Ikpeme Neto is the CEO and Founder of WellaHealth in Nigeria. He’s carried this healthtech startup through a major pivot from pharmacy automation to low-cost, tech-enabled health financing. In today’s conversation, Ikpeme shares the many entrepreneurial experiments he ran in his early career – before he decided to scrap his entire team and start afresh. He recalls the moment when he decided to risk it all by giving up a comfortable life in New Zealand to come home to Nigeria and make a bet on a new startup. Finally he shares what he learned, and how he learned it, about the market for healthcare in Nigeria, and the role technology can play to bring healthcare financing to the next billion.
WellaHealth is an early-stage tech startup that lowers the barriers to access affordable micro-insurance health products. In 2021, WellaHealth successfully raised a seed round of investment, supported 1,500 pharmacies, served over 40,000 people, and grew revenue by 10X compared to the previous year.
- Starting a Tech Business by Alex Cowan. Ikpeme credits this and the next book as giving him the foundational knowledge needed to shift from practicing medicine to founding a tech company.
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Ikpeme mentions this book multiple times during our conversation as a guiding star that allowed him to fail quickly and learn fast from the many ventures he ran before WellaHealth.
- The Dip by Seth Godin. Rowena references this book when asking Ikpeme about how he navigated the decision to drop products or pivot his company. This book describes the setbacks that entrepreneurs are always facing, and how to read the signs of when to quit vs. when to stick it out.
Sources of Inspiration
- Richard Leftley of MicroEnsure (now merged into MIC Global) has been a source of inspiration for Ikpeme. In addition to being a long-time advisor to Ikpeme, Richard founded MicroEnsure, a global pioneer in micro-insurance.
- Ryan Howard, the founder of Practice Fusion, liquidated his entire life in order to get the company off the ground. Ikpeme followed suit with WellaHealth when he left New Zealand to return to Nigeria.
- In 2013 and 2014, Nigeria saw several successful rounds of tech fundraising. This gave rising entrepreneurs hope that there was a market for technology in this country. For example, Nigerian founder Jason Njoku raised 19M USD for iROKO , “the AFrican Netflix”. Konga and Jumia, known as “the Amazon of Africa”, raised 10M and 150M respectively.
If you enjoyed Ikpeme’s story of tech entrepreneurship in Africa, listen to these other interviews with African tech founders:
This is an automatically generated transcript from the full interview. Like humans, machines aren’t perfect, so there may be some inaccurate or amusing transcription errors.
Ikpeme: I sort of stumbled on tech to be honest. I was working in New Zealand and my mom back home in Nigeria was having some challenges with her health care and she couldn’t really access the right kind of care. And I was, you know, all these miles away and I was able to help her using the internet.
Ikpeme: And I realize, oh, well, actually, if I can do this for my mom, perhaps I can do this for thousands of others, and perhaps other doctors can leverage the internet as well to do it for millions of people across Africa. So that’s when the light bulb went
Rowena: What did
Rowena: You do for her? What happened?
Ikpeme: So, I mean, it was essentially just finding the right care. You know, that was it, you know, so it was very difficult
Ikpeme: To access the right care. So it was looking for the right doctors, you know, keeping track of her, you know, tests and washing ready to go what you needed to do, stuff like that. And I wasn’t there with her, but I was able to use the internet to do all of that.
Rowena: That makes total sense, just finding the right person with the right expertize and the right supplies,
Rowena: You know, just making those connections, that’s what internet and modern communication is all about.
Rowena: So did you just did you just teach yourself technology?
Rowena: How did you pick up the the team or the skills in order to start technology organization?
Ikpeme: Yeah, so I mean, one thing you learn in medicine is you need to find information, right? And so I just went to my local library because I thought, I thought, You know, I wanna, I wanna do this tech thing. So you know what? What is all this thing about? So I went to my local library and I picked up two books. Thankfully, they had these two books, which are really good books. One was how to start a technology business, which is like, Wow, wonderful.
Rowena: Perfect. Wow.
Ikpeme: Exactly. You know it was by dad. Alexander Cohen is a really good book, but the second book, which is a bit more impactful to me, it was a book called The Lean Startup.
Rowena: That one I’ve heard, yes,
Rowena: One is
Ikpeme: Know, read that, and essentially after I read that I was bitten by a bug, you know, the entrepreneurship bug bit me, and since then I haven’t looked back.
Rowena: Wow. Was it scary, was it? Were you afraid at all? Were you worried? I mean, like, you’d never done this before? I don’t know if you have a lot of entrepreneurs in your family, but it it sounds daunting.
Ikpeme: Yes, it was, but I was I was pushing the part of trying to solve the problem, right? And so when I done it, so how it happened is I’ve done it for my mom and I thought, You know what? I’ve done all of this. It was really difficult for me to do it. Can I turn it into something that’s useful for others? So actually, I wasn’t thinking of it as a business initially, right? I just wanted to build something that would help others the way I had done for myself.
Ikpeme: But I also want it to be sustainable because I knew that, you know, it’s important for things to be sustainable. So I proceed like an NGO route or, you know, building a foundation like you asked.
Ikpeme: But I always knew that there’s always a challenge with making those things sustainable. You know, oftentimes you’re beholden to your funders. You know, your donors kind of essentially decide what they feel right about and it fund you to do those things. But what if the people you’re actually trying to serve don’t really have those problems, right? Then you’re kind of stuck, you know, and that’s the challenge with donor funding.
Rowena: Oh, yeah, for sure, so many examples of. I mean, you’re not stuck in the sense that the donors will still pay for it and the program will still run, you just end up in the situation where nobody actually wants the thing that the program is doing, which I’m sure
Rowena: You’ve seen.
Ikpeme: And that’s what I mean by stock, because I would feel stuck because what I want to do is serve people with what they need,
Ikpeme: What is the most efficient way to serve people, what they need? I think it’s a business, actually. You
Ikpeme: You get constant feedback from people because they’re paying you all the time. And when they stop paying you, you’ve got to go back to them and find out what it is that they’ll pay you for and you deliver that.
Rowena: That’s true. A dollar or a naira is it’s the most authentic type of vote. It’s their way of saying
Rowena: Like, I value this, I’m willing to put this into your system. So what was
Rowena: The first thing? What did you start up with? What was your first experiment in entrepreneurship in in tech?
Ikpeme: Yeah, so the first thing so it wasn’t scary was exciting when I started off, right because I still
Ikpeme: Had my day job, of course, I was still a doctor. And so at nighttime or early in the morning, I’d wake up like super early at work, late at night, trying to figure this out. So the first thing
Ikpeme: Was we tried to build a Zocdoc for Nigeria, right? So
Ikpeme: Find a doctor book doctor appointments.
Ikpeme: Right. So that was the first thing we tried to build.
Rowena: Huh. Did you I mean, I have the impression that working in medicine is quite stressful, but you must have been very, very impassioned to spend your evenings in your weekends working on this on this particular project.
