Start-up snapshot: Delivering medication in Cape Town’s largest township

Start-up: Iyeza Express, South Africa

"When people are at the hospital, while they are sitting in line, while they are stressing and irritated with the system, we sign them up. We promise them this process of coming in and waiting for hours... it ends here and now," says Sizwe Nzima, founder of Iyeza Express.

“When people are at the hospital, while they are sitting in line, while they are stressing and irritated with the system, we sign them up. We promise them this process of coming in and waiting for hours… it ends here and now,” says Sizwe Nzima, founder of Iyeza Express.

Sizwe Nzima, 23, is the young entrepreneur behind Iyeza Express, a logistics company that uses bicycles to deliver chronic medication to patients in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town.

Nzima’s inspiration behind starting the company was based on his own experience of collecting chronic medication at clinics for his grandparents. “I have personal experience of what it was like to actually stand in queues for more than four or five hours to collect your meds. And it frustrated me. Every time I went to the clinic, I got frustrated.”

In 2012, Nzima was selected to attend a six-month entrepreneurial course at the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development, and won R10,000 (about US$870) for being the best entrepreneurial student. With this he bought his first two bicycles. He then won a R100,000 ($8,700) seed grant at the SAB Foundation’s Social Innovation Awards.

Today, he and his delivery team deliver chronic medication to 770 patients in Khayelitsha, at a minimum cost of R10 ($0.87) per delivery. His company has also entered into a three-year partnership with Metropolitan Health, an administrator of medical schemes in South Africa.

1. If you were given $1m to invest in your start-up right now, where would it go?

I would first invest in my setup. One thing that I have learnt is that in order to service a certain capacity, you have to have resources and the capability to do it. So to grow my business, I would first invest in my setup, to be capable of servicing a [larger] number of people, whether it’s 10,000 or 20,000. I would have to invest in the resources such as my bikes, my drivers, the IT database system to manage our information, our GPS tracking for geographic locations, and other operational expenses. But most importantly I would invest in the assets that will be able to grow my business to service a larger capacity.

Next I would invest in new business opportunities, but still in the field of delivering medicine. I would like to start delivering over-the-counter products, found in any pharmacy and which do not need a doctor’s script. People wouldn’t have to go to pharmacies… they could get items delivered to their doorstep. So I could literally run my own small pharmacy that sells and delivers over-the-counter products, because there’d be no need for a doctor’s prescription.

Another business opportunity which I would like to [explore] is in the private market, in terms of partnering with pharmacies and medical aids. Here we could add a value benefit to their medical aid clients by offering free delivery of medications.

2. What risks is your business facing?

The risks are obviously theft or some kind of accident that would damage the medication. But what we do is put the medication in a cooler box which is both strong and locked. So, yes, there could be an accident, and the medication could get damaged, but we have made it so it’s unlikely to happen.

We have never been robbed, and what has been working for us is the fact that we employ people within the customer community. We employ guys to deliver in their own community. This minimises the risk of robberies because they live in this area, and the community knows them… People know the service we are offering the community, and that we are employing young people among them who could be their own children or family members.

Other than that we are looking at insurance, and if anything happens to medication we can replace it at a pharmacy using the patient’s original prescription. So that [possibility] then falls under insurance for the business.

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

We have only done one form of marketing, and that is while at the clinic. It has been the most successful form of marketing, to the extent that it has overwhelmed us.

When people are at the hospital, while they are sitting in line, while they are stressing and irritated with the system, we sign them up. We promise them this process of coming in and waiting for hours… it ends here and now.

4. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

We have moved into a new office, our own office space. I’m going to take a picture of me sitting at my desk. And I’m going to frame it and write a slogan down at the bottom of the picture that says: “I used to dream of working in an office, now I have my own.” The fact that I actually have an office is very exciting for me.

5. Your biggest mistake concerning your start-up?

In order to be able to service a certain capacity you have to have the resources. We went out to the clinics and got new clients signed up every day, up to 25 or 30. In a month we could gain 200 new clients. So numbers were rising rapidly but then we started having late deliveries and some mix ups of deliveries… all because we didn’t yet have the resources to be able to serve that particular capacity. Hence I say: to grow our business we must balance supply with demand.

I have learnt that while money and revenue is important, service is even more important. I have also learnt that instead of just chasing new clients and marketing, I must actually make sure that I can manage the ones that I have and can give them a good service, before taking on new clients. They say clients are walking billboards… so for me providing a quality service is important, more than anything else. Because that is the best way to grow the business and gain new clients. The customer is king.