Interview #4: Medsaf

This series features talented founders in our portfolio.
Our fourth interviewee is Vivian Nwakah, founder of Medsaf.

Medsaf is a one stop shop for hospitals, pharmacies and patients to purchase, manage, and finance mediations. Our technology, data analytics and quality control as a service allows for an increase in accessibility, quality, and affordability of medications for the end users.

We interviewed Vivian to ask how she leads a company, how she sees the importance of Medsaf, and what she would expect from venture capitals.

1) What were the biggest challenges that you have faced, and how did you solve them?

In the beginning of our journey, no one believed that hospitals and pharmacies would purchase from a website. The traditional way was for representatives of various pharmaceutical companies to come into their hospitals and push them to buy face to face. Or representatives of hospitals and pharmacies would go to the open drug market to purchase from vendors face to face. We spent time in the early days to build the right processes, framework and relationships to lower the bar for purchasing on a website. Building the correct foundation for the company is key. We also had to have a stellar turn around time. When a customer can buy from someone face to face in real time the bar is high to overcome. We needed to make sure that all of our business processes including 7 layers of “quality control as a service”, could still be executed with a turnaround time of 24–48 hours.

A lot of late nights, a lot of data entry. Everything was still completely offline. We were analyzing invoices that had scribbled handwriting and we were having to translate everything into Excel, while still keeping the customers happy. That was definitely just a challenging time period, but what was amazing during that time period was that everybody working on Medsaf believed so much in Medsaf. Even though it might have meant, really late nights, really early mornings, weekends, issues on the weekends, we were all going back and forth, trying to make sure that we can meet the customers’ demands.

We really have people who love the company, love the concept and put their 100% into it, which is how we were able to get through that time period. I built the company around the rallying call, “Quality medication is a fundamental human right”. Everyone can agree to that and everyone can relate to that concept. So especially in the early days, we had people who felt complete ownership of the company because of what it stands for.

2) What are important factors you value in your team members?

I think that the most important things so far have been the value system, work ethic, vision, as well as short-term versus long-term mindset. I would say that those have been the four most powerful things that once aligned or not, people work or they don’t work. Those that understand the vision long term know that what we do in the short term is temporary. They understand the opportunity is scalable and that they can grow with Medsaf as long as they are flexible.

3) What are the key things to build your team ?

We designed the company on purpose to make everyone’s job connected to each other in one circle. Everyone’s process is going to run into someone else’s process. So, when something happens in the beginning of the process, it will always be bigger and potentially worse or better at the end of the process. This creates a reinforcing loop that forces accountability in real time. It’s important that everybody has a certain level of grit and work ethic. Otherwise, people in the beginning of the chain or even at the end of the chain are going to suffer if someone in the middle of the chain does not commit to the work that they should’ve done.

It is this reinforcement that happens throughout just even on a daily basis here at Medsaf. It requires that the people who are successful have a level of work ethic and also, a responsibility to their team members to give their best. That’s something that I see, people consistently just rising to the challenge to meet that.

A lot of things such as motivation and responsibility, comes from yourself, your own values. People who are internally motivated to do the best because they believe in the vision, are automatically trying their hardest at a certain level. And so it’s just about reinforcing that type of good behavior and thought process because it’s not about me at all, it’s not about any one person, it’s about the country, the continent. If we’re successful, then there’s going to be others that are as successful and literally, people’s lives will improve.

4) What do you love about your job the most? What reminds you that you chose the right path?

It’s tied into my values, the reason why I am doing this and why I am here.

I believe in a certain future and I came here on the premise that people in Africa also deserve to live a good quality of life. This has driven everything I’ve done, even outside of Medsaf. My first company was Solar. Working with renewable energy was based on the belief that Africans deserve consistent power too.

This is my second company in Nigeria. Medsaf shares the same principle that we deserve to be able to live a fuller, better life.

This is a problem worth solving in the world, and so I constantly, no matter how down I might get personally in my own personal life, keep moving forward. I get reinforcement every day from people, whether it’s the Medsaf team or our customers. I always find that any bad feelings or negative feelings are super-temporary because the excitement of what we’re doing is just so much bigger and has such an outsized impact. You could build a product in America, but it’s not necessarily going to impact the country. But I believe that what we do, like even the one order that just went out today, can literally impact 100 people who are waiting to see that doctor. That is my own internal motivation driver as well as the rest of the team. We all share the same mindset and we really believe in this.

5) What kind of support do you seek to have from all venture capitalists (VCs)?

The reason that I’m so excited for Samurai Incubate /Rena to come to our place is that she’s going to help us with processes, give us some advice on how to work out there in the world of your ecosystem of startups. So, I’m hoping that she can see what we’re doing and give us some suggestions on how we can improve processes or just the way that we’re going about attacking the strategy.

Also, diversity of thoughts, opinions, and having different perspectives are the ways that startups can grow, move, to be better, faster and more efficient. So, I am hoping that the investors in general, other than just money, also can kind of give these types of inputs because that’s the competitive advantage. You are a Japanese firm but you may have a lot of information and networks. VCs supported startups solving problems that are similar to here or have solved them. That’s the wealth. That is what I’m looking for in investors and I think that’s the best place for investors to be able to help because you’re not going to sit here and work with us, or do the work on the ground.

Finding investors that care about your company, that care about how you’re going to grow, but care about your well-being, care about some of the softer bits of life, moving a company forward to be successful is simply very very difficult.

I feel like if I compare the process with Samurai versus maybe some other processes in the past, this is much safer, if that makes sense. I feel safe as we’re making hard decisions, dealing with unknowns and trying to get as much clarity and predictability as we can, out of what we can control. So, adding in people and partnerships where there’s a level of safety is super crucial to success.

Rena Yoneyama(Samurai Incubate Inc.) & Vivian Nwakah(Medsaf)

- Editor’s note-

The things that Samurai members keep constantly talking about, is that the growing business is important, but also we will always want to make sure that we do care about the founder’s well-being.

Just hearing your story reminded us again of how important it is that investors should be humble enough to understand our capabilities as well as trusting the founders and just always try to improve ourselves as well.

Samurai is really excited to be a part of your journey!

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Samurai Incubate’s global blog

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SAMURAI INCUBATE AFRICA

SAMURAI INCUBATE AFRICA

Samurai Incubate is a Tokyo-based venture capital firm with strong conviction for founders in Africa.

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