Ikpeme: Well, yeah, no, I was so like I was so into it, didn’t feel like work, I think that was the key thing actually didn’t feel like work. It felt like having fun. I was just having fun.
Rowena: Nice. Where did that go?
Rowena: But there are services like that, there’s I mean, there’s one here in South Africa, I know, you know, when you in any in any particular country there are like recommended services for doctors. Although I’ve never paid for those services, I just kind of find them on the internet.
Ikpeme: Exactly, there you go, so people don’t usually pay for them, and with the way people accessed health information in Nigeria, it just didn’t work. It didn’t really suit the realities on the ground.
Rowena: I see it because it was a website of some kind and the average
Rowena: Person isn’t going to browse into this random website.
Rowena: Ok, so that website gather dust and where you must have been a little bit heartbroken that that baby was gathering dust?
Ikpeme: But I was reading the Lean Startup, right, remember, and
Ikpeme: So the Lean Startup [00:05:00] says you build, you measure and you learn. And so it was not really discouraging for me, it was me essentially understanding that it’s an iterative process where you build, you measure and you learn, right?
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: And so pivoted away from that and
Ikpeme: Built another product.
Rowena: What was the second product?
Ikpeme: So the second product was chronic disease care coordination platform.
Rowena: Oh, that sounds relevant, like across different institutions and facilities to manage someone
Rowena: Who has
Rowena: Diabetes, for example.
Ikpeme: Exactly, exactly,
Ikpeme: Yeah, so made sense to my mind, I mean, I was I was managing a little country and that’s my interest in lifestyle and chronic disease. And so I thought, you know, this fits with what I’m trying to build. If I can get people to book stuff, then maybe I can have, you know, a cognition platform across multiple providers that helps to collect all the data, sync it together, provide some insights and actionable feedback to the providers themselves, the professionals and the patients.
Ikpeme: So that was the second big idea.
Rowena: Yeah. I wonder if I know where this is going. Why didn’t
Ikpeme: Yeah, I think you do.
Rowena: I could guess why that would be hard to take off the ground, but let me let me hear it in your words.
Ikpeme: Well, so again, similarly, well, it failed, and the reason was that we were we were trying to connect different providers, but we realized that all the data and providers were in paper form in the offices.
Rowena: Hmm. Right.
Ikpeme: Right, so there is no data to connect, right, it’s all analog, it’s not digital at all. So
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: It failed because we couldn’t make that transition to connect all these providers into a digital platform.
Rowena: Yeah, I hear you. I think what I would add to that picture is in that particular continuity of care business model, the value you’re getting is the sharing of data between facilities. But then just getting those facilities to talk to each other and to share their data. Forget the technology, like just getting to institutions to share data is a is a is a political mountain.
Rowena: It’s a political
Ikpeme: I mean,
Ikpeme: We never even
Ikpeme: Go there. Yeah, we never got there, like the date wasn’t even there. So yeah, absolutely. That’s our challenge.
Ikpeme: But we never got there. So you can imagine what the next business, the next product was, right, the next product was then actually. Can we go digitize one of these types of providers?
Rowena: That makes sense
Ikpeme: Was the next. Exactly. So we went in and tried to digitize labs because we thought at least labs give you, you know, numerical data that is potentially actionable on its own.
Rowena: Right, right,
Ikpeme: You know,
Ikpeme: So if you’ve got diabetes and you’ve got an itch A1C, that’s high. At least that gives us information for us to be able to help you somehow,
Ikpeme: You know,
Rowena: Makes sense.
Ikpeme: Of anything else, you know.
Rowena: Right, and then people
Rowena: In, they take they do their tests and then they can get their lab results much faster, they can begin treatment much faster, like there’s a clear value to an individual that comes from automating a centralized lab resource that seems like that seems like it could work.
Ikpeme: That’s what I thought, but it didn’t.
Rowena: I love your resilience through all of this.
Ikpeme: Yeah, I know. Well, there’s more, just wait, there’s
Rowena: Man, oh man, hit me.
Ikpeme: And so and so for that one, I think from the USA’s point of view, it was made a lot of sense, at least from as a doctor looking at it. But the challenge was who would pay for it? It was the question, right?
Ikpeme: Because it was extra effort, you know, to get a lab to digitize the processes, you know, took considerable pain and considerable costs. So
Ikpeme: Would pay for it? And the labs were always complaining that, listen, we know our margins are tight enough as it is anyway. You know,
Ikpeme: We’re not
Ikpeme: Going to stick this into our margin. It’s going to cost us too much and we can’t pass it on to our customers because they’re not going to pay. They’re not going to pay for it and they just go on to somebody else. So
Ikpeme: We just got stuck finding who it was most valuable to for them to pay for.
Rowena: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, because in other markets, in other countries, there are laboratory information systems when you have a, you know, when there is an ability to pay for a laboratory that will deliver those results quickly. But in Nigeria where you’re working, it was clear like these systems were were already strained and you could improve the quality. But the issue wasn’t. It wasn’t just a matter. It wasn’t enough to improve the quality like you needed to do to to address something that people were willing to pay for. And that willingness
Rowena: To pay for that particular product wasn’t quite there. It sounds like both
Rowena: The at the level of like the consumer, but also at the level of the laboratory and the hospital systems itself, like there
Rowena: Was an interest.
Ikpeme: Exactly, yeah. It wasn’t it wasn’t a deep enough problem or significant enough problem that people are willing to pay for.
Rowena: Right. Is that was that the pharmacy automation work or was this before
Ikpeme: That was
Ikpeme: The next
Ikpeme: Step, so we went to lots. So I put my doctor hat on, I went to labs,
Ikpeme: But then I realized that actually, if I step back at that point, so when we feel good alive, so at this point we feel with three products. And I realize that maybe I’m doing something wrong here.
Rowena: It’s only three.
Ikpeme: Yeah. You know, so. So I went back to the drawing board, so I scrapped
Ikpeme: All our products, actually got rid of all my team, you
Ikpeme: Yeah. So at that point I built, I think, a team of six people.
Ikpeme: So got rid of all my team except for my technical co-founder
Rowena: Was that was
Rowena: That hard like it?
Ikpeme: So, no, actually, because [00:10:00] I think they also like losing patience on faith in me. I think they’re happy to see the back of me. And so we see it was by mutual consent, actually.
Rowena: Interesting like it kind of got to a point where everyone was kind of it wasn’t getting traction and you weren’t getting returns and people and the whole team was just kind of like, OK, this is not this is not where we’re going next. You could feel the momentum wasn’t, wasn’t there. You weren’t
Rowena: Getting the
Rowena: Traction that you were hoping for.
Ikpeme: Pick exactly, and to be honest, there wasn’t a lot of clarity, right? And if you were not signed on to the Lean Startup model and idea,
Ikpeme: It feels very haphazard and very chaotic,
Rowena: Interesting, interesting.
Ikpeme: Yeah, so so.
Rowena: Good to know, it sounds like a big reset moment, you know, you get rid of your entire team and narrow it down to two people and go back to the drawing board. Is that right?
