Pankaj Chaddah and Pooja Khanna, co-founders, MindhouseA month after Zomato turned unicorn in February 2018, Pankaj Chaddah lost his appetite. After building and scaling the online food delivery business for a decade, the unicorn co-founder quit the company in March. What, though, stayed intact was the fire in his belly, and the hunger to take a fresh guard. Over a year later, in December 2019, Chaddah started a new innings, this time teaming up with Pooja Khanna—one of the earliest employees at Zomato who spearheaded its international operations in the initial days—to roll out Mindhouse, a mental wellness venture which began with an offline model of meditation studios.The story, though, didn’t go according to script. Four months after starting Mindhouse, the pandemic came knocking at the door. The co-founders quickly pivoted to an online-only model. The business, interestingly, not only stayed insulated, it made the most of the pandemic tailwinds. The fledgling venture started to see a strong demand for yoga and nutrition services for chronic ailments such as diabetes and hypertension and specific medical conditions like chronic backache.A long stint with Zomato helped the duo make the quick transition from offline to online. “We come with huge learnings that have definitely helped us start again and scale much faster,” says Chaddah. With Zomato, he underlines, the duo experienced setting up a B2C business online and scaling it globally. “The successes and failures from Zomato will hopefully help us skip a few steps and avoid some mistakes,” he says in an email interview with Forbes India. Edited excerpts:What made you switch from food to mental wellness to begin with?Pooja Khanna: Post Zomato, we were both independently exploring what we wanted to do. Aside from obvious choices like edtech, electric vehicles, and fintech, one industry that really caught our attention was health and wellness. The space has advanced significantly in the West, with the majority of the people actively adopting and spending on wellness products and services. Even in India, we started to realise the need for wellness and that people were already looking for these solutions, but no structured and credible solutions were available. We often think about wellness as only preventive, but a huge untapped opportunity also lies in what we think of as ‘curative wellness’. In fact, more than 60 percent of all wellness spending goes toward curative wellness, where wellness solutions are needed for lifestyle diseases in addition to medical solutions. There are many parts to wellness but we decided to start with mental wellness, which is also the hardest according to us, given how nascent the industry is with minimal available solutions.The onset of the pandemic made you pivot in just a few months. How has the transition been?Pankaj Chaddah: It was purely based on user demand, which is probably the best reason to change your business! We realised this was a huge untapped opportunity which has the potential to explode globally over the next few years as we scale. Ours is a very ‘need’-driven model. Individuals who come to us are suffering from different symptoms associated with their illness or condition, and their everyday activities are being hampered as a result. As we began working with these folks, they noticed significant improvements, and started leading a more comfortable life. That’s why we decided to pivot to a chronic care-based wellness platform, with full-stack services. So far our beliefs have been validated with strong user feedback and very high retention rates.The timing, though, was perfect. The entire world moved online…Pankaj Chaddah: Everything around us is becoming digital first, and wellness is no exception. Digital allows us to take services and products to people and places that an offline model may not always reach. For instance, in our case, there may not be enough women in a certain neighbourhood who are pregnant at the same time to be able to justify running a prenatal yoga studio (at present, most of such classes happen at hospitals).However, with the rise of digital, women all over the world are now able to take these lessons from the comfort of their homes. Digital further helps us in lowering the cost of providing these services by dramatically reducing delivery costs. Tech also has the potential to not just be the service provider but also give a very personalised experience and recommendations to users by being able to track their progress, needs and where they are in their journey.How has the business performed since you pivoted?Pooja Khanna: Once we moved to an online-first model for mental wellness, we started to get a very strong demand for yoga and nutrition services for chronic ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, PCOS, as well as specific medical conditions like chronic backache. Most of these illnesses last through an individual’s lifetime, and in addition to medical treatment, patients must undertake major lifestyle adjustments that include light exercises, yoga, nutrition planning and supplements. Currently, most options available for these services are tough to find and are not standardised. Plus, there is no one place where a person can find all such services and products. This is where we come in. Mindhouse will cater to a global audience with services and products across yoga, meditation, nutrition, counselling, supplements, ayurveda and more. It’s a one-stop shop for all wellness products and services for a customer’s ailments or conditions.If we talk about the market, there are 77 million diabetics in India. One out of every seven Indians has prediabetes. One in every three women have PCOS. One in every three adults in India has hypertension. And these are just some of the many ailments and conditions we are building for. Most of these people are not just actively looking for wellness solutions but also are strongly advised by their doctors to complement their medical treatment with yoga and nutrition. And in some early cases, customers also opt for these lifestyle solutions instead of medication.What about the plans to scale up the global operations?Pooja Khanna: We are also looking to get more aggressive with it. Almost 25 percent of our revenue already comes from international markets, so we have a good understanding of how it works. Simultaneously, we will look to strengthen our technology so that we are able to provide a very comprehensive and high quality experience to users.An interesting thing to note is that you have just raised an angel round… from a cash-guzzling business to one which doesn’t need much money…Pankaj Chaddah: We are a very high gross-margin business. So that takes away the need for us to be highly funded from day one. We’ve been seeing a 30 percent month-over-month growth and are close to an $1 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue). We have been mostly self-funded with a few experienced angels on board such as Binny Bansal, Sahil Barua and Anand Chandrasekaran.
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