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Founder Spotlight – Niraj Jha, Founder and CEO of Hanuman | Startup Pulse Podcast

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In this episode, Anshuman Sinha speaks with Niraj Jha, the founder and CEO of Hanuman. Hanuman stands for Health, Accessible in Need, and Unity for Mankind. It is an innovative health tech startup from Bihar, India. ‘Hanuman’ has significantly impacted emergency healthcare services across rural and urban areas, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

With over two decades of experience in emergency health care, Niraj Jha is deeply committed to making healthcare accessible and affordable for the people. 

The first question that Anshuman Sinha asks is regarding where Niraj Jha operates from. 

Niraj Jha shares that his team operates from Bihar. Their head office is in Patna, Bihar. However, their work has recently spread in the last three to four states. They are available in Bihar and nearby districts such as Jharkhand, Delhi NCR, Kanpur, Udaipur, and Panchkula. Niraj Jha also shares that the business has been running for around three years and months. 

Anshuman Sinha follows this up by asking how Niraj Jha came up with this idea and how he calculated his time for this business. 

Niraj shares that the very reason for his being in business was to solve a problem. He credits his family upbringing and his purpose-driven life for his purpose-driven business. He says he eventually shifted his career into healthcare management when he began practicing medicine. He was delving deep into understanding the prevalent management issues within the healthcare system. He also shares that in his 14-year career, he has taken part in hospital planning and design, where he built infrastructure. He also changed the hospital management system by installing ACs in the waiting areas. 

He emphasizes his focus on customer delight and value addition in healthcare management. It was this experience that led him to find a solution to the next big problem within healthcare, which was accessibility. He shares that since his career was in emergency healthcare, the most significant pain he felt was the inaccessibility of healthcare for patients. He jumped into doing his own business with this purpose and ambition to solve this very problem. 

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Having been in the medical field and suddenly changing his line of work, Anshuman Sinha’s next question to Niraj Jha is regarding his family’s reaction to his change. 

Niraj shares that he comes from a highly humble, average middle-class family. His father was a teacher who is now retired. He shares that initially; his family was slightly surprised by his sudden career change. However, they trusted his mindset since he had faced chief success in his career. 

He shares that initially when he chose to change his line of work, he was at the peak of his career. He managed four hospital groups and worked with a team of 600 people. He was also handling revenue of around 10 to 12 crores. The sudden change in his line of work shocked his family. However, they trusted his gut and supported him in his journey. 

Anshuman Sinha’s next question is regarding Hanuman. He asked whether Niraj had a co-founder or was he a solo entrepreneur. He also asks about the company’s first six months and how Niraj was able to scale his business. 

Niraj shares that he works with his friend and co-founder Santosh, whom he has known for over 10 to 12 years. Santosh has a management background and experience in sales marketing. This experience has helped both founders shape the business into what it is today. He shares that coming from a medical background with some operations management experience, he worked alongside Santosh, who has a wide array of experiences in telecom, education, banking, sales and marketing, and business development. 

He further shares that in terms of scaling his business, his initial thought process had no concept of scaling and growth. His primary goal was to build a technology that could solve the accessibility problem in acute care. He shares that the coronavirus pandemic that took over the world in 2020 was a blessing in disguise as it helped him solidify his position within the market and help many people in need. 

Niraj Jha says that the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the increasing need of the people gave him two options. He faced the option of either closing his business entirely because of the lockdown restrictions or scaling it down with reduced operations. The necessity prevalent within the situation convinced him to continue to help the people in need. He shares that when he released his first call center number during the initial days of the pandemic, he was expecting 5 to 10 calls a day but instead got 100 to 200 calls every day. He further shares that his father had to start taking calls. At the same time, he and his co-founder Santosh were busy managing onboarding the private ambulances, training healthcare professionals in infection control practices, fixing up the PPE kits, etc. It was his father’s stroke due to sleepless nights while attending calls that led him to hire more staff. 

He further shares, “I’ll be honest that it was accidental and a blessing in disguise. But yes, it tested everything out of us. It tested our patience, resilience, and efficiency of working in a high volume, high-pressure thing. It tested our ability to bring more people into the company.” 

Anshuman Sinha’s next question is regarding funding. He asks Niraj Jha how much money he invested as a founder before they went to external funding sources. 

Niraj Jha shares that the founders invested 25 lakhs in 2020, and with this money, they essentially built technology. Since healthcare at large is capital-intensive, he based his business model on frugality. He created the technology frugally yet efficiently, ensuring it stands ready to assist people promptly. He shares that the initial scale was ultimately an aggregation model primarily connecting the supply chain with the demand. 

Anshuman Sinha follows this up by asking, on the scale, whether Niraj went for a funding round or if he went for debt financing. 

