[Interview] How Thryve is creating an impact on Healthcare, One Stomach at a Time

“Machine learning is changing everything — except maybe healthcare,” said MIT professor, John Guttag at the Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum on Oct. 24, 2016.

While Artificial Intelligence or machine learning is already transforming many industries, healthcare providers have done much less with these technologies. I have written up to a hundred stories covering these technologies and the impact I’ve observed so far is enough to prove the hypothesis that machine learning can truly provide convenience to human lives. How? This story will answer that.

Machine learning in healthcare has started changing a lot of things and the revolution we’ve promised through this technology is here. During my recent trip to S.F Bay Area, I’ve had a chance to meet an entrepreneur who is already challenging the statement of Prof. John Guttag.

Richard Lin is an entrepreneur in the Bay Area who is working on a healthcare startup, Thryve. It provides a gut testing kit paired with personalized probiotics to provide knowledge about the microbes inside a human body. His venture aims to improve the health of people by utilizing machine learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP) on 35
00+ microbiome studies to provide tips, recommendations, and actions for improvement. What Richard plans to do ahead is in the following interview. Have a read!

Hira: What does Thryve do? How would you explain the idea behind it?

Richard: Thryve helps people learn about the microbes inside their body in order to improve health. We offer a gut wellness test kit and based on the results deliver high-quality pro/prebiotics to their door. Results are sent to customers with information on the various health impacts of the bacteria levels found in their stomach and diet and lifestyle recommendations. Each report also features an overall “Gut Wellness Score” which allows subscribers to track their progress over time.


Hira: What made you choose probiotics for the well-being of humans?

Richard: Using antibiotics allows us to effectively control microbial infections by killing them. However, we have actually been co-evolving with microbes and with recent advancements in biology and DNA sequencing new discoveries are made about their essential role on our health. Probiotics have been known to be beneficial for our health, but we believe what we know is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is so much more potential for them to help people. Although the science is still in its infancy we’ve seen probiotics exert positive effects on mood, muscle growth, inflammation, lincreasing pain thresholds, prenatal growth, and many others.

Hira: Do you only test for microbiome or do you provide nutritional recommendations too?

Richard: Currently, we test the bacterial microbiome in the human body. We also provide dietary and lifestyle recommendations via our reports.

Hira: Coming to the main point, how are you incorporating Machine Learning into it?

Richard: We use machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing to summarize contextual information from 3500+ microbiome studies and our customer’s profile data. We then use our dashboards and chatbots to deliver relevant and personalized wellness recommendations to our customers in a user-friendly way. Think of it as your very own personal robot scientist and nutritionist working in conjunction to improve your wellness.

Hira: How far has Machine Learning advanced over recent years and what impact it had on healthcare industry?

Richard: We’ve seen some huge leaps in machine learning across consumer Internet companies. For example, Google photos with deep learning to auto-tag and categorize your photos and Facebook’s computer vision for facial recognition. However, we’ve yet to see a huge leap forward with the healthcare industry. Intrinsically, healthcare is a very difficult problem to tackle considering the stakes are much higher. For instance, tagging a photo incorrectly at scale isn’t quite that large of a problem. However, if errors happen with prediction models for healthcare, serious issues arise and the repercussions can be detrimental to a person’s well-being.

Hira: What other technologies are you planning to incorporate in the near future?

Richard: Chatbot interface, Bioinformatics, Machine Learning.

Hira: Many companies are incorporating Chatbots into the healthcare system. Are you planning the same?

Richard: Absolutely. Starting from last year (Q4’15) chat has surpassed social networks in terms of engagement with users. Thus, we are seeing a huge trend in how users interact with applications and the internet. Chatbots will be a key component in how Thryve will extract meaningful customer insights in an intuitive and natural way about diseases, symptoms, supplements, diet, sleep, etc. We can remove the barrier of cumbersome questionnaires and surveys and build an interactive way for users to provide their data to help advance science.

Hira: How are you planning to incorporate big data into the business?

