Interview: Ritu Soni Srivastava-working towards building a positive approach toward fitness
Ritu is a founder and CEO of a venture-funded health-tech startup. She has also been the Brand Head for India’s largest telecom major, an award-winning Tech-Product manager, the Programming Head for two of India’s most innovative Radio stations and a prime-time Radio Jockey! She has founded Obino, a health and weight loss coach on mobile.
Tell us about Obino?
Obino is an app-based Weight Loss and Health coaching solution. Obino helps its users by intelligently pairing each of them with their own personal health coach, who work one-on-one to develop customized diet, fitness and lifestyle regimes to achieve their health goals – be it losing weight, getting fitter or improving their health outcomes. All this is done via the mobile phone. It enables holistic weight loss and health coaching. Obino coaches also work in tandem with the medical practitioners of our users to ensure health coaching that complements lifestyle and chronic disease management.
What inspired you to build this mobile app?
Obino was started as a result of my personal journey towards losing my post-pregnancy weight and achieving total fitness. After initial consultations with dieticians, and trying out a lot of other ways, I realised there is a huge gap between trying to lose weight and knowing how to do it, the right way. Obino was set up with the ultimate goal of helping each and every user not only lose weight but achieve much more in the bargain. I want to make the process of getting fit more transparent and user-friendly, and try and eliminate the apprehensions one has about weight loss. Obino emphasizes not only what the user is doing to lose weight but also why. Our mission is to make each individual self-sufficient and aware of their bodies and motivate them to lose weight at their own pace and convenience.
Being a woman what are the challenges you face?
Building a healthcare business from scratch is a challenge in itself. This is a business that mostly relies on credibility, which is an uphill task, especially in a market like India, where the health industry is fragmented. The challenge in a health-technology start-up is to build that trust and credibility without any face to face interaction and in the case of an emerging venture, with limited marketing monies for brand-building and advertising.
And while being an entrepreneur in India comes with its own set of challenges, being a woman entrepreneur is a different ball game altogether! I feel the stakes are much higher for women, as not only do we need to be successful, but we also need to set an example for all the other aspiring women out there. For me, though, I can say I have been fortunate to have a supporting and loving family, who have always backed me up and encouraged me to take the plunge into running a business. It is a great time for women to step into an entrepreneurial role, and break stereotypes of choosing a ‘safe’ or ‘easy’ career option.
Is this concept well accepted?
Definitely. The idea of fitness amongst Indians has evolved over the years and owing to hectic schedules and high-stress levels amongst today’s urban population, there is tremendous demand for fitness avenues that cater to individuals from all walks of life. While fitness – or rather, wellness – has always been part of the Indian culture, as is apparent with the existence of village Akhadas, yoga and prevalence of Ayurvedic practices in the country, changing lifestyles and new demands by people have outpaced traditional wisdom to a certain extent. Globalization, education and tourism have brought with them a re-awakening to the concepts of wellness and fitness on Indian shores. We are proud to say that Obino has been downloaded by over 5 lakh users worldwide since we went live in August 2014.
Do you feel that competition is tough?
I have realised in my journey as an entrepreneur in this space is that Indians do not aspire to have a self-reliant approach to their health; instead, they look for ‘convenience and expertise’ from an external source. For most people, deriving a specific set of actionable from broad principles of good health – is next to impossible. They try, get frustrated and give up – which just harms their health in the long–run.
That’s why the tenets of our approach are different and set us apart from existing competition. We lay stress on a human to human coaching model which is learning-based and is high-touch – where users communicate with their coaches on an average of six to nine times a day – which is extremely rare in any other fitness or weight loss solution, both online or offline.
What advice do you want to give new starters?
Wellness in India is a sunrise sector and presents a great opportunity for start-ups in India to bring in technology as a means for adopting a healthy lifestyle. One tip I would like to give budding start-ups is to be original. A one-size-fits-all approach may work for some but usually fails in the long term. The industry will go through a series of transformation in the coming years, so collaborate and try to create impact starting from day one.