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Last month, my co-founder Vejey Gandier and I pitched our startup PopRx on CBC Dragon's Den Next Gen Den, securing $100,000 in investment.
The idea for PopRx all started over a year ago when I tried to fill a prescription that I got for an ear infection. I’m a pretty busy guy so taking an hour out of my day to go to the pharmacy is not exactly the best use my time. I would rather use that extra time to play with my kids who I don’t see often enough.
I called the pharmacy to ask if they could deliver the medication and was surprised to find out that most pharmacies offer free delivery. The pharmacy actually came to my house twice: first to pick up the paper prescription, then again to deliver my medication. It was an amazing service but so inefficient and a hassle to organize over the phone. I also had to give my credit card number over the phone which I hate to do.
Inefficiencies lead to opportunities
As an entrepreneur, I’m trained to see these inefficiencies as an opportunity. The next day I phoned the owner of the pharmacy. Our conversation went like this:
Me: “If I could design a way for patients to send you new and refill prescriptions securely using their smart phone so you could deliver them, would you pay me for that?”
Pharmacist: “Yes, I definitely would. Do you have something like that? I would be very interested.”
Me: “Yes, we’re building it right now - it should be ready in a few months. So how much would you pay us for that?” (This wasn’t exactly true, but it’s a method startups understand).
Pharmacist: “Well, we could probably pay you $X for each prescription that you send us.”
Me: “That’s about what we were thinking, too.” (Really, we had no idea). “We’re only accepting a few partners per delivery area. Would you be willing to sign a contract to be our first partner in your area?”
Pharmacist: “Yeah, sure! I’ll be at the pharmacy tomorrow, and you can bring it over.”
Me: “Sounds great! I’ll be there.”
So, that’s what we call market validation. From there, we went on to build a mockup and had the pharmacy staff review its functions and work with us on what would be required for regulation.
We then went on to contact other pharmacies. Nearly 100% of the pharmacies we were contacting were saying yes during our first phone call (even though many ignored our initial emails). We found out that pharmacists are pretty competitive group and will jump at the opportunity to destroy their competitors. This definitely worked in our favour.
At that point, we knew that the pharmacists would definitely pay us if we could get people to order their prescriptions using their smart phone. Really, we were just facilitating what they were already doing, so the model worked well.
But could we get people to use the app?
Understanding the customer's needs
To validate this idea, we started running multiple Facebook ads focusing on different features of the app. We found out that even though people thought that it was really cool to be able to take a picture of their new prescription and have it delivered the same day free, it was difficult to get these people to download the app.
The reason we soon discovered was that people were not willing to download an app that they may use in the future when they get a new prescription. To get these users we would have to engage in awareness marketing, which is way too expensive for a new startup.
While looking at the hundred or so users who had downloaded our app, we noticed that almost none were using it for new prescriptions. Rather they were taking pictures of their existing pill bottles to send to the pharmacy for refills.
When we contacted some of these users (one being my own mother), we found out that they were most excited about the fact that when they added their existing medications, it created a list of these medications right on their phone where they could reorder them and have them delivered with just a swipe.
The science of product/market fit
This was our biggest breakthrough. When we advertised this feature, our cost per click went down 500%. We knew we had something right away. Eight out of ten Canadians over the age of 45 have at least one medication that they fill every month. If we were focusing our advertising towards these Canadians, then most of them would have a reason to download the app right away.
Then when they eventually got a new prescription, our app would already be on their phone for them to use. It’s an indescribable moment when you know you have something that’s going to make waves!
I’d like to think that I’m a natural entrepreneur, but this is a carefully crafted process, a science of market and customer validation, building cheap, failing fast, and growing faster. You could learn these lessons through real-world experience or reading books (not really).
I learned it at the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology program at Canada’s most innovative university, the University of Waterloo. It’s the only program I know that seamlessly mixes classroom and real-world experience launching a startup, and it helped me gain the skills to launch two growing companies.
Dr. Ali Esmail took a break from his residency as a head and neck surgeon at the University of Manitoba to pursue a Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET). As a physician, Ali saw many opportunities to leverage technology to improve patient care and workflows.
During MBET, he co-founded Koronis Health along with fellow MBET student Vejey Gandier. Their product, Medlinx, a secure mobile collaboration platform for medical professionals, has over 600 users at 26 different hospitals and clinics.
PopRx is an on-demand prescription app in which a user can manage, order, refill, and transfer prescriptions from their smartphone with free same-day delivery.