The powerhouse women Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga and Dr. Sara Khurram are the faces behind Pakistani startup Sehat Kahani. Their ability to identify the gap in female doctors’ practicing rate and its association with socio-cultural barriers bred the idea of their startup. Creating the use of technology, they came up with the idea of a telemedicine platform that would employ thousands of homebound female doctors all across Pakistan while also catering to the healthcare needs of the underprivileged communities that did not have access to proper medical care.
Universally for a startup to scale to a level that Sehat Kahani has, in as short as a three years period of time, is intriguing. Added the context of it being a women-led startup and that too in the domain of telemedicine in a developing country like Pakistan. Over the top of it, given the stats around lessening venture capital funding’s to women led startups, its ability to gain venture capitalists’ trust and hence an investment of one million dollars in recent times sets it as an example in the startup ecosystem of the country.
Sehat Kahani has a hybrid model that caters to all social classes while maintaining a network of over five thousand doctors, predominantly females. Startup.pk’s founder Sayyed Ahmad Masud conducted a detailed interview with Dr. Iffat Zafar, one of its co-founders and dug deep into their impeccable management style, future of telemedicine in Pakistan, their sustainable business model and what they believe are the absolute must(s) for startups to progress. Below are a few interesting insights that we have gathered from the conversation that would do nothing but help you keep your startup at a fast paced growth direction:
➡ On being asked about how to make an investor see value in your startup, here are a few things that Dr. Iffat mentioned:
• It is indeed very difficult to raise an investment and to get to a point where you secure it is a hard journey.
• Accounting has to be very strong. If you have a strong presentable audit report that you can send to a local or a foreign investor, no other question remains.
• You need to be mindful of where you want to see your company in the future.
• You need to have a set direction for your future growth areas and past endeavour’s must support it.
• Investors pay special heed to the founders. How passionate and vigorous are they for their ideas?
➡ The right kind of investor:
• is the one who is ready to sit with you and help you in getting where you want to get.
• is the one who buys your vision.
• is not in a hurry to get his money. It is not just money, it is more than that.
• is the one who trusts you. If an investor is too nosy, it gets really hard for businesses to function.
➡ Your product/service might not always be specified to a single social class. Rather the same product/service can meet the needs of different social classes. You just need to identify different pain points.
• Sehat Kahani is an apt example of this. They started off as a medical healthcare service provider for underprivileged communities through a brick and mortar model. Later in 2019, they created a mobile application that catered to the needs of an urban population.
• “We may have money but we don’t have time in cities. How about we enable people to access their doctors with the help of a phone.” mentioned Iffat.
• “Every patient was a paid customer. Every service that we created had money around it. Healthcare is not just confined to low paying communities. But people with privilege like you and me , we just have different pain points.” added she.
➡ COVID-19 acted as an accelerator for technology driven startups where people started to accept digitization of healthcare.
➡ Focusing on becoming a thought leader for the initial years of your startup is more important than generating excess revenue.
• “We focus on giving the telemedicine experience to people. We want to make them habitual. We want them to have that experience. So we engage in roadshows and everything to establish ourselves as leaders. Revenue is not the priority as for now.” said Iffat.
➡ Go for fundraising when you believe you have enough money to sustain your business for ten to twelve months and even eighteen in some cases.
• Revamp all your financial models. Devise a clear strategy. Ask yourself, “where do you want to get in the next three or five years. Brainstorm and strategize accordingly.
➡ On being asked about the challenges of meeting the expectations of people who are extremely concerned about their health through telemedicine, interviewee emphasized on the importance of distinct value that a service brings.
• Sehat kahani average consultation time is 17-20 mins. The edge that Sehat Kahani has over conventional physical consultation is the time and conversation.
➡ Sehat Kahani works on a hybrid model. The charges are different for low and high income people.
• “We are talking about bulk economics when we go into the retail market, we focus on subscription packages. We create subsidized levels.” Says Iffat.
• However for areas like mental health and the consultation through the application, the charges are different given the less availability of mental health practitioners in Pakistan.
• In clinics the startup works around numbers. They have less charges yet number of patients is more.
➡ Having a cofounder by your side makes a huge amount of difference.
• You are not alone in your endeavors.
• It is said it works best when you have different kinds of expertise like one is marketing and the other is handling the technical side.
• Yet in Sahat Kahani’s example, both the founders are doctors but they both have different strong suites.
• “Our personalities are very much complimenting. We were coworkers first and became friends later on. Based on how our natures gel together.” added her.
• “When you have complimenting ideas so you grow. I see one side of a picture and she sees another. Like she is very good at product creation. She is interested in the government segment and I am into corporate. Dr. Sara is so detail oriented. I see the big picture and she works out the steps.” said Dr. Iffat.
➡ Having a strong team helps you in scaling. You need to constantly ask yourself if you are getting people for their right expertise. “Our strong team has kept us on our toes,” said Iffat while speaking at length about the importance of having a sound team at your back.
➡ On being asked about the examples of startups which get recognition in the form of awards but get lost in the glamour and disappear, Iffat had thoughtful views: “Awards have helped us build credibility,” said Iffat. Yet she believed that ongoing operations and initiatives along with a strong team helps you in constantly striving for more.
➡ Three things, according to Dr. Iffat Zafar a startup needs to succeed:
• In order to identify your niche in the market, you should have a strong research and must reach out to people to see if they will be interested in using your product or service.
• Business model holds huge importance. It does not matter if you have a social impact business or any other. Have a strong business model and then take the right steps to establish it.
• You must have the right wit and passion. You need to be persistent on how you can do it and there is no other option.
Dr. Iffat furthermore emphasized on the fact that men and women do not have the same playing field when it comes to professional development. “I think when you become an entrepreneur the playing field is not equal for both genders. A woman has to work double as compared to a man. If you have a meeting, for guys it’s easy to meet over golf or tea at any time. Girls have to stick to 9 to 5. We have chores waiting for us at home. A lot of houses are not keen on hiring nannies. There is an emotional challenge as well because from a very early age we are told that our prime responsibility is our home, kids and husband etc. There is a lot of grilling even if things are going perfect. ‘So you went for 8 hours? Who did the kids stay with?’ You have to hear such things on a regular basis.” said Iffat while speaking about the challenges she faced.
Yet she also noted that self-belief is a very useful quality to have. She believes that if you have it then you know that you will be able to accomplish whatever you aim for and that is what keeps you going. Sehat Kahani is an embodiment of resilience, faith and above all commitment to the cause. Ehealth is taking a new ground all across the world and if tapped on rightly along the way, Sehat Kahani can surely do wonders.