Suleman Sacranie, The GP Service
The pandemic has transformed the telemedicine market and considerably boosted demand for The GP Service, a telemedicine platform that enables patients to see a GP via their laptop or mobile phone, says founder Suleman Sacranie.
- What was the inspiration for your business?
It started off as a personal journey - I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and one of the issues I had was not being able to obtain the drug treatment option I wanted after reading an article about it. I found a private neurologist who was able to give me a prescription for it but that prescription needed to be sent to pharmacy in Birmingham and the doctor was based in Wales. The only way the doctor could get that prescription across to the pharmacy was by posting it and then waiting until they had received it before they could order the medication. So I originally started the business in 2015 to develop an electronic prescription platform that allowed doctors to issue a prescription to a pharmacy electronically. I then realised that we could use pharmacy consulting rooms as a way for patients to have remote consultations with a doctor via an iPad, and the current business model grew from there.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
My business partner and I seed-funded the business ourselves or the first 12 months with about £100,000, which we used to develop the initial prototype of the platform and signed some pharmacies up to it so they could receive electronic prescriptions and show that we had a valid business case. Then in 2016 we raised our first funding round of £2.5 million from Maven Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and so we were really able to scale up the growth.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
One of the biggest challenges at the start was understanding the regulations and expertise that we needed to bring into the business. The healthcare industry is fully regulated and we realised that we needed to bring in expertise such as doctors, pharmacists, medical directors and clinical directors as well as build some unique technology that is now recognised as a leading solution in the industry. There is always a learning curve in understanding the processes you have to develop when you are bringing in new people.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
Telemedicine has gained huge traction during the pandemic and the number of people using our service has just gone through the roof. During the pandemic we have been fully booked every day and demand for our services has risen by 400%. People are more aware now that there is a different way they can access medical care and many doctors’ surgeries are pushing people to do consultations remotely via phone or through a telemedicine channel. The NHS has started to tender out for a digital framework and we have recently become an approved NHS supplier which allows surgeries to also use our telemedicine platform.
- Have you changed your business in any way as a result of the pandemic?
We have also become more of a technology provider – we now provide our technology as a white label telemedicine service to a number of providers including the Co-op and Superdrug and we are getting a lot of companies getting in touch about this.
- What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?
If you bring in people with experience and expertise in the early days, that will prevent you from making mistakes long term. It might look like it is costing you money at the start but having that kind of mentorship and relevant skills within your organisation really helps you scale up in the right way and gives you a good foundation to work on.
- What has been your biggest mistake?
In the early days I probably should have trusted myself more with the development roadmap rather than asking other people to define it, because I think as a founder you know that better than anyone else what you are trying to do.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
Tenacity. It is very easy to give up and as an entrepreneur you have more bad days than good ones, but you have just got to keep on going. That is what differentiates from the failures and the successes.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
Make sure there is a market for what you are doing – test the market, get feedback from your customers, understand what works well and what doesn’t work so well, and use that as a platform to strengthen your proposition.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?