In this spotlight we interview Hani Qassim, the founder of MetaPharma – a marketplace for the pharmaceutical industry in Iraq.
Please give us an introduction to MetaPharma
MetaPharma is a platform to connect pharmacies and wholesale suppliers creating an online pharmaceutical marketplace. We enable pharmacies to achieve two most important goals for the success of the pharmacy: Availability and Price. On the other hand, we enable suppliers to increase volumes and efficiency in fulfilment.
We started MetaPharma when we observed the rudimentary practices in Iraq’s pharmaceutical wholesale market. Pharmacies spend 30 minutes to 1.5 hours ordering items for their daily inventory from one supplier. Pharmacies couldn’t spend more time to source missing items from other suppliers and didn’t even get to compare prices and deals. So we developed MetaPharma’s first application: an app for wholesale ordering from local suppliers to do just that.
We are a small team of one Sales Manager, two Software Engineers, and myself wearing different hats. We will be adding one more Sales Manager and a software engineer next month.
What stage are you at now?
We spent 5 months reiterating on the business model and app design making sure we get it right. We did 3 major business model design revamps and we are now in the growth phase.
Have you looked for external funding?
MetaPharma was initially self-funded by myself and we are now bootstrapped. We are currently in negotiations with investors to support the growth phase.
Have you received any external help?
We always get external help in software engineering, business model design, and marketing from friends I know. However, our main source of help we get is from clients themselves, pharmacies and suppliers. We keep a close relationship regularly following up and finding ways to improve their process and utilize technology to either solve existing problems in the model or open new opportunities. For example, we work closely with supplier’s sales managers to increase the efficiency of fulfillment processes.
Have you participated in any startup events and communities?
We participated in Arabnet's Baghdad Startup Battle and we will be participating in Beirut event. We definitely benefited from having media exposure. However, we are very client focused and we believe that serving clients is ultimately our driver to success.
What is the plan for the next stage?
We are currently investing heavily in growth. With that, we are expanding service offerings on two ends: supply-chain management services for suppliers, and software services to pharmacies.
What advice can you give someone thinking of building a startup?
To focus on creating real value for clients. We often see startups forgetting this and focusing more on innovation for the sake of innovation going after what is popular in the media like AI, Data Science, etc. With MetaPharma, we decided right from the beginning that we want to build a small business to serve clients with real value. Yes, we used technology to do it, but technology itself was not our goal. We genuinely want to make pharmacies and suppliers more efficient in daily business dealing. And we started developing software to do just that. I think this is what made us grow and have regular clients. We like to think of ourselves like a barbershop; we talk with clients, understand their pains, give them a great haircut, and they return to us ever period of time with a “Thank You” note in the shape of dollar amount.
What was the main obstacle you overcame in your experience so far?
Iraq is a very tough environment to grow a business. Lawlessness, corruption, and fraud are widespread leaving people suspicious of each other. People don’t trust doing business with anyone who knocks business doors. We struggled to find clients and suppliers as they didn’t know us at the beginning. Our persistence and time proved to people that we are genuinely here to serve and be paid a fair amount for it. We worked hard to just get a chance to work with pharmacies, and we had to prove it over time.
What is missing here in Iraq that would help startups like yours?
Startups in Iraq need the same support as any business in the economy: law enforcement, fight corruption and fraud. We are currently seeing major efforts from the government this year in 2019 compared to previous years. However, this is just the beginning of a long road for Iraq.