Friday, January 6, 2012

Interview - Plan my health - A student run venture @ NSRCEL IIMB

MandE: Good evening Sandeep and Abhay, thanks for coming on to this interview. This is the first in the series of entrepreneur interview that I intent to take. To begin with, I would like you to tell us a brief background about yourself and then follow it with giving us an update about your company.

Abhay: Basically I completed my graduation from NITK Suratkal in 2008, then after that I have worked for a startup which is a start up funded by Accel partners. They are a team from IITs and IIM. One of the reasons I was working with them was to understand how businesses run and started from scratch. Basically my interest in working was my interest in entrepreneurship. I worked there for around three years and then I’ll started this, co-founded this venture called along with my colleague. This much is my background.

Sandeep: Hi all, My name is Sandeep Raj, I am a Mechanical Engineer from  PSG Tech. and post which I worked in a company called Ashok Leyland - one of  Premier automobile manufacturers in India and then after that I am doing my post graduate programme in management now. I am in the second year right now. This is my resume background, and then to tell about more about me, so I have more passion about a lot of things. One of course is the organizing things that I did right from college. Post that after my engineering group of friends started an education start up, We went to some second tier engineering colleges, and taught some people there, and this motivated me that yes even we have a capacity to do something my own and entrepreneurship is not really an unknown region where no one can really enter into – I got such a feeling post that. And post that in IIM Bangalore, I was fortunate enough to be in one of the key organizing members of the Business Festival here, I mean it gave me a wide opportunity to interact with a lot of corporate people and new entrepreneurs, based on which I decided ki, if this is not the time, I wouldn’t get a better time to start up a company.  So I came across my friend and started up company together, and it’s been doing pretty well for the past 6 months. So this is a short background about me

MandE: Could you tell what your company does?
Sandeep: Basically, we are into the online healthcare space. We started the company to provide full information on diagnostic to whoever accesses our website, but then slowly move on into a kind of home diagnostic delivery model. So what we basically do is, anyone in Bangalore can give us a call or book online, any kind of diagnostic test they want. What we do is, we send the phlebotomist to collect the blood samples to the person who has booked the service, when we offer a wide range of options to the customer as well.  Like, the customer can choose which lab he wants to give his blood samples to, and then once the blood samples is delivered to particular lab; we get back the report and give it to the particular patient whoever has asked for the service. There are two modes of operation right now, one is the corporate model and the other one is the apartment model. In the apartment model what we do is, we go there not on a week day but weekend or any public holiday so that many people are available, and then we do sufficient promotion for over a period spanning one week or two week and whoever wants to a preventive health care or regular diagnostic test can contact us. We then, we enable the diagnostic test to be done right at their doorsteps. This is the one of the core value in the offerings. In the corporate model we haven’t tried it out fully, what we plan to do is - offer a host of wellness packages to the corporate employees there.  What we want to do is not just to be the diagnostic provider there, we want to be on the lines of someone who can really take care of issue like employee wellness, the employee motivation, kind of have some target for them – health targets. We will be focusing more on the health goals of the companies, which is currently lacking, in the short survey by us in and around Bangalore. What we found out is that people give least importance to health. We would like to one of their health partner not just diagnostic partners and take up the entire health and well being of their employees - which we feel that taking care of health is the prime most importance and health comes before anything else. So we want to motivate employees through that route.

MandE: Something that I found interesting is that you both are Engineering background, why did you choose health care as your space?
Abhay: Well with my past experience care, when I was working in the last start up, I got a chance to work in the diagnostic space especially, and we figures that is a space which is a little unstructured with respect to customer needs. The way the current services is delivered by diagnostic labs and the convenience that is provided to them, it is not very promising. That is one gap we observed, we studied in fact, did a survey, met people in hospitals, diagnostic labs and we figured. And we figured after doing this study that there is lot of issues which could be addresses, and diagonostic services could be made really smooth and structured. And ya we have definitely been able to achieve it to an extent. We are looking to make it better.

MandE: Another interesting thing is, You are from Surathkal and he is from PGS Tech which is more South right! How do you people get to meet people each other?
Sandeep: Basically we got a chance to meet during our CAT coaching classes which was in Coimbatore. So, post that he moved on to Bangalore, and I also came to IIM Bangalore. We were constantly in touch and discussing few ideas about what could work out and what not? and then like basically the idea of starting a company as such and we never thought that we were going to be partners. Just wanted to tryout, just experiment something and then decide what to do later. I was always of the mentality that nothing be decided in the first step. It is always like dancing, In a dance, you take the first step; your partner takes the second step – that’s how you carry it forward. So we thought anything is a good learning experience, and it was evident from whatever has been my experience from under-graduation and post graduation. So trying out new is definitely going to be a new experience, which not most people would have an opportunity to try out. So then we thought based on our time commitments, like I had to manage my studies as well but Abhay was ready to work on it full time. Then we thought, if we are starting a company we have to be really serious about it, We are operating in a space which is very critical – health care. So not many would consider this – like if its pizza delivery if it’s half an hour late or one hour late, people are just going to do away with it. It needs kind of a permanent commitment from someone so I thought; Abhay would be a good match. Knowing him since past 2-3 years, I know he is quite sincere in whatever he does, so I thought this would be a good combination.
To put in Sunil Hande’s words – who has been one of my biggest inspirers, What he said was – Whenever you are forming a team, the ideal size of the team should be two. Make sure that your functionalities or specialties don’t overlap with each other.  You choose a field in which, you choose a partner in who exactly complements whatever you have. In the sense that if you are good at marketing your other partner should be good at finance, or If you are good in the sales part, the delivery part the other one should be good in operations part and knowing the local flavor and things like that. So we thought we are a good combination and we have the potential to pull it through. So this was one of the main motivations.

