Despite being at the top echelon of her career as the COO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Abimbola Adebakin exited to establish Advantage Health Africa whose flagship health tech venture is my-medicines.com. Techawk had an exclusive interview with Abimbola Adebola. She told us about my-medicines.com, shared her experience as the first runner-up at the recently held Seedstars Lagos and much more. Excerpts
I am Abimbola Adebakin, Founder and CEO, Advantage Health Africa. We are focused on performance improvement for small and medium-sized enterprises in the health sector. Currently, our flagship health tech venture is my-medicines.com which is a curated medicines’ ordering platform. It leverages our aggregation of licensed pharmacies in Nigeria and blockchain technology to crowdsource genuine medicines on demand and delivers last-mile to homes and offices. It was launched a year ago, on October 1, 2017, and our drive is to increase access to medicines across the country and even the continent.
You know from our market research, hardly do you find someone in Nigeria who has not met stock-outs in their neighbourhood pharmacies. This leads to tiresome searches for prescribed or over-the-counter medication from one location to another. We thought it was novel to create an online curated platform for thousands of medicines (we are only about health). But why stop at curating and directing people to where the medicines exist, we thought the last mile delivery was vital, and we have been proven right. Over our one year proof of concept stage, we have made an impact in saving lives, providing the convenience that was missing, in sourcing rare medicines, provision of refills for patients with chronic conditions, and we do this across all states of Nigeria.
So, we are running a platform business, and have created a controlled marketplace for genuine medicines. We generate demand online or via other channels (and we plan to add more channels soon), connect with availability and deliver these medicines using our network of over 800 premises across 30 states and the FCT. That massive spread is second to none in the country. It enables us to deliver within 2-4 hours of confirmed orders since medicines are often needed in urgent situations.
Motivation and offering to Nigerians
No longer should Nigerians seek medicines up and down, getting frustrated thinking the medicine does not exist. One key motivation for us is to demystify the availability of genuine and affordable medication, avoid constraints that force people to unreliable sources of medicines. It is painful to hear people sourced adulterated medication and administered these to ill patients. Imagine, they get worse or not better after so much money has been spent! This is the pain for millions of Nigerians every week. So far, over 500 paying clients have expressed deep gratitude for this service.
They wonder sometimes how we are able to locate medicines they had looked for in cities and towns across the country. To us, the more people know about it, the better. We really need to improve healthcare user experience on our continent. Many pay out of pocket for medicines and this is tough enough, so, using such hard-earned funds to purchase substandard medication under tougher conditions is just a no-no! Nigerians deserve better and we have proven that this piece of the puzzle can be fixed. Just use the genuine medication sourcing services available on my-medicines.com.
Experience at Seedstars Lagos
Therefore, with the confidence we have garnered in our model, we applied for the Seedstars Lagos 2018 round of SSW 2018 which is focused on startups with innovative approaches to solving critical problems. We saw it as an opportunity to showcase the solution that every user has been satisfied with. What a joy when we were selected as finalists, from hundreds of applications across diverse sectors – health, energy, services, etc.
After I was notified of our selection, I went through a training session on how to pitch and pass on my message confidently. I must say, Seedstars’ guidelines really helped, my pitch improved from a 10-min untidy one to a 3-min pitch that is more apt for engaging an interested investor or partner. The process also helped me and my co-founders to identify our critical factors – the problem we are solving, the solution, the opportunity in clear terms, the traction so far and how our business model makes money, our team and the ask from potential investors. It’s all clearer now.
On the day of the selection, Seedstars had in place an impressive panel of judges who evaluated my pitch alongside 10 other pitches and my-medicines.com emerged the first runner-up! This has really boosted us. Mind you, this was my first EVER pitch before anyone but I went in to win it! I am typically calm and laid back…but I was nervous (though the audience said it did not show).
My teammates were in the audience and their support was tremendous. These programmes need to be everywhere across the country. They definitely address a key need of creating a supporting environment, and cannot be overemphasized in decreasing the mortality rate of entrepreneurial ventures. They do not answer all the questions definitely, but entrepreneurs like me benefit from the training, exposure, the prizes as grants and/or service and support.
Metrics for measuring success
In some circles, some will say the various awards we have received is a show of success. Don’t get me wrong, it has been very reassuring to be acknowledged or mentioned in highlights of what is working in Africa, for example, we were named one of the Top 50 Innovations across Africa by the Africa Innovation Summit (AIS).
Yet, for us, the feedback from clients – of the way we solve their medication needs and do this so calmly, that is a sign of success to us. So far, we have fulfilled over 90% of the orders received. We will keep monitoring this performance indicator as it is vital we locate the medicines.
Another performance indicator for us is the ability to fulfill orders across Nigeria. Achieving scale so well within one year is a hallmark of my-medicines.com. Naturally, success is also measured in hard metrics like revenue and efficiency in the use of the capital we have put in. We have bootstrapped so far, and can now look forward to scaling investment. We are putting in place the core that will make us scale even further.
Revamping Nigeria’s health sector
Nigerians deserve more and more successful health innovation. Our health sector needs similar credible solutions that address the three key issues of access, affordability, and quality. In my view, much more can be done when we look to government ONLY for the right policy and we take the bull by the horn.
It is individuals like myself and the team at Advantage Health Africa that can solve our health sector challenges. Each person or team takes a piece of the scattered jigsaw puzzle, study the “problem” and then understand the various intricacies to sort it out. Hence, you need to value Seedstars and other credible accelerators who enhance our ability to stay the course, focus on delivering results and remain viable.
Why do I say this? Because running a startup is typically not a walk in the park. You tackle hard and soft issues – people, policies, processes, prices, perception, etc. You must keep your game smooth like a duck swimming yet paddle like crazy. That image of the duck is what comes to my mind when reflecting on the challenges of entrepreneurship. But, it is thrilling when you see your idea move to operational seed stage and then to early scale phase.
WOW! Nothing compares to it. So, if asked, I will say, your team matters because the days are not always bright, and it takes a village to raise a child. Value your team, engage them, believe in them and let them believe in you and your vision. It sounds easy but relies heavily on connecting with them and ensuring they have a stake in what you are doing. Don’t hoard the upside and only share the downside. No. You won’t stand for that, would you? So, treat teammates with respect and utmost care. Keep your promises and make very few promises in the first place.
That way, you can maintain your credibility. Credibility is also important with your suppliers and clients. It’s the lifeblood of your business. For me, the grace of God has brought me an incredible team of staff, co-founders, associates, and advisory board members! I am very fortunate in this area. I have also leveraged social capital a lot, achieving incredible things with very little financial capital. We keep thinking how to get things done, who and what else to go with and what we cannot achieve, we shelve for later. When challenges come, pace yourself.
If not my-medicines.com?
If I was not building my-medicines.com right now, I will probably remain in consulting on helping sectors promote aggregation, incubation, acceleration and any other of such systems that improve the chances of startups succeeding. I did that as COO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and as an Associate of the African Agribusiness Incubation Network (AAIN). My focus for a long time has been pan-African, so, building for Africa is not new. We have registered in two other African countries and plan to move when the tide is right.
My final word – keep keeping on. Where you find yourself is right for you, honestly. Be grateful for it and look around you and find your niche through the problems you can address. Treasures do not usually look shiny and bright, grab it with both hands when you find it and keep at it.