Ramakant and Jo, Founders, Touchkin
Jo (Jyotsana) Aggarwal and Ramakant Vempati are the founders of Touchkin. Established in 2015, Touchkin is an angel funded predictive care start-up which aims to use technology to create universal awareness and access to behavioral health support. Combining their several years of experience, they have launched an emotionally intelligent AI bot 'Wysa' that is already gaining traction. Using Wysa they can track and manage moods and learn evidence based techniques like CBT and mindfulness, backed by research from Harvard and Stanford to manage stress and build mental resilience. Ramakant and Jo started their careers in the Tata group’s leadership cadre (TAS), Jo holds a bachelor’s degree in technology from the IIT, Delhi and an MBA from the IIM, Lucknow while Ramakant holds an MBA from the London Business School and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the IIT Kanpur. In conversation with Dominic Rebello, Ramakant and Jo talk about Wysa, an AI- enabled virtual coach that can proactively identify and help address behavioural issues.
What is Wysa?
Wysa is an AI-enabled coach and chat platform that provides mental and behavioural health support. It has a community version, and a premium version offered as an enterprise solution. It provides self-help emotional support via an AI chatbot using evidence-based techniques like CBT, mindfulness and person-centred therapy. The enterprise solution also includes links to real coaches, and passive sensing using smartphone sensors (which has helped us detect depression upto a 90% accuracy in trials).
How does it help in addressing behavioural issues?
Wysa is AI with compassion, using evidence based techniques to support issues like fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and depression. We work with neuroscientists, psychiatrists and social work experts from Harvard, Cambridge and Columbia to continuously develop this and improve outcomes.
A typical conversation with Wysa will ask you how your day is going, and help you reflect on any issues you may have. It may use cognitive restructuring to reframe a negative thought that is creating anger or anxiety, into a more helpful thought. Using Wysa regularly helps people understand and accept their feelings, and learn ways to manage them in a compassionate conversation that feels like talking to a wise friend or therapist.
Your vision for the company?
Our vision is to create a public good (Wysa) for under-served and at-risk communities in need, with scientific research backing, so that communities localize and use it for their own needs. We imagine a world where PTSD sufferers in Somalia or School kids in Bihar could have their own version of Wysa, localized by their community. Think Wikipedia, and how it combines content from curated sources with community volunteers who make that knowledge accessible in their language.
Mental health has huge barriers, and we are working towards creating a free-to-use resource that is clinically validated and available for communities to spread in their own environments. This is called xWysa and as a first step, we have partnered with Columbia University’s Safe Lab is working with us to create a version of Wysa that is being localized to talk and understand ‘street slang’ so it can be used by gang involved youth in Brooklyn, Harlem and Chicago.
Where do you stand now?
Wysa has grown purely via word of mouth, and is at ~90,000 users, 3.5 million conversations, and 1500 reviews on Google play, with a 4.4+/5 rating. More than half of Wysa's users are from the US, India is the second largest group followed by UK. Our users come from over 30 countries. Over 90% of users say they find it useful, and 40 users have also volunteered to translate it into 8 languages. 70% of our users are under 35 years old, and 65-70% are women.
We're seeing early outcomes through pilot trials re: reduction in anxiety symptoms, and improvement in medical adherence and patient engagement at India's largest healthcare group. The enterprise solution is also being supported by a partnership with Swiss Reinsurance, and incubation support from Facebook's FBStart.
Where do you see it going in 5 years?
In 5 years – Wysa would be a clinically validated tool that communities could adopt, localize if needed, link to further support in their own area/language and share over social media with others like them, to provide the first level of engagement on mental health and help build mental resilience skills.
Commercially, Wysa will be used by international insurers employers and healthcare providers to reduce healthcare and lost work costs by getting them proactive, early access to mental health support, with 10X the engagement and efficiency available now.