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Leaders should be craftspeople to build high-performing teams: Grow Fit Founder, CEO Jyotsna Pattabiraman

Building a healthy startup that has its focus, rightly so, on unit economics is Grow Fit. Its chief throws light on the venture's culture and her personal work ethics.

Over the last eight months, YourStory has been providing a platform for our readers to interact with who's who of the Indian startup ecosystem. Entrepreneurs like Radhika Aggarwal of ShopClues, Girish Mathrubootham of Freshworks, and Shashank ND of Practo, as well as investors like Ronnie Screwvala of Upgrad, Bharati Jacob of SeedFund, and Sahil Kini of Aspada were among them. Joining the list was Jyotsna Pattabiraman, Founder and CEO of healthtech and wellness company Grow Fit.

The Bengaluru-based entrepreneur is a Stanford University graduate, an advisor at Stanford Ignite and has founded the Southern Chapter of Stanford OVAL.

Jyotsna founded Grow F it in 2015, and has raised $4.5 million so far from investors, including Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, and Ranjan Pai, Chairman of Manipal Education & Medical Group.

Grow Fit uses a combination of data science, medical science and behavioural insights to help its users achieve peak wellness.

'Curious and relentless' - that's how Jyotsna describes herself. But entrepreneurship was not her dream. "It took me awhile to take the plunge. As an introvert, it was hard for me to learn to pitch. But practice makes perfect," she recollects. Jyotsna has played leadership roles in Oracle, eBay and Yahoo in Silicon Valley earlier.

As an entrepreneur, Jyotsna does not believe in work-life balance, just work-life integration. "I love what I do, so it's pleasant for me. I'm a Grow Fit customer myself so it's fully integrated into my life," she says.

According to her, leaders should be craftspeople - masters of a skill that they can teach. At Grow Fit, she has built that culture. She elaborates, "All our leaders like to get their hands dirty. This makes them great mentors and helps us build high-performing teams."

She adds that as an IP-based company with a new approach, finding and training the right people is key. "Setting the company's culture is critical. Taking feedback and renewing ourselves daily is a continual challenge," she says.

Making the millennial generation eat healthy is no easy task; junk food is people's drug of choice. Jyotsna believes that part of the failure is on the society, as we allow food companies to make egregious claims in their advertising. But she adds that they do find that a lot of people are interested in eating healthy.

"They're just worried about the taste, price and whether it will work for them. We work hard on meeting them halfway. We don't sell anything unless it's proven to work. Once we've tackled that, we work on the taste, so they don't have to give up the foods they like. For example, we offer keto pizza, high-protein pizza, sugarless brownies and more," she says. Grow Fit works with restaurants and home chefs too to help them tap into the health market.

However, the biggest challenge is to stay outcome-focussed and in hiring great people , as they have done so far. Money matters were never her headache, though. Jyotsna explains, "For us the challenge was not about spending money but about getting the unit economics right, as well as building predictability and reliability into our product and services. We've invested our time and money in this, which makes it easier for us to grow."

Grow Fit uses medical technology, data science and machine learning to gain insights and capabilities, which are unachievable otherwise.

Jyotsna explains, "We look at behavioural data as well as empirical data to determine whether our plans and diets can work for someone, and correct accordingly. As we can measure the outcome within days, this approach works for us."

As a data-driven company, Grow Fit experiments quite a bit, and learns something new every day. "For example, we expected our customers to be around 35+; instead we find that they are in the 25-35 range," Jyostna adds.

Grow Fit sees themselves as custodians of their customers' health. "We take great effort to ensure that they are served the best - whether it is in our products, that are rigorously tested, or in our services, where we try to be invisible but reliable," says Jyotsna.

However, the Indian healthcare sector approaches wellness with medicine instead of promoting health lifestyles. This poses various challenges for a startup like Grow Fit. Jyotsna opines, "Healthcare evolved in a transactional mode, where you went to the hospital with injuries or infections. The mode of health needs to change to preventive or maintenance. The health sector needs to evolve accordingly."

Jyotsna strongly believes that India has a very favourable ecosystem for startups in the healthcare and wellness sector. In Silicon Valley, this is an area where lots of great investors and experienced entrepreneurs are actively involved, she says.

She adds, "India is ground zero for health - for such a young population, we have witnessed a 4x growth in the incidence of diabetes. The potential available market is huge. It's just not an area with an existing playbook, so that makes it a lot more challenging."

She points out that research in general is woefully underfunded, partly because educational institutions cannot license their learnings/IP to startups. "Many leading institutions in the US have endowments that they invest in startups and that could be a critical success factor here," she says.

Calling all woman-founded startups in Bengaluru! Facebook and YourStory are organising a meet up focused on helping women entrepreneurs scale their startups with mentorship and marketing tools from Facebook's SheLeadsTech programme. for the meetup on Thursday, 9 November 2017 - limited seats available.

Nothing makes Athira happier than writing stories and being appreciated for it. An ardent lover of coffee, books, and pen, she believes that intellect is sexy and kindness is sexier. Athira can be reached at athira.nair@yourstory.com. She tweets as @aiharla

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