Bringing science-based health & technology together
Otri is a Russian-British comprehensive health app project, initiated by British company Biolink.tech LTD and founded by two entrepreneurs, Ivan Degtyar and Evgeny Chereshnev. Ivan, as the CEO, oversees the project, while Evgeny deals with the partners and investment side.
Ivan and Evgeny sought to conquer the global problem of malnutrition by bringing technology and science-based medicine together in a convenient tool for truly personalized nutraceuticals. They wanted to help people improve their quality of life through health tracking, telemedicine, good habits, healthy lifestyle changes, and nutrition. Their Otri app can:
- Use regular blood tests and careful activity tracking to monitor key health indicators and make recommendations to correct deviations before they become problems.
- Provide personalized nutritional advice that is optimized for each individual’s body, based on test results and cutting-edge scientific knowledge.
- Recognize goods using ML and give advanced product data that is not available on the packaging.
- Allow users to order tests through the application and set up at home or in-office nurse visits.
At the end of 2018, the two founders came up with the idea of Otri and began work on a demo version of the application. In 2019, they took their demo version and landing page and approached funds, accelerators, and investors with their idea, hoping to secure resources to implement it. Initially, they focused on the American and British markets, looking for partners in Europe and the United States. But they were unexpectedly offered a deal from a large Russian chain of supermarkets, raising £337k from Azbuka Vkusa for the development of a project.
Choosing a fast, flexible team to bring the product to market
After Ivan and Evgeny secured a deal with a Russian chain of supermarkets, the next step was to develop a pilot in Russia. But, first they had to determine who would be responsible for the technical development. Their first option was to quickly assemble their own team. However, it is a massive undertaking to hire a team for a digital health startup, with a high risk of failure. The short time frame did not allow them enough time to properly search for qualified candidates and ensure that their team would be effective and work well together. Their second option was to write the technical specification and outsource the development. This option was not suitable either, since, as a startup, Otri would likely undergo many changes during development and required flexibility to ensure a quality final product.
They determined that the best solution would be to bring on an outside team to collaborate with their existing internal team. They already had an in-house team with medical and scientific expertise, including a biochemist and a nutritionist. So, they started looking for an outsourced team that could take over both the design and development, rather than just completing tasks according to the technical specification. They wanted to hire a team that would be involved in the work and invested in the fate of the project. The team would work alongside their in-house team, participating in all the calls, planning meetings, and carrying out demonstrations.
This type of collaboration is the most convenient approach when building an eHealthcare business model because it allows you to actually recruit a specific team and choose the developers & designers you want to work with. Additionally, it permits very short iterations and allows you to get rid of unnecessary procedures and transfer tasks between managers and contractors. So the client chose Evrone to assist in the development of Otri, since we have extensive experience using this model of collaboration and expertise in developing eHealth apps.
Combining a great mission with strong technological expertise
Otri provides a “comfortable, healthy life by subscription.” Their philosophy focuses on building a project and business around the relationship with users and their health, not around individual functions. We were inspired by the client’s vision of solving a universal human problem that causes millions of deaths and trillions of dollars in losses every year, and we wanted to be a part of the solution.
They already had an in-house CTO and a team of mobile developers, and Evrone was brought on board as a remote team for the ehealth startup, to help with building the backend for the mobile health app, as well as the business logic and architecture. We also had to develop a brand/identity and create interfaces, mobile application screens, and a landing page.
The architecture of a healthcare application
The service is an application (in the future there will be a web version) that offers a personal account with a health profile, food recognition by its appearance, a nutritional recommendation system, online consultations with nutritionists, and a blood testing function through partner labs or by ordering blood sampling at home or in the office. So the project is a service for improving health.
It works as follows: a person, who wants to improve health, registers, takes tests. The app helps to determine what their health is, and based on these data recommends what they can and cannot eat. To realize the functionality of the app, we implemented tables, APIs and product recommendation algorithms provided by the client. Recommendations were based on the results of analyzes. Each health end-point (for example, vitamin D, glucose, insulin) was analyzed for compliance with the standards given by the customer, and received a tag ("normal", "overestimated", etc.). Using these tags, the recommended products, articles were attached to the doctor's recommendation, which looked like a table with medical info.