Ikpeme: Exactly. Yeah, that’s right, and that’s when that’s when and this time, so by the time we go to the third products, that was when it was feeling because I was still doing this, I still have my day job, remember, and I was in New Zealand as well, remember,
Ikpeme: You know?
Ikpeme: And so it was for me, it was now, okay, this is a crossroads. You know, you’ve got to decide, are you going to keep being a doctor and doing this on the side? Are you going to go actually do this properly? And
Ikpeme: I was, you know, I I’d learned so much putting so much work, you know, invested all my own money as well. And it was just so exciting. It was not exciting to compete with me actually being a good doctor,
Rowena: Right, because your passion is moving into this different space like, you know, you can create
Rowena: These products. Right?
Ikpeme: Exactly. And so the decision was easy for me because I knew that if I stayed being a doctor, I’d be a bad doctor.
Rowena: That makes so much sense. So what did you do?
Ikpeme: So I moved I moved back to Nigeria,
Ikpeme: And yeah,
Rowena: You quit your job, your stuff, you’re no longer a doctor, you moved back to Nigeria to
Rowena: A company full time. Did you have some savings, at least, you know, to live off of for
Rowena: A while?
Ikpeme: So, yeah, liquidated the savings on pension and all of that stuff, I knew
Rowena: Who needs a pension?
Ikpeme: Crazy. I know. Yes.
Rowena: Oh, Ben, did you know when you were on the plane, when you were flying back to Nigeria, what exactly you were going to do or or were you still figuring out at the time?
Ikpeme: No, so I think at that time it was failing, right, so that, you know, that last product was failing, and I kind of knew that actually part of the reason why I quit and moved back was I needed to be on the ground to really understand the market.
Ikpeme: It was obvious that I didn’t understand the market at all and I couldn’t do it from so far away.
Rowena: Mm hmm. That makes so much sense, that makes so much sense.
Rowena: What did you learn about the market? How did that? How did that inform the next thing that you built?
Ikpeme: Yeah, so I got a little office in a shed office space and just literally went around, I started talking to people. So now I’ve been away from Nigeria for about it for over 10 years.
Rowena: That’s a long time.
Ikpeme: I hadn’t. Yeah, exactly. I hadn’t really trained the Nigeria. I’d only spent a summer in a Nigeria hospital, so I didn’t have a network. I didn’t know anybody
Rowena: All your
Rowena: Like Ikpeme,
Ikpeme: You know.
Rowena: Who’s that guy?
Ikpeme: Yeah. You know, so I had to come back and recreate a network from scratch, understand the markets and all that stuff, and so I essentially spent the first sort of a few weeks to months just going around to conferences and meetings, you know, meeting people, doing a lot of work on social media media. So I’m a big Twitter user.
Rowena: How nice.
Ikpeme: And the motivation was to actually build a profile and build a network around all of this. And so what I learned then was that the first place a lot of Nigerians actually go to when they feel unwell is their local pharmacy.
Rowena: Uh-huh, hmm. Like a local private sector place that sells,
Rowena: You know, hundreds of different products.
Ikpeme: It sells drugs.
Rowena: Right, right.
Ikpeme: Exactly. And so
Ikpeme: Said to myself, well, if I’m going to figure out health care for the mass market, it’s got to be in pharmacies.
Rowena: Hmm. That makes sense.
Ikpeme: Because that’s where the mass market goes, right?
Ikpeme: That’s what the mass market goes
Rowena: Yeah, and it’s got
Rowena: To be
Rowena: Private sector, since the vast majority
Rowena: Of health care
Rowena: Is private.
Rowena: I think in
Rowena: Nigeria it’s 77 percent of health care spend is out of pocket.
Ikpeme: Exactly, exactly,
Ikpeme: You know, so. Exactly. So it’s got to be in the pharmacies and the private sector is going to also be tangible because one of the things I learned was that it was difficult to sell things that were not tangible both to the providers and to the patients. So.
Rowena: What’s something that’s not tangible, like the directory you’re talking about?
Ikpeme: It was well, that, but even even think about health care doctors in Nigeria struggle to like collect payments from patients for consultations.
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: But patients would happily pay for medications because it’s tangible. Like, I give
Ikpeme: You money
Ikpeme: And I have this physical thing, you
Ikpeme: Know, that
Ikpeme: I can value and look at, right? And so what
Rowena: I just
Ikpeme: A lot
Ikpeme: Of doctors and clinics in Nigeria do is the consultations are actually quite affordable, but the markup on the medications are a lot more. That’s actually where they make a lot of the margin
Ikpeme: Is in the medication,
Ikpeme: Right? Because people happily pay that extra for this tangible thing I can hold, whether that is conversation last 10 minutes. So why am I paying all this money for a ten minute conversation, you know?
Rowena: Yeah, I don’t I don’t know if that’s specific to Nigeria, you know, like there’s something there’s something about preventative health, which is just like it’s just like a [00:15:00] little bit of a harder sell for the average person who might be in good health at that moment in time. But they’re
Ikpeme: I think even culturally, we just like really tangible and literal things, you know, so
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: I think I understood that and said, you know, we’re going to we have to work with pharmacies and find a way to help them be better and serve patients better and create value for everybody in the chain.
Rowena: Mm hmm. That makes sense. What, then?
Ikpeme: So I sat in a pharmacy because obviously, you know, I didn’t know what it meant to be a pharmacist, right? And I just I walked up to a pharmacy near my office and, you know, struck up a friendship with the pharmacist. And one day I said, You know what? Do you mind if I sit with you for the next week and just observe what you do? And she was like, Yeah, sure.
Rowena: Nice, I’m glad I’m glad you took you seriously. It’s kind of it’s kind of a strange thing to imagine you just showing up being
Rowena: Like, Hey.
Ikpeme: Know, but but I built up a relationship with her beforehand, so like I would she by my office, so I’d always go there to like shop. I still am a doctor and I’m building, you know, all these crazy things and I’d always tell her what I’m doing. I’d hold seminars, for instance, I’d invite her to do seminars, so we kind of built up a relationship. So when I did ask, you know, it wasn’t so absurd. I didn’t just walk off the street. Do
Rowena: Sense. What did you find as you were watching her do her work?
Ikpeme: Yeah, so I sat behind the counter for a week and I was revealing, but one of the things I was apparent to me was that the patients who come in the door, they would ask for medication, the pharmacist would hand it over collect payment and the patient would go.
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: And that was it, and I said to the pharmacist is like, well, this patient, you know, is at least, you know, the people on chronic medications who do not like want to like, you know, know who they are. In a way they live. So that from a business point of view, let’s leave the medicine or the health care side of it
Ikpeme: A business point of view, because they’ve got diabetes. You know that essentially for life, like, you know, there could be a customer, but
Rowena: That makes
Ikpeme: Not even collecting any information to build that relationship. And they’re like, Oh, yeah, OK, that’s a good point. And I oh, great. I like that. So. So that’s what we decided. I’m going to contact my computer. I create an excel sheets and patients would come in. I just put their names down, take the information on the prescription that they had, what medications were taken and take their phone number. And I had an SMS to kids there where I would send them a message straightaway and with the instructions for their medications, and it would then queue up messages to remind them when to come back. So if you had a month’s supply, you get an automatic message in a month’s time to you need to come back to the pharmacy for a medication.
