Online Learning Company Osmosis Went All-In on Content Last Month. It Paid Off.

May 11, 2020

By Suzy Strutner(opens in new tab), managing editor
 7-minute read

In short:

  • Osmosis, a healthcare education company, saw a boost in site traffic, brand awareness and more last month as a result of COVID-19.

  • Founder Shiv Ganglani has rallied his team to keep up an ambitious pace through the month of May, producing new types of content in response to changes in healthcare and the broader economy.

  • Through it all, a focus on do-gooding keeps the company aligned with its north star.


For Shiv Ganglani, the coronavirus outbreak presented a major opportunity for his business to step in and help.

Ganglani is a former medical student and the founder of Osmosis(opens in new tab), an online learning company that makes explainer videos about healthcare for both medical students and everyday folks. 

Osmosis is one of those unique businesses that saw a boom due to COVID-19(opens in new tab):

  • One of its in-house health experts went viral on the news (in a good way).
  • Its website traffic rose 400% between March and April. 
  • It registered 50,000 new users in that same timeframe.

As May kicks off, Ganglani is directing his team to continue the “sprint” it ran in April by making learning material that he predicts both individuals and business owners will need as stay-at-home orders expire.


New virus, new videos

Two-year-old Osmosis’s bread-and-butter as a business are its instructional videos that simplify medical concepts from tuberculosis(opens in new tab) to intussusception(opens in new tab) (an intestinal condition) with the brand’s signature cartoon illustrations.

Some 1.5 million subscribers watch a limited selection of Osmosis videos for free on its YouTube channel(opens in new tab). The company’s paying customers include both individuals and big-name medical, nursing and physician's assistant schools, which buy subscriptions to its proprietary video platform(opens in new tab) for their students. For these healthcare workers in training, Osmosis videos reinforce lectures and help them study for tests.

In response to COVID-19, Osmosis added more offerings to its mix:

About 21,000 people have taken the course since Osmosis launched it in partnership with another online learning company, Coursera, last month. 

The course is Osmosis’s first foray into CME, a project it hadn’t planned to tackle anytime soon. Now, the team effectively has a jumpstart on the initiative, said Ganglani.

“We were thinking of doing CME much later, but with COVID, we accelerated that,” he added.

“We were thinking of doing [this project] much later, but with COVID, we accelerated that."

COVID 19 imageOsmosis, an online learning company, created its first continuing education course in response to COVID-19.


An exec goes viral

Last month, Osmosis also launched a daily coronavirus video report(opens in new tab) and a podcast(opens in new tab) featuring Ganglani and the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Rishi Desai

A few news outlets called to interview Desai about the coronavirus and its effects on public health — likely due to his previous work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as Osmosis’s clout in the field via 2.2 million total subscribers and followers. 

Desai’s first bit of media attention quickly snowballed into a viral interview about COVID-19 on Fox News(opens in new tab), a town hall with Sen. Bernie Sanders(opens in new tab) and 55,000 new Twitter followers(opens in new tab).

His newfound fame, as well as the fact that online learning skyrocketed in popularity when schools closed, benefitted Osmosis.

“I don’t have a good way to measure it, but we’ve certainly had a huge increase in brand awareness,” Ganglani said, noting the 5x increase in website traffic from April to March.

“I don’t have a good way to measure it, but we’ve certainly had a huge increase in brand awareness."

Osmosis executive Dr. Rishi Desai went viral for his commentary on COVID-19, which boosted brand awareness.


Following the Zoom model

Osmosis counts 76 medical schools as paying customers. When COVID-19 forced campuses to shut down, it followed the Zoom model(opens in new tab), Ganglani said. 

Osmosis gave subscriptions to 35 more schools for free through the end of the semester. 

After a school’s free trial runs out, Osmosis will discuss payment options with ones that want to continue using its service. Three of the 35 schools have already had such discussions and become customers. More will likely follow.

“It’s still early days, but we believe that by being helpful — we believe in karma, basically,” Ganglani said.

Osmosis is also giving free, 3-week subscriptions to individuals who sign an online pledge to stay at home(opens in new tab).

These individuals learn that this practice can help “raise the line,” an Osmosis-coined term for creating more capacity and equity in the healthcare system. There’s potential for these users to convert into paying subscribers, too, per Ganglani.

The company hasn’t seen a drop in either individual or institutional Osmosis subscribers in the past couple of months, he added. Healthcare and online education “are pretty hot right now,” after all.

