Aditya Makkar & Shikhar Agrawal, from the 2021 batch, started HelpNow in their 2nd semester, and Venkatesh Amrutwar, 2017 IIT-B graduate and former Overall Coordinator of E-Cell joined them in 2019 as a cofounder. In one year they have grown exponentially and a venture that was just started as an idea for the E-Cell’s competition EUREKA, has now grown into a full-fledged startup.
WHAT PROVIDED THE MOTIVATION FOR THE START-UP IDEA? WHAT PROBLEM DID YOU WANT TO SOLVE?
12% of total deaths in India happen due to long arrival times of ambulances. Our country has only 20% of the required ambulances suggested by WHO.
Aditya- “My father had a cardiac arrest just a week before my JEE exam, thankfully because of the contacts we had in the hospital we were able to get an ambulance on time. Due to this experience I already knew how grave the problem was and how necessary it was to do something about it.”
We are building an organisation HelpNow which is building India’s most reliable ambulance service and are reducing arrival time from 50 minutes to 10 minutes.
GIVEN THE MULTITUDE OF OPPORTUNITIES PRESENT ON CAMPUS LIKE PLACEMENT, HIGHER STUDIES, ETC., WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO GO FOR A START-UP?
We actually wanted to explore everything & we just started this as a project for the business model competition of Ecell called EUREKA. We made it to semi-finals & our mentor suggested that we should try this out for real; so we did. We were offered 150,000 USD as seed funding right at the end of the freshman year. Though we rejected it as just 1 year of the college experience was not enough & we were now confident that our model had potential.
In the second year also we did a lot of other ventures, explored fests like Mood Indigo, went to goa etc. in our 3rd sem, maintained our academics(9+ CPI). We basically had the whole college experience.
We started a doorstep food delivery service called Cravy.in and we were doing 20 deliveries a day, it became very useful. There was also another project called Clanny where we teamed up with production houses to auction movie props like the original Krish mask. We were in talks for doing this with the movie Kalank but dropped the idea because we got funding for HelpNow at the beginning of our 4th semester.
We also had this interesting experience where Sushant Singh Rajput called us home to pitch HelpNow, and we (19-year-old sophies) actually went to his house! He agreed to promote it for us and also wanted to start a crowdfunding project with us but due to some unforeseen issues, it didn’t work out.
HOW ARE YOU SOLVING THIS PROBLEM?
We have created the largest network of private ambulances in Mumbai & we check them regularly for quality. We operate our own fleet of HelpNow ambulances, soon there will be 13 HelpNow ambulances on the road. To further reduce the response time, our team has partnered with Uber & converts their cabs into medical first responder vehicles using our patent-pending mini-ambulance kit and driver medical training. The solution gained popularity during COVID when Mumbai Police, Municipality Corporations, Govt. hospitals partnered with us.
Due to the current situation, we have also developed a dashboard with bed availability in the hospitals which is soon to be live.
HelpNow is live in Mumbai and suburbs and expanding to other metro cities soon. Our service runs all day and all night & our prices are extremely low because we operate at no margin. People in need of medical help can avail it using our 24×7 helpline 8899889952.
BRIEFLY DESCRIBE THE JOURNEY SO FAR, FINDING CO-FOUNDERS, SEED FUNDING, CHALLENGES, SUCCESS IN DEPLOYING YOUR PRODUCT
We met during the XLR8 robotics competition and did ITSP together. After that, we started doing these startup ventures together. We got Angel funding in our 4th sem from our alum (marketing & strategy head at Reliance JIO) and he even convinced 2 other alumni to invest in us.
At the end of 2nd year, we started preparing for the startup competition by Ycombinator. It’s one of the most prestigious startup accelerators and when we flew to the US for our interview there were dozens of IITB alumni teams already present, we were actually the only student team there. Remarkably, we also became the only IITB team to get selected. After that, we met Venkatesh who already had a very good job which he left to join us full time.
One major challenge was convincing our parents to allow us to drop out of college. We also had to convince the director to allow us to drop and join back, which actually happened for the first time in 75 years for a student.
We also found managing people and other activities in the company pretty challenging as it doesn’t come naturally to us and we are still learning.
But to be honest we don’t see anything as a major problem , because we enjoy every challenge we take up.
The three founders driving the ambulance to pick up a patient
CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF YOUR MILESTONES?
- We started with 10 lakh INR funding which is now converted into INR 7 crore in one year.
- Selected by Y Combinator, the world’s most powerful startup accelerator, who have funded and mentored billion-dollar companies like Airbnb, Quora, Stripe and many more.
- Getting incubated at Y Combinator has brought a lot of amazing investors to us including the owner of Sacramento Kings (NBA team), Angel investors of Uber, SpaceX and Snapchat and Founders of Amazon-Twitch, Plangrid.
- We now provide services for Reliance, fountainhead etc. and have worked at major events like sunburn, PRO Kabaddi, Alan Walker concert, David Guetta concert, Filmfare awards etc., even Shahrukh Khan’s Birthday Party!
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPANSION PLANS? OR DO YOU PLAN TO EXIT THE COMPANY (TO JOIN MBA ETC.)?
There is no exit strategy, we plan to expand all over India & reach out each of the 1.3 billion people providing the quickest & safest medical response. We want to make this a completely free ambulance service by 2024.
As far as college is concerned, this year we were lucky since the whole sem is online. For future plans, MHRD has passed a new rule that student entrepreneurs can get credits according to the value of the enterprise they have created and we are pushing the administration to implement it as soon as possible in our college.
ARE FACTORS LIKE PRECIOUS PORS, CPI, ETC. IMPORTANT IN THE STARTUP WORLD?
Not really, though I’ll say this- the most important thing in a startup is the founder. The only skill you need is evolving yourself, learning constantly & adapting quickly.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR A GUY WHO IS AT THE SAME CROSSROADS AS WERE YOU BACK AT THE TIME OF STARTING-UP?
Try everything and don’t compromise on your college experience. I believe 2 years are enough to experience everything & you must start in the college itself.
I believe every student should build something like this other than academics.
For people just starting out with their startups- our alumni network is invaluable, make the most of it. If you have a hardcore tech startup- SINE is a great incubator.
Our startup culture is really good, I think the best in India – make the most of these opportunities.
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