Richard: We are in the business of making sense of microbial genomics. Intrinsically, removing the noise and making sense of these bacterial genes requires large amounts of data flowing through our proprietary bioinformatics pipeline and our algorithms match and summarize research studies to provide relevant information to our customers.  

Hira: What feedback have you received so far on Thryve?

Richard: We were able to build up initial traction with customers in closed Facebook groups dealing with chronic illnesses. The reception has been tremendous and our early adopters are super excited about our product. That said, those who are already healthy have not been as keen to understand the importance of how the microbiome affects their wellness (better sleep, clearer skin, less fatigue, improved mood) and I believe there is an educational process needed to help everyone understand the relevancy.

Hira: Is Google DeepMind your competitor?

Richard: No, I see them as our partners.

Hira:  How are you planning to position Thryve in the coming years?

Richard: Thryve’s mission has always been to solve disease associated with the microbiome. However, it’s naive to think that the microbiome is the only area that affects disease states. That said, we envision our platform will target many areas of wellness across humans, animals, agriculture, food. We hope to bring wellness to all areas of life.


P.S. Any questions you want to ask Richard? Drop them to me at hello@hirasaeed.com and I’ll make sure to have them answered!


Data Acquisition Strategies for Startups

Data Acquisition Strategies

Starting anything from scratch means putting a lot of sweat and effort to make it running. Startups always go through this phase, be it getting their first investment or launching their Beta test. Every step needs their wholesome attention.

Data acquisition strategy usually goes hand-in-hand with the choice of business model that you are opting. For example, startups with a chatbot can assign a human “AI trainers” who manually create or verify the utterances their chatbots make. This gets tougher when you have multiple data centers and information that is coming is very sensitive. If you plan to build a Big data enterprise, you go for application integration and business intelligence firms for data mining, aggregation, and validation. But did I tell you that it will cost much higher than what you earn at your early stages?

The following list of strategies will give you an idea of how to start acquiring data for your startup at the teething stage.

Run a Beta Campaign

Launching a beta before your actual product is another approach. Design a campaign in which the customer can give an input on a web based environment with his information. This is a little challenging though as people hesitate from giving personal data online but if they like the campaign, they will. Many startups create a beta community who will get the product before the world. Making your potential customer feel privileged is the formula here but For this, you need to fascinate your potential user regarding the actual product.

Setup a Local Wifi for Free

Free-Wifi is a perk no one denies! Every person carries a mobile device and the need to stay connected with the internet would urge them to use your Free WiFi connection. WiFi network can give the information of people around the area, a number of people inside and outside the specific area, the concentration of users at a particular website, their browsing history and what not. For example, SocialSign.in has created a system where customers catch the wifi, and to use it, they have to log-in via their social media profiles. After signing in, customers can be asked to like a page, subscribe to a mailing list or just land to your website directly. Even when customers don’t bother with that optional step, you can have insights about their customers through their social sign-ins alone

Use social media websites

Engage with your potential customers on these websites and run a campaign to have them onboard. LinkedIn having more than 450 million users is a great source of data on professionals, a suitable amount of information can be collected with their professional profiles. Twitter having over 300 million users with the huge number of images and data they put in every day. Facebook, crossing above 1.75 billion users (and no restriction of 140 characters) has manifolds of data, with the people sharing almost everything from the places they eat to the car they drive. The best part of this approach? You don’t ask for it! 🙂

Use GPS and other Sensors

GPS and many other sensors are embedded in every application we use. Different sensors can be used to analyze different trends of the people. What places they commonly visit, what websites they surf, what stores are the center of attention, all this information can be extracted by using this data provided by the embedded sensor on your application, device or website. For example, with over 100,000 sensor-equipped vehicles on the road, Tesla is currently building the largest training datasets for self-driving cars gathering more autopilot miles every day than Google.

Manual Data Approach

The use of survey tools is the most primary and direct (Read: hassle) way of data acquisition and collection. The survey forms, questionnaires, etc and interviews with the customer targeted on the requisite data with generic and specific questions as per the need. However, this method is not a very attractive approach because filling up these forms can be a hassle for the users at times, or you may need to put in some goodies for the customers in order to motivate them to give you the information you need.

