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Written by Manish Singh

An Indian startup that uses WhatsApp to serve thousands with chronic disease raises $5.5M seed round

Another startup in India is cashing in on the popularity of WhatsApp, the most popular app in the country with more than 400 million users, to build a business around it.

Digi-Prex is a seven-month old startup that runs an eponymous online subscription pharmacy in Hyderabad and serves patients with chronic diseases. Patients share their prescription with Digi-Prex through WhatsApp and the startup’s workers then deliver the medication to them on a recurring cycle.

Delivery is not the only thing Digi-Prex is trying to provide. It helps patients better track when they need a new supply of medicine, and checks if they are seeing improvements. The startup has amassed thousands of customers in Hyderabad, Samarth Sindhi, founder of Digi-Prex, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Digi-Prex just closed its seed round from a range of highly-influential VC firms. It’s also one of the largest seed financing rounds for an Indian startup.

The startup has raised $5.5 million from Khosla Ventures, Vedanta Capital, Y Combinator, Quiet Capital, and SV Angel. Justin Mateen, a founder of Tinder, also participated in the round, said Sindhi.

“Instead of trying to acquire customers online, we work with physicians and pharmacies to serve customers,” said Sindhi, an alum of Brown University who worked with a healthcare firm in the U.S. before returning to India. The startup shares some margin with physicians and pharmacies, but more importantly, it says this arrangement works for everyone because it is able to serve customers who are living at distant neighborhoods.

Digi-Prex works directly with medicine distributors to secure supplies at lower costs. It then undercuts the pricing of over-the-top counters, providing medicines to its customers at discounted rates.

Sindhi said the startup will use the fresh capital to expand its business to 10 cities in India, and find ways to be more useful to the patients. Some of the things that Digi-Prex is working on includes providing patients with access to better physicians and offering them more information about their disease.

It’s not surprising why Digi-Prex is using WhatsApp as a distribution platform. “When I returned to India, I was fascinated by how nobody was texting anymore. Everyone was doing everything on WhatsApp,” he said.

WhatsApp, which is already the most popular app in India, is increasingly finding business applications in the country. Vahan, another Y Combinator-backed startup, is using WhatsApp to help white-collar workers find jobs with logistics companies.

Groww, an investment app for millennials in India, raises $21.4M

Of the 1.3 billion people who live in India, more than 100 million of whom are using digital payment apps each day, only about 20 million today invest in mutual funds and stocks. An Indian startup that is betting on changing that figure by courting millennials has just received a big backing.

Groww, a Bangalore-based startup, said today it has raised $21.4 million in a Series B financing round that was led by US-based VC firm Ribbit Capital. Existing investors Sequoia India and Y Combinator also participated in the round, said the two-year-old startup that has raised about $29 million to date.

Groww allows users to invest in mutual funds, including systematic investment planning (SIP) and equity-linked savings. The app, which maintains a very simplified user interface to make it easier for its largely millennial customer base to comprehend the investment world, offers every fund that is currently available in India.

Lalit Keshre, co-founder and CEO of Groww, told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this week that the market of the mutual funds is increasingly widening in India and the startup is hoping to accelerate its growth with the fresh capital. Other than that, he plans to double Groww’s headcount to 200 in the coming months.

Groww has amassed about 2.5 million registered users, two-thirds of which are first-time investors, Keshre said. Groww is currently free to use and does not charge any commission on transactions. The startup eventually plans to offer a paid service as it looks to monetize its user base, but Keshre declined to share a timeline on how soon that would happen.

Groww will also soon begin to offer the ability to purchase stocks from its eponymous app, said Keshre, a former executive at Flipkart who co-founded Groww with three other Flipkart colleagues (Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh and Ishan Bansal).

In a statement, Micky Malka, founder of Ribbit Capital, said, “We backed the Groww team because we believe in their mission. They have built the most trusted product in this space and are on the path to create a category-defining product.”

Ribbit Capital has made a number of investments in India in recent months. Last month, it invested in Cred, a startup that is trying to improve the financial behavior of credit card holders, and BharatPe, a payments solution for businesses.

In recent years, a number of startups such as INDWealth and Cube Wealth have emerged in India to offer wealth management platforms to country’s growing internet population.

Ashish Agarwal, a principal partner at Sequoia Capital India, said, “Investment products such as mutual funds and stocks were traditionally sold offline through financial advisors, who were mis-incentivized to sell high commission products. Groww is taking a refreshing approach with a zero-commission mobile first model, enabling investors to make their own investment choices through a slick and easy user interface.”

Google chases businesses to maintain its payments lead in India

Google said today it is bringing its mobile payments app — Google Pay — to businesses in India and introducing a jobs discovery feature as the Android-maker rushes to maintain its lead in one of its key overseas markets before its global rival Facebook expands its payment offerings in the country.

At its annual event in India, the company said even as more than 400 million people in India are online today, most businesses in the nation remain unconnected. Through a Google Pay for Business standalone app, they will be able to quickly start accepting digital payments and build their digital business profile.

Additionally, Google announced Spot Platform that will allow businesses to create their own store fronts on Google Pay app itself. For instance, they can use QR-like codes to offer some offerings to customers without having to build their own apps, company executives said.

Google launched its payments app Google Pay (called Tez then) in 2017. Its payments service, built on top of Indian government-backed UPI payments infrastructure, is already among the top payment apps in the category.

But without any additional services, Google Pay would have had a tough time competing with Facebook’s WhatsApp, which is set to expand its mobile payments feature, also built on top of UPI, to all of its 400 million users in India. WhatsApp’s popularity remains unmatched in India.

The payments market in India — which is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2023, according to a Credit Suisse — is aggressively crowded and competitive. Google today competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe, Amazon Pay, and Paytm, the country’s most popular mobile wallet app whose parent company has raised over $2.3 billion from investors.

Paytm is currently focusing on expanding its reach in the nation and not profits. The company, which posted more than half a billion of loss last year, said earlier this month it intends to invest another $3 billion into its business in the next two years.

The company is also bringing a feature that will enable users to discover jobs through Google Pay apps itself.