Imagine, you don’t have to stay in long queues to see a practitioner when you get sick. All you need is to make one simple click in your app — and you get your personal doctor within minutes ringing your doorbell. For Qatari citizens, this situation is already a reality thanks to at home doc, a mobile application that brings doctors, medications and laboratories anytime and anywhere to its customers. We talked to Hesham Elfeshawy, Founder & Chief Executive Officer about his entrepreneurial path, all the pros and cons of starting a business in a foreign country, and investment opportunities in MENA.
It took you two years to open a business in Qatar. What were the major obstacles you faced at the beginning?
You can set up a company in Qatar within few days, but there are specific regulations if you are not a Qatari citizen. I am Egyptian, and I have been living here for 12 years. The challenge is finding your Qatari business partner. If you want to start your business, you need to build a partnership that has 51% of local equity. It’s not easy because if you are planning to do business, you need to make sure you partner with someone who has a proper mindset and values, someone who believes in your idea. It took me a bit longer to kick-start because initially, we had a wrong partnership. One of the obstacles that could face any startup is the cost of business registration and licensing. You pay a couple of thousands of dollars to start a company. In the beginning, you need all the money to develop your idea and test it but you can’t do that if you are not registered specifically in healthcare.
Thanks to the recent political and economic changes in the region, the process became much easier. Qatar now is supporting and encouraging entrepreneurs to start business since the strategy now focuses on the diversity of the economy more than it did a couple of years ago. It's not only about oil and gas. It is changing, and to register your company now is as easy as ABC.
How does the entrepreneurial landscape look like in Qatar today?
I think it is rated one of the best in the region. Qatar supports entrepreneurs and I have witnessed this myself. Four or five years ago, there wasn't much going on in here. A lot of startups are being incubated and funded now by, for example, the Qatar Business Incubation Centre that belongs to Qatar Development Bank and QSTP - Qatar Science and Technology Park, which partners with a couple of popular VCs like 500 startups. Also, the Ministry of Transport and Communication has an incubation centre for tech companies. Even ASPIRE, the foundation for sports, launched an incubation centre for SportTech.
It seems like governments finally understand the value of entrepreneurial potential and are trying to invest more in rising talents.
This is true. Qatar Development Bank is now one of our investors in our USA based holding company, we have just closed our seed round this month at $ 1.5 million. It's the first time that Qatar Development Bank invests in a foreign startup that has an operating entity in Qatar.
When 51% of the equity goes with one partner who is not a founder, it doesn't seem attractive to any investors to . Having our holding entity in Australia at the initial stages helped us overcome this challenge. In the beginning, when we raised our first seed funding - $150 000 from 500 startups, we decided to register the company in Delaware, USA. By 'we' I mean me and my twin brother, and co-founder who lives in Australia.
This opened for us the door to access more funds from more investors, including Seedstars that invested $ 50 000 in at home doc just a few months ago.
Congratulations! It is a big move on your way. No doubt, you are helping to set the investment mood in the region and serve as a positive example of change.
Thank you and yes, we are very proud of it. We took the lead, and now, we meet a lot of foreign startups who are following our steps. Investment is not only about focusing on the local market. If you want to invest in a unicorn, you will choose the business that is the cross-border and that has a scalable solution.
You mentioned a couple of funds that invested in you including Seedstars. What makes you attractive to them, and how do you manage to build healthy relationships with VC funds?
It takes a good idea, a good team and a user traction. The passion of the founder is a key factor though, this all helps to gain momentum and be investment ready.
In the Middle East, some founders start their companies just for the sake of starting own business. Some of them get funded, but unfortunately, they never grow. They create a buzz or noise, and it takes VCs a long time to spot a good founder in the crowd.
I have been in business for more than 15 years. I know how to execute and efficiently use my network. I know how to reach out to the right investor or venture funds. As I mentioned before, we started with '500 startups' and now we have four institutional investors. I believe when you get one reputable investor on board, and you enter the startup scene, you become visible, and other VCs start to notice you as well.
We gained huge value from Seedstars. We went through the growth program, and it gave us a lot. The program was focused on the growth and how to set up your business in a way that growth becomes part of the process. You keep on repeating certain activities in specific orders to develop your product and validate your idea and take it to the next level. I have to admit, Seedstars is the best in this.
Wow! That’s super pleasant to hear. Tell me more about your journey with Seedstars.