5 Ways an IPO Can Hurt Your Startup


For small businesses, an initial public offering (IPO) is sometimes a key milestone that many strive for. It is the first time that the stock of the company is offered to the public, and represents a new wave of capital and expansion. Small businesses often use IPOs to further their company’s growth and see the IPO as a necessary and crucial step forward. However, sometimes the IPO turns out to be more hindrance than help imposing limitations and headache son the very company that sought to use the IPO as a source of expansion. “Data published by Renaissance Capital indicate that as of June 2, 2016, there were only 34 IPO pricings, compared to the same point in 2015 when there were 70 IPO pricings. These 34 IPOs raised only $5.5 billion as of June 2, 2016. This amount is 55.8% below the $12.5 billion raised by IPOs between Jan. 1, 2015, and June 2, 2015.”

Callum Laing, a partner in the private equity firm Unity-Group and co-author of a new book “Agglomerate – From Idea to IPO in 12 Months”, shares a whole new insight of five ways an IPO can hurt a small business. These are a few ways that you should avoid at all costs, or your next IPO may become one of the many that flounder.

1.     Succession

Entrepreneurs are usually integral to the business. They build the company from the ground up, know the ins and outs of the business, are familiar with its culture, and are even at times central to the image of the business. Most of the times, they are the driving force and passion behind the enterprise who are working tirelessly for years to help the company reach an IPO. However, when it is the time for an IPO there may be shifts in how much they can be involved in the day to day running of the business, and often, the original entrepreneur leaves, taking most of the drive and passion with them.

2.     Culture

With the major changes that come from an IPO, key people often leave the business, sometimes with the key customers. This is truer if the business is not well prepared for the transition. For small businesses, talent is crucial and the dynamics of the team and the unique talents of those involved are often a central selling point. Often, even the departure of a single customer or key staff member can result in serious fiscal consequences. An IPO can also result in a shift in the brand identity, forgetting that the brand is actually a valuable asset that should be retained. However, with the brand and culture now controlled by a board of investors rather than individual entrepreneurs, culture and identity may fall second to maximising profit margins, ultimately hurting both.

3.     Cost

Listing IPO’s is extremely expensive and time-consuming. Entrepreneurs used to working with a small tight knit cabinet find they will need a board to run the business and the IPO. In addition to advisors, specialist non-executives and experienced board members are often essential to attracting investors. Some companies think having strong international markets and business partners is a great way to reduce risk and improve valuation, but the added risk and expense of operating in a foreign country can mitigate any of the benefits such a strategy provides. Finally, public company investors are a generally very different from the angel investors and venture capitalists that the business would have worked with so far. Because of this, most roll-ups are either debt funded or investor funded – either way, this creates huge stress on the business.

4.     Liquidity

Raising money for smaller businesses is very hard. Small businesses may find that they are just not big enough or de-risked enough to attract adequate funding from an IPO. With the Federation of Small Businesses reporting 99% of all businesses globally as small or medium enterprises, the competition is stiff. And even when you do get investments, it is often at the price of control over the business. Publicly listed shares will often carry a premium for their liquidity, and the entrepreneurs must show a strong business case for every use of money to their new board of investors. Even with more capital, the lack of liquidity and slow movement of funds can prove more of a hindrance than a boon.

5.     Timing

Timing is critical to creating the best value and wealth from an IPO. Many good businesses that were keepers back in 2007 or 2008 do not exist anymore. The biggest question is always when to sell? Sell too early and you may miss out on all those contracts that you have slowly been building trust and market presence to acquire. The biggest issue with wealth creation in business is that only a small percentage of businesses actually create any wealth for their owners, and often nothing more than a return on capital. Not a great return if you add up all the hours, risks, and sacrifices required to start a business.

What is the Alternative to Traditional IPO?

