Don't Let That Prick Ruin Your Day, Sugar!

Healthtech startup Fitterfly uses smart, personalised technology to help people with diabetes, obesity and other conditions achieve their health goals

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In 2019, Dr Arbinder Singal, a healthcare professional with over two decades of experience, was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. Hoping to avoid a disease that ran in his family, Singal set out to understand the impact of certain foods and workout activities on his blood sugar levels. He bought a continuous blood-glucose monitoring device and decided to patch it with the nutrition database at Fitterfly, a healthtech startup that he had co-founded with Shailesh Gupta three years prior, to find out more about his condition.

Dr Arbinder Singal, CEO & co-founder, Fitterfly

"We imported the device data on to our software and graphed my blood sugar levels. We discovered that wheat and processed foods had the most adverse impact and there were also instances of restless sleep as my blood sugar levels used to drop around 3 am. Changes and self-experiments led to a reversal of my diabetes, and eventually, we created a programme with the first cohort of patients. Since we had the brand Fitterfly, we combined the name with the word diabetes and created a programme called Diabefly," explains Singhal.

Over the years, Fitterfly has transformed from being a children-centric healthcare brand at the time of its inception in 2016 to an outcome-focussed wellness provider for chronic diseases. Since digital therapeutics is still a novel industry in India, building a platform for tracking nutrition, blood sugar responses to various foods, stress assessments, sleep quality management, fitness assessment and exercise plans personalised at scale proved to be a a difficult task for Singal and his Fitterfly team.

"There were additional challenges as well such as digitally serving the need for human supervision to motivate people for behavioural change, habit building and establishing human empathy. The outcomes of all this and more were required to be tracked in a measurable way. We had to really work hard with doctors, psychologists, nutritionists and physiotherapists over many months to arrive at a solution which worked," he says. Cut to 2022 and Fitterfly has managed to raise $12 million in Series A funding, led by Amazon Sambhav Venture Fund and Fireside Ventures.

There are several startups today building their own unique solutions for many chronic diseases, including diabetes. Rising awareness, especially in the wake of the pandemic, has made people keen to rely on digital services for fulfilling their physical and mental healthcare needs.

"About 25 per cent of the Indian population has smartphones and they can afford to pay $50 to $100 for our service. We are the first to build a unique data-driven engine, and data-driven outcomes are at the centre of our customer journey. The digital therapeutics software deployed by us is the most advanced that I have seen in the sub-continent. The fact that the company is founded and led by doctors with extensive experience makes us unlike other firms in the field," states Singhal, who has so far run two hospitals as well as a telemedicine startup that was later acquired by 1mg (now Tata1mg). "About 95 per cent of our members reduce their blood sugar level and in the early stages, a lot of people reverse their diabetes," he adds.

"We intend to build a brand which people with diabetes can trust. We have built a reputation through proven positive outcomes, and that is what we assure people of when they subscribe to our system," claims Singal. The company plans to expand its network to 2000 doctors this year and collaborate with over 50 corporates and insurers for employee wellness plans. Moreover, Fitterfly will launch a heart health programme next year and centre its focus on female health and wellness the following year. The latter half of 2023 onwards, the company expects to begin pilots in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region and/ or South East Asia (SEA) region since these geographies are witnessing a huge burden of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

"We believe we would be able to help millions of people every year in preventing, reversing and managing chronic healthcare issues," he says.