MandE: The last part of its saying one complementing another, so let me ask you how you complement each other?
Abhay:  With time we have been able to figure out as to what roles we would take going forward going forward. Right now, with respect to operations, I am taking care of the operations and Sandeep is taking care of marketing part of it. And in fact there has been lot of inputs with respect to, Sandeep’s acads and there has been guidance from IIM Bangalore also. The kind of academic inputs he has got from there and the kind of intellectual inputs from our side, our own studies, our own observations and execution of operational issues We together have been working on it, It has been going great.
Sandeep: Just to add to what Abhay has told Initially we were totally clueless about what is our role what is our part – I would come back to the point again – if you don’t know something just try it. Initially we started off our pilot operations in August, we were running around, I was missing classes so, but then I find it totally worthwhile an experience. I completely know my strengths right now. In the sense – it might be an over statement but I am pretty sure that compared to around six months back, I now know my strengths far better.

MandE: Could you tell us why to choose health care as a sector? 
Sandeep: To tell about why did chose health care as a sector, basically I wanted to be a doctor but then I had to forego it due to academic reasons. I also realized that one of my main motivations was to offer convenience to the customer in which ever segment we operate. We were also closely evaluating some of the segment that were not tapped – examining things like education, retail and these had sufficient innovation there. But then, in the healthcare space we surprisingly found that in-spite of there being such a huge need, not much of innovations has happened or, service delivery improvement has been done.  We then thought this is a good segment for us to operate on, and considering the fact that India is a huge country and lot of people need health services – especially elderly people and others in real need. Right now, it might be fascinating to order something from flipkart, but when you realize it, it’s not really an important need. You can always go to the book shop and buy books that you are ordering interest of ordering it on flipkart. Whereas in health care, there are people who can’t even walk or, they don’t have caretakers. So for them we wanted to offer some service offering. May be it started off with a social mindset – let’s start with a service and then take it forward. And then we decided, since we were offering a service, let’s put a service charge and we were giving good businesses to labs and hospitals, then we said, we will get some commission from them and then it evolved as a business. So it is basically a stage from ground zero to level one I would say, And then based on continuous search for business opportunities as well as realizing the fact that there is a good need in this segment, Then we decided to get into healthcare.

MandE: What other sectors did u evaluate?
Sandeep: Other businesses, ya like I was saying, one of important things for startup company is that you are making sure that you are not observed in the bigger picture. For example, If we are go and operate in a retail space of something there is always a possibility that some bigger retail payer is going to come to market or he is going to observe me. We don’t have cash also. But then, evaluating this business model what we found was we were not getting into any other person’s shoes, We are pretty much on our own. In the entire value chain of the entire health segment, you are just another value provider. None of the others saw us as a competitor or something. That way we thought, compared to other segment, where we could potentially cut the value chain and be a primary value chain provided, we now we operate as a secondary value chain provider, pretty much complementing all our stakeholders – that is the doctors, the clinics, patients

MandE: What is your message that you want to give to anybody who is aspiring to be entrepreneur?
Abhay: The first thing I would like to suggest is to become an entrepreneur, you need a vision. That is the biggest motivation. If you have some dream to make it big, If you are really passionate about doing something of your own, It might not only be a financial dream but it might be a passion of doing things for yourself, and making a mark in life. Apart from that Once you are into the game, once you have started something and we are working on it, we need to be focused. And definitely you need good guidance, you need people around, whom able to guide you, mentor you well. Fortunately we have got support from NSRCEL mentors and we have been doing well on that front. Apart from that, commitment – where, you know what exact actually you are doing, and you are actually executing it.
Sandeep: Yea, my message on lines of entrepreneur would be, one of my Professor quotes I would say. What Professor Want says is “If you want to start a something don’t just wait for the right idea, the right idea is never going to strike, at 3AM in the morning or at whatever time. So it’s always about trying out something, and then experimenting with it and improvising it. So I would say always go for it, even if you have 1% motivation to be an entrepreneur, just go for it. To be little contrary to what my partner said, you really need a vision or you really need a big dream – even if you have 1% inclination, even if some part of your body says, - “why am I not the right guy to try it out?” Just go on – hit the road.  It might even be the smallest of things, so you would have heard the story of Mr. Sharath from IIMA. He was a student of IIMA but then he still used to sell tea to his own classmates. How many of us have the motivation to do it? We would think there is an ego issue and all that, what he would have had in his mind are – he wants to try out things. It is the same message I want to say as well. Start off something small; never really say it is small. Whatever you might start of you never really know if it is a big idea that is coming off? So once you hit the field, you might be in a better position to judge if this is the right path for you? Or whether you can take it forward?

MandE: Thanks Sandeep, Thanks Abhay for your time.

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