'Address underlying issues before acceptance of telemedicine in Pakistan' An interview with Adil Javed, Co-founder EasyMED
Adil Javed, CPA has international experience as an advisor to multiple publicly listed companies on North American Stock Exchanges. Prior to founding EasyMED with his co-founder Shehroze, Adil was working as an associate at a boutique consulting firm in San Francisco where he worked on Fortune 50 companies to advise and save millions of dollars by helping them improve operations, draw value from existing redundancies, implement regulatory changes and provide transactional expertise.
Before living and working in the Silicon Valley, Adil worked with Deloitte Canada advising multi-billion-dollar companies in the technology sector, real estate sector, oil and gas sector and NGOs. He studied finance and accounting at Simon Fraser University, Canada after which he went on to obtain his CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant) designation in Canada.
After nearly a decade aboard, Adil decided to move back to Pakistan with intention to use his experience and knowledge to help play his part in making Pakistan a better place for everyone. Following are the edited transcripts of a conversation BR Research had with the founder of EasyMED regarding the startup and its prospects:
BR Research: Tell us about your business model and the concept behind the startup?
Adil Javed: EasyMED is a health care platform that aggregates existing healthcare providers which includes doctors, pharmacies and diagnostics labs. The idea and concept were driven by Shehroze’s (Co-Founder) and my own personal experience when it came to deal with the healthcare system in Pakistan. My mother is a doctor so growing up in Pakistan; I was always around doctors and started to observe the healthcare system up close. Then I moved abroad for studies and when I came back, not much has changed in the healthcare sector.
The entire diagnostic chain has so many issues that it becomes a frustrating experience. From finding the right doctor to getting an appointment to buying prescribed medicines, it is a hassle. Either the prescribed medicine is not in stock anywhere or you end up stopping at multiple pharmacies to fill in your prescription. We figured, if we are facing this issue, everybody else does too then. So, the concept of EasyMED was born.
EasyMED’s goal and purpose is to aggregate the health sector so that everyone can have easy access to quality healthcare. For example, by having multiple pharmacies on board, EasyMED can ensure availability of more medicines than any single pharmacy. This benefit is then passed on to the customer as all they must do is order online and receive it at their doorstep paying the same price, they would have paid by driving out to multiple pharmacies. This is just one benefit of aggregating the market.
BRR: What is your delivery model?
AJ: EasyMED’s goal and purpose was to keep customers a priority so our delivery policy is also developed keeping in mind customers’ convenience. We deliver medicines at home for free for orders above Rs500. If the order is below Rs.500, we charge a nominal fee of Rs.100 to deliver to them. The price of the medicine is the same price as anyone pays at a pharmacy.
We also provide free home sampling services through our Partner Chughtai Labs and for customers who cannot afford easily; we also offer discounts to ensure that no one must compromise on health just because they cannot afford it. We do believe that access to healthcare is everyone’s right.
BRR: What other services do you offer besides selling medicines online?
AJ: We launched in January 2020 and we are constantly working to improve and add new services. Currently we offer medicines, supplements, feminine hygiene products and book home sampling for lab tests.
BRR: You have a "consult a doctor" tab on your website. Is it the same as telehealth/telemedicine? Do you have a panel of doctors? What are your plans for bringing doctors on board?
AJ: Yes, we are in process to add doctors to our panel so our customers can also book doctor appointments. We do want to provide access to good doctors to our customers. It is currently in progress and will soon be updated and launched as well.
BRR: What is your target market? And who are you competing with?
AJ: Our target market is anyone who is considered an outdoor patient.
We can further break down outdoor patients into two main categories. One is anyone who gets sick and must consult a doctor and take prescribed medicines or get lab tests done. These are ad-hoc instances and are not predictable. A customer’s need for medicines arises when they get ill.
Second is anyone who must consistently take medication to keep certain conditions in check such as high blood pressure or diabetes. These customers order monthly medicines and need it for longer duration.
Both segments have different age profiles with some overlap. We take orders over the call, WhatsApp as well on the website to ensure all age groups are catered to. We will be launching our app soon as well.
As for the competition, there are few new players and few experienced ones already in the market such as Dawaai.pk. We are essentially competing with pure online pharmacies as well as existing retail pharmacies. These include but are not limited to Sehat, Dawaai, Medonline, and a lot of smaller players.
But it should be kept in mind that our market in Pakistan is huge. It is 220 million people living in a small space, so we believe there is so much room for all the existing players. The recent popularity of online healthcare platforms is encouraging as it helps create more awareness among people.
BRR: What are the key challenges for EasyMED right now?
AJ: The biggest challenge is to build customer trust. People are usually more resistant when ordering health products online given the lack of trust built over the years by online services that offered poor services.
So that has been an ongoing challenge. We focus on our customers and on providing the best service possible and as a result our customer retention is very high. Building customer trust is an ongoing challenge which will take its time, but we believe we are doing all the right things.
