There's an ongoing conversation on the importance of content to engage consumers as a part of commerce, and we're seeing companies such as FreshMenu now building up content. Interestingly, health and lifestyle company Sepalika is working in the opposite direction, having started off with its content offerings, before beginning work on the service side of things. Sepalika plans to unveil its online healthcare consultation service shortly, over a year after launching as a blog.
The first question on our mind then was whether Sepalika was a content company getting into commerce, or a service provider that happened to focus a lot on content. The answer, according to co-founder Sharda Agarwal, is the latter. "We always had this plan in mind, to start with content and then kick off phase two, the online consulting service, but we knew we have to get people to engage with the brand first," explains Agarwal.
Sepalika is an alternative health brand, that wants to help people make lifestyle changes that can aid in a course of treatment. While some of us on the Gadgets 360 team are skeptical of "alternative" treatment, Agarwal, and fellow co-founder Mahesh Jayaraman both were quick to reassure us that Sepalika isn't against "allopathy", that is to say, medical interventions. Rather, it sees what it offers as complementing medical treatment, and Jayaraman adds that the site works with accredited doctors, many of whom also agree that such treatments can be beneficial when used alongside medication.
"Lifestyle diseases can be reduced, even if not reversed," says Agarwal, "and our philosophy is that a lifestyle disease is caused by a lifestyle imbalance, so by fixing that imbalance, you can fix the disease."
"For example, diabetes, you get medication to keep the blood sugar under control, and you're told to go easy on the dessert', but you are popping a pill every day," she adds. "But if you follow a disciplined lifestyle, you can improve your overall condition and reduce the medication that is required."
Building a business around healthcare, however, requires an engaged user base and Agarwal says it was clear from the start that this was going to be a challenge. To get around this, she says that the blog and newsletter were a necessary first step.
"Stage one was to put out content around 15 lifestyle diseases on our website, telling you what each one is, and what to do about it," explains Agarwal. "And each of these things, remember, is different for every person. You and I could follow the same diet, and yet you could get diabetes, while I don't. So what is the cause of that? That's something most people don't know, and so we talk about the 'why' of diseases, as well as what you can do."
A lot of the content focuses on diet, exercise, and education about medication, and Sepalika has garnered about 100,000 monthly users right now, mostly from the US, with another 20 percent coming from India, and the remaining 20 percent coming from other English-speaking countries.
"We've built up this audience, and now we're getting to the second stage, which is online consultation for disease reversal, and the first disease we're going to address is PCOD," says Agarwal.
PCOD is a hormonal disorder that affects many women, and Sepalika has a lot of content related to the condition on its website right now. The idea is that people will come to the site looking for information on PCOD, and once they do, they'll leave with a subscription program to help them deal with the condition.
"They sign up for a three month program, and we will share the clinical and lab symptoms on which we can provide an intervention," explains Agarwal. The interventions that Sepalika's panel of experts will provide include "accupressure, dietary supplements, diet, and exercise." While the site's traffic if largely American, the consultation pilot will be run in India, where it's going to be rolled out as an app, though Jayaraman the inputs will also be accessible via emails, and WhatsApp. For India, there will also be phone support, because there's an expectation of this in the country, he adds, saying that when it comes to the US, it will be more of a DIY approach.
The pricing for the online consultations subscription hasn't been finalised yet, but Agarwal says that it won't be more than you would pay for a particular course of treatment offline either; adding that it's going to be competitive.
Conceptually, Sepalika reminds us a little of Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop brand - a lifestyle brand with wellness advice from doctors, and a curated shop of products you can buy. A key difference is that Sepalika doesn't have the backing of a prominent celebrity, and perhaps that's also why Agarwal stresses that all the advice on the site is backed by published research, and the consultant panel includes medical doctors.
"We don't do home remedies," adds Jayaraman, "even if you are being given something like a particular food because of its benefits, we will cite the studies that back up the claim, and instead of just saying add some haldi, we will give you information about the dosage, and how to prepare it to get the proper effectiveness. All our articles will mention a specific dose, and this is something that we are absolutely adamant about."
The counsellors who will be going live soon will also be licensed medical doctors. "There will be two allopaths on the panel as well, so if people are already on medication, these doctors can advise them," adds Agarwal.