Mohit Kumar walks the talk. Or, to be more precise, he wears it. The co-founder and CEO of Ultrahuman Healthcare Pvt. Ltd sports the recently launched Ultrahuman ring; when he spots me eyeing it, he slides it off his finger and offers it to me. For a wearable that Ultrahuman makes big claims about—promising that it can measure movement, sleep, energy dynamics, and offer recuperating recommendations, all in real-time—it is surprisingly innocuous-looking: a feather-light titanium body with tiny sensors embedded in its shank.
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“You have more arterial density in your finger compared to your wrist,” says Kumar, 33, when I ask what really differentiates it from the plethora of wearables available in the market. “Your fingers are a super-interesting area from a signal-capturing perspective; we have an advantage from a placement of sensors,” he notes, adding that these have been sourced from medical-grade manufacturers. “You can get the best sensor in the world, but if it is not put in the right place, you will not be able to capture the right signal,” he adds.
Unlike a regular smartwatch, focused mainly on activity, the Ultrahuman ring—which costs ₹22,499 and comes in four colors—also looks at what Kumar calls the passive aspects of health: sleep, recovery, and how you interact with stress. “If you make micro changes in those habits, you can compound it towards the right direction. And yes, it is minimal on the body, very stylish, and does not compete with your watch, Kumar believes. “You can wear your Rolex now, finally,” laughs the Bengaluru-based CEO, whom I am meeting at his HSR Layout office.
Data is clearly important for the self-proclaimed biohacker, who firmly believes that tracking statistics on one’s health will translate into better choices, behaviors and habits. Ultrahuman, which aims to be part of India’s wearables growth story, today offers two products: the ring, launched in July, and the Ultrahuman M1, a continuous metabolic fitness tracker (CGM), which came out in June 2021.
The tracker, which consists of an Abbott-manufactured semi-invasive sensor mounted on your arm with a filament, replaced every two weeks, gives you real-time feedback on glucose levels via an app. Think of it as a personal trainer, nutritionist and sleep coach that fits in your pocket and constantly nudges you to do better. The subscription fee to access the platform and personalised, real-time information ranges from ₹5,499 for two weeks to ₹1,24,999 for a year and covers the cost of the sensors and the software.
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But why just glucose? Doesn’t reducing metabolism to a single biomarker ignore the complexity of the life-sustaining chemical reactions that the term encompasses? “Glucose was very interesting to us because it was a real-time biomarker,” says Kumar, adding that being aware of glucose levels helps users understand the impact of a particular food choice on their bodies. He adds that frequent rises in glucose can lead to a metabolic disorder, which may be diabetes, an increase in visceral fat, fatty liver disorder, or even polycystic ovary syndrome.
“People say that abs are made in the kitchen; disease and disorder are also made in the kitchen,” says Kumar, pointing out that when people get immediate feedback on their food choices, they are more likely to modify behaviors to prevent glucose spikes and crashes. “Glucose can be trained as a muscle,” he says.
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Certainly, they seem to have believers. The three-year-old firm has raised around $25 million (around ₹207 crore) so far from a clutch of investors, pumping a lot of it into R&D. And going by the content on their website and social media, there appear to be a fair number of people—the Ultrahuman Cyborg army, as they are called—who claim that the device has transformed the way they live and fuel themselves. Ultrahuman has even partnered with elite athletes, fitness coaches and influencers, including Shreyas Iyer, Prannoy HS, Robin Singh, Naveen John, Akhil Rabindra and Swetha Devraj, in a performance case study programme. These athletes use the sensors and track performance progress over a specific duration, often reporting it on social media. In a 13 October video, posted on Ultrahuman’s Instagram account, we see Iyer training with a patch attached to his arm, while a 29 July video, also posted on Instagram, shows fitness influencer Amrapali Patil claiming that the Ultrahuman M1 has been a great motivating factor, helping her time meals better and become more accountable.
