There’s a vast unmet demand for medical consultation in developing markets like Egypt due to low doctor supply. As of 2018, Egypt’s doctor to citizen ratio stood at 1:2,000; you can paint a picture when you walk into any government hospital and see long queues.
These problems and pandemic-changing habits have resulted in an uptake in doctor-booking and consultation apps across Egypt and the wider MENA region.
Esaal, one such platform that has witnessed immense growth in the last two years, is announcing a $1.7 million seed investment from A15; this brings its total funding raised from the VC firm to $3 million since its launch in 2018.
Esaal isn’t only in the business of consultations on physical health. It also addresses problems in other segments, such as mental health and nutrition.
According to reports, there’s a growing mental health crisis among MENA populations where 35% are experiencing frequent stress, 29% are suffering from depression and obesity records hit new highs among adults. For most people, these illnesses linger due to the stigma associated with going for therapy or talking about issues affecting their mental state.
“There is high demand when it comes to needing to talk to someone specialised in mental health. But most people have a fear of going physically to a centre to see a therapist or psychiatrist. It’s not common still; people would love to do it,” said Fadi Doss, Esaal founder and CEO.
Doss further narrated how he’d browse on social media platforms and see people feel comfortable sharing personal problems, sometimes behind pseudonyms, while receiving feedback from other users who weren’t specialists in the subject matter. That trend pushed him into developing a platform that captured this virtual opportunity but with therapists on the other end.
“We decided to have a platform that connects the user to the expert, where he or she can get a personalised and real answer for health concerns in a straightforward and smooth way,” he said. “And if we talk about nutrition, it’s becoming a bit trendy here in the region because obesity among adults is becoming quite high. We can see people started to care much more about their nutrition and wellness.”
Esaal has enlisted over 350 consultants on its platform. They provide consultations on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, physiotherapy, paediatrics and nutrition. Users access these services via an app (text, video/voice calls and in-person visitations) and pay with cash, credit cards, Vodafone and Fawry.
The Egyptian health tech company also employs a B2B2C model where it has partnered with over 10 medium to large companies to provide these services to their 5,000+ employees. Esaal currently charges subscription fees and on-demand consultation fees with plans to make money from in-person visitations in subsequent updates.
Like most health tech platforms, Esaal was one of the beneficiaries of the pandemic-induced lockdown that opened up opportunities in health tech. Between 2020 and 2021, its user base grew 55% and currently stands at over 1 million. The company’s revenues and ARPU also increased 250% to $4.4 million in 2021 and 130% between 2020 and 2021.
Doss said Esaal services are available in seven other countries across MENA and the GCC: Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Palestine and Iraq.
The company’s revenues show that it has run a capital-efficient business with just $3 million, an investment that came in tranches since 2019 from its sole investor, A15.
“They have been prudent in the deployment of capital to date, demonstrating outstanding efficiencies in unit economics, which has enabled their expansion ambitions,” said Karim Beshara, the firm’s managing partner on the investment. “We are proud to see their growth and enjoyed building the business with them throughout the last four years. There is so much more to come from Esaal and this sector.”
Esaal’s capital efficiency is one way it stands out from its competition, Doss claimed. He also stressed another subtle difference: While other platforms focus on doctor consultations, mental health or nutrition like Vezeeta, Meddy and Shezlong, Esaal merges the three verticals into one.
The online health and wellness consultation platform plans to use this investment to scale across MENA, invest in product and brand development and hire more talent. Esaal expects a revenue CAGR of around 50% to 60% between 2021 and 2025.
“There’s huge potential going deeper inside every country we are currently in and penetrating more countries in the region. Yes, we launched in eight countries, but I believe the potential is still enormous, and we can get multiples upon multiples in the coming four or five years.”