Rowena: Yeah, yeah, and you see systems like that, I’m sure, I’m sure there in New Zealand, there in Canada, in the United States. The it’s nice because you can have that continuity of dialog with the beneficiary. You know, you can make sure they take the meds. You can send them tips about how to take their medication. But it also makes sense for the pharmacy because the pharmacy will encourage them to come back. And maybe, maybe the patients appreciate having those reminders. Maybe it’s a reason for them to think, OK, I’ll go back to this pharmacy that sends me the reminders versus another
Rowena: One that doesn’t. So that makes that makes a ton of sense.
Ikpeme: Exactly, and so we’ve got our first payment, so we finally made money
Rowena: Oh, congratulations. Congratulations.
Ikpeme: On that product.
Rowena: That’s a big deal you
Ikpeme: I know. Yeah,
Rowena: That was your
Ikpeme: I screamed the check.
Ikpeme: Yes, that was a first client here.
Rowena: Amazing. Wow, that must have been the moment when it started to feel a little bit real. I imagine. Up until then, you’re like, Well, like I came all the way from New Zealand. I’m sitting here tweeting a lot. What is this going to pay off?
Ikpeme: Yes. Exactly, yes, and it was it was so delightful like I was, it was an amazing, amazing feeling to finally get somebody to, you know, actually pay you for for something you had built and it actually first cost my paid for a year in advance. You know, we were charging monthly payments, but he was so convinced he paid us a year in advance.
Rowena: Wow. Are you at Liberty to say how much you charge for that initial piece of software that
Rowena: You built?
Ikpeme: Yeah, no, it was it was 60000 naira at the time, I’ve got to do the
Ikpeme: Math, but I think that was probably $200 or $300 at the time.
Rowena: Nice. Well done.
Ikpeme: I know, yeah.
Rowena: So you’re like, great, I have an idea it has a business model that makes sense. I’m going to take it all over Nigeria, right? That’s what
Ikpeme: Yeah. Well, you know, there’s always a but.
Rowena: Oh, boy. I’m waiting.
Ikpeme: So, so but we we you know, obviously now we’ve got something of a business, somebody has finally paid us for something we’re like, Yes, finally, right?
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: So we finally go, we build it out and then we start to sell.
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: And we very quickly realized that even though there was value here and people would pay, it wasn’t quite the products that the the broad market would adopt. And so we got to about 200 odd pharmacies are paying us, which
Ikpeme: Was essentially all the early adopters in Nigeria.
Ikpeme: That was essentially it.
Rowena: That’s huge. Two
Rowena: Hundred individual pharmacies, like is it, are
Rowena: They? Did you go like pharmacy to pharmacy or their pharmacy consortiums that you work there or how does that work?
Ikpeme: Also, we lost pharmacy, the pharmacy was conferences, so we do a lot of conferences and meet ups and then go pharmacy to pharmacy as well.
Rowena: Wow, that’s incredible,
Ikpeme: Then some
Rowena: A huge
Rowena: Achievement to a lot of people that sounds like traction. Does [00:20:00] it not?
Ikpeme: It’s not, but we couldn’t move past that number, you see, that’s the challenge.
Rowena: Huh. You’re looking for that that. What is it called S-curve?
Ikpeme: Yeah, exactly. So he has high growth. So 200 was painstaking, you know, it was lots of like convincing was lots. It was a lot of effort.
Rowena: I see.
Ikpeme: You know, so
Ikpeme: Even though it was 200 was a lot of effort, to be honest.
Rowena: There was a lot of friction like you, you had to pound the pavement, you had to make those relationships like with individual pharmacists. And it was it was slow going.
Ikpeme: Exactly, and and the optic wasn’t that great, so even when the pharmacy would buy it,
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: We didn’t always get consistent use, so we’d have say maybe 20 percent that way, like always constantly using it. But we have like another sort of 80 percent that would be very variable. So they might use it this week, they might use it next week. And we knew that I was in a great product to try and scale anyway. If you know, it’s variable in usage.
Rowena: Interesting, but how do you
Rowena: Know, because sometimes I don’t know if you if you’ve read The Dip, there are certain products where you like, you just need to get over the hump. You just need to like, refine it or tweak it or get the price point just right. And I think a lot of founders will spend a lot of time banging their heads against a product and give it a few years. And then somehow a few years in it, it takes off or it doesn’t like how did how did you know that it was the right time to move on?
Ikpeme: I think speaking to customers, right, so again,
Ikpeme: We always went back to first principles and say, Well, you know, what is your biggest challenge?
Ikpeme: Because one thing we found was when we when we spoke to customers and said, Well, you bought this thing, but you’re not using it. Why is that?
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: And you know, there’ll be lots of, you know, the response would always be something around, Well, you know what? I think it’s great, but I’m not able to integrate it into my workflow because I need my people doing all the things that I feel are more important, right?
Ikpeme: And and there’ll be always pushback from the actual people on the floor. You know, they wouldn’t really want to use it at all.
Ikpeme: And when we when we eventually kind of looked at all the customer interviews we done, we realized that actually this wasn’t a primary problem. It was like a nice to have not a need to have.
Ikpeme: And really, what the most wanted. The biggest challenge they had was selling more drugs. Virtually everybody would say to us, Just help me sell my drugs. You know, that’s what I want.
Ikpeme: You know, this is too fancy. And you know, it’s going to maybe make me more extra revenue, you know, maybe three months down the line. And I’m not even sure what as you guys are not. But if you can bring a patient into my pharmacy that pays me, you know, love that solution, go build that for me.
Rowena: Yeah. Sell more drugs now
Ikpeme: Now that’s it,
Rowena: Makes that makes a ton of sense, and I love what you’re saying there about the real need. There are so many, so many well-intentioned projects that say like, Oh, they say it’s useful. I’ve talked to them. They say it’s feasible. They say it’s useful, but it’s not really a question of is it useful? It’s a question of is it the most useful thing is that what they care about is it priority number one? And for a pharmacy, priority number one is selling drugs now. And so you
Rowena: So you knew this was always a second fiddle to some higher, higher effort that was undertaking. And so the question
Rowena: For you became, OK, how do I address the number one thing that they’re asking me to do?
Ikpeme: Exactly. That’s
Rowena: How did
Rowena: You address
Ikpeme: Yeah, and I think it’s key like I was, I was really honest with myself, right? And, you know, not just just allowing the market to tell me what it wanted, right? And so we went I looked at the data and we realized that what they sold the most, the most was malaria care, right? So consistently across all our pharmacies. All the data pointed to malaria care did sell loads
Ikpeme: And loads of antimalarials. So we thought,
Ikpeme: Can we wrap your product around that, that we sell to the public and bring them into pharmacies?
