. is a Japanese FinTtech company run by Drivezy investor and a serial entrepreneur Shinji Kimura . They will be providing ICO advisory support in terms of scheme structuring, token development and more.

Between funded gorillas, Yumist shuts down.

Food delivery startup, Yumist has shut shop, as the company failed to raise the next round of funding.

We are shutting shop today. We failed to raise the kind of capital that this business required while staying true to the customer problem.

From launching in a second city prematurely, or committing to a high growth, high burn model just because prospective investors wanted to see that back in 2015, or taking a tad bit too long to find the right business model, we made our mistakes. We learnt from these mistakes and recovered fast, but maybe not too fast.

Also, every company has a context in which it operates – the economic climate, investor sentiment, the sector one operates in. Essentially, there are external factors which one can’t really control. 2016 onwards, food tech (in the manner the term is loosely used) had amassed a notoriety with investors and media and became almost a dirty word. We failed in all our attempts to fundraise since then, as investors wanted to wait it out.

Last year, Yumist raised $2mn led by Ronnie Screwvala’s Unilazer ventures. The company, as the founder claims could have turned profitable by June 2018, but investors lost patience.

The trolls, startup ecosystem and my hopelessness..

So day before yesterday, the Indian startup ecosystem was talking about @confident_India twitter account (apparently, Sharad sharma was being accussed of running that anon Twitter/troll account, but Sharad has denied). Continue reading The trolls, startup ecosystem and my hopelessness..