David Chen, Co-CEO of Kapsule, tells us how they provide data insights into medicine supply chains and help policymakers.
First of all, how are you and your family doing?
David Chen: First and foremost, my friends, family, and I are in good health. Which is something that we cannot take for granted.
I’m doing great. My co-founders and I recently relocated to Rwanda earlier this year to be part of the Norrsken House in Kigali, Africa’s largest Entrepreneur Hub, which is a stunning, top-notch workspace and community.
It feels exhilarating and motivating to be closer to the impact that we’re making on the African healthcare system. It’s also great to be surrounded by other ventures doing their part to improve the lives of patients on the continent.
Of course, I’m feeling a little bit of pressure too. Once you start making progress, more and more people begin to believe in you and invest in you. So you have to keep doing your best to prove them right in having faith in you, especially those early believers.
Thankfully we have a great, tight-knit team that has the ability to turn audacious dreams into achievable goals.
Our motto at Kapsule is “Go All The Way,” which was inspired by the Charles Bukowski Poem “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.” We’re all 110% committed to going all the way.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Kapsule.
David Chen: It was a long journey that, in retrospect, seems almost destined.
To give you a short version of the story. My co-founder Hannan and I were childhood friends from the age of 5 and lived 30 seconds away from each other growing up. We also went through the same education system from primary through to university, where I studied genetics, and he studied medicine.
Hannan went to Kenya to work in some hospitals while he was at Med School and learned about some of the challenges facing the African healthcare system.
Meanwhile, I went into consulting in the pharmaceutical space and was invited to chair conferences on worldwide brand safety. One of the speakers gave the audience and panelists, including myself, a deep dive into some of the challenges in the African market.
Hannan and I then had a chat and exchanged our experiences, and discussed the challenges in the African healthcare sector. That discussion sat in our subconscious for a couple of years until we attended another conference together where they talked about the worsening problems in Africa.
We then decided to investigate why the issues of medicine access, quality, and pricing were getting worse. And after talking to pharmaceutical companies, government officials, health ministries, patient groups, pharmacies, and wholesalers, one thing became clear, data visibility was the root cause.
So we decided to design a product that can provide data insights into medicine supply chains and help policymakers and companies make informed decisions about African markets.
We showed this design to our friend from university Femi (our CTO), and while he saw many holes in our design, he saw what we were trying to do and ran with it, and made it something viable.
How does Kapsule market its product/services online?
David Chen: We’ve found that we need to have a blended approach because different audiences primarily use different mediums.
For instance, government officials or local medical facilities like clinics and pharmacies operate on a face-to-face basis, whereas multinationals tend to do a lot more online. So we employ a mixture of old-fashioned cold calling and cold emailing to schedule face-to-face meetings, as well as using online tools like LinkedIn extensively.
Multinationals or investors tend to do a lot of diligence on you personally, so having a strong LinkedIn presence is essential.
We also share some thought leadership too, to give potential partners and stakeholders an insight into me as a founder, Kapsule as an organization, and our approach to problem-solving.
I also use personal social media extensively and quite deliberately to show more about the person/people behind Kapsule.
My Twitter and Instagram are open (@davidkapsule), and I share a lot there (maybe even overshare). This is to target potential hires because, at the end of the day, you spend the majority of your waking life at work, so potential employees should have the ability to get to know me and who they will be working with.
For some people, that’s too much, but for me, I see that as part of the job.
We actually were approached by our most recent hire through my Instagram account. He saw and reacted to some of my workout stories, then did some research about Kapsule and reached out asking for a role because he liked what we do and thought he had some useful and relevant experience.
He’s been an absolutely great hire in the short time he’s been with us.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how did you get through it?
David Chen: For us, coronavirus was a blessing in disguise, which is a sad thing to say because COVID has had a negative impact on so many lives.
For Kapsule, it was initially very painful. No investors were interested in talking to new companies, multinationals shut down any non-essential projects, and things felt like they ground to a halt.
However, as the world adapted to being on Zoom, many communities, groups, and investors became comfortable having conversations with people on the other side of the world.
The first sign of this was us getting into the BUILDwith community, which was a group of ethnic minority founders in America who got trained by seasoned venture capital experts on what we need to do to bridge the funding gap.
There are some shocking statistics about how unlikely you are to get VC funding when you’re a minority.
After a rigorous selection process, we were one of two non-American companies to get in out of 30 ventures and 200+ applicants.
Shortly after, we got into an Amsterdam-based Accelerator HealthInc, which is part of Startupbootcamp, and we were able to attend from our flats in London.
Even late last year, we worked on a great project with Roche Pharmaceutical Australia, literally on the opposite end of the world. This would’ve seemed impossible without the rapid adoption of Zoom as a result of COVID.
The world feels a lot smaller now, so there’s been a major change in our mindset. If we find someone worth speaking to, we’ll find a way to speak no matter where in the world they are.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
David Chen: We are very minimal and manual when it comes to managing our online marketing. We haven’t reached a scale where we use any specific tools yet.
Though that will need to change in the near future, please let us know if you have any recommendations.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
David Chen: Our main competitors are data providers in the African market; however, we divide them into sub-categories depending on how they generate and use said data.
The main methods of data generation are by
1) Buying data from wholesalers and aggregating it
2) Generating the data directly through IoT devices which can capture medicine quality and location data, and
3) Collecting the data as it is being input into an Electronic Medical Record or Enterprise Resource Management system.
That data can us used to:
1) help their clients run more efficiently
2) help policymakers/researchers understand the market better, and
3) help multinationals capture more of the market
Our approach to competitors is to work with them rather than against them. So we’ve made a tech agnostic tool that can plug into the back end of our competitors so that if a clinic, government, or pharmaceutical company is already using one of our competitors, it doesn’t preclude them from working with us too.
We can simply use APIs to build on top of the services that they provide and market that data to different customer groups.
Your final thoughts?
David Chen: In Japanese, the word for “Crisis” is made up of the words “Danger” and “Opportunity,” and that’s precisely how we have to think about crises in today’s world.
Challenges and opportunities are the two sides of the same coin, and it’s just a matter of perspective.
So if you’re in a moment of crisis, my advice would be to take a step back, look at your situation and ask yourself, “how can I make this an opportunity?”. There is a way somehow.