Rowena: Nice. Can I say that’s one of the things that I find most interesting and quite one of the things I really love about WellaHealth and its approach, particularly compared to the aid sector. I’ve done a bunch of work. There’s so much funding out there for HIV because of whatever political reasons. But you’re looking
Rowena: At the actual data that people, individuals are spending on malaria and
Rowena: On on health care and malaria is at the top of the list. And just the strategic decision to focus on on that drug, also the fact that you can you can treat it in the community in a way that you can’t
Rowena: Treat other things, I think, is
Rowena: It’s a pretty, a pretty essential strategic decision that that you made as you’re figuring out the contours of the future of WellaHealth.
Ikpeme: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. So we just dug in and said, OK, how can we make malaria care better, more efficient
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: And cheaper as well for the customer? So that’s what we try to build. So we build a malaria care service centered around pharmacy, so you could go into the pharmacy, have a consultation, get a point of care test, get medications all for like a fixed price a month, right?
Rowena: But how do you how do you make it both cheaper for the client as well as get the address the pharmacy needs, you know, to buy more drugs like where does how did you how do you create that value on both sides?
Ikpeme: Yeah, so the key fall on the customer side was aggregating the demand, you know, so
Ikpeme: The challenge with the malaria case, the way it was structured [00:25:00] now, it was very it’s very hard to predict and you have to know where we come from. Yes, you get lots of people coming in to buy drugs, but you’re not sure when, how, why are you aware? You know, so what we wanted to do is aggregate demand and help that demand be more efficient in matching, matching it to the supply side. So
Ikpeme: That one thing we also learned was that when people see malaria in Nigeria, what they actually mean is an acute feverish illness.
Rowena: That sounds a lot like something else that we’ve
Rowena: Talked about
Ikpeme: Not what
Rowena: A lot.
Ikpeme: It means is that malaria is a symptom, actually, some people use the word malaria
Ikpeme: To describe symptoms,
Ikpeme: The disease.
Rowena: I see.
Ikpeme: Right? Because technically speaking, the only way to know whether you have malaria or not is via a test.
Rowena: Right. Makes sense.
Ikpeme: Yeah, so awesome medicine will see malaria is not a clinical diagnosis.
Ikpeme: Right and clinical means that you didn’t test it, so you just looked at somebody took a history and examine them some conditions you can diagnose without a test. Malaria
Ikpeme: Is not one of them.
Rowena: Right. That makes
Ikpeme: Malaria presents like hundreds of other diseases, COVID and malaria have similar symptoms, for instance,
Rowena: Oh, man, that sounds
Ikpeme: Exactly, exactly. So that was part of the thing we wanted to educate people and say, well, you know, lots of people, the moment they have a bit of a headache and you know, they feel a little bit feverish, they just go and take antimalarials.
Ikpeme: And part of the job we were doing, aggregating that demand was to educate people and say, Well, actually, the fact that you feel a bit ill doesn’t necessarily mean you have malaria, so we
Ikpeme: Save you that extra anti-malaria that it takes you two or three or four times a year by testing you first. So if we
Ikpeme: Test you and you don’t have malaria, then we save you that extra medication and time and energy and just actually help you recover and diagnose something else.
Rowena: Mm hmm. That makes a lot of sense, that makes a lot of sense to me. I think the value for for an individual person is that that like what? That they get a basket of care. It’s not just the malaria beds, it’s also the testing. It’s also the counseling and the support that happens in between. But doesn’t that take revenue away from the pharmacist? Why do pharmacists work with you?
Ikpeme: Well, so yes, I know, because we find the patient, right, so the
Ikpeme: Doesn’t have to. So from
Ikpeme: Pharmacist point of view, what they feel is, well, I’ve got my regular patients who are coming down anyway, and WellaHealth is bringing me extra.
Rowena: I see I see you you’re
Ikpeme: They think
Rowena: To new
Ikpeme: It. Exactly.
Rowena: Oh, right, and the nice thing about that is because part of what you’re doing is you’re you’re creating a health insurance that’s more affordable, more accessible, like you’re you’re opening the doors to a population that maybe never. Don’t don’t go to any health institution because they can’t afford
Ikpeme: You go.
Rowena: And because
Rowena: You’re opening up that market for on the pharmacy side, they want those additional customers that are coming in. And then from the individual side, you’re able to bring the price point down because in exchange for a consistency of being able to pay, they get a whole basket of services that they’re covered for.
Ikpeme: Exactly. So that’s it. So we started out with just malaria, but
Ikpeme: We so we got to approach them by an insurer. So because then, you know, we I never thought I’d work in insurance at all.
Rowena: Yeah, it’s kind of a it’s kind of a long movie journey.
Ikpeme: Exactly, exactly. But then we got a push by an insurer who had independently kind of come to the same conclusion that they needed to create a malaria based product that was delivered in pharmacies. Right. But they hadn’t figured out the actual nuts and bolts of how you would do it.
Rowena: Mm hmm. And you
Ikpeme: So when they saw, yeah, we had them, when they saw ads on social media, they were like, Oh, geez, we got to work with these guys because they figured it out. We haven’t, you know, so it was kind of a marriage made in heaven, if you like. So they become you became an underwriter. We were able to figure out the service side, and together we’re able to build and design, you know, micro health insurance products that malaria is to the ankle. But we have other things. So we’ve got telemedicine now. We covered like typhoid, we have hospital cover as well. So
Ikpeme: We now have this really affordable products that really speaks to the day to day healthcare needs of the average person.
Rowena: Nice. I mean, people think about WellaHealth, like what is what is the organization built around? What is its product? Just from looking at your website, it looks like you’re not an insurance company because you partner with insurance companies. You support insurance companies. You’re not a pharmacist. Because you partner with the pharmacies, you support them.
Rowena: Would you say you’re ultimately a technology company? You’re building tools to enable the pharmacy
Ikpeme: That’s it.
Rowena: And the insurance and the people.
Ikpeme: Exactly, yeah, and I think that’s what’s been missing, there’s this middle layer that’s missing in the industry that helps to connect everybody efficiently
Ikpeme: And beyond. Just the tech is also the trust. So traditionally all the players don’t trust each other at all.
Rowena: How do you mean?
Ikpeme: Yeah, they just don’t. You know, so for instance, you know, when we started out with pharmacies, they would refuse to see our patients, you know, because they’re like, you know, I don’t know you guys.
Ikpeme: And I’m not sure that you guys will pay me when I see your patient. So pay
Ikpeme: Up front. So we pay pharmacies up front, you know,
Rowena: Oh, interesting.
Rowena: That makes sense, because they’re moving from a cash economy to one that’s cashless, [00:30:00] and they’re like, why?
Rowena: Why would I trust your mobile app? Why you tell me this Android
Rowena: Thing is going to spit out money? Is it going to spit out money,
Ikpeme: Yeah, yeah.
