Editor’s note – This is the first in our new interview series that brings you up close and personal with founders and key players in digital health entrepreneurship in Nigeria. Follow us on social media and join our email list to be alerted when new articles become available. Contact us to suggest anyone you’d like interviewed.
Mobidoc is an Abuja based startup that makes health consults easy. We spoke to its founder to get to know more about mobidoc and find out his thoughts on health tech in Nigeria. Excerpts are below.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Timilehin Aiyemo, and I have been a software developer for over 15 years now. I have built all kinds of software applications in different fields. So yeah, I just broke into health care about four or five years ago trying to see how situations can be synchronised across different systems, regions making sure that digital records could be kept persistently and maintained.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
The truth is I never wanted to have a desk job where I just go and sit down somewhere, wake up every morning and go out. However, I never thought of it as he who wants to be an entrepreneur, I just knew that I did not want to have a regular job. I knew that I did not want to work for anyone, but want to create value in whatever or wherever it is I find myself.
What inspired you to start mobidoc?
The drive for mobidoc began in 2013. Initially, it did not start up as mobidoc, it started up as something else that came when I lost someone close, and I wanted to see if there was a way to interlink hospitals so that data is persistent. This way I can see your medical history from wherever I was so that if I travelled from Abuja to Lagos for some reasons let my medical records go with me. That was where it started up for me. Then, I had begun building the prototype and then I met with a couple of individuals who wanted to create games and seeing as I was a freelancer at the time I started consulting for them. So, then at the end of the day, I had to now lead the team that was supposed to be building that section. Now those people had an idea also for medical health, and it was corresponding with mine, and we just decided just to do it, and that was how mobidoc was born.
Where there problems in your product implementation? What actions did you take to resolve them?
The issues of payments and how they will be collected, people wanted video consultations, and we had platform issue. The way the product was built, it was not user-friendly at first. We had to do a lot of executions here and there. What we have now is an easier to use and immersive experience on mobidoc and how it functions. We would be releasing the new version sometimes this month, and you would hear more about us.
What unique features differentiates mobidoc from other players in the space?
So most other digital healthcare providers are trying to transform how healthcare itself is being implemented. So basically, they seek to improve the way people respond to healthcare and how it is utilized. Such players are quite a lot. So, what they are primarily doing is that they are hooking you up with doctors, but there is this disclaimer that a good number of them have because there is a general bias against people getting consultation remotely. As much as possible the average Nigerian doctor would encourage you to still come to the clinic. What we are doing at mobidoc is that we are trying to scale health into tech not necessary scale tech into health. We look at the technological trends, and then we try to see what’s up with health. Now because of that, we are more idealistic in how we try to implement things that should do with health. For instance, our core values are giving consult responses in 60 sec or less. So, if you ask questions either public or private, it is mobidoc’s duty to make sure that you get an answer in 60 seconds or less. Most of these players still tell you to go to the hospital, but for us, it is the hospital who comes to you. So, in the event where you have a complaint, so provided the application knows your location you can have a full blown remote consultation from the moment of your complaints to wellness or from the comfort of your home.
How would you describe the Start-up Environment in Nigeria regarding the support that is given by the government and entrepreneurs?
There is some reasonable government support on entrepreneurship. I think 12 to 15 start-ups were taken to Dubai last year for a tech conference, mobidoc was part of them, and it was entirely sponsored by the government. So, there is some level of support, the only problem that I feel the government is currently facing is the fact that the minds that are giving the support are from an ancient time. We need to scale beyond what the government can do but about how the government can do it. So, we know the government can implement these things, but whom are the people supporting it? What are their ideas? Do they have a futuristic idea? Moreover, policy problem in Nigeria is also a cause. We need futuristic policies to be set by futuristic minds.
What do you think Nigerian entrepreneurs struggle with the most?
A year ago I would have said funds, today Firstly, I will say confidence and composure. A good number of us are where we are, primarily because we have not exploited the means that our confidence would have helped us to explore. I mean you are amid pitching every day talking to people, sometimes how you come off is a problem because you cannot convince the next investor about how you want to conduct your own business. The second I will always say is funding and primarily because the average human would rather spend millions on a bottle of champagne than find someone to build his idea on. The third thing I will say is like minds. It is hard to find people who would understand what you are bringing forth and will believe in it as much as you do and will want to be part of it for just the sake of it instead of looking for instant gratification. Fourthly, I have noticed that many people have an idea but don’t want to share it because they are afraid that it will be snatched. Let them snatch it. The case is I have pitched mobidoc to you; I could pitch it to several other people. All of us can take the concept, and we will all implement it in entirely different ways.
What is your advice to current and upcoming health tech start-ups?
Have a good team, like minds, and as much as possible do not be afraid to share what you are doing. I put it out to you, put your ideas out there. When your ideas are out there, it will mature to the point that it will not only be your idea because many things will come in and will grow to the point where it can live out there. Also, as much as possible you should have a technical co-founder who is as passionate about it with you, it has become more important to have a tech mind in every tech company.
Healthcare interventions in Nigeria have been seen to follow a vertical pattern such as focused on maternal health, HIV and so on. Do you consider this approach to be sustainable? Alternatively, do you think that a horizontal approach will make more impact?
I think the horizontal approach is not a good idea. Every single sector that you are going to be addressing is a major job on its own. Anybody who decides to be a jack of all trade would become a master of none. It is good when your market is focused when you have a point out view scope of what your goals are. You can leverage on others systems through networks.
It is said that the health tech ecosystem in Nigeria is non-existent. Do you believe that this is true? What are your thoughts on this?
It is true and false at the same time, and I would tell you why. Let us look at the numbers, and they say they do not lie. There are about 180m Nigerians. Moreover, say 60m Nigerians have smartphones. What is the poverty rate in Nigeria? We are here, but the market we can reach is way less than the market we want to reach. As much as we are 180m, the market is not 180m in Nigeria. Though the health sector is full of potentials, we do not have any system that is going to do anything about it. Primarily because the people who are to make the policies would rather fly to India, the US to get good health care than rather make it readily available for you and me. Whether you like it or not as much as the health tech sector exists, it does not exist when you look at the amount of life that it is touching or affecting in a good measure
Is Nigeria ready for health tech?
Well, mindset wise Yes I think but policy wise No. We are not ready on policies. There are still many holdbacks that we experience primarily on the government level. When you go, and meet any health organization, governments run and they will frown at the concept of remote consultations. There is a root to it all. For one we are all primary products of our personal experiences irrespective of where they came from. Those directly influences or affects how we see things, and it is a general problem for us in Nigeria. Firstly, the general acceptability for how we see products online is extremely wavy. Secondly, your average Nigerian doctor has been told/ taught explicitly not to conduct consultations remotely.
What do you suggest Nigeria do to be ready for health tech?
There is going to be the mental break where the average Nigerian can get out from that mindset. Only then can we say we are ready. We know that 60 million Nigerians have smartphones but what portion of that understand what they can do with the smartphone or what their smartphones can do for them. If I were to meet with the minister of health, I would push for a better education on futuristic trends towards health care in the country. Digital health care is still a far cry.
What changes or expectation are you looking forward to in the Nigerian health tech space?
Hopefully more adoption for the tech concept, the facility for people to have better digital health awareness. My hope is that they will be greater awareness and possibilities to what digital health can offer to the communities. The next big thing for me will be snappy remote consultations where you do not have to leave your home to get full health consultation
What are your ambitions towards your market growth?
We are hoping that by the end of this year or in a year’s time we would be able to handle comfortably about 3000 consultations.