Business Insight
Digital Healthcare

What Made API Holdings the First Unicorn in India’s E-Pharmacy Sector - Key Insights and Numbers

Mytri Korsipati
July 11, 2024

Introduction to API Holdings

API Holdings is India's largest digital healthcare platform, specializing in online pharmacy services and comprehensive healthcare solutions. 

They utilize advanced technology to connect stakeholders across the healthcare value chain, ensuring efficient delivery of pharmaceuticals and healthcare services nationwide. The company is an integrated platform of PharmEasy, a home delivery system from pharmacy to home, and Ascent, a system that aims to balance demand and supply by managing the procedure of pharma products to pharmacies, which were developed before API Holdings. 

PharmEasy New Look Launch
Source : PharmEasy

Through this article, we will discuss API Holdings’ ups and downs and what made this company stand out among the e-pharmacy industry in India. From thorough research, we can see that API Holdings has shown consistent efforts in using its flaws and downfalls into creating profit through smart strategies and alternating plans. 

As the writer of this article, API Holdings’ journey has shown an inspirational path to entrepreneurship management and more than anything, the importance of passion and significant effort in making the best out of what exists.

What does India’s E-pharmacy Scene look like?

First of all, it is extremely important to research and take a thorough look at the industry where you want to develop a business in. Even with an Idea that is extraordinarily unique or having a potential to make immediate sales, without a proper knowledge of where you are developing this service or product can make a huge difference in the business’ performance.

The e-pharmacy market that API Holdings has grown in is an unpopular industry that is currently at its increasing period and further has many viewpoints in the future. Upon this fact, API Holdings had succeeded in presenting its initiative in the market and managed to keep showing improvement in India.

Online pharmacies in India provide a convenient platform for customers to purchase medicines and healthcare services, delivering them directly to their homes. This article explores the growth and challenges of this sector.

Growth of the Indian Drug Market

Valued at US$ 41 billion in 2021, India's drug market is predicted to reach US$ 65 billion by 2024, driven by factors like an aging population and increasing chronic diseases. 

Rise of E-Pharmacy

E-pharmacy in India has grown rapidly, with a projected market size of US$ 36 billion by 2022 from US$ 512 million in 2018. Factors such as increasing urbanization and healthcare accessibility contribute to its expansion. Several factors propel the e-pharmacy market, including rapid internet penetration, government initiatives like Digital India, and increased demand due to changing lifestyles and disease prevalence.


The lack of a robust regulatory framework poses challenges for e-pharmacy operations in India, including licensing issues, regulation of drug sales across states, and concerns over patient safety and prescription verification.

Source: National Library of Medicine

Regulatory Framework

Proposed guidelines mandate registration, pharmacist verification of prescriptions, and confidentiality of patient data. Clear regulations are essential to ensure safe and reliable service provision.

Comparison with Global Markets

While North America leads this market due to advanced technology, India's e-pharmacy sector shows significant potential in the Asia-Pacific region, driven by population size and increasing digital adoption.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of e-pharmacies in India's healthcare landscape. A structured regulatory framework and collaboration between stakeholders are critical to sustaining growth and ensuring accessible healthcare nationwide.

Timeline of API Holdings’ Development

To map the journey of API Holdings across different stages, integrating their growth and acquisitions, we can break it down as follows:

Pre-startup : 2012 - 2020

Siddarth Shah and Harsh Parekh, two of the founders of API Holdings, initially started with Dialhealth in 2012, delivering medicines in Mumbai but faced challenges in getting enough supply. The journey further continues into launching PharmEasy in 2015, an app for delivering medicines directly to people's homes. 

The founders opened their own pharmacies to control supply better and launched Ascent in 2013 to distribute medicines to these pharmacies. In 2017, Ascent introduced Retailio to digitize pharmacy operations, making ordering and managing medicines easier.

Siddarth Shah & Harsh Parekh, Source: API Holdings

Beginning of Startup

In August 2020, all the founders’ businesses merged into API Holdings, creating a big digital healthcare company. This was the first initiative of API Holdings becoming one of the best e-pharmacy companies out there, with the base of Ascent and Pharmeasy.

Facing difficulties in growing the previous 2 businesses, they leveled up to using the potential downfalls to integrate into something much bigger and successful.

How PharmEasy works
Source : PharmEasy

Growth stage : 2021

By 2018, Ascent grew rapidly, becoming a major supplier of medicines in India,  improving their supply chain. By the way, PharmEasy became India's top online pharmacy by 2020, selling the most medicines online. Using these achievements, API Holdings was able to strengthen the base for other investors to come in the future.

Scaling stage

Buying Medlife in January increased their position in digital healthcare, and in September they got Thyrocare, becoming a major player in diagnostic services and they also got Aknamed and part of Marg to improve their supply chain and tech tools for pharmacies and retailers.

Throughout these stages, API Holdings evolved from a startup grappling with supply chain issues to becoming India's largest digital healthcare platform. 

Source: API Holdings

How did API Holdings stick upon this e-pharmacy scene?

