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Anowar Hossain: The making of DocTime, the future of digital healthcare in Bangladesh, and entrepreneurship (Part II)

Anowar Hossain is the founder of digital healthcare startup DocTime. Officially launched in October 2020, the company has built an excellent product and experienced meaningful growth. 

In this final installment of our interview with Mr. Anowar, we talk about the state of DocTime’s business today, business model, operations, team and culture, growth, challenges going forward, priorities for DocTime for the next few years, the dynamics of digital healthcare, personal productivity, lessons for founders, the importance of mentors and much more. Enjoy! 

This was a much longer interview, so we had to divide it into two parts. This is the final part. You can read part one here.  

Ruhul Kader: Can you give an overview of the services you provide on DocTime today?

Anowar Hossain: Our primary service is Instant 24 hours on-demand doctor consultations from anywhere in the country. We provide a range of other healthcare services surrounded by doctor consultations. This includes medicine delivery, diagnostic tests at home, etc through our partners. It means you can get all your healthcare services on one platform. It allows patients to complete an entire cycle and get a final report which they will be able to show their doctor. 

Apart from that, we have developed a few auxiliary services such as medicine reminders that remind patients to take medicine on time and doctor follow-up reminders, regular health tips, etc. On the back of these services, we are building valuable electronic health records for each patient. 

The DocTime service has been used for patients in all age groups including 1-year infant to 70 plus years old person. The primary user of the App is a young individual with a smartphone. These young individuals use the platform to get consultation for themselves and their family members. Such as children, father, mother, wife, and other family members. Many of our users use the platform for NCD patients including Diabetics, Hypertension, Asthma, and Stress/anxiety.  

We have recently partnered with Guardian Life to offer healthcare and insurance for our B2C packages. Our B2C package starts at Tk. 60. Our top-selling B2C package is 229 BDT under which you can get unlimited consultations year long and the package also includes a BDT 50,000 cashback in case of hospitalization. 

We are partnered with Sneho to provide digital healthcare services for mothers and newborn babies. Our most recent partnership with Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic (PHWC) to provide quality Psychological and mental health services to our patients. 

We are also offering packages through our partner Banglalink. Banglalink customers purchase DocTime healthcare packages using their banglalink mobile balance.

Ruhul: How does your business model work? How do you work with your partners? 

Anowar Hossain: We have a mixed model. With some doctors, we work per-consultation basis, where we get a commission from each online consultation. Similarly, we have in-house doctors working out of our office for a fixed salary. 

For medicine delivery and at-home diagnostics services, we get a commission from our partners for the orders we generate. We also offer meaningful discounts to our customers through these partnerships. 

We are still assessing our B2B product which is a subscription-based employee healthcare benefits solution for companies. 

We have separate teams for each function such as customer service, operations, doctor management, onboarding doctors, business development, sales, corporate sales, marketing, R&D, and ensuring 24/7 service to our customers. 

We are working on a new model to make our services accessible to more people outside Dhaka. Smartphone and internet penetration is not yet widespread in many semi-urban and rural areas outside Dhaka. But we want to serve this group of people. We are partnering with rural pharmacies that will use the DocTime app instead of selling non-prescribed drugs. They can immediately help their customers get a video consultation through the DocTime app and then sell medicine. We have already onboarded over 150 pharmacies on our platform and are working to expand it further.

Ruhul: How big is your team now?

Anowar Hossain: Currently, we are a team of 60 plus people. Our team has doubled over the last 6-8 months. 

Ruhul: Can you tell us about your culture, please? 

Anowar Hossain: We have an open, flexible, and enthusiastic office environment. Our excellent employee retention rate speaks for itself. Our people love the environment. They love the product and they love to work here. 

From the beginning, we have emphasized building a team based on a shared vision to solve healthcare problems in Bangladesh. We make sure we have the people who care about the problem we are solving. 

We care about our people. We have always encouraged a culture of mutual respect and care. We make sure that our people not only care about the company but also care about each other. I am building a family, not a company. We are the DocTime family. 

Overall, we have always tried to build a working environment that empowers our people and helps bring the best out of them. 

Ruhul: How many users do you serve per month? 

Anowar Hossain: On average we do over 15000 consultations monthly and are growing consistently. 

Ruhul: The ‘10 Taka Campaign’ for doctor consultation that you mentioned was a brilliant move to build awareness and grow users. Can you tell us what other strategies you used to grow DocTime? Also, can you tell us about marketing and growth initiatives? 