What we did:
- Integrated payment systems such as CloudPayments
- Implemented the orders, monthly subscriptions
- Implemented the conversion of different types of currencies, based on data from openexchangerates.org
- Integrated the email sending service
- Integrated the medical laboratory, which provides medical analyzes services
- Integrated the service for sending live messages
- Implemented the main application evaluation algorithm, which determined whether a particular product is suitable for the user using its nutraceutical properties
- Integrated Slack for sending reports
The in-house CTO of Otri determined how to implement the architecture. We used Python Django for the backend development, as it guarantees the high development speed. Apart from that, we applied machine learning, and some elements of artificial intelligence. The use of artificial intelligence in eHealth is growing fast, and a major trend is using AI technologies in medical diagnosis. On the DevOps side, we used Docker for containerization, Ansible to automate software configuration and deployment, PostgreSQL as a database, and Redis as a storage of data on currencies. CircleCI is used to run tests remotely.
Product recognition with machine learning
Product recognition is a challenging area that offers great promise. However, it is a tough task because the same product can be photographed from different angles, in different lighting, with varying levels of occlusion, etc. Also, different fine-grained product labels may prove difficult to distinguish visually. Fortunately, properly tuned neural networks can effectively resolve these problems.
We worked on machine learning for Otri for almost two months, teaching the app to recognize products. Together, with the client's team lead, we managed to speed up the training time of TensorFlow models by 10 times, quite a large number for training machine learning models. Recognition became very fast, and our plan is to improve it even more.
Using brand identity to become a market leader
The client’s goal was to create a brand and project identity that aligned with their mission to become a market leader and an vital, convenient everyday tool for the 2.5 million residents of Russian megalopolises. Since they were building a mobile product, it was crucial that we develop a flawless design & UI for the healthcare app, with a focus on product metrics, user scenarios, and building the most effective communications with users. We started with prototypes/UX/UI and cool architectural interface solutions, and we covered it with a beautiful visual wrap.
The art direction was fully managed by Evrone’s art director, including branding, design management, and product design. We helped Otri develop an identity that introduces a perfectly conceived set of images with a beautiful range of colors, without feeling cliché, cloying, or cheesy. These integrate seamlessly with the brand colors, the logo, and the icon on its own.
Overcoming the challenges faced by eHealth startups
The vast majority of digital health startups fail, and Otri’s founders were determined that it would not become one of them. By relying on the combined efforts of their own health experts and the technology expertise of Evrone, they avoided the following deadly pitfalls that commonly kill eHealth startups before they ever get off the ground.
Relying on outdated technology. The medical industry is currently in the process of transitioning away from legacy tech and modernizing their tools and solutions. However, many healthcare startups are founded by industry veterans who default to using the technology that they have always used and are familiar with. Not only does this make their products less viable in the long run, it also limits their potential and market appeal. Since Evrone strives to stay on top of the latest tech solutions, we were able to use the right technologies to build a healthcare app and ensure that Otri was innovative, scalable, and future-proof.
Lengthy time to market. Many healthcare startups fail to realize how much time and effort will go into development. Too often, they spend valuable time and money assembling the development team for a digital health startup, then run out of funds before they can finish their project and get their product on the market. When the better option is to build an ehealthcare startup with an outsourced team. By partnering with Evrone, Otri significantly sped up their development and shortened their time to market.
Failure to stand out. MedTech is growing exponentially, and that means your product or solution has to set itself apart from the competition. You can’t just be another app for nutrition tracking or a vital signs monitoring app. Otri’s founders already had a vision for a healthcare app that was unlike any other, incorporating product recognition, personalized nutrition advice, and blood test scheduling and results monitoring to provide key information and truly customized recommendations. Evrone utilized AI/ML to help make their innovative ideas a reality, and we also developed a sleek, intuitive design that would catch and keep users’ attention.
Expanding the borders
Otri is currently doing a pilot project until the spring of 2021 to see how well the product performs on the Russian market. The demo version was released on March 2, and the beta version was released on April 20, 2020. At the end of April, we released the application to the App Store, and it became public. Now there are 6000 application users who are ordering analyses through the application and enjoy its full functionality. Traffic continues to steadily grow and the business is escalating rapidly. In fact, they are already paving the way for introduction into the American and European (British, German, and French) markets. The second step, after Russia, is the United States. The product may change a bit, as each market has its own specifics, with a local version of the application and a localized set of functions. Otri plans to continue working with Evrone as the project expands and reaches markets around the world.