Indian healthtech startup Zyla connects patients to 24/7 care management
How a medical-AI driven chatbot app is transforming treatment for chronic patients
Indian entrepreneur Khushboo Aggarwal was in California on a business trip when her father was hospitalized for a cardiac event triggered by his chronic diabetes. She spent 24 nervous hours flying back to India without access to steady WiFi or cell service, unable to get updates from her father’s hospital. Luckily, he was fine, but she spent the next six months shuttling between the hospital, home, and work, trying her best to support her father and family through recovery. “I realized the vast difference between the healthcare systems I had worked with and that in India,” said Khushboo. “A chronic patient in India and their caregivers are very helpless. Even though a diabetes patient in India spends anywhere between Rs 15,000-50,000 (roughly $200 - $700 USD) per year on their health out of pocket, they end up with an untimely complication and hospitalization more often than not.”
After earning both a pharmacy degree and an MBA, Khushboo started working as a healthcare consultant. Witnessing her father’s trauma sparked an idea. What if she could use her data analysis and consulting expertise—as well as her firsthand knowledge of more patient-centric healthcare systems—to help those suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes avoid costly, life-threatening trips to the hospital with preventative treatment? Excited by the concept, Khushboo founded Zyla: a personal health management app that empowers patients to make informed decisions about their own diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol issues. The Zyla platform chatbot gives patients access to always-on expert advice from health professionals and analyzes data for early warning signs that can save people from damaging health events such as a heart attack or kidney failure. Zyla's health programs are tailored to a user’s complete health and genetic history and delivered straight to their phone, providing actionable insights literally at their fingertips. In India, 80% of chronic diabetes patients eventually endure a severe health complication that sees them hospitalized. Zyla is designed to prevent such events, using algorithms that can alert causes for concern in patient data, along with access for patients to a care team including specialist doctors 24/7.
“The mentoring we received as part of Google for Startups helped us push the boundaries of our tech evolution”
As Zyla scaled, Khushboo wanted to ensure the machine learning behind the platform was rigorous enough to achieve the right outcomes for users and ultimately scale the company. Khushboo also wanted to know how to leverage Google products and receive mentorship on leading a growing startup.
So in 2019 Khushboo joined the Launchpad, now Google for Startups Accelerator (GFSA), Female Founders bootcamp in India, a four-day program for tech startups. Working one-on-one with Google mentors and product experts helped the Zyla team better understand many different parts of their business, from marketing to machine learning, as well as advice tailored specifically to the Indian market. Users of Zyla are reporting success, with improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels – meaning better health overall. Zyla currently serves 125,000 customers in 595 Indian cities and ten languages—and counting. The Zyla app is also one of the highest rated apps in the medical category on Google Playstore with a rating of 4.8.
Khushboo also leveraged Google mentorship to refine Zyla’s AI and machine learning technology. Based on 50,000+ medical protocols, the Zyla algorithm was built on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) from day one in order to host and test their data efficiently. The Zyla chat infrastructure, for example, was tested for the potential of millions of users and 100,000+ simultaneous connections. “This enables real-time, on-demand care to our patients,” Zyla CTO Aishwary Bhaskar notes. “High performing, low latency systems are built on the Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). Using GKE, we can easily scale up and down our infrastructure and meet the required demand.” Beyond just scalability, Zyla relies on GCP to run through their data infrastructure with zero downtime at high productivity. “These days consumers are increasingly assuming that businesses will predict and understand their individual needs, but identifying, understanding and engaging with each consumer is no easy task,” said Aishwary. “Here is where GCP’s big query and ML services come handy—our data driven decisions and care algorithms are based on it."
AI is fundamental to the Zyla platform, as first-level patient escalations are handled by Zyla’s medical algorithms, and second-level escalations are supervised by an in-house medical team. To give great care, they need great tech. “We greatly benefited from the mentoring we have received from Google AI/ ML leaders as part of the Accelerator, especially around building scalable solutions at optimal cost,” reflects Khushboo. ”The mentoring we received helped us push the boundaries of our tech evolution, and Google guidance on user-centric product design helped us crack the patient journey.”
“Our culture is built on the core values of happiness, empathy, commitment, trust, transparency, and respect. We practice these values religiously, not just for our customers but also our team, even for the families of our customers and team.”
After graduating from the GFSA Female Founders bootcamp, Khushboo joined the Google for Startups Immersion: Women Founders program to further build her network. “I wanted to make the most of opportunities that Google opened specifically for women—meeting and learning from fellow female founders,” said Khushboo. She started the program with a four month old baby and appreciated the unique support the fully-female cohort provided, not just for their advice on her business but also for herself personally. Since the program was completely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the cross-continental camaraderie was a distinct advantage that she hadn’t had in other programs. She was eager to see how other founders were distributing their product locally and globally.
With the growth and development of the company, Zyla’s core team grew to 45 full-time employees. Inspired by Google best practices, Khushboo cemented a positive and healthy work environment to drive Zyla forward in the right way. “Culture is the operating system for any startup. Our culture is built on the core values of happiness, empathy, commitment, trust, transparency, and respect.” says Khushboo. “We practice these values religiously, not just for our customers but also our team, even for the families of our customers and team.”
Zyla has had immediate success in India with users all across India using the app to stay ahead of their health. Zyla has since partnered with pharmaceutical, insurance, and e-pharmacy companies to provide care to millions more in addition to being recommended by doctors. Looking to the future, Khushboo wants Zyla to be the de-facto healthcare communication and confidante for patients and their families. “We have created a highly-scalable chronic disease management solution, which will be the de-facto health management solution for patients across the globe,” says Khushboo. “We are now working relentlessly on the distribution of Zyla across the healthcare ecosystem.”