Instead of going at an IPO alone, and potentially facing all of the pitfalls, small businesses can consider joining together with other small businesses and forming a holding company, banding together for a collective IPO. This process, known as “agglomeration”, can give all the member businesses an instant boost in scale and diversification, as well as boost the geographic reach of each member if other members are in diverse locations. This can immediately increase valuation and make the small business more attractive to investors. The public listing allows business owners more financial freedom while tackling the public listing with other small business owners helps foster cooperation to drive share value. Agglomeration allows a pooling of resources that also reduces the cost of the IPO, eliminating the need for separate advisors, boards, and non-specialist executives for each company.

Best of all, each individual entrepreneur can remain 100% in charge of their own business, retaining their own brand name, culture, and staff. This reduces the risk of shifts in company culture and staff or leadership that often mars the IPO process. Since each business is an individual unit within the group, there is limited liability – and if one entrepreneur chooses to leave, it is relatively easy with publicly listed stock to go and bring a similar business unit into the holding company and assimilate their management team. This creates easy natural succession without having to sell the entire parent company.

IPO’s can be difficult for small businesses to go at alone, with many pitfalls that can wind up hurting the business more than the increased capital can help. Agglomeration with other small businesses can allow entrepreneurs to have a better chance of making the IPO, and their business, a true success.

Global Phenomenon of Startup Weekend Returns to Karachi!


400 cities, 135 countries and the 54-hours! Startup Weekend has a reputation of being one of the biggest entrepreneurial events held throughout the world and it has produced hundreds of successful startups. The Startup Weekend is coming back to Karachi with its 4th edition this November. Aplos Innovations has teamed up with SEED Ventures is hosting it on the dates of 25th to 27th November.

What is a Startup Weekend?

Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event that includes brainstorming of ideas, creation and pitching. It is usually held over the course of three days at the end of the week. It provides aspiring entrepreneurs not only a platform on which they can develop their ideas into an applicable business plan and structure in the 54 hours, but also pitch and sell their product on a global scale.

The event provides a platform to all the entrepreneurs and professionals like designers developers and business analysts to work on their big idea and create a successful unique Startup out of it! Don’t worry if there is nothing in your mind yet or you don’t have an idea, you can still join Startup Weekend Karachi and be a part of it if you are good at what you do. You can join a team, work with them on their idea and become a partner!

This program is for everyone. You can become a part of it just by registering yourself and paying a small fee. Once you’re registered, you have become a participant and you can pitch your idea and receive help and feedback on that from the speakers, mentors and judges at SW over the weekend, they will help you work on your idea and turn it into a potential and useful business product. Since this event is also a part of the Global Startup Battle, It is a global competition and the winning team gets qualified to participate in it. They’ll get a chance to go to compete in finale of the Global Startup Battle.

Who is hosting Startup Weekend in Karachi ?

Aplos Innovations has teamed up with SEED Ventures to bring this unique platform once again in Karachi. Aplos Innovations have always played an encouraging role in this regard. They believe in the strength of technology and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneur acting as strong catalysts to our socio-economical growth is Aplos Innovation’s catch in this. Hashim Yasin is the official facilitator credible for past three Startup Weekends held in Karachi. Here’s what he has to say:

“Startup Weekend is a big opportunity for all the budding entrepreneurs who need a platform to pitch and present their ideas.

Startup Weekend Karachi is part of a global celebration happening in over 250 cities around the world and we really want our winning team to be among the shortlisted ideas which will be competing with other startups in the Global Battle. It would be a moment of pride for all of us”.

–  Mr. Hashim Yasin, Facilitator of Startup Weekend

With partners like eventbrite, .CO, Google for Entrepreneurs, KASBIT, Starlinks, Jang Group, Pizza Hut, FM 91, bookitnow.pk and Lipton, this Startup Weekend is expected to be the biggest and most successful Startup Weekend ever.

This year, this prestigious program is being arranged as a part of Global Startup Battle(GSB) from Friday, 25th of November 2016 to Sunday 27th of November 2016.

Startup Weekend Karachi will incorporate three distinct events:

  • Opening night with a wonderful theme dinner.
  • Working & Mentoring Sessions which will be followed by a Social Night
  • The Closing Ceremony followed by a Theme Dinner.

Reach Us At?

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Youtube


Ask us anything you want to at: startupweekendkarachi@gmail.com 

Or call us at: +92-336-4069-039