Startup snapshot: Streamlining the buying and selling of medication in Nigeria

Vivian Nwakah

Medsaf is an online pharmaceutical distribution platform based in Lagos, Nigeria. Hospitals and pharmacies place their orders on the website, and depending on availability, the medication is shipped within 48 to 72 hours. The platform also provides customers with an inventory-management system.

Medsaf is currently only servicing medical facilities in Lagos State, but has plans to expand to the rest of Nigeria in the coming future.

Vivian Nwakah, Medsaf co-founder, answered How we made it in Africa’s questions.

1. How did you finance your start-up?

I quit my job in 2016 and used all of the pay cheques I had saved to fund the business to a point. With the initial capital, we were able to survey hospitals and pharmacies, apply for a distribution licence, rent an office and warehouse, as well as start building a website.

Once we started getting traction, we were able to raise money from strategic investors. Some of our investors include Yvonne Wassenaar, the former CIO of New Relic; Ercin Eksin, the former COO for Jumia Africa; Sefik Bagdadioglu, the current MD of Jumia Marketplace; and Gabriel Oramasionwu the former MD of Transocean.

2. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

If we had $1m dollars we would complete our platform development, build our inventory management applications, stock fast-moving medications in our warehouse, add cold-chain distribution capability, and increase our outreach and on-boarding process for hospitals and pharmacies. We would also start the process of setting up our platform in other key countries across Africa.

3. What risks does your business face?

We are not manufacturers, so we have to be extremely careful with the manufacturers that we decide to work with, so as to ensure the highest level of quality.

4. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

Luckily we work directly with doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. They typically have smartphones and have ordered at least once online. We can reach them easily through online marketing. The best way we have been able to gain customers has been to attend various medical professional organisation meetings and present our company to decision makers in the room.

5. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

The most exciting entrepreneurial moment for us was when hospitals and pharmacies first started making orders on our website. As a group, we were looking at the alerts in awe – it was a very proud moment. Many people told us this wouldn’t work.

6. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what have you’ve learnt from it?

The biggest mistake that we have made has been hiring people based on credentials and not ability. We weren’t always able to place employees in positions that were the best fit for their capabilities. Also, we were too slow to make personnel changes because we wanted to be nice. That caused us a lot of problems within the team, lowered morale, and resulted in us having to let some really great people go.

That being said, we really learnt from that mistake and are extremely careful with hiring decisions now. We have a company culture that we want to keep, so anyone joining our team needs to be a natural fit.