Coming from a family that has been operating pharmacy business since 40 long years, Sanjeev Singh and Sabi Singh, two siblings, wanted to do something innovative in running a pharmacy business in Nepal.
Sabi, who studied health, together with her brother Sanjeev, who studied IT, planned to start an online pharmacy company. They started-off the company becoming the delivery partner of SMÂ Pharma, their family pharmacy shop located in Kalimati. After about 6 months of pilot study, and good response and appreciations from the customers, they formally kick-started the business in August, 2016 with the slogan â€˜Why go to the store when medicines can come to your door.â€™
Operating an e-commerce to sell medicines is not an easy job, as itâ€™s a sensitive issue selling medicines. Itâ€™s mandatory at Online Aushadhi to present a doctorâ€™s prescription while ordering the medicines.
They have maintained a dedicated software system in place to look after the orders processing, and dispense medicines, and maintain records. The software-system alerts them about the stocks of available at them. The software system keeps record of all the prescription of all patients/orders. So, it makes them easier to track the medicine consumption of a person. They have their own physical store to take stock of medicines from a network of more than 70 pharmaceutical suppliers. They have a system of placing stock of medicines of their regular clients, so that there is no shortage of medicines. The company seeks to provide a hassles-free supply of medicines.
Along with medicines, they too sell first-aid boxes and kits, and the corporate houses, factories, construction companies, hotels, etc. have been their major clients to buy such stuffs on bulk.
â€œWe saw cases of patients returning home empty-hands as there is no medicine available. Though there are pharmacy stores at every chowks in the town, not all kinds of medicines are available there. Considering this scenario, we started this online pharmacy store to provide medicines of all genres,â€ Sabi explains the reasons for starting the company.
â€œMost of our clients are those patients who have been taking medicines regularly since a long time (in the cases of non-communicable diseases like diabetes). Customers are very forgetful about the stocks of medicines with them. And, we get calls from them even at 7:00 in the morning or 9:30 at night, the time to take medicines. We have an alert system in place for such patients so that we can inform them when medicines at them is going to be finished, and make timely availability of medicines. This might be the reason our clients from the beginning days are still with us,â€ she further shares about the medicine delivery system.
Currently 4 team-members are handling all the operations of the company.
Challenges in starting-up
As there is no any such legal provision of starting an online pharmacy in Nepal, they had to register it as a normal pharmacy.
Sharing how it feels to be working in a family-owned pharmacy, and starting a new pharmacy with online services, they share that clients in the latter business seem more satisfied. â€œThough we could meet the buyers face-to-face in a physical pharmacy store, there was not a personal touch that we have now, where we keep records of every client, including doctorâ€™s prescriptions,â€ says Sabi.
Thereâ€™s a trust issue on buying medicines online, though. â€œAfter receiving orders online, we call them and confirm the medicine and prescription. Only then we dispense medicines, as itâ€™s too sensitive issue selling medicines,â€ she explains.
In the pilot phase, they tested the business of selling medicines with people in their own personal network. The patients from the pilot study phase are still regularly buying medicines from Online Aushadhi. Started with hardly a single customer in two weeks, they now receive more than 3 new registrations online per day and carry out an average of 6 deliveries in a day.
Their clients range from a variety of organizations, including telecom companies, factories, hotels, colleges and banks and among others, to the staffs working in such companies.
The majority of individual customers of Online Aushadhi are job-holders, who need to be at office whole day, and canâ€™t manage to go to pharmacies to buy medicines for their ailing family members.
Being the only player
Being the only player in the market to sell medicines online, they feel that a much-needed healthy competition to motivate them to work in an even better way is lacking.
â€œAs there is no other online pharmacy in Nepal, thereâ€™s no-one to take reference from or compete with. Whatever we do is the first practice in Nepal in the field of online pharmacy,â€ says Sanjeev.
They have recently been selected as one of the startups for the 5 Starts programme by Antarprerana that seeks to connect 5 students each from 5 different business schools in Kathmandu to 5 startup companies. As part of the programme, 5 MBA students from Ace Institute of Management will collaborate with them for the next one year, a win-win opportunity for both the students and startups.
The way forward
Currently catering to the customers only inside the ring road of Kathmandu, they have planned to spread it to all over Nepal, within the next 5 years, be it through couriers or opening outlets in different cities. â€œThere are situations when you have to spend thousands of rupees to reach to a place to buy medicines that cost only a few hundreds. We want to overcome this problem,â€ says Sanjeev.
They are also planning to provide 24-hours delivery service, in the near future.
To the aspiring youths:
Sharing a message to the aspiring youths, the team Online Aushadhi says, â€œItâ€™s very frustrating to start-up anything. There are higher chances of failures. There are frustrations in every step. You have to be ready to face this all. You need to make a mind that you wonâ€™t leave the business no matter how frustrating it is.â€
Startups for a better Nepal!
Presented By: Basanta Kumar Dhakal