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Sun 25, Mar 2012

Winning medical respect for homoeopathy

“Homoeopathy many years ago was like the papad industry until Lijjat came and took it over! It was unorganised, with lots of players,” exclaims Dr Mukesh Batra.

He is the Founder and CMD of Dr Batra's Positive Health Clinic, which boasts of 87 homoeopathic clinics across cities in India and abroad.

But the going was not easy. Entering the profession at a time when it was regarded as ancient art and practised mainly by amateurs and retirees, Dr Batra had to slog it out to win medical respect for homoeopathy and establish his business.

Grit and determination

“Whenever I told people that I was a doctor, they would get mighty impressed. But the moment I said of homoeopathy, they would just walk away,” says Dr Batra.

He was 22, when he decided to go out on his own instead of joining his father, also a homoeopath. “I started out working in charitable clinic, earning Rs 150 a month. It was a huge challenge because at that time homoeopathy was not socially accepted and economic benefits were virtually nil. People would say, it was great for free and preferred going to another doctor when it came to paying,” says Dr Batra.

“We had to literally convince a lot of people to take homoeopathy medicine. And until they actually experienced its benefits, either on themselves or on their family member, it wasn't easy to break mindsets.”

For nine years, he earned about Rs 150-450 a month, wading through the waist-deep water during Mumbai monsoons, not taking a single day off, just to promote homoeopathy.

“I had to actually build the category before I could build the brand. So I did a lot of writing… I caught hold of editors and showed them what I had written. Some of them threw my writing into the bins, sometimes in front of me (laughs).”

It was his article ‘A homoeopath is not a quack' in the Mirror that got him the much-needed break. He got a call from Manoj Kumar (Bollywood actor cum director) after he read that article. Slowly, other film stars started consulting him. “When you get glamour, you get acceptance. And that's how my Bollywood practice started. Unfortunate, but true.”

And within no time, he says, it became “fashionable” to take homoeopathy.

The first clinic

He set his first clinic up in Mumbai in 1982. “When I started my first clinic no bank was willing to help me as it wasn't an accepted industry. I did not even get a loan of Rs 1.5 lakh. So I borrowed at 36 per cent interest. This was the going rate for film industry then as it was the riskiest of all businesses. It took me 10 years to repay my loans.”

“When I wrote an article for the Weekly, I got lot of fan mails but I also got lots of hate mails. The drug industry felt threatened, some wanted to cancel my licence… but then I went on to write columns in the Weekly for 10 years! And that kind of popularised homoeopathy as well.”

Over time he shifted his focus on building his brand and business.

Expanding presence

While most companies draw up expansion plans and deliberate on it for months before taking the first step, Dr Batra's expansion plans were driven “more by accident rather than by design,” he says.

“I got a call from a friend in Mauritius asking me to start a clinic there. And I thought – why not. So we set up a clinic there. Of course, it took six months of going to Mauritius, lobbying and making them appreciate and understand the subject.”

Dr Batra now has clinics in Dubai, Oman and the UK also.

“We opened a clinic in Bangalore as my son was going to pass out from medicine school and I couldn't afford a property in Mumbai.” The Ulsoor clinic was a success and he began practising 20 days in Mumbai and 10 days in Bangalore.

Over time, he was working weekdays in Mumbai and weekends in some city or the other.

Need to corporatise

But he soon realised that the outlets were functioning as collection centres. People would give their case history and wait for him to come. “I soon realised that this couldn't go on for ever and felt the need to corporatise to make sure the organisation becomes strong and outlives me.”

He trained the doctors in his team, who in turn trained other doctors. “I thought if I can train doctors, like how people say Main Bhi Anna, if my doctors could say Main Bhi Dr Batra, it would work out well.”

Though the transition wasn't easy, over time people began to realise that doctors were good. In 2000, he set up the company Dr. Batra's Positive Health and brought in professionals to handle different verticals – HR, Marketing and Finance.

Growth prospects

“We have now achieved scalability to open at least one clinic every week. We hope to make it two. From expanding into bigger cities, we are now getting into II and III tier towns.”

For a company that owns and manages all its clinics, its expansion has always been funded through internal accruals only. “If we do well, we open more clinics. If we don't do well, we slow down our expansion.”

“We are looking at 40 per cent growth in our group companies for this year. Last year was 20 per cent. Next year, we hope to grow even more.” The gross turnover of Dr Batra's Group companies in India and abroad was Rs 80 crore. It is a zero-debt company.

“We may bring in a PE and come out with an IPO later. But right now we are only firming up our growth plans for the future.”

Quiz him what's made the journey most rewarding and he says, “The fact that one can now think of homoeopathy as an established career opportunity for doctors!”