Tushar Vashisht was overweight when he returned to India eight years ago, after a stint as an analyst with Deutsche Bank in Singapore,. His sedentary lifestyle continued even after he took up a demanding project management role with the formative team that built India’s digital ID Aadhaar.
He was determined to do something about his flab, and began by tracking the calories and nutrients in what he ate. But he soon ran into a problem: There was little help available online in evaluating Indian dishes.
Being a techie, Vashisht came up with an analytical tool to break down the calories and main nutrients in 900 foods, and presented it to the government’s planning council as a healthcare aid. It was also the genesis of his startup Healthify, which was established in late 2011. Ex-Googler Sachin Shenoy later joined him as a co-founder.
The app is designed to help users meet their dietary and fitness goals with personalized tracking and recommendations. HealthifyMe, which has a million monthly active users in over 200 cities and towns in India and the Middle East, today announced series B funding of US$12 million.
The Silicon Valley-based Samsung Next Fund led the round, marking the year-old group’s first major bet in India. Other new investors include Russian conglomerate Sistema’s Asia Fund, Japan’s Dream Incubator, and Singapore’s Atlas Asset Management. Existing investors IDG Ventures India, Inventus Capital, Blume Ventures, and Dubai-based NB Ventures also participated.
Apart from scaling and expanding the scope of what the startup offers, the new funding sets up HealthifyMe for its series C round from global investors possibly next year, Vashisht explains to Tech in Asia. This also ties in with its ambitions to be a global player in this space.
The benefits of rapid advances in AI and how various AI-powered algorithms are applied to help us improve our diet are fairly obvious. Some promising examples are US-based Fitgenie, with co-founders from Georgia Tech, and Lysa, set up by an ex-Googler in London.
What gives HealthifyMe an early-mover advantage, explains Vashisht, is the involvement of nutritionists and automation from the beginning. Not only did the nutritionists help paying users in the freemium app define and make healthy food choices, but they also acted as personal coaches. An AI engine called Jarvis assisted the nutritionists by handling simple queries.
The interactions between users, nutritionists, and Jarvis helped train the AI engine to parse conversations and understand the motivation and needs of specific users and relate them with others who had similar profiles. Last year, HealthifyMe unveiled Ria, a consumer-facing AI nutritionist that could have deeper engagements with users. In comparison, Jarvis was limited to acting as the nutritionists’ back-up.
What does a typical exchange with Ria sound like? “How has my day been?” a user might ask. Ria might reply, “You have not tracked enough. However, here is my analysis […] Looks like you need an intervention. Protein and fiber are on the lower side. Consider having low-fat milk, paneer, sprouts, legumes…”
The 10 million messages and 200 million food and fitness logs that the AI nutritionist has ingested to date is what makes it smart. Ria can base its recommendations on users’ profiles, factoring in their food preferences, goals, body types, and other details. .
The next step is to add an image-processing tool – aptly named Snap – to the app. You can then take a snap of the food you’re about to eat and get an instant evaluation of how good – or how bad – it is for you. Or you could take a shot of the menu in a restaurant and let Ria help you place an order that will leave you feeling both fed and healthy.
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