Anowar Hossain: We have an exceptionally talented team that looks after our marketing. We mostly rely on digital platforms so far. Pran Sarwar, our head of Marketing has managed to build a brand that people can trust. We have managed to get a very good user base with our limited marketing spending on digital. We are now planning to explore offline marketing areas.  

Our marketing has evolved over the past months. Initially, we predominantly focused on word of mouth. Gradually, we transitioned to digital marketing and expanded the channels to include almost all the digital marketing channels. To that end, digital marketing has been the main acquisition strategy and channel for us. We have tried a couple of ideas there including influencer marketing. In the early days, we worked with Solaiman Shukhon which helped us meaningfully. We are now doing some OVCs and exploring offline channels as well. 

Ruhul: What are the challenges for DocTime now?

Anowar Hossain: The main challenge is adapting to the changing dynamics of the business. In the beginning, we focused on quality and growth. Now if you ask 10 people in Dhaka about DocTime, at least 2 of them will recognize us. Recently, I went to an entrepreneur conference at Daffodil University and the people there knew about DocTime, they used our services and they were happy. It proves that we have been able to achieve our initial target. 

We are further working on our business model. The COVID pandemic has contributed to our growth. But we want to sustain the growth and go to the next level. We are focusing on building a better business strategy. Now that the pandemic is over, people can get in-person consultations. Our challenge is to adapt to this new change and build a new business strategy to continue our growth. 

So sustaining growth is one of the biggest challenges for us at this moment. We are working on it and also working on our business model. We have also partnered with ICDDR’b helping them to digitize their NCD program in urban and rural areas. We are building partnerships with various organizations.

Ruhul: If you draw the growth equation of DocTime for the next few years, what are some of the key components of that equation? 

Anowar Hossain: Currently, we offer a few services to our users. Two years down the line, we want to get to a point where patients can get all kinds of healthcare services on our platform. 

At the same time, we want to expand our services to rural areas and potentially to a new market. Geographic expansion to other markets outside Bangladesh is an important component of our growth equation. 

In a nutshell, components are services and vertical diversification, B2B business, and geographic expansion.  

Ruhul: What are the priorities for DocTime for the next couple of years?

Anowar Hossain: For now our main priority is to sustain the growth. A lot of startups fail to sustain their growth. While we are sustaining our growth, at the same time we are working on improving our business model. Our goal is to keep our people and traction going. At the same time, we plan to continue adding more services to make the lives of our users easier. 

Ruhul: What is your take on overall digital healthcare services in Bangladesh? What are the challenges, and opportunities? Doctors in Bangladesh already have a tough life and are overburdened with patients. Why do you think doctors will be willing to join DocTime and similar platforms? 

Anowar Hossain: The well-known doctors are very busy and are not much interested in digital platforms. They don’t have time and most of them are not essentially tech-savvy. 

So the question comes: why would they want to see patients through the DocTime platform? However, some of these doctors are quite ahead in their thinking and they have already adapted to technology. They are happy to use the DocTime platform when it is convenient for them. 

The young doctors are already technology savvy. They see that digital healthcare services may work and be the future of healthcare. A few years down the line these young doctors will become senior doctors. DocTime is popular among this new generation of doctors as they still need a platform to reach patients. Once this group of doctors will become senior, it will completely transform the healthcare landscape. 

We are working on making DocTime a part of the doctor’s life and helping them to optimize their time. 

Healthcare is a fast-growing sector in Bangladesh, growing at 15% annually. The telemedicine market is massive. We are a country of 167 million people. So the opportunity is huge. 

Although every part of our life is being digitized, healthcare remains a relative laggard. This will change in the next few years. People have started to see value in telemedicine and digital healthcare services. In the next 1-2 years, this vertical is going to mature. 

Ruhul: As the market grows, the competition will intensify. How do you plan to stand out as a company and respond to the competitive pressures? 

Anowar Hossain: I view competition positively. We need more companies joining this market because it will help create awareness and grow the market faster. 

For us, we want to be the leader in the market and are working toward this goal. Our biggest strength is technology. We have built a scalable and adaptable platform. 

We will continue to provide quality healthcare to our clients. When it comes to your health, you do not want to compromise the quality. We are working on making quality health care accessible and affordable to more people. 

