There is a huge unmet demand for medical consultation in emerging markets such as Egypt due to the low supply of doctors. As of 2018, Egypt’s doctor to citizen ratio at 1:2,000; you can paint a picture when you walk into a government hospital and see long queues.
These issues and pandemic changing habits have led to an increase in physician booking and consultation apps in Egypt and the wider MENA region.
Esaal, one such platform that has experienced tremendous growth over the past two years, announces a $1.7 million seed investment from A15; this brings the total funding the VC firm has raised to $3 million since its launch in 2018.
Esaal does not only provide advice on physical health. It also addresses issues in other segments, such as mental health and nutrition.
According to reports, there is a growing mental health crisis among MENA populations, where 35% experience frequent stress, 29% suffer from depression and obesity is reaching new highs among adults. For most people, these illnesses stick around because of the stigma associated with going to therapy or talking about issues that affect their mental state.
“There is a high demand for an interview with someone who specializes in mental health. But most people are afraid to physically go to a center to see a therapist or psychiatrist. It’s still not common; people would love to do it,” said Fadi DossEsaal founder and CEO.
Doss went on to share how he browsed social media platforms and saw people feel comfortable sharing personal issues, sometimes behind pseudonyms, while getting feedback from other users who weren’t specialists in the subject. That trend prompted him to develop a platform that seized this virtual opportunity, but with therapists on the other side.
“We decided to have a platform that connects the user with the expert, where he or she can get a personal and real answer to health problems in a simple and smooth way,” he said. “And when we talk about nutrition, it’s getting a bit trendy here in the region because the overweight among adults is getting pretty high. We see that people are starting to care much more about their nutrition and well-being.”
Esaal has engaged more than 350 consultants on its platform. They provide consultations on a wide variety of topics, including anxiety, physical therapy, pediatrics, and nutrition. Users can access these services via an app (text, video/voice calls and in-person visits) and pay with cash, credit cards, Vodafone and Fawry.
The Egyptian health tech company also uses a B2B2C model where it partners with more than 10 medium to large companies to deliver these services to their more than 5,000 employees. Esaal currently charges subscription fees and on-demand consultation fees with plans to monetize in-person visits in later updates.
Like most healthtech platforms, Esaal was one of the beneficiaries of the pandemic-induced lockdown that opened up opportunities in healthtech. Between 2020 and 2021, the user base grew by 55% and currently stands at over 1 million. The company’s revenue and ARPU also increased 250% to $4.4 million in 2021 and 130% between 2020 and 2021.
Doss said Esaal services are available in 7 other countries in MENA and the GCC: Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Palestine and Iraq.
The company’s earnings show that it has run a capital-efficient venture with just $3 million, an investment that has come in tranches since 2019 from its sole investor, A15.
“They have been prudent in deploying capital thus far and have demonstrated excellent efficiency in the unit economy, enabling their expansion ambitions,” said Karim Beshara, the company’s managing partner for the investment. “We are proud to see their growth and have enjoyed building the business with them over the past four years. There is so much more coming from Esaal and this sector.”
Esaal’s capital efficiency is one of the ways it sets it apart from the competition, Doss claimed. He also highlighted another subtle difference: While other platforms focus on doctor’s consultations, mental health or nutrition like Vezeeta, Meddy and Shezlong, Esaal merges the three verticals into one.
The health and wellness online consultation platform plans to use this investment to scale MENA, invest in product and brand development, and hire more talent. Esaal expects a revenue CAGR of approximately 50 to 60% between 2021 and 2025.
“There is tremendous potential that goes deeper into every country we are in right now and penetrates more countries in the region. Yes, we have launched in eight countries, but I believe the potential is still huge, and we can get multiples upon multiples in the next four or five years.”