An interview with the founders of AbiDoc

AbiDoc is my new best friend and here is why: I hate it when I call to book a doctor’s appointment. Every time I do I get random times that don’t fit my schedule, which is probably caused by the inefficient person on the other end of the line, flipping through the appointment book. (If you live in Kuwait you probably know what I’m talking about and feel the same way)… AbiDoc solves this problem by offering an easy to use online platform where patients can directly book their appointments!

Below is an interview from the founders of AbiDoc, as we were fortunate enough to meet up with them. Together we extend an invitation for you to join us at our StartupQ8 October meetup which will be held this Monday in Global tower at 7:30pm.

abi doc

Startup Info:

Name of Startup: AbiDoc

Name of Founders and titles: Dr. Mussaad Al-Razouki (Chairman), Mohammad Al-Ali (Chief Executive Officer), Eng. Haytham Al-Hawaj (Chief Technology Officer)

Year Founded: 2012

Number of employees/partners: 9 (Kuwait); 4 (Cyprus); 3 (UAE);  3 (Jordan);  3 (Oman); 3 (Bahrain); 2 (Saudi Arabia)

What’s your elevator pitch?  

AbiDoc is an online scheduling service that allows patients to directly book appointments with doctors in Kuwait (and soon the wider Middle East region and beyond).

How did you come up with the idea for your startup?

Mussaad: As a doctor, friends and family always ask me to recommend a “good doctor.” So, together with my co-founders, we decided there had to be a better way to get information about  doctors.

Haytham: We then decided to incorporate an online booking system, similar to the system we had developed at goalcourts.com for renting out artificial football pitches. We felt it was important to have an interactive service that went beyond the functionality of a simple directory. Our mobile application takes this interactivity a step further, allowing patients to search for the nearest doctor by utilizing the GPS of their smartphone.

Mohammad: Similar services which allow patients to directly book appointments with doctors online exist in other international markets. Furthermore, other industries in the Middle East have been very successful adopting online services. Some great examples include Talabat.com, ClearTrip, and KNCC’s online booking system. We believe healthcare is next.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Thankfully, we have managed to overcome two major challenges thus far:

1. Product development: we initially underestimated the amount of time and effort that would    be required to design and develop the AbiDoc platform. Our ambition to have a multi-sided website, contact center, and applications for both Android and iOS, combined with the complexity inherent in the concept behind the product (e.g., the ability to handle online and offline bookings, reschedules, and cancellations; handling back-and-forth communications between patients, administrators, doctors, and receptionists; integration with email and SMS messaging services; etc.) caused us to significantly go beyond our initial estimated market launch date. But with each delay, we managed to build a more solid platform that caters to the needs of the patient, the doctor and even the receptionist with whom we work tirelessly to ensure a very user-friendly system

2. Business development: signing up the first batch of doctors was quite challenging. Initially we reached out to doctors through friends and family. Doctors are inherently   extremely busy professionals, so we sometimes had to get creative in how and when we     would meet with them – we have met with doctors at 11pm after their clinic hours, at     8am before their clinic hours, at cafés and my personal favourite – on a Friday afternoon   at Avenues Mall during Ramadan. We even had a marathon 5 hour meeting with a large client to make sure that we addressed every single concern of the management team. However, signing up more clinics and hospitals became easier after that first group of pioneer doctors bought into the online booking concept. Now AbiDoc is well known throughout the Kuwaiti market and we have even worked with our partner doctors, clinics and hospitals to help deliver on other technological needs. One of our key goals is for AbiDoc to become one of the most trusted names in healthcare

Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent? Any suggestions to make it easier?

We have thus far deliberately refrained from seeking to raise capital until we start to generate significant cash flow. It is our opinion that our valuation and equity holding would be significantly compromised if were to look to external funding sources, and therefore have so far self-funded AbiDoc ourselves.

We have a talented team who have done a great job launching the AbiDoc platform and developing one of the largest healthcare networks in Kuwait. However, even they would admit that an extra helping hand or two would have helped. Unfortunately, it is often hard to find reliable programmers. Midway through development, we hired on a trial basis one prospective programmer, but ended up having to let him go due to the fact that he was generating more bugs than new features to our system!

What has contributed to your success to this point?  What advice would you like to share to early stage or new entrepreneurs?

