“Selling medical products is not like selling popcorn”, - jokes our next hero, Sizwe Nzima, CEO and Co-Founder of Iyeza Health, a delivery solution helping people in Cape Town access chronic medical care they need to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Iyeza Health became the winner of the Seedstars Vaccine Delivery Challenge, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the Seedstars Summit 2019, and we decided to discover what’s on the company’s agenda in the near future.
Everything started with medication delivery for your grandmother. Why didn’t you just focus on the people closest to you at that time? What pushed you to help thousands of people in Cape Town?
Two things motivated me. The first one is that the need is greater than just me, my family and my surroundings. There's a more significant community out there that needs access to treatment in a fast and easy way. The second reason is that I've always wanted to become a business owner and build a business model around a particular social problem. I consider myself a social entrepreneur as much as I think about myself as a businessman. I do care about making a difference in people's lives.
What kind of people do you hire, and how do you know these people are the ones you are looking for?
Honestly, it's challenging to hire people because you don't always have enough money to pay for the best expertise. I always sell the vision, the bigger picture of what we are doing, and that's where the creative community comes in. When I look for employees, I always look for people who believe in the vision more than the money. This approach helped me to build a good team that shares the same values, which in the end creates a stable ‘ship’ that is ready to sail any waters. The money is obviously there. We do pay them, but passion is the foundation.
In the beginning, you were alone. At what point did you understand that you need partners?
Scaling of the business was difficult. I had to find partners because I understood that I could not be a Jack of all trades. I was looking for the people who are in the same industry and are good at a more strategic level that could take the company to the next level. Currently, there are three managing partners - me, Siraaj and Lieke.
What is your biggest challenge at the moment, and what could be the solution?
The most challenging is streamlining the processes and sticking to them. There’s a lot of trial and error when you're trying to build the whole system. The market changes very quickly, and we have to keep up with those changes. The main objective right now is to establish stable operations so that we can scale the last mile delivery model nationwide.
What are your plans for the near future?
We want to expand to two different provinces first, then to five and finally, to be present in 20 sub-districts in South Africa within the next 12 months. The quality is crucial to us, that’s why there is no rush, the pilot first, and then scaling.
If we talk about scaling nationwide, have you already received requests from other people who want to take your model and start something similar in another country?
People call me all the time, but I keep answering “Let's stay in touch.” We have to pick the right candidates to be able to run the model correctly. Why? If the model doesn't succeed, the years of the brand are on the line. When we outline the execution and strategic plan, and we get the best people on board, we’ll start replicating our model in other countries. Plus, proper infrastructure is key; the setup of which requires a lot of money and effort. So, we are trying to estimate how much it would take for us to move forward in this direction.
What are your key numbers and impact in the country?
Iyeza Health has contracted 180 healthcare providers in all major cities in the country. Furthermore, we have set a contract with 20 national health insurance companies as part of a prescribed minimum benefit that will cover the vaccine delivery for 9 to 26-year old females nationwide.
What are you most proud of? Do you have any stories about moments when you discovered how your business helps save people’s lives or solves more problems than you expected?
Our clients’ diseases range from hypertension and arthritis to diabetes and HIV. I've had a couple of patients who didn’t track their health state. They were very sick, but they didn't want to take their medication. They were scared of going to the clinic because of the stigma attached to people seeing them there.
Our service has completely changed the situation. You only have to upload content to the platform. Nobody sees you. Nobody is there to judge you. Nobody knows what’s inside of the package except for a pharmacist, but the end customer never sees the pharmacist, and the latter doesn’t know the customer. The process is simple and anonymous.
Moreover, with our solution, we help women to get family planning medication and avoid unwanted pregnancy without the fear of being judged by others.
How do you create awareness around the issue? Do you have any plans to deliver some educational programs for citizens?
It's incredibly crucial in medical delivery to educate people. Selling medical products is not like selling popcorn. You are selling popcorn, and everyone knows it’s nice. With medication delivery, it's a different story. We have to teach people even some basics. For example, an older lady might keep insulin next to her bed, but insulin should be stored in the fridge under a specific temperature. That’s why educating our delivery drivers on the basics of the medications is a useful value added service.
In the future, we plan to partner with NGOs supporting women’s health in training and education. We clearly understand that we won’t be able to do everything ourselves. Our core is delivery; for education, the best solution is a partnership.
Seedstars Vaccine Delivery Challenge and Iyeza: What are you planning to do with the award?
Iyeza Health has already started working on new enhancements to improve the geo-tagging and proof of delivery on the platform. In addition to this, we began to grow our network of vaccination providers.