Whether it be culture, geography or genetics, across the world every country faces unique challenges from diseases specific to their region. In Asia, diabetes is a disproportionately large problem as compared to the rest of the world.
For example, last year Singapore received sobering news through a report from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) — the city has the second highest rate of diabetics in the world.
According to the IDF, in 2015 there were 541,600 cases of diabetes in the city and 4,242 people died as a result of the disease.
In response Health Minister Gan Kim Yong declared a ‘war on diabetes’ and created a new task force specifically meant to tackle the disease.
Furthermore, diabetes is not just a Singapore problem but is prevalent across Asia. 60 per cent of the world’s diabetics are of Asian descent, according to the Asia Diabetes Prevention Initiative.
While the problem is fairly well-known in Asia, what is less discussed is that diabetes, especially Type 2, is a lonely disease. It requires daily management and is with the person 24/7 for the rest of their lives.
To help solve this problem, a Singaporean startup named Holmusk wants to add a personal touch to diabetes management, and in doing so help patients lead a healthier lifestyle.
The product is called GlycoLeap and it is an all-in-one management app that allows users to track their diet, blood sugar and weight through both connected devices and in-app services. (the blood sugar tracking is the only portion of the app that requires manual entry).
It tackles the ‘loneliness factor’ is with a group of in-house dietitians that gives GlycoLeap a personal touch.
“Our purpose is not to usurp the clinical provider. What we are really trying to influence is the lifestyle issues. Our job is to guide them into [a healthy] space,” said Founder and CEO Nawal Roy in a conversation with e27.
Users take pictures of their meals and it is automatically uploaded into the system. Then, the assigned health professional provides personal feedback about what they are doing well, how they could change their diet and tracks if the person is making consistent lifestyle changes.
GlycoLeap can also be used by people who are more genetically disposed to developing diabetes in order to make the necessary preventative lifestyle changes.
Holmusk wants to help people achieve a 5-7 per cent weight loss over a reasonable amount of time and provides a wireless scale and fitness tracker to help users achieve this goal.
Users will receive a connected weighing scale, a glucometer set, a fitness tracker, a weight loss guide and a local food manual.
According to Yau Teng Yan, the Chief Medical Officer at Holmusk, these tools, along with a 24-week health curriculum, allow Glyco Leap to personalise their product for each individual.
“By tracking all this data — their weight, their sugar levels —our health coaches can have a 360 degree view of a particular users’ habits and this allows them to make changes in a very meaningful an effective way,” he told e27.
A B2B and B2C revenue model
For consumers, GlycoLeap costs S$69 (US$50) per month for the first 6 months and then S$20 (US$14.46) per month for the rest of the user’s lifetime. Everything is included in this pricing model.
Roy said the company has an optimistic goal of attracting anywhere from 20-35,000 users.
For its B2B, the company is strongly pursuing two channels and is considering a third. It targets employers to buy for their employees and insurance companies as an offering for clients.
The third channel is to sign partnerships with clinics to offer to patients — but that is more complicated as Glyco Leap will have to jump through some hoops to get it offered by doctors.
“Think of it this way, a hospital itself can do it for its own employees, but if it wants to recommend to its patients, it needs to have all the validations,” said Roy.
So far, the company has raised about US$3 million in funding — a S$750,000 (US$542,000) Seed Round followed by a US$2.5 million pre-Series A. Holmusk is currently working on raising a Series A round.
One of the key problems the company ruminates over is scaling — the app itself should not be restricted by borders or cultures and the Holmusk is in the process of launching in Hong Kong and Malaysia at the moment.
It also has an inbound request from the Middle East and will pursue a launch in the US in the next 6 months. Long-term, the company has its eyes on India and Indonesia.
But, while Holmusk should be scalable from the perspective of software, the part that makes GlycoLeap unique, the dietitians, will need to scale with its user base.
“But that’s a good problem to worry about, that’s not a bad problem to worry about,” said Roy.
As Yau points out, having the data automatically entered into the system allows for more efficiency from the company.
“Perhaps the traditional dietician can see about eight to ten patients on a given day. The reason is each session takes about 30 to 45 minutes. About half of that time is about breaking down the food history,” Yau explains.
“At one glance, our dietitians can just see the food because it’s a very visual thing. How large the portions were, what were the exact ingredients, and that saves a lot of time. Our consultants can handle 100 to 200 people on a given day,” he added.
Additionally, Yau said the company is working on a chatbot that would be able to handle the most basic questions and ease some of the burden on the human labor.
One challenge consistent across the entire fitness tracking industry is motivating people to consistently engage with the product. It is quite common for people to download a fitness app, use it for a few weeks and then stop.
Holmusk is using the BJ Fogg (the Founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University) model for internet engagement. The idea is to have three key factors — Motivation, Ability, and a Trigger — to make sure people stay active on GlycoLeap.
Motivation would be a users desire to manage their diabetes. Ability is having all the devices connected so people don’t have to constantly remind themselves to input data and the Trigger would come from the dietitians.
“I think we have tried to make the product as seamless as possible. So literally their sugar level is the only aspect [that requires] manual input,” said Roy.
“But also I think there is a certain degree of intervention, the attraction of the coach, that leads to a really deep inner discussion about [GlycoLeap]. It feels as if someone is out there looking after you, and that relationship builds into the interaction.”
After awhile, engagement becomes a habit and a health-app like GlycoLeap becomes a part of a person’s day-to-day life.
Finally, to interject a personal observation from the interview, what stood out was the team’s firm belief that the product works, and if people use it, they will see improvements in their health.
It was especially obvious when I asked what their goals were for next year. It wasn’t ‘take over the world’, ‘raise US$10 million’ or ‘enter market A’.
Their optimistic goal was, as mentioned above, to get 20 to 35,000 people on the app.
If that many people start using the product — because Roy and Yau were confident that most of them would see health improvements — it would mean GlycoLeap was making a tangible impact in helping Singapore (and Asia) fight diabetes.
That, at the end of the day, is the goal.