We release new products every other week and regularly add new features. So if a new company comes in they will have to catch up with us. Since we are working hard, we hope that we will always be ahead.

We have raised investment from an excellent set of investors who have experience in the healthcare, tech & pharmaceutical industry, which we believe can help us as we grow as a business. 

Anowar Hossain: We are a young and hardworking company. We are ambitious and committed to achieving what we want to achieve. There will always be challenges. So far, we have been quite good at managing those challenges. We have an excellent team who are capable and hard working. 

We have built a world-class product. If you compare DocTime with other telemedicine platforms in Bangladesh, I can guarantee you’ll not have an equal experience anywhere else. 

We have a filtering process that simplifies your doctor search. For example, if you need a female gynecologist you can filter out other results from the search. If you want to get a consultation from a senior doctor who has experience of 8-10 years, you can also find it through our filter. 

Our users can give ratings to doctors and you can make decisions based on that. So we are building a product that has the potential to make a difference in the healthcare ecosystem system of Bangladesh.

Ruhul: Have you found anything in particular useful in your journey to building DocTime?

Anowar Hossain: Our biggest advantage was the pandemic. The pandemic has given an unprecedented rise to digital services. We have benefited from that shift in consumer behavior. 

I have a few mentors who have been of tremendous support throughout my journey. Daffodil Family CEO, Mohammad Nuruz Zaman sir is a mentor to me. He has played an important role in my journey. Whenever I get time, I meet him. He has helped me navigate various challenges of building a startup. 

Early-stage founders should talk to more people and seek out opportunities to learn. Sometimes a great idea can come from your junior. So always welcome new ideas from the team.

It is useful to have an understanding of the challenges you will face in your journey. For me, the first challenge was to onboard doctors and convince the doctors to use the platform. The other challenge I faced was marketing and growth. From the beginning, I sorted out my challenges with the right team taking ownership and working very hard with me. To find doctors I contacted my friends, relatives, and family members. Even when I went to see a dentist, I asked him if he could help me to reach out to doctors

For marketing, I found someone who used to work with me and he took the responsibility of handling our communication work.

Starting a venture is about going forward step by step and finding the solutions to your problems. 

If I summarize, some of the things that I have found super helpful throughout my journey so far are team selection, planning, trying new ideas, learning quickly, and of course the lockdown due to the pandemic, which you can call luck. 

Ruhul: How do you deal with the challenges that come with being a founder?

Anowar Hossain: I think as a founder keeping your cool is the biggest challenge. Personally, when I am under pressure I remember the Almighty. I pray. It works for me every time. I always ask the almighty to guide me and make things easy for me. Keeping patience and attention to detail.

To run a business, you need a team you can trust. I have a key team with whom I discuss and brainstorm ideas and challenges and share my burden. Founders should never try to do everything on their own. Share your challenges. Discuss. Make decisions. 

When facing a challenge, devise multiple plans. Because plan-A might not work. Then you will need a plan B. Have backup plans. When you know that you have alternatives, it makes it easy to deal with stress. 

Ruhul: How do you stay productive and focused?

Anowar Hossain: The first thing one should realize is that you can not do everything yourself. You have to find people who are good at what they do and rely on them. You can not micromanage everything. This is the first step to meaningful productivity. 

When we started DocTime, my primary concern was to build the product. When I built the product, I moved to onboard doctors and when I onboarded some doctors, I started to work on marketing. I have consistently fired myself and moved to the next task instead of trying to do it all myself. So you need reliable and responsible people across operations who share the same vision with you and delegate responsibilities to them. 

I am a dreamer and I never give up. Even if I have only a 1% chance of success I will try my best. Over 95% of the time I have seen that when I didn’t give up on something I managed to get around it. So when your plan doesn’t work, change the plan and try again.

I work very hard. I work six days a week and 12 hours per day on most days. I start working very early and found the early hours 4 times more productive. . Sometimes I also work on weekends. I do take breaks from time to time to spend time with family. 

For organizing my tasks, I use a planner and take notes which helps me to stay on track.

In a nutshell, have faith in yourself, work hard, have great people in your team, and never give up. If something does not work, learn quickly, change your strategy and try again. 

Ruhul: A book recommendation for our readers. 

Anowar Hossain: Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono is an excellent short read. 

Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based writer, researcher, and entrepreneur. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and the author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about entrepreneurship, business, strategy, technology, and culture. He can be reached at [email protected]

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