Ikpeme: You know.
Ikpeme: Yeah. And in the industry, there is already a tradition of the insurers not paying on time, they would often all provide us for months and months and months.
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: So all of that was broken down. So I think we really fit that, you know, middle layer that connects everybody together adds a layer of trust and technology and enables everybody work together to actually scale this access.
Rowena: How do you grow it? How do you grow your partners and your audience? It sounds challenging to reach so many different people at so many different levels.
Ikpeme: Exactly, it’s very difficult, so for we, for instance, so we have we have customers that absolutely hate us and have turned.
Rowena: Why, why do they hate you?
Ikpeme: And the reason is where we started out, we only had 300 pharmacies. So, of course, you know, it was terrible,
Rowena: Yes, yes, because you didn’t
Rowena: Have the
Rowena: Network effects, it’s all about
Ikpeme: Did it.
Ikpeme: Exactly. And we didn’t have the experience either, you know, so our early
Ikpeme: Products were so bad. I’m so ashamed of it still today, you know?
Rowena: You got to start
Ikpeme: That is the only way. Yeah,
Ikpeme: Exactly. That is the only way, you know, so like,
Ikpeme: I’m sure there’s, you know, a number of people that, you know, when they hear WellaHealth, they think, Oh, those guys are useless, you know, and they be right, because two years ago, we were useless. We had only 300 people, 200 pharmacies. The team was like, very scrappy. You
Ikpeme: Know, our tech
Ikpeme: Was rubbish.
Ikpeme: You’ve got to start somewhere, you know?
Ikpeme: And and so the advantage that we did have is remember, we have that, you know, products for pharmacy. So we essentially flipped it around. We made our product free and we now
Ikpeme: The pharmacies that we’re paying us into
Ikpeme: The basically our network. Right.
Rowena: Brilliance. Wow, that
Rowena: Makes so much sense, because then you could leverage all the business development, all those partnerships and give something away for free, like that’s nice too,
Ikpeme: Exactly. So
Ikpeme: Very rapidly, we’re able to go from just, you know, two hundred and three hundred to about a thousand five hundred now within
Ikpeme: Two years.
Rowena: No, I really I’m really impressed by that flip, I think when when companies pivot, oftentimes they have to like burn the old bridges and start new ones, but you were able to to leverage that capital and then get traction. How did you what
Rowena: Was when did you start to feel that traction? Like what was what was the moment where you were like, OK, I think I think this is going to go better than the pharmacy automation track.
Ikpeme: So I think it was first of all when when the insurer reached out to us, we thought,
Ikpeme: Ok, this must be a significant problem we’ve solved here.
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: You know, so
Ikpeme: That’s the first thing, you know,
Ikpeme: They reached out to us and we hammered out a deal pretty easily. So that was great.
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: And then I think I think the second time where we felt were actually this is really valuable was with COVID
Ikpeme: When when COVID hit. What happened was a lot of hospitals and clinics were turning patients away. They wouldn’t like see patients. This is early
Ikpeme: On. They would say, you know, unless you’re like, dying, don’t come to hospital.
Ikpeme: What that meant was insurers
Ikpeme: Were in a very tight position because a lot of times their patients would always go to hospitals, especially for like medication pickups.
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: And so they now needed places outside of hospitals to send patients to for medication pickups in particular, but for like lots of other things. So
Rowena: Oh, interesting.
Ikpeme: Telemedicine use, for instance, shot up
Ikpeme: And then people trying to work with, you know, retail pharmacies in the community also increased. Well,
Ikpeme: Guess who has the largest network in the country?
Ikpeme: Right, and so we now become like the essential partner for like lots of insurers. So even though we have our own insurance product that we’ve worked with on travel, we actually are seriously for about 10 other insurers right now.
Rowena: I found fascinating. Yeah, and it’s funny because it’s it’s almost serendipity in a way like you never planned for COVID 19. Nobody did. But because of the pandemic, there was that real strain on the health care system. And you just happen to be in a space where you knew you could reduce burden from the health care system. If anything, your whole model was around redirect or was around serving that layer, which is outside of the hospital system. And so it just
Rowena: So happened that the entire hospital system was incentivized to give you business and to invest in your growth just over the course of the past few years. That’s
Rowena: Wild. So as my dad used to say, that’s starting a business as a combination of a ton of hard work, you know, having the right product, having the right team and a little bit of luck. Just a little bit of luck.
Ikpeme: Absolutely. I mean, I think after all my failures, I was due for some luck.
Rowena: You were doing. Oh, man. What is some of the things that you’re proud of now that WellaHealth has achieved after that uptick?
Ikpeme: Geez, I mean, like,
Ikpeme: It’s really difficult what we’ve done, you know, so everything I don’t know. I don’t know where to start. Like everything has been like very painful, you know? And but I’m actually particularly proud of like the core team we built. We have like a core team of people who are really passionate about the problem solving
Ikpeme: And have kind of stuck together through a lot of very, very difficult times. So when I got rid of my former team, I, you know, brought [00:35:00] new people on who
Ikpeme: Been together for the last sort of four or five years just,
Ikpeme: Know, figuring this out. And it’s really exciting to see that core team get better and better and also bring more people on. So currently we are just over 40 people and
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: Every time. So for the first time, so are we’re a distributed team. So there’s, you know, oh, in four or five different cities. And so for the first time, we all got together in a room together last December.
Rowena: That must
Ikpeme: It was
Rowena: Have felt so good.
Ikpeme: It was. Yeah, it was so emotional to see like, you know, all these people that had, you know, come from essentially things I was dreaming about when I was a doctor in New Zealand, you know?
Rowena: For sure. Yeah, I think we didn’t even talk about the fact, the fact that all of this is happening during the pandemic, with everyone being remote and everyone working from home, like just
Rowena: Able to assess talent or build partnerships or hire their right people during the pandemic must have been its own
Rowena: Particular. I don’t know how severe the lockdowns were in Nigeria, but
Rowena: Elsewhere in the world.
Ikpeme: Yeah, no, initially they were, but I think a lot of African countries are over it, so like businesses return, it’s much business as usual.
Rowena: It’s in South Africa, it’s like we’ve got bigger problems.
Rowena: Covid is
Rowena: A big deal, but there’s bigger deals
Rowena: Working with us. If you could snap your fingers and solve one challenge for WellaHealth right now, just
Rowena: Like it’s gone. What would
Rowena: That challenge be?
Ikpeme: That’s an easy question, its access to capital. So
Ikpeme: Despite all the success, I think it’s really still really difficult to actually get the right capital to do what we’re trying to do because not a lot of people understand it. You know, I know not a lot of people get it until it’s really painstaking, trying to get the right investors that understand the model and see what the potential opportunity is. And so that’s the one thing I’d say would be wonderful if I could get a magic wand.
