The best time to take big risks is when you are young, and especially in college, because you gain valuable life experiences even before you graduate.
Arpit Kothari, our next pathbreaker, Director at bodyScans, runs a radiology chain providing MRI, CT Scans, Ultrasounds and X Ray services that directly helps patients through multiple diagnostic centers.
Arpit talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about founding Medd, a multi-channel (web, phone, mobile) health diagnostics marketplace during his BTech at IIT Mumbai, which was acquired by 1mg.
For students, colleges will never teach you how to run a business, but you can learn the ropes only by experimenting, failing and improvising !
Arpit, what were your growing up years like?
I was born in Maharashtra and grew up in Indore since I was 3. I had a very progressive education. I studied in a very revolutionary school where we had no uniform, no hierarchy and were encouraged to think and question everything.
Both my parents are doctors and there was always a healthy pressure to perform well academically. I went to Kota to prepare for IIT JEE in 2008. First time out of home at 14 years of age, I became increasingly home sick and stopped studying – getting 34% in 11th standard – barely enough to move on to the next class.
I moved back to Indore in the middle of class 12 and met the founder of an upstart coaching class who was from IIT Bombay. We had a 2 hour discussion on the philosophy of death. I was given a 100% scholarship and dedicated support to cope up with the course load. This was one of the defining moments in my life
My mother had started her own venture around the time I went to college. 10th April was my JEE and I joined her new venture from the next day – a pathology lab – and coordinated its inauguration on 24th of April 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed pathology – scaling up the business, making processes, and marketing etc for those 3 months before joining college
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I did my B Tech in Chemical Engineering from IIT Bombay and I am currently pursuing my LLB Hons (final semester) from DAVV Indore
I plan to pursue at least one specialization in parallel to my career till I turn 50. I believe this puts a positive pressure on me to learn new things and puts a timeline on it.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I don’t believe in being able to plan my career and we do what we do because the universe wishes it.
My mother was always in a job and growing up I never could imagine running my own business or something like that with my family. It was very late when mom started her own lab, and I was fortunate to get the chance to work on a growing business in my early career
I didn’t want to take money from home and started teaching kids in Powai in my second year. This turned into a coaching center in Thane by my third year and I had 5 employees and 50+ students by my fourth year. After repeating the same course for the third time, I realized teaching is good fun but can’t be my career option
I had on the side, started reinvesting money from my coaching business, and started a SaaS company in 2013. We launched a SaaS LIMS (Lab Information Management Software) which later pivoted to a marketplace for diagnostics for which we had raised money. This was also the time my school friend, Era Dwivedi, joined us as a co-founder along with two of my college friends.
We were trying to use data back in 2014 when no LIMS was doing it. We also launched a marketplace in 2015 and pivoted to Private Label for better margins and Quality Control
Out of money and when the co-founders started leaving in a year – we pivoted to private label and SaaS in diagnostics which made us a valuable addition to existing players. 1mg eventually acquired us in 2016 along with the team and investors got their money back
Not used to just 40 hour work weeks, I started flying every weekend back to Indore to grow my mother’s lab. In an year I knew this is what I wanted to work on for the foreseeable future.
I joined Central Lab full time and grew its revenue 3X and profits 13X from 2016 to 2019 when we partially exited the pathology business to Dr Lal Pathlabs. I have started a chain of radiology centers on the side with my wife, Era Dwivedi, which I currently run along with helping her in AI consultancy for radiology product companies and OEMs.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
After my second exit (Central Lab to Dr Lal Pathlab) – I was exhausted and wanted to do something which had a real impact on human life. In May of 2020 during the first lockdown – I planned to switch to UPSC preparations. However, as luck would have it, the workload because of COVID became unsustainable to manage along with the UPSC preparations. Since my primary duty in such times was to provide services to the people of Madhya Pradesh in our times of need and I was approaching the age limit for UPSC, I dropped the idea and pivoted to pursuing law and using jurisprudence to create positive change in the society
I hope to start my PIL practice soon and hopefully clean up some parts of the system.
How did you get your first break?
I don’t think there was a ‘break’ per se but getting into a coaching class which cared after almost failing class 11th was a major turning point in my life along with being born to a family which was educated and who encouraged thinking.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Working in healthcare and specially through COVID – seeing so many deaths and such helplessness, I firmly believe if you are alive, more or less healthy and have food to eat and a place to live in, and a family to love – there are no challenges worth thinking about. I am grateful to the universe for what I have, and though there are ambitions and work goals – they don’t matter enough to take up my mindspace even if I fail / temporarily fail
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
I run a chain of radiology centers, bodyScans – MRI, CT Scans, Ultrasounds and X Rays. My role is generalist in nature and I do whatever is required. Understanding numbers helps with finance, marketing and operations. Understanding law helps with the regulations and general hassles of running a business in India. Having empathy helps in HR and knowing what I don’t know + the will to learn those things – helps in everything
We work directly for the people, bypassing the physician – lab nexus and thus are able to provide our services efficiently, of better quality (because we are independent) and at 50% less than the prevalent market rates
How does your work benefit society?
Working in healthcare is always enriching because of the way you impact society. This was made amply clear during COVID when we could save 100s of lives each month by proper diagnosis, or helping in arranging beds etc. What we also do at bodyScans is that we don’t give any referral or commission to the physicians (doctors),thereby reducing the prices for the patients by 50% which helps people to afford the tests they need.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Scaling up Central Lab to 500,000 patients annually and the work put in to get there is more memorable and satisfying than anything else I can recall
Your advice to students based on your experience?
When I was in college I thought of life in lots of 1 year. My next job after college was all that mattered. Over time, I have realized – life happens. Things change, motivations change with time. It is better to take decadal views instead of just having annual targets
Also, we are all here because of our privilege – be it family background, or opportunity to study, or having a better IQ / health by virtue of birth / genetics. Acknowledging this privilege and how fragile everything is – helps keep perspective in times good and bad
No idea. For now I am focused on expanding my two businesses and starting my law practice and cautiously optimistic and open to opportunities life may provide in the future
bodyScans – Chain of Radiology Centers
Dedomena Healthcare – Radiology AI consultancy which is run primarily by Era
Yes, I am exploring getting into manufacturing sometime in the future and always exploring opportunities there.