API Holdings, as a major player in the Indian e-pharmacy sector, operates within a dynamic and rapidly growing market environment. Here's how API Holdings aligns with and navigates the various aspects mentioned in the article:

Market Size and Growth

: The Indian drug market is substantial and projected to grow significantly, driven by factors like an aging population, rising chronic diseases, and increasing disposable incomes. API Holdings benefits from this growth by providing convenient access to medicines and healthcare services through its online platforms, particularly PharmEasy.

E-Pharmacy Sector

: The e-pharmacy sector in India is witnessing rapid expansion. API Holdings, through PharmEasy, has capitalized on this trend by offering a wide range of pharmaceutical products and healthcare services online. This includes specialist consultations, e-diagnostic services, and access to a comprehensive network of pharmacies and healthcare providers. API Holdings offers affordable medications, value-added services like teleconsultations, and benefits from government initiatives.

Challenges in the Sector

: The e-pharmacy sector faces regulatory challenges due to the absence of a comprehensive legal framework. API Holdings navigates these challenges by adhering to existing regulations and advocating for clearer guidelines to ensure safe and compliant operations. Issues such as licensing, interstate sale regulations, and prescription verification are critical areas that API Holdings addresses. 

Competitive Landscape

: API Holdings competes in a competitive landscape with approximately 250 online pharmacies in India. Its strategic acquisitions, such as Medlife and Thyrocare, have strengthened its market position and operational capabilities. These acquisitions enable API Holdings to offer a broader range of services and enhance its competitive edge in the digital healthcare market.

Future Outlook

: The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of e-pharmacies in providing essential healthcare services during crises. API Holdings' robust infrastructure and technological capabilities positioned it well to meet increased demand and serve a wider customer base across India. Looking ahead, continued government support, technological advancements, and regulatory clarity will be crucial for API Holdings to sustain its growth trajectory.

Source: Forbes India

PharmEasy's strength lies in its expansive revenue base and its potential to leverage its scale in a growing market when compared to similar companies within the industry. 

API Holdings’ Boost in Investors

Recently in 2024, API Holdings attracted significant investments from marquee investors like Goldman Sachs, Naspers, Temasek, and CDPQ through a series of strategic moves and achievements in the healthcare sector:

Establishing Market Leadership

: PharmEasy helped API Holdings to establish itself as a leader in the digital healthcare space in India. PharmEasy became the largest online pharmacy in India, which enhanced API Holdings' attractiveness to investors seeking exposure to the growing digital healthcare market. 

The acquisition of Medlife and Thyrocare significantly expanded its service offerings in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, respectively. These acquisitions not only expanded API Holdings' market share but also consolidated its position as a comprehensive healthcare solutions provider.

Technology and Innovation

: The company's focus on leveraging technology to streamline healthcare services, including digital prescriptions, teleconsultations, and supply chain management. This technological edge appealed to investors looking for companies driving digital transformation in traditional sectors.

Expansion and Nationwide Presence

: API Holdings expanded its operations nationwide, building a robust network that covers various aspects of the healthcare value chain—from wholesale distribution to retail services and diagnostic solutions. This expansive reach and diversified service portfolio positioned API Holdings as a key player with scalable growth potential.

Competitive Advantage

: The company's ability to navigate regulatory environments and obtain approvals for strategic initiatives, such as the rights issues for Compulsorily Convertible Preference Shares (CCPS), showcased its strong management capabilities and market understanding. This competence reassured investors about API Holdings' ability to execute and grow in a complex and competitive market.

API Holdings' strategic acquisitions, technological innovations, market leadership in digital healthcare, expansive national footprint, and demonstrated management competence were key factors that attracted investments from globally renowned funds like Goldman Sachs, Naspers, Temasek, and CDPQ. These investors recognized API Holdings as a promising entity at the forefront of transforming India's healthcare sector through digital solutions and comprehensive service offerings.

Source: Entrackr

Obstacles that API Holdings Got Through in the E-pharmacy Industry

Along with the challenges that API Holdings has faced in the e-pharmacy industry, especially due to unclear rules and regulations, competition within the industry was tough as well with many other online pharmacies around. To stand out, API Holdings used advanced technology, acquired companies like Medlife and Thyrocare, and built a strong infrastructure to deliver medicines reliably across India. Growing quickly while maintaining high standards was also a big test, but they managed it by investing in technology and expanding their services smartly.

Key Points to Look Out for When Developing a Business

Starting a business, especially in new industries like e-pharmacy, requires careful planning. 

  1. First, understanding and following the rules and regulations is crucial. This includes getting the right licenses and meeting legal requirements. 
  2. Second, forming partnerships with suppliers, tech experts, and others can help your business grow faster and smoother. 
  3. Third, using technology effectively can make your services easier to use and manage. 
  4. Fourth, having a strong supply chain is important to deliver products on time and keep customers happy. 
  5. Lastly, focusing on customer needs, keeping their data safe, and building trust through clear communication are essential for long-term success. 

By paying attention to these points, entrepreneurs can set their businesses up for success in competitive markets.

Written by Mytri Korsipati (underdogs)

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Mytri Korsipati
Business Developer
Multilingual skills with high diversity in cultural background. High interest in the biotechnology industry as well as startups and business initiation.