Niraj Jha shares that he excitedly went for a funding round. Karekeba Ventures, who believed in his vision of making healthcare more accessible, provided his first round of Angel funding, mainly focusing on acute cases. He further elaborates that his first funding round was around 83 lacks, which allowed them to manage the entire supply chain and the volume. They eventually began to build their technology. However, they faced many challenges immediately during the second wave of the pandemic. 

He says that the initial idea during the first wave was to do everything that was pre-hospital and post-hospital. However, during the second wave, the problem became even more significant. Since no oxygen was available, people were dying everywhere. During this phase, his services were no longer for simply ambulance for hospitalization but also cremation. He shared that the major problem he faced was the lack of oxygen, which was not available anywhere. This situation led him to write a LinkedIn post, which eventually went viral. Eventually, his investors helped him as they believed in helping people during such a tumultuous time. He shares that with the help of his investors and from donations and easy buyouts, he secured oxygen and helped more than 20,000 people within three to four months. He shares that while his team cremated over 300 bodies during the second wave, his company succeeded due to the constant and vigilant help he provided to those in need during this time. 

Anshuman Sinha follows this up by asking how, with a background in medicine, Niraj Jha was able to identify the challenges prevalent within the healthcare sector and how he overcame these challenges. 

Niraj says, “It was my vision because I was running hospitals, and I was seeing one thing in particular: across the globe. It is not specific to India and rural spaces. Technology has solved a lot of things, especially if you talk about India; UPI and the banking system have changed completely, the internet 5G has also changed, and railway reservations and a lot of other things have become online. However, the concept of reservation regarding healthcare is not prevalent. 

While medical equipment and diagnostics have improved, healthcare accessibility and doctors’ prescription writing and communication with doctors are as difficult as 20 years ago. So, I thought that healthcare players are very resistant when embracing a new IT system in their practices. So, that was my understanding, and my research provided sufficient insight into which concepts could be effectively implemented. This made me realize that technology can solve this challenge since our country had already advanced into the digital landscape.” 

Anshuman Sinha asks how difficult it was for Niraj to set up a team in Bihar. He wondered what the most challenging part was and what his employee strengths were. 

Niraj Jha shares that his company has 115 employees. Of these, 36 to 37 are from Bihar, while the rest are from other cities like Jharkhand, Delhi, Udaipur, Kanpur, and Panchkula. He also shares that the core team, including accounts, finance, HR, and customer support, is still based in Patna. 

Anshuman Sinha asks Niraj Jha about the new things he is doing in Hanuman. 

Initially, Niraj Jha revealed that managing an ambulance posed significant challenges, with sheets needing to be changed on time, medicines being stolen, and the oxygen cylinder running empty. To deal with these challenges, they thought of building technology to manage them. Due to the launch of 5G in India, connectivity became extremely easy. So, in terms of new things, Hanuman has now embraced the concept of a 5G ambulance. With a smart ambulance, they can look at how much oxygen is in the ambulance on the dashboard, learn about the tire pressure,, have information about the paramedic on duty, the medicines that are available within the ambulance and also understand if the driver has consumed alcohol, which can be alerted by the sensor on the steering wheel. 

He further shares that he has been getting calls from Africa, Bangladesh, and neighboring countries to help build this technology to make healthcare more accessible. He shares that he has no capacity yet, but eventually, with the next fundraiser, he will reach out to these countries to build these technologies and manage ambulances. 

Anshuman Sinha’s next question is regarding the fundraisers. He asked how much money Niraj Jha currently had. 

Niraj shares that there have been two fundraisers in the past. The first round was around 83 lakhs, while the second was 3.93 crores. The second was a safe note in a CCD structure. He further shares that his third funding round has been slightly delayed due to the change from D2C to B2B. However, his team wants a $2 to 3 million raise. 

Following this, Anshuman Sinha asks Niraj Jha if he has any advice for young entrepreneurs who want to pursue their dreams. 

Niraj Jha shares that the business lacks any foundation built on training or available resources. He compares it with falling in love. He says that if somebody falls in love with another person, they tend to do everything they can to be with them. Similarly, if an individual wants to start a business, they do not need to look at the consequences or whether they have any resources to back their idea. A company begins overnight; if they love it enough, they are ready to do everything possible to make it happen. 

Finally, Anshuman Sinha asks if Niraj Jha has any comments for the current body of entrepreneurs and if he would like to give a few words to any new founders who are listening to the episode. 

Niraj says it is essential to fall in love with the problem rather than the solution when starting a company. He also shares that a founder must be able to hire advisers and employees who are better than them so that rather than following commands, they can put the CEO on task. Finally, Niraj Jha also shares that a founder must always focus on the consumer’s delight while doing business. 

He says that the founder must be passionate enough to go crazy for the delight of their customers. That is the only thing that will make them survive in the business during the most challenging periods. He says, “Most companies across the universe who are now successful are built in difficult times. Whenever there is a recession, good companies have come out, and that is the key learning.” 

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