Rowena: That makes sense, particularly given the point that you were saying earlier about network effects, you know, the move from three hundred to fifteen hundred pharmacies is huge. But in Nigeria, there’s there’s more, you know, you could grow that to 3000 or 5000 pharmacies, then that would say so much about the quality of the offering that you’re able to give. I’m curious if you got investment. Do you know now like what you would invest that in?
Ikpeme: Oh, yeah, absolutely. You know, so my my my my engineering lead is always complaining, he’s run off his feet, everybody’s pulling him left, right and center. And so in fact, over the pandemic, we grew too fast and we had to like hire people to
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: Solve stuff that tech should solve.
Ikpeme: So we’re not building tech fast enough. And the key thing is that the tech we build is not just for ourselves, but it’s actually to embed it into other people’s systems. So we love
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: To be able to build tech to actually help other people help us. You know what I mean?
Ikpeme: So so a lot of times, for instance, you know, people send us information via WhatsApp via email, via text messages when
Ikpeme: We have like an API that could easily collect that information automatically and do the work automatically.
Ikpeme: But we’ve got to go from WhatsApp into that system. So being able to build all these systems or to make things better just means we can actually scale it off faster and easier. So it would be investing in a lot of technology and product people to go and get tech, not just for us, but into all the other people we work with.
Rowena: Nice, that makes a lot of sense, particularly because it has that kind of attribute of upfront capital, like once you build that
Rowena: System, you know that WhatsApp automation you. That says a lot about the support staff that you need. You can reduce your operating costs and it increases the viability of your models. That’s like a very that’s a very clear upfront investment proposal for for what you have in mind. That’s so
Ikpeme: I mean, our goal and that’s key because our goal is to save tens of millions of people, we know we can do that with humans. It’s not possible at all.
Rowena: There’s humans in
Rowena: The picture
Rowena: Somewhere. But at least this this offering, this this product, we want to we want to grow it. You mentioned about the, you know, growing your tech capacity and your ability to invest in the in the technology. How do you find access to technical talent in Nigeria, particularly given you, you worked in New Zealand, you worked in Ireland. Like what is what are you? What are you finding in terms of of technical talent?
Ikpeme: It’s a challenge, and it’s a very topical challenge, I don’t know what they are following this, but in the Nigeria tech ecosystem, it’s a huge topic at the moment around tech talent because beyond even finding talent, when you find and groom talent, the like or leave, you know, the go to the US, to Europe,
Rowena: Oh, man. I hear you.
Ikpeme: You know where it’s very difficult to compete with the salaries, right? So
Ikpeme: It’s a huge, huge problem. The way we’re solving it is actually to build a pipeline. So we’ve accepted
Ikpeme: Our rule. We’re never going to be able to compete with, you know, Facebook, Amazon, Google or Silicon Valley start up with salaries.
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: But what we can provide is a pathway for people to learn and grow and
Ikpeme: Go on to the next phase. So we’re actually currently building well. Our schools are calling it. So it’s a way for young people, new college grads and high school grads to get into an internship program where we teach them how to design, how to program even some product management. And
Ikpeme: Then it’s going to be across six to nine months and then we’ll now [00:40:00] select the most promising people and actually employ them. But
Ikpeme: In the process, we’ll have hundreds of people go through it and we’ll be able to see that an ecosystem of people that have access to these skills.
Rowena: How can you afford to run a program like that?
Ikpeme: So what we’re doing is actually working with other partners, so
Ikpeme: We run we run a pilot last year where
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: We hired two to two engineers from it, so it was a we’d outsource some of it to this foundation that I didn’t work on training technical talent and
Ikpeme: The eventually we had two young ladies from it. So the one person that we had super impressive young lady, she’s only 17.
Ikpeme: Yes, sir. I realize actually that’s what we need to go. We need to get them young and give them the access to the right training. So we are essentially going to leverage a lot of tech, you know, a lot of tools, a lot of existing stuff that’s out there and then just allow people to kind of self-select. So because we really want people to be driven and be motivated to push themselves, and those are the people who eventually end up working with.
Rowena: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What’s interesting is, I think one of the challenges of being a tech startup in Africa is exactly what you’re saying about technical talent. But then when investors look in and they’re like, Hey, why don’t you have an engineering team with this kind of background and Ivy League degrees and everything like that? But the fact is, if you did, they would disappear in six months because of, you know, because of the market that exists for such developers. Whereas you need an organization like WellaHealth in Nigeria to to have that partnership networks to build that. And so any organization, your organization or a different one is going to is going to have a certain approach to talent which is consistent with the market. And that’s something
Rowena: That investors need to understand and realize when they look at the profile of different organizations in this space.
Ikpeme: Yeah, exactly right.
Rowena: All right. So just to wrap up our show, a few last questions for you, the first question I have for you is if if you have any requests for donors or investors who fund social enterprises,
Ikpeme: Son WellaHealth,
Rowena: It’s not crazy, it’s not crazy.
Ikpeme: Yeah, I’m actually fundraising at the moment, so, yeah, so you know, I’m looking to raise so yeah, absolutely would love to speak to people that are interested in what we’re doing. Yeah.
Rowena: That makes sense, I mean, but
Rowena: Even on that. And that friend, as someone who has received investment as well, do you have any do you have any guidance for how donors should or could fund an organization like yours? Like what are some of the things that work and don’t work in donor relationships that that you might guide donors on?
Ikpeme: Yeah, so if so, two things, so donors, I think I think with donors is flexibility. So if you’re funding a startup, I think be very willing to be flexible, you
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: Know? And as long as you trust, first of all, don’t don’t fund people you don’t trust, but as soon as you trust somebody, you fund them, trust them to figure it out as well, right? And
Ikpeme: Oftentimes, you know, they’ll start to I mean, you can see the journey I’ve been through, right? I started off trying to build a Zocdoc for Africa, and here I am. I’m an insurer, right? So if I raise money from a donor to build Zocdoc of Africa and I’m uninsured, it kind of looks like, you know, what are you doing here? But that’s what the market wants, right? So I think for donors, be very flexible on the details. So allow founders and entrepreneurs to figure it out as they go along and support them as they do that.
Ikpeme: And then on the, I think, the sort of traditional startup investors understand that. So that’s not their problem. I think for them, it’s patients that’s more important, right?
Ikpeme: That especially early on, growth is very slow and painstaking,
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: And there is no value in that added pressure of looking for growth. You
Ikpeme: Kind of wear down the entrepreneur, right? I
Ikpeme: Think just understanding that when you put in money into this vertical, you just have to be patient.
Rowena: Yeah, yeah, I
Rowena: Hear you, I think there’s such a drive for growth over everything else, whereas like if we just create this market, this new market that’s never existed before. One slow step at a time, that’s a huge achievement in and of itself.
Rowena: You know, growth will come
Rowena: When it comes. If
Rowena: Could take a step back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
Ikpeme: This is I think about this question, and I I struggle to answer it because I don’t have a lot of regrets, if that makes sense, I just kind of, you know, learn as I go along and improve. I’m not one to kind of dwell on regrets
Ikpeme: Because I think even the lessons I’ve learned is as a result of the things that have happened, you know, so it’s it’s difficult to kind of go back on, you know, advice myself. But I would say that if there was one thing I could tell myself was probably start the company earlier.
