Most of us have referred to “Dr. Google” for a physical or mental health issue at some point. Browsing through pages of content, which include a mixture of accurate information as well as wildly inaccurate analysis, we are sometimes convinced that we have a life-threatening illness, when all we might have is a minor ailment.

People also sometimes use a social media platform such as Facebook as a sounding board for advice on issues related to mental or physical health, often getting inappropriate responses.

Identifying the need for an online platform where people can receive accurate information on health issues from certified experts, Fadi Doss co-founded online health and wellness startup Esaal with two more in 2018. The idea was to make sure people weren’t dependent on ‘irrelevant’ or ‘bad’ advice.

“We felt that when it comes to advisers, when it comes to personal issues, people still use the standard means to get their advice, which is to use social media or Google… which could create bigger problems says Mr. Doss, Managing Director of Esaal.

“It’s the [digital] model we wanted [to create] primarily to improve people’s lives. So we launched Esaal in mid-2018 with the aim of enabling people to get advice from real experts in different fields.

Esaal, which means “to ask” in Arabic, took about six months to go live from its ideation and was established in Egypt as an online platform for physical and mental health consultations. It has since expanded its operations to seven more countries, including Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Palestine and Iraq, and currently offers services in Arabic and English.

The platform has around 450 certified experts on its platform who provide consultation on a range of issues including anxiety, physiotherapy, pediatrics, and nutrition, among others. Users access these services through an app and can choose to receive services via text, video or voice calls, and in-person visits.

Consultation fees start at 5 Egyptian Pounds ($0.27) per day to cater to a larger base of people.

The platform’s user base currently stands at over one million.

Esaal also offers corporate health and wellness programs through which it has reached over 15,000 corporate employees.

“The traction has been excellent. And the numbers that we [have] reached confirms that… demand is strong. Above all… we are the only platform [in the region] that brings health and wellness together under one roof,” says Doss.

Middle East and North Africa Remote Healthcare Market is Booming and Expected to Reach $1.8 Billion by 2024, Growing at a CAGR of 12.8% from $989 Million in 2019, according to the Global Ventures Digital Health 2020 report.

In the United Arab Emirates, the e-health and fitness market is expected to generate $36.5 million in revenue in 2025, growing at a compound annual rate of 16%, according to a report from Ken Research last year. .

Esaal, which has been incubated and backed by Egyptian venture capital fund A15 since launch, recently closed the latest round of $1.7m in seed funding, bringing the total amount raised to $3m.

The company generated $4.4 billion in revenue in 2021, demonstrating its high levels of capital efficiency, Doss says.

Demand for e-health services has increased amid the Covid-19 pandemic and venture capitalists are looking to capitalize on this by increasing their investments in start-ups.

The health tech startup ecosystem in the Mena region attracted more than $80 million in investment in 2021, marking a 29% annual increase in funding, data platform Magnitt reported.

The market is currently worth more than $1.5 billion, a 22-fold increase since 2016, he said.

However, funding is currently the biggest challenge for Esaal, according to Doss.

“We continue to grow and if we have a challenge, it’s more or less with the funds … that we have to spend, especially with the current situation of the economy in general in the world. Investing is now a bit slower, VCs think more about the funds they put in, so we have to survive longer with the money we have,” he says.

Many VCs primarily want to focus on companies in their portfolio to ensure they are safe rather than investing in new companies, he explains.

“So we can’t deliver on our growth plans because we have to be careful and slow down to make sure we have enough funds to continue for a longer period,” Doss said.

“It’s probably a bad time when we started looking for new investments.”

The company needs investment to introduce new features on the business development side, improve products, launch new ideas and enter new verticals, such as business-to-business partnerships, strengthen brand image and increase capital human.

“We probably need to have at least 50% more people, we’re very, very pressured,” Mr Doss said.

Esaal can grow dramatically and quickly double its number of users if it is able to access the funds it needs, he says.

“Of course, to grow more, to reach more people, you have to invest more, [and do] more branding and more advertising to be able to make your solution, your service known to more people. So hopefully maybe within a year we can reach two million users,” he says.

As part of its future growth, the start-up also plans to implement more technological tools, for example, to use artificial intelligence to provide recommendations to people about their general health and well-being. .

Currently, if a consultant determines that a user with depression has unhealthy eating habits, which could lead to diabetes, the user is advised to meet with another expert to resolve this issue.

“But in the future, we are developing some technological aspects that will use AI to perform data analysis on the user’s condition, medications, etc. through their health care provider in order to give it automated recommendations,” Doss said.

However, the focus of operations will not shift to robotics or AI, he adds.

“We want it to be very human, because we are talking about human issues. This is our concept and we don’t want to turn it into something totally AI [led] … We always want it to remain a one-on-one conversation, whether it’s video or text, it’s always a live person talking to you,” says Doss.

We continue to grow and if we have a challenge, it’s more or less with the funds … that we have to spend, especially with the current situation of the economy

Fadi Doss, co-founder and managing director of Esaal

The platform is also working to forge links with insurance companies and aims to launch new services.

In the Egyptian market, it plans to launch home services soon to provide a home visit for a consultation or for services such as nursing – basically anything related to health and wellness.

Esaal also wants to expand its operations by partnering with governments and non-governmental organizations to digitize the process of counseling and healthcare delivery.

While the Dubai-based startup hopes to start offering services in the UAE soon, strict local regulations in different markets mean it takes time to get approvals, says Doss.

“We want to penetrate all the countries of the Mena region. Then we can move to other regions like maybe Africa or Southeast Asia, where there is also a definite need,” he says.

Mr Doss, who comes from a university background in engineering and previously worked in telecommunications and digital product development, says he is extremely happy to have been able to use his experience to create “something valuable for the user”. .

Esaal’s vision is to always “really care about people,” rather than just focusing on company finances, he says.

“We want to provide a 360-degree user experience when it comes to their health and well-being. So if you’re not feeling well, the first thing that will come to mind is Esaal – ‘I’ll talk to the experts, or talk to this consultant, I’ll get the meds, I’ll have to do a scan’ – everything is still on Esaal.

COMPANY PROFILE

Last name: Esaal

Based: Started in Egypt and currently based in Dubai, UAE

Launch year: 2018

Number of employees: 24

Sector: health technology

Funding: $3 million

Q&A with Fadi Doss, co-founder and CEO of Esaal

Who is your role model?

I never had anyone in particular as a role model.

What is your advice to other entrepreneurs?

My advice would be to keep your dream alive by working smart and hard. And if you need to fundraise, don’t delay because it takes time. So you have to start as soon as possible. I believe it was a mistake I made. I should have started my [funding] round last year, not this year.

If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?

I would start getting funds early on.

What drives you and drives you forward?

The value we create for people. I mean, when we get a testimonial from our users that things are better, we saved their lives, how they feel better, for sure that’s something that really puts me in a good mood. That what you have created really makes a difference.

Updated: July 18, 2022, 4:30 a.m.