We believe that having the following qualities are essential to be successful

Persistence: Unforeseen delays and setbacks are inevitable when building something from scratch. You sometimes end up taking two steps forward and one step back. You meet people who are skeptical of what you are doing and (whether deliberately or unintentionally) sometimes discourage you. You think to yourself at times whether the decision to put everything you have in terms of dedication, time and money, at the expense of other opportunities, into the venture was worth it. Nevertheless, you owe it yourself, your partners, and the enterprise to see it to the end. Despite the emotions that may trouble you at times, you need to remember that you embarked on this journey for sound reasons built upon a foundation of business logic and rationale, and that it deserves a decent shot at success.

People: Working with the right people is essential to creating a successful business. We make a conscious effort to appreciate all of the people we work with, and to encourage them to utilize their respective strengths. We recognize that everyone has certain talents, and they should be used. This recognition has allowed us to form a true team and to build our business. As we expand beyond Kuwait, we have been blessed with strong and reliable partners in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Cyprus, Jordan, Oman and the UAE. We are also in the late stages of discussion with potential partners in Lebanon, Qatar, and Turkey. Even with regards to our doctor network, we try to avoiding using the word “client” or “customer” as much as possible. Instead, we refer to them as partners, especially since our interests are closely aligned – the more visitors we get on AbiDoc, the more patients they will get. We believe that we are all working towards a common goal

Passion: You must be passionate when you start your venture. There are times when we work 12-16 hour days with sometimes as little as 4-5 hours of sleep at night. Nevertheless, we remain motivated. We are focused on our mission, which isn’t just to add more doctors on our platform. AbiDoc’s ultimate mission is to help doctors and hospitals solve all their administrative and technological needs, thereby allowing them to focus on their core function of caring for and treating their patients.

Promotion: We have had to adapt our promotional efforts as we have grown from a concept to an actual network. It has been necessary to be creative in the ways that we reach out to doctors. This initially consisted of tapping into friends and families’ networks. As we began to grow, the doctors themselves were a source of referrals, and many of them actively promoted AbiDoc to their colleagues on our behalf. Now, as we have officially launched and start to market to patients we aim to be equally creative and adaptable towards them. Whether this be through leveraging the power of the Internet and other technologies (e.g., social media, Google ads, blogs, etc.) or more traditional means (e.g., offline social networks such as professional networks, expatriate networks, clubs and organizations, etc.), it is important to take advantage of any opportunity that can help spread word of the AbiDoc brand and value proposition to others

Positivity: When starting up a business, it is important to make sure that the people you are partnering with are positive and inspiring individuals. You must always have an optimistic outlook on every situation that you come across, and this is never truer than when starting up a business. When one individual is struggling, it is the job of the other partners to step in and uplift the situation. AbiDoc is made up of some very talented individuals: we consist of a doctor and healthcare industry expert, a management consultant, and a biomedical engineer with a combined total of nearly 20 years work experience. Together, we exude a passion, knowledge and expertise in the healthcare, strategy and operations, as well as technology. We engineered a robust business plan and tried to account for every scenario we foresaw before we first embarked on the enterprise.

What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship? Did you quit your day job to do this? 

Mussaad: AbiDoc is the fifth venture that I have been involved in, but it is the venture with the most potential especially given the fact that it has a high chance to truly revolutionize the very opaque healthcare industry. Transitioning from an office employee to an entrepreneur over the past 3 years has been challenging and surprisingly very hard to explain to former colleagues – especially doctors. Medicine is a noble profession and an extremely rewarding one. As doctors, our profession has benefitted from the specialization of doctors into different clinical practices. You have doctors that specialize in one physiological system, like how neurologists focus on the brain and nervous system, and other doctors who focus on an entire disease system, such as diabetes specialists. Now, the next step is to have doctors that specialize in different parts of the healthcare system. We have already seen certain large hospital systems, such as the Cleveland Clinic, introduce the position of Chief Patient Experience Officer, an executive doctor whose sole purpose is to monitor and improve the patients’ experience.  As one of the first Arab doctors with an MBA focused in Healthcare Management and Finance from Columbia Business School, my personal goal is to develop a strong competency in healthcare management and the use of information to improve the efficiency of financing the future of our healthcare economy. Our aim is for AbiDoc to be the engine that will analyze this information. Together with Mohammad and Haytham, I am very confident that we will find a way to leverage the insights that the analyses generate, which will in turn improve the quality of healthcare within Kuwait, the greater GCC region, and beyond.