Though he is reticent about revenue figures, Kumar says they have 20,000 subscribers for the patches and have sold 4,000 rings. Around 160,000 people are on the wait list for the Ultrahuman M1. Till very recently, you had to get on a wait list to purchase the glucose monitor. “It took almost one and a half years to get out of the private beta and start selling publicly,” says Kumar, adding that right now, the waitlist concept holds true for the ring. This April, in fact, the company acquired the consumer-focused wearables company Lazy Co. for an undisclosed sum, clearly with an eye on expanding Ultrahuman’s wearables segments. According to a 20 October report in Newswire, the fitness tracker market is growing exponentially; it is anticipated to reach $62.128 million by 2023, with India expected to grow at a CAGR, or compound annual growth rate, of 15.5%, in terms of value. And Ultrahuman, going by the buzz it has generated, looks like it is more than likely to be part of the growth story.
As someone intensely skeptical about any health intervention that claims to be a one-stop solution for overall well-being, I am not convinced. Whether you are tracking it or not, the basics of physical fitness and optimum metabolic health don’t change much: eat whole foods, get enough activity, including some form of resistance training, sleep enough, and manage stress. Why does one need more technology to instil behaviors that should be instinctive, common-sensical almost? Pat comes the reply. “Because everyone is unique and not built the same,” says Kumar. “Wearables are for the people who are really ahead of the curve in taking care of their health.”
He draws a parallel between wearable fitness devices and personal computers, pointing out that when personal computers were first invented, they weren’t seen as a device for everyone. “Because of the value proposition, everyone wants to take care of their own health and want data on their own health,” he believes. “We believe they (wearables) will be as ubiquitous as a personal computer one day.”
Finding the connection between fitness and computer science must come easy to both founders; they are passionate about both. Kumar is a professional cyclist and Brazilian Jujutsu enthusiast, while his co-founder, Vatsal Singhal, is a Crossfitter and, like Kumar, an avid biohacker. Both founders hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering from People’s Education Society University, Bengaluru, having graduated in 2010. After graduation, Singhal went on to work at the technology consultancy Thoughtworks, while Kumar joined the holiday information portal HolidayIQ, and, later, Ola Cabs .
In 2015, they decided to come together and create the logistics startup Runnr, which Zomato acquired in 2017. “We knew nothing about business building; this was the first time we built something,” says Kumar, adding that they both joined Zomato in leadership roles, with Singhal going on to head Zomato’s product and engineering for listing business and Kumar becoming chief operating officer, food delivery. “We went from $10 million in revenue run rate to $300 million.”
In 2019, they left Zomato, going back to the drawing board to figure out what they wanted to do next. “I wanted to do something that I could do for 100 years,” he says. Getting into the fitness and health space seemed an inevitable segue for the friends; it was something both of them were obsessed with. “We always talked about fitness and health when we were together,” says Kumar with a laugh. Kumar’s own experience training at the Tiger Muay Thai camp, a mixed martial arts and Muay Thai training facility in Phuket, Thailand, where he observed athletes training through the use of data, recovery tools and protocols, had already got him thinking about how data could be used to make people fitter.
Ultrahuman, founded in 2019 as a regular fitness platform offering information about workouts, nutrition and sleep, has grown from a team of 15 to 85, says Kumar. Currently headquartered in Bengaluru, with an office in Abu Dhabi, its investors include Nexus Venture Partners, Blume Ventures, Alpha Wave Incubation, Steadview Capital and Utsav Somani’s iSeed fund, along with a range of marquee founders and angel investors, including Tiger Global’s Scott Shleifer .
R&D clearly takes up a big chunk of the funds raised. While the M1 uses an Abbott sensor, the ring uses optical and motion sensors that have been developed in-house. Moreover, all Ultrahuman products have been developed after consulting a global team of experts, including doctors, sports scientists, lifestyle coaches and academicians, including sports medicine specialist Howard Luks and cardiac surgeon Philip Ovadia, founder of Ovadia Heart Health.
Kumar refers to the focus on small, incremental, self-driven changes as approaching health “in a lowest-hanging fruit fashion”. For instance, if you can’t lift weights, you can work on your mobility; if not mobility, you can focus on walking more; if you can’t walk, you can focus on your sleep or breathing. “Because there are multiple ways to improve health, you can start anywhere,” he says, adding that Ultrahuman believes in the power of compounding to build better health outcomes. “We underestimate long-term and overestimate short-term results; if you do the reverse, most people would be fit.”