"We believe that by being helpful — we believe in karma, basically."


Investors step up

Consequently, Osmosis has fielded interest from venture capital(opens in new tab) and private equity(opens in new tab) investors in the past few weeks. One of the company’s current investors inquired about investing $1.5 million more, and new potential partners have come knocking, Ganglani said.

Add that to the fact that Osmosis hasn’t laid off any of its staff — in fact, it’s hired eight in the past month — and things appear to be on the up and up. 

Ganglani estimates the coronavirus has had a “neutral to positive” impact on Osmosis financially.

“We’re spending more than we were, and we’re hiring more, but we’re overall confident we have the backing we need to keep growing,” he said.

Back when Osmosis’s leadership wasn’t sure what kind of effect COVID-19 would have on the business, they applied for a loan(opens in new tab) from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program(opens in new tab). In the end, they were offered one but didn’t accept it: The company is on track to exceed its revenue goals for the financial quarter(opens in new tab) due to a “revenue bump” and because it delayed certain hires for reasons unrelated to the virus.

“We were seeing positive indicators of growth, so it didn’t make sense from an ethical and moral perspective to [take the loan],” Ganglani said.

“We were seeing positive indicators of growth, so it didn’t make sense from an ethical and moral perspective to [take a government loan].”

Email covid imageInvestors have inquired with Osmosis lately, as online education and healthcare are in high demand right now.


The new deal

In May, Ganglani and his team are “building on April’s momentum,” which included producing some 50% more content than usual. Their most ambitious initiative is a training program for folks who aspire to be frontline healthcare workers including certified nursing assistants(opens in new tab), personal care assistants(opens in new tab) and home health aides(opens in new tab).

This program would be Osmosis’s first that fully trains workers vs. simply supplementing what they learn in medical school. 

While Ganglani always envisioned launching some kind of online healthcare school, the push to do it now comes from COVID-19.

“In the past month, millions of people have lost their jobs,” he said. “Osmosis, like a lot of other online learning companies, wants to be positioned to help people upskill and reskill so they can become healthcare workers.”

At the same time, Osmosis is working on a training program for businesses themselves. 

Imagine, for example, visiting your local pet store or sandwich shop for the first time post-coronavirus: “You as the consumer might want assurance that the people who work there aren’t going to give you COVID,” Ganglani said. “And employees need to know that by, say, working in a meat factory, they’re not going to get COVID.”

Osmosis got the idea for this business training program from Carbon Health, a company that’s making at-home testing kits(opens in new tab). When companies approached Carbon about testing for their employees, Carbon passed the idea for company training along to Osmosis. 

Ganglani did some research of his own to cement the prediction that, while it’s not formally mandated in any way, businesses and individuals will want some kind of certification that workplaces are taking steps to mitigate the virus’ spread before visiting or working there.

"Millions of people have lost their jobs. Osmosis, like a lot of other online learning companies, wants to be positioned to help people upskill and reskill."

NursesOsmosis is developing a program to train those who have lost jobs to be frontline healthcare workers.


Maintaining morale

Osmosis’s team of doctors, video producers and illustrators should have the business training program completed by June, Ganglani said. The content will likely overlap a bit with that of the healthcare worker program: Despite their separate fields, a nurse’s assistant and a barber take similar actions to avoid the virus, he explained.

Producing these programs will take more work than usual. But given his team’s performance last month, Ganglani is confident they’re up to the challenge. 

“We’re working harder than we have before, but with a new sense of purpose,” he said. “So a lot of people don’t mind, for example, working on weekends, because they know the work is important. And a lot of our team is just really grateful we’re in a good position [as a business].”

Osmosis leadership kicks off each meeting of its now-remote workforce(opens in new tab) by reminding them to look out for their own wellbeing and each other’s in light of the larger workload. 

Ganglani said he’s watched camaraderie grow between parents as they work from home(opens in new tab)

“We’re working harder than we have before, but with a new sense of purpose."


Starting with the heart

When the coronavirus first emerged, Osmosis created the COVID task force, a team of the company’s top leadership. Last month, the team met daily to discuss how Osmosis was serving each of its stakeholders: first teammates, then individual subscribers, then schools, and onward.

That team will continue to meet weekly as the company rolls into what could very well be its most impactful month yet — both in terms of production and mission  — as a result of the coronavirus.

“The speed of execution will hopefully stay,” Ganglani said. “And we’ve always been a very caring organization. That’s our first value: ‘Start with the heart.’ But this has brought increased meaning to that.”


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