Mohammad: I had just completed my 3-year Business Analyst program at McKinsey & Company. I was fortunate to have earned an offer to return post-business school, but wanted to have an additional professional experience before continuing my studies to round out my outlook on business. As a consultant, I had the privilege of working on a wide range of engagements across many different industries and geographies that exposed me to issues that private sector senior executives and public sector policymakers in both emerging and developed markets face. However, I was largely limited to issuing recommendations, and rarely was involved in the implementation of ideas since this was typically left in the hands of the clients we were serving. AbiDoc has given me a better understanding of the challenges involved in establishing a company from scratch and the effort required to expand.

Haytham: I have been an entrepreneur for the better part of the past 3 years. After working as a biomedical engineer at the Ministry of Health, I decided to launch my own web and app development company, Designed Value Innovation, which developed the technology behind AbiDoc.

What do you think the strengths and weaknesses are of the Kuwait entrepreneurship and startup community?  What would you personally like to see?

We believe that initiatives such as the StartupQ8 community have been great for Kuwaiti entrepreneurs like ourselves that have recently developed a new venture. It has been great thus far getting to meet new and interesting people, bouncing ideas off one another, and having credible people who have experienced what we have to give us feedback and mentoring.

As far as we are aware, there is a lack of an accelerator, incubation and venture capital community that can provide an ecosystem within which entrepreneurs can grow and flourish. Many people have great ideas but feel that they cannot pursue them due to lack of funding and support.  Even establishments such as KSPDC require that a minimum of 20% of the capital raised for the company come from the entrepreneur, which is sometimes out of reach for many young, budding, and aspiring entrepreneurs. And even if you do have the capital, as an internet startup you often do not qualify for funding due to the lack of tangible assets. We hope that the KD 2 billion fund issued into law by the government of Kuwait will help alleviate some of the above issues and help transform Kuwait into the Silicon Valley of the Middle East.

What’s your ask right now? What do you and your startup need? (i.e., users, partners, marketing support, mentorship, talent, investment, etc.)

There are a few ways in which the StartupQ8 community, as well as your own friends and family, can support AbiDoc as we now officially launch and start to grow our user base:

1. Be sure to download and write a review for our app for either Android or iOS (just search for AbiDoc) and register an account as a patient so that when you need a doctor you can simply book an appointment via AbiDoc. You can also visit us at www.abidoc.com and register an account there. Don’t forget to follow us on our social media channels and retweet or repost anything you see interesting – we in turn hope to engage with our follower base as much as possible. You can find us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/abidoc); Twitter (@AbiDoc or www.twitter.com/abidoc); Instagram (@AbiDoc or www.instagram.com/abidoc); and Google+ (www.gplus.to/abidoc).

2. If your current (or favourite) doctor is not on AbiDoc, please send us an email via info@abidoc.com and send us his or her name (and ideally contact information) and we will reach out to them to partner and list them on the AbiDoc network. We are actively adding new doctors to our network, and want to make sure we are offering our patients a wide range of options that fits their needs.

3. Finally, spread the word (WhatsApp, BBM, etc.) and try us out! Feel free to give us feedback on how we can do better at http://www.abidoc.com/website/suggestions.php. We’re always on the lookout for ways to improve.

Anything you’d like to add?

We would like to thank you and the rest of the StartUpQ8 community for your time and support! We hope to be the next in a long line of successful Kuwaiti startups, and intend to eventually expand into the wider GCC region and beyond! Of course, we cannot achieve this without you and your support.

Announcing the details of StartupQ8 Event – October 2013

Our next event is Monday October 7 at 7:30 pm in Global Tower.

This month, our speaker is Ghaliah Technology’s Abdulwahab AlOthman, who will discuss the challenges of selling B2B and effective use of social media for marketing a startup. We’re also excited to (finally!) interview Dr. Mussaad AlRazouki, co-founder of abidoc.com

Here’s this month’s schedule (note the start time):

7:30 – 8:10 Abdulwahab AlOthman will join us from Ghaliah Technology to discuss the challenges of B2B businesses, and share some social media marketing tips for startups.
8:10 – 8:20 Mini-break
8:20 – 9:00 An interview with an entrepreneur: This month, we will interview Dr. Mussaad AlRazouki, co-founder of abidoc.com about his experiences launching AbiDoc.
9:00 – 9:30 Networking

As always, the event will be in English. RSVP on our Meetup.com or Dawrat.com event.

See you there!

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