Doctorola, the health-Tech startup that helps its users in finding appropriate doctors via digital mediums and call center, is now one and a half years old. Over the past years, the startup has evolved a lot, “we have learned an incredible amount, validated many of our assumptions and also found new realities," says Mr. Abdul Matin Emon, CEO of the company. The company raised a new round of funding later in 2016 and added high-profile names to its team.
One of our Breakout Startups for 2016, the startup plans further growth push in 2017, plots to go beyond Dhaka and add launch more services.
We recently sat down with the CEO of Doctorola, Mr. Mohammad Abdul Matin Emon to talk about how much one of the earliest health-tech startups of the country has evolved over the past years, growth and challenges of Doctorola, how the startup is doing business-wise and its expansion and growth plan for 2017.
How many appointments do you manage daily? How much has Doctorola evolved over the past years?
For now, we handle nearly 300 appointments a day, though the figure fluctuates. We have already served 75,000 appointments so far and growing rapidly. On the doctor’s side, we have been able to build a community of 7,000 doctors in our database with whom we work regularly.
We also have affiliations with 450 hospitals. Numbers are growing well, but to make the business more viable, we need more appointments per day. And the market has great potential. We are still scratching the surface.
We have a long way to go. That said, we have learned a lot from the past one and half years and we are learning a great deal about how we should go about our business. These lessons are priceless to us.
For example, we have learned that appointments to doctors are managed in a number of different ways. Doctors in the same hospital often manage appointments in different ways, some via an independent assistant, some joint assistant, and others via mobile phones for a certain period of time and some through hospital receptions. We did not know this problem exist before. Solving this problem requires a different kind of capacity.
Now, there is also time-related problems. Appointments often get delayed. If you have a 7:30 pm appointment, it's most likely that you won't be able to meet the doctor exactly at that time. You might have to wait for half an hour--for hours even--to get your turn. It depends on a variety of factors. To be honest, not all of them can be managed.
When we first started Doctorola we based the system on many assumptions. We have built our processes from scratch. Then, as we have been in operation for the last one and a half years and we have gathered our lessons as to how we should standardize the organization, where we would ultimately head, and what our customers feel. Through our learning, we as an organization, are prepared for the journey that lies ahead of us.
The difference between Doctorola when it was first started and where we are now is both our business volume and our experience. We have validated many of our assumptions and at the same found many of our assumptions absolutely out of place.
We have also gone into partnership with many other companies and organizations that we believe will help our forward journey.
At Doctorola, we focus on 3 main issues: awareness, building an enriched doctor-database, and delivering the best possible experience and maintaining a strong relationship with our patients. Let me explain them one by one. By awareness, we mean health awareness among mass people.
Fortunately, the response is great. We have 750,000 followers on our Facebook page. We also do weekly live programs online.
Secondly, we have already talked a bit about the database which is about 7,500 doctors strong. There has been some development in this area.
At the early stage, people didn't continue using our service. But the scenario has considerably changed now. In fact, the fulfillment ratio is more than 75% now.
Thirdly, the delivery of quality service, successfully get both the patient and the doctor to meet each other is the most significant part of our job. There were some problems posed by both of the parties.
Drop-duty doctors, for example, are those with whom patients have failed to meet either for our shortcoming or for their inconvenience. In the past, the rate of drop-duty doctors was quite high. But it has now come down to a meager 5%. This is to say that, at present, in 95% of the time, we can successfully help patients meet their doctors right on time.
We also value our customers a great deal. One of the benchmarks that we have achieved so far is that our customer retention rate is now 37%, i.e. every 37 patients out of 100 patients keep using our service.
We are also developing some cross-products like discounts from hospitals and on different health tests. We also want to help hospitals and doctors managing appointments more efficiently.
The thing is that we have to maintain a long-term relationship with the hospitals. So, leveraging that relationship will allow us to explore many different areas. It's not like we have to find a new hospital to sell our products. We can provide them to our existing clients.
[blockquote source=]The difference between Doctorola when it was first started and where we are now is both our business volume and our experience. We have validated many of our assumptions and at the same found many of our assumptions absolutely out of place.[/blockquote]
Tell us a bit about business. How does your revenue figure for Doctorola look like?
Projection-wise, we have almost reached our expected revenue. But the cost is still higher than the revenue. Actually, with a business like this, you can't achieve profitability without cross-products. We will need a certain amount of time to have that kind of cross-products on the table. Until we hit that point, revenue numbers will continue to be rather unimpressive.
Like in many cases, we face a challenge that 20% of the doctors in our community get 80% of the patients. This imbalance happens because of a number of unusual factors. So, when we attempt to collect my revenue at the end of a month, we see that the individual revenue of those 80% doctors is so low that it becomes a liability for us rather than an income.
This is a huge challenge in the existing market. But the situation will improve as our volume go higher and our technology, which we are working hard on, improves.
When do you expect to reach the break-even point?
Our initial target to reach break-even point was actually 2 years and 8 months into operation. Given our current status, we hope to meet that target well on time.
I'm talking about the operational break-even point, of course. But we think a little more time to compensate for the additional costs.
What are the channels and mediums that you are using to reach out to your target audience?
Google is a major source. Then, returning patients fill the bulk of our appointments. It's almost as much as we get from Google search. We also get appointments from word-of-mouth, Facebook, and by referrals.
We haven't extended our services to the rural regions yet. But we are trying to build our network first to reach out to the rural populace.
Currently, we have our regional manager in Chittagong and Sylhet area, and, later we want to further to North and South Bengal. At the same time, we are also building collaborations with our NGO and other relevant partners.
What kind of challenges do you face now?
Communication is a big challenge for us now since it has become quite expensive. In the space of ATL communication, it has become too competitive for small companies like us. So, ATL, although a quick way to reach out to people, is out of our reach, to some extent.
BTL, on the other hand, is effective. We can engage potential clients in a number of ways. But the problem with BTL is that it takes time. So, with respect to growth, balancing between cost and time is the biggest challenge that we face now.
We haven't extended our services to the rural regions yet. But we are trying to build our network first to reach out to the rural populace. Currently, we have our regional manager in Chittagong and Sylhet area, and, later we want to further to North and South Bengal. At the same time, we are also building collaborations with our NGO and other relevant partners.
What is your plan for Doctorola in 2017?
Our main priority now is growth. We want our service to spread widely. We plan to get out of Dhaka and cover more regions across the country. At the same time, we plan to work closely with doctors, hospitals, and our users more closely so that we can solve their problems more efficiently.
Also, as we haven't promoted Doctorola enough, in the beginning, we plan to run more promotional campaigns.
Interview: Ruhul Kader, Transcription: Rahatil Ashekan