Another challenge that we face is that a lot of orders are placed, and the customers do not provide a valid prescription for them, therefore in compliance with EasyMED policy, we do not cater to orders without a valid prescription. So, to get the customer to send in valid prescription and not try to order without prescription is another ongoing challenge.
BRR: What is your marketing strategy? Can you share some growth numbers?
AJ: We have recently started as mentioned before so we are experimenting with different marketing strategies to see the effectiveness of all avenues. But we are realizing that the most effective marketing strategy that directly converts to a transaction, specifically in this industry is word of mouth.
Shehroze who runs day to day operations and sets up customer protocols/SOPs has been doing an amazing job as a lot of new customers we get have been directly coming through word of mouth. For example, over the 3 months we are growing sales by over 300 percent month over month and we are talking about six figure sales. Word of mouth has been our most effective marketing strategy so far. We focus on each customer being our only customer regardless of order size. We ensure we deliver on time, never overcharge, and in case refund is needed, we provide refund at their doorstep as well.
BRR: How would you scale up if your model works? Any plans of going into other major cities?
AJ: When EasyMED was being formed, we wanted to have a scalable model. So, from day 1, we have planned it such that each component of the business was developed with scaling in mind. For example, we have partnered with big chain pharmacies and labs such as Chughtai Labs, New Mahmood Pharmacy, Punjab Pharmacy, Chughtai Pharmacy etc.
We only partner with big chain pharmacies as they comply with DRAP and our quality assurance SOPs and provide authentic products. With our current partners we have over 27 retail branches available to us all over Lahore. So, at this point we are catering to orders all over Lahore.
Our order taking website can be scaled up to take orders from masses.
For deliveries we have an in-house logistics team to maintain the quality of our services. We do outsource deliveries to orders outside of Lahore as of now.
And yes, of course we do plan on going to other major cities soon. Our goal is to be a leading health care provider nationally.
BRR: Do you have any plans to go for funding? What kind of funding would you be looking for?
AJ: Yes, we do plan on raising capital for our seed round to accelerate our growth. Ideally, we want smart capital. It is not just about the dollar amount raised for us, it is more about adding a mentor, business advisor and an industry expert whose help we can use along the way.
It is crucial to build a team that complements each other’s strengths, and everyone brings something to the table. Our core team and advisory board includes a Wall Street veteran, creative lead of popular brands and industry experts who has been in healthcare industry for over 30 years,
BRR: How have your sales responded to the coronavirus pandemic? Do you have any strategy in place to provide the maximum benefit during lockdowns?
AJ: Covid-19 pandemic has thrown every business off. What we are seeing in our industry is that it hasn’t been affected much other than the spike in the sales of some items such as sanitizers, gloves, masks and some medicines. This is due to the consumer behavior as people started hoarding these items which has created a supply shortage and driven the price up. We as a company decided that we would not profit from these items and have been providing these at cost to anyone who orders.
Apart from these aforementioned items, we believe people are slowly realizing that this might be the new norm until the Covid-19 vaccine arrives or we see a miracle, so more and more people are trying to use online services.
On the other hand, it has been a challenge to coordinate and keep operations running smoothly as one of our USPs is to deliver under 1 hour, however due to the lockdown, mobility has been delayed but we are still ensuring we deliver as soon as we can.
Our strategy during Covid-19 has not changed. We are continuing to do what we were doing before. The only change we implemented was to not profit on items that help stop the spread of the virus. We have further implemented safety protocols for our delivery team where proper precautions are taken when handling cash and delivering items. Also, we are working on making the transaction completely cashless during Covid-19 pandemic.
BRR: Lastly, what is the scope of telemedicine in Pakistan? COVID-19 has raised the demand for it worldwide.
AJ: We at EasyMED believe that telemedicine is the future. A major part of the telemedicine is doctor consultations over a platform. Covid-19 has created awareness and given people a reason to use telemedicine.
Telemedicine is great for remote areas where there is no option to go to a doctor easily. However, there are underlying issues and concerns that need to be addressed before mass acceptance of telemedicine in Pakistan. A few challenges that our team sees for telemedicine includes the following:
- Good internet connection where the connection is smooth, and the quality is clear otherwise some people will not have the patience to go through the process of tele-consultation again.
- Doctor information, history and experience should be verified and listed so anyone can make an informed decision. If this does not happen, we doubt a lot people will convert to using telemedicine post Covid-19 time.
- A doctor is very limited to diagnose patients if they cannot touch or check them. At this point the patient must have a good grasp of health concepts. For example, if a patient cannot check their own sugar, blood pressure, pulse rate etc. at home, how can a doctor help them? This is a very major restriction to telemedicine.
Doctors will be limited to prescribing medicines as not all conditions can be diagnosed effectively over video call.