At the Pitch2Win 2023 competition in July, Pharmarun, a Nigerian healthtech startup, competed against 14 startups from different industries, including fintech, eCommerce, AI, and blockchain, and emerged winner, going home with $10,000 in equity-free funding.
Pitch2Win is an accelerator investment startup competition designed to help early-stage Nigerian companies raise capital and expand.
Companies from several industries can enter the competition, and the winners will receive funding, access to an investor network, legal services, and mentorship.
Pharmarun's Co-founders — Teniola Adedeji (CEO) and Funmilola Aderemi (CPO) — felt validated for their contributions in the healthtech space and said they would use the funds to improve and expand their pharmacy network and acquire new customers.
Interestingly, while taking me through their journey, they revealed that they have been best friends for 20 years.
Launching a company with a friend can be rewarding and challenging. On the one hand, your pre-existing relationship and trust can help with decision-making and communication, which will benefit the venture in its early stages. On the other hand, navigating personal dynamics can be challenging because conflicts happen. To resolve any issues quickly, it may be necessary to have open and honest communication.
However, the best friends appear to have discovered a workaround because Pharmarun is not their first company together.
Passionate about giving gifts, they founded Fairy Sisters in 2016, an on-demand personalised card company, that allowed users to upload photos to cards online and have a physical copy delivered.
Users could browse inspirational messages, set reminders for birthdays and important dates, and upload photos directly from their phones to cards, mugs, key chai, and other items using the Fairy Sisters web app.
In 2018, they switched the tech component to a more interactive service and they actively ran it till 2020. They made many collaborative gifts, personalised bridal gifts, and many other items, for clients including Lori, Seamfix, and FDHL.
How Pharmarun was born
After completing her pharmacy degree at the University of Lagos in 2013, Adedeji worked for the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) between 2014 and 2015.
In 2016, she completed an internship in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch before continuing with her pharmacy career.
Between 2016 and 2020, she worked at Invivo Health, Rozec Pharmacy, and Medquare Pharmacy, where she identified a problem that would later birth Pharmarun.
Adedeji noticed that it was challenging for some customers to find the exact medication they needed, necessitating multiple store visits or trips to a specific town or city.
"So you would have someone come into my store and say, 'I have gone to five stores. Please, I hope you have what I need.’ It was just a chore. It was not the best experience for anyone, let alone someone sick."
At the time, there was no platform connecting people to pharmacies, allowing them easy access to medications because the customers didn’t know where to look.
She decided to launch Pharmarun because she knew the right pharmacies to visit for several medicines, saving patients time without aggravating their condition.
Additionally, the need for such a service increased in 2020 due to the pandemic. She also didn’t know there was such a large market for it until she began offering medications on demand via WhatsApp.
Fun fact: Adedeji, who had always wanted to own a retail pharmacy, came up with the logo — medicine on wheels — and business name in 2016. As she started toying with the concept, she registered the business in 2020.
While Adedeji was ensuring customer satisfaction and procurements as operations manager at Rozec Pharmacy in 2017, Aderemi began her product journey in the same year at Seamfix, an identity and verification company. There, she supported, marketed, built, and managed products for banks.
She left for MAX, a Nigerian mobility tech platform, in 2021, where she worked as a senior product manager, managing the engineering team and developing products for asset management.
Adedeji would contact Aderemi late at night while building Pharmarun's first website. Soon, she naturally transitioned from MAX to Pharmarun full-time by the end of the year.
Building pharmacies without borders
Pharmarun makes medications available to people in Nigeria, wherever and whenever they need them.
You can order medications via its website and get them delivered to your destination within three hours after payment in some parts of Nigeria, including Lagos, Ogun, Port Harcourt, and Abuja at prices Aderemi says are competitive.
You can also order over the phone, by email, or on social media platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp.
Delivery could take between 24 and 48 hours in states where licensed pharmacies are scarce, such as most of Nigeria's northern states. Interestingly, Aderemi says that most of its customers in these areas do not care about delivery times and only want guaranteed access to the drugs which Pharmarun provides.
The company partners with several pharmacies and logistics companies in some parts of Nigeria to make delivery possible. So customers can buy medication on the platform for the same price they would pay in their neighbourhood. The additional cost is the delivery fee.
Aderemi maintains that Pharmarun has a system in place to confirm the validity of the prescriptions they receive.
In a country where 14.4%, or 14.3 million people between the ages of 15 and 64, abuse drugs, Pharmarun is run by licensed pharmacists who obtain prescriptions from patients and verify them before delivering them.
For example, if a customer orders via a social media platform such as WhatsApp, the pharmacist will ask patient-specific questions to confirm their prescription or symptoms and ensure they are requesting the appropriate medication.
“Before you can complete payment on some medications, it must be reviewed by the pharmacist. Our review process takes five minutes. There's nothing long. But it's not all medications that you can check out on Pharmarun because the pharmacist needs to look at them,” Aderemi clarifies.
She also emphasises that most of its customers order medications such as multivitamins and ibuprofen, which they do not typically abuse. However, for drugs that appear "sensitive," a pharmacist review is required.
For a returning customer, she says the company has their history and can call them to flag or approve it.
Pharmarun employs a B2B2C business model and concentrates on end users. It assists businesses, such as hospitals, insurance companies, and startups, to reach their consumers.
The company offers the Buy Now, Pay Later option, allowing its fintech partner to give out loans to customers to pay in instalments or visit specific stores and pay later.
While the core of the business is to deliver medication to people anywhere in Nigeria, Pharmarun also provides automated refills, which allow a customer to visit the platform and select a monthly delivery option for their medication. This service will be valuable to patients with chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, psychosis, coronary heart diseases, and asthma.
It also offers a service to encourage complete drug adherence for people with infectious and non-infectious diseases.
Customers can also consult pharmacists for free on the company's website without signing up and check several health metrics such as body mass index (BMI), calories, and ovulation.
Flourishing in a challenging environment as a pharmacy aggregator
Aggregating several pharmacies, which allows anyone in Nigeria to use its platform, distinguishes Pharmarun from competitors such as OneHealth, a Nigerian pharmaceutical healthtech company.
Meanwhile, convincing pharmacies to come on board using its technology has been challenging for the startup.
“The major thing is our technology. It does a lot more than what you have on the market today. We want Pharmarun to power a lot of businesses. So, the company is not solely focused on reaching the end-users.
"Our different tiers of pharmacies differ from those available in the market today, which are online pharmacies, but ours is a service offering. It’s more robust than eCommerce platforms,” Adedeji expatiates.
Pharmacies — aside from the tech-savvy ones — do not comprehend how Pharmarun onboards them. So, Aderemi reveals the startup has developed fantastic onboarding programmes and benefits to address the issue.
Consequently, Pharmarun is expanding its network so that it can cater for a more diverse set of pharmacies.
Pharmarun, which has previously received outside investment from Fedha Capital, intends to raise a pre-seed round of $500,000 for development and customer acquisition.
Aderemi states that over 28,000 people have used the startup's service since it launched, and by the end of 2023, they hope to double that number. The company currently has a 15-man team but hopes to grow to 25 before the end of the year.
Pharmarun, which currently generates over $18,000 in monthly revenue, says it is building pharmacies without borders. Therefore, the business intends to completely enter all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory before extending to other African nations over the next five years.
A big part of its strategy will involve working with tech companies or starting from scratch, depending on the issue it uncovers from a comprehensive market research study.
The company seeks to make it easier for people to obtain necessary medical supplies, whether pharmaceutical or non-pharmaceutical.