We were among the competing startups at the Seedstars Summit 2019, but unfortunately, at home doc didn't get selected. But we didn't give up. I met Fredrik Andersson, Seedstars Investment Manager, at the event and I told him: “Listen, I don't care about $500 000. If you have $50 000 to give me now, give them now”. They encouraged me to apply for the growth program, and our company got selected. It's all about seeing opportunities and never giving up. We see a chance not in the amount of money but in how you choose the right investors because it's like a marriage. We like Seedstars a lot.
We are considered one of the hottest startups in Qatar. We receive phone calls from founders and to some extent, I became a mentor to some of them (smiling). People asking: “How do you do that? How do you do this?” We usually recommend people applying for Seedstars growth program because the value that you get out of it is not something that you would get at schools or big corporations, even if you work for decades there.
Please tell me more about your team and your company culture. Who are those people behind at home doc?
We are the perfect team and we've got what it takes to make all of this happen. I am the CEO and one of the founders. My co-founder, Dr. Hatem is the Chief Medical Officer. He is responsible for the medical practice, patient satisfaction and best healthcare outcomes. Ahmed, our CTO with nine years of experience in Microsoft, has just joined our team recently.
We have a team of 17 people in Qatar - doctors, nurses, administrative staff, chaperones (people that are assisting the doctors). We also have affiliations with clinics — in-team physicians whom we pay salaries and outsourced ones. We are actively recruiting nine more to join our technology team.
The reason why we come to the office every day is all about having the patient in the centre of everything that we do. We do this not for the sake of money. When our doctor is a bit late, we don't charge a client any fees. Out team even sends them fruits and flowers. We have a different approach. We take patients satisfaction seriously.
The moment you use at home doc, you start having your own concierge healthcare team at a push of a button. You can reach us at any time. We care about people, and this is the foundation of our culture. At the moment, we are on our way to building a healthcare value-based system. Patient satisfaction is key. The happier is the patient, the more money we will pay our doctors.
Many people see problems every day and do not do anything about that, they don't create business solutions, but you did. Why do you care?
We were usually thinking out of the box, when we were young. When we started at home doc, Hatem was working as a surgeon in Australia and creating medical solutions as a sub contracted provider with the national home doctor service. In Australia the home doctor it is part of medico-legal rights of Australian citizens. When your GP clinic is closed by 5 pm, you still have the right to see your doctor at your place any time.
Qatar healthcare system is ranked number one in the Middle East - super fancy facilities, modern equipment, helicopter ambulance. In the private sector, it's a bit different because most of the private clinics are commercialised. The value most of the private providers are looking for is how much money they will make. For example, dermatology clinics offers aesthetic services more than they offer clinical ones; they are like salons now.
After living here for 15 years of my stay here, patients still suffer, are sick and still have to drive, and wait for long hours at hospitals to see a doctor. This should not be the case.
I believe that technology is changing the way we perceive things. If we can call a taxi at a push of the button, why can’t we call a doctor in the same way? This idea has much higher value proposition than just taking a person from one place to another.
When someone is really weak and needs care that's when they are most vulnerable , why don't we use this technology to bring quality service 24/7 wherever this person is?
How do you measure at home doc’s impact, and what do you consider your greatest achievement?
We measured the impact by measuring the net promoter score (NPS). We are the only healthcare provider that measure NPS. Our rate beats Amazon’s and beats others too. It is usually above 90.
Before we had an app, it was just a Facebook page. I would tell you one story of how everything started. It was a Friday morning, and all the private clinics were closed. There was an expat young mother. She had a one-month old baby and another one who was about two years old. Her husband wasn't around. She was looking for a doctor because she got sick, and the only option was to take a 30-day old baby and the 2-year old toddler and go to the crowded emergency department.
She was searching on Facebook, and she found us in the group called Doctors in Qatar. The lady dropped us a line, and we sent a doctor to her place. She was super happy with the service, medications were delivered, and she received an excellent experience. That day brought us 3500 new followers. She recommended us everywhere. We immediately started receiving calls. It’s all about people. It is proven here that the most significant growth for us now is a positive word of mouth.
What future do you envision for at home doc?
We offer a new experience. It's not about technology, not about the app, it's about healthcare outcome. The outcome is how fast did I recover, how easy and accessible the service was, how good was the doctor.
We are empowering people to care differently for themselves and others around them. We believe that this service will gain massive popularity in the region and emerging markets at large.
We have partner with insurance providers. We currently have access to over 140 000 lives who can use our service without cash, and we bulk bill their insurance directly. It's a huge opportunity to grow our market share in the upcoming 12 months. We are currently developing and testing creative products that cater for those who don't have private health insurance in a most creative and effective way.
We are tapping a new market this year and we are working to upgrade our technology and team to cater for the new opportunities we have created.