Rowena: All those years in med school, what were you doing, just saving lives,
Rowena: I don’t know. Save more lives sooner.
Ikpeme: You know, I think there’s a lot more risk that you can take when
Ikpeme: You’re younger. And I mean, having said that, there’s a lot of value in experience as well. But I think personally, you know, if I started a younger, I think that I would have been able to take even more risks, right? I will probably have helped me learn the lesson faster. So what I would say is, you know, just start things early is what I would have told my younger self. Take
Rowena: I love
Ikpeme: The risk
Rowena: That. [00:45:00]
Rowena: I love that I think
Rowena: So many people are waiting for the right moment in their lives to do whatever it is that they were born to do. But you only have one life to live and nobody knows how long it’s going to be. So like, you know, if you know
Rowena: What you want. Just go for it by all means.
Ikpeme: Exactly. It’s good for her to take the riskier option, actually, if you have two options and you don’t take the riskier option every single time.
Rowena: You’re going to get somebody in trouble, but maybe it’ll be good trouble.
Ikpeme: Trouble is, trouble is good.
Rowena: Oh boy. Can you name someone? Would you like to offer a shout out? Name someone who has inspired or guided your work.
Ikpeme: But geez, I’ve got lots and lots of people that inspire and guide my work so in and it depends on the vertical, right? So in the micro insurance space, there’s micro insurer, you know, which is one of the first micro insurance companies in the world, is actually one of my advisors, which Leslie, you know, love and love. The work is done and the personal advice has been given me so really inspired me a lot. On the hill tech side, there’s a founder in the US, the founder of Practice Fusion.
Ikpeme: I think they sold to 890 End. But Practice Fusion, you know, really love this their founding story because he he liquidated his whole life to start his company.
Ikpeme: And I
Ikpeme: Can relate
Ikpeme: To that. So that was inspiring. So I kind of pick, you know, different stories that speak to me from different people’s lives and stories to help build kind of, you know, the kind of motivation and inspiration that I need to move ahead. So there isn’t just one person or thing. I think it’s just multiple different things. The other thing I’ll say actually is one of the things that helped me to make that move back to Nigeria is back in 2014, there was a huge a number of Nigeria founders who had really done a lot of good working, you know, attracting venture capital and building businesses that were quite prominent. So a guy called Jason Njoku from a company called Iroko TV, so they had the Netflix of Africa
Ikpeme: The African Netflix, if you like. So he’d done a lot of amazing work and he had actually written about it. So, you know, I found it very inspirational. You know, the guys that, you know, tried to start the Amazon of Nigeria. So Konga and Jumia again, you know, really love their, you know, the the passion that they had and the risk they took that was really inspiring to me and help me to make that jump.
Rowena: Nice. It’s a great lineup. Life hack, what’s one habit you’ve adopted in your life to keep yourself effective, productive and motivated or motivated? Any one of them?
Ikpeme: Yeah, so I still struggle with this, but every time I do it, I always have a great day is to wake up early. Yeah. So
Rowena: You’re not
Rowena: Morning person, but you want to be, is that right?
Ikpeme: Yeah, so I kind of I think I think the challenge is so working as a doctor, you know, your your sleep just gets destroyed, you know, being on call and just,
Rowena: Oh, I figured
Rowena: Just partying
Rowena: Late at night every night.
Ikpeme: Well, that too. So sometimes I struggle mornings, but whenever I’m able to get up at 6:00 in the morning and I get working like the day is so much better, I accomplish a lot.
Ikpeme: So if there’s one thing that you can do is to get up early in the morning, I just start working early.
Rowena: Nice. We won’t talk about the trade offs with the evenings, we’ll just skip over that part.
Ikpeme: Yeah, well.
Rowena: Reading what does one resource you use to stay up to date on what’s going on in this industry?
Ikpeme: So I struggled a number of different industries I could imagine. So because I think on the on the tech side, I think there’s like blogs and sub stocks and like even LinkedIn updates that people post, I think are very useful. So on tech, the tech cabal blog. So, you know, TechCabal newsletter, it’s a daily newsletter. It kind of brings you up to speed what everything is happening tech in Africa. So I’ll always read that under this kind of specific people I follow on the insurance side and on the health care side as well, but I find that I end up having to kind of there’s not one resource. I end up having to read a lot of different things and then kind of synthesize my own stuff. So I actually write a lot myself what I try to do
Rowena: Oh, nice. What?
Ikpeme: And to write, to lock myself, to kind of distill all this stuff that I learn from all the kind of blogs and articles and different things that I read.
Rowena: How do people how can people find your writing?
Ikpeme: So I’ve got a medium page, it’s dark nettle is the medium page,
Rowena: Now still on medium, huh?
Ikpeme: I’m well, I Substack, I’ve moved to Substack, actually, but
Ikpeme: Stuff I still put on Medium, but I do have a Substack as well. But the Substack, I only write, say, two or three times a year so far.
Rowena: Media matters
Rowena: To now off to look you up.
Ikpeme: I’m still busy. I’m so busy these days. I don’t write as much, but I really love writing.
Rowena: I hear you. Life really gets in the way of all our hobbies.
Rowena: Last question just for fun. Can you recommend a book, a blog or a podcast that you’ve enjoyed?
Ikpeme: Oh, geez, where do I start? Ok, I’ll give you one because I have lots, but I think the one book that really impacted the way I think and I think the mark of a good book for me is I buy it’s like several times every time I move or lose it or give it out because I always give it out.
Rowena: But OK.
Ikpeme: It’s a book called The Spirit Level, right?
Rowena: Huh. I haven’t heard
Rowena: Of it.
Ikpeme: It’s it’s two epidemiologists, British epidemiologists, and
Ikpeme: They they basically look at all the data and the essentially build the story and come to the conclusion that equality is better for everybody.
Ikpeme: Right now, when societies are more unequal,
Rowena: Hmm. [00:50:00]
Ikpeme: There’s more social problems and social ills. So the more equal society is, the better it is for everybody.
Ikpeme: And the idea that economics of broad economic growth only helps everybody to a point beyond a certain point. Society should strive for more equality and more and more egalitarian societies, essentially, and he like
Ikpeme: The good for a lot of data to prove this.
Rowena: Wow, that sounds both philosophical and foundational. At the same time, I need to pick that one
Rowena: Up, huh? Fascinating is there for people who are listening to this podcast that might want to get in touch with you or learn more about the work that you’re doing. What’s the best way to learn more about you and WellaHealth?
Ikpeme: Yes, like I said, I tweet a lot.
Ikpeme: I tried to tweet less these days, but yeah, so Twitter is the best way to reach me. Doc Netto is my handle as Dorsey and ate all
Rowena: Mm hmm.
Ikpeme: Donuts on Twitter is the best way
Rowena: Thank you so much for joining us on the show today.