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Health Tech Start-up Vezeeta Empowers Millions of Patients

By Khadiga Alsharif

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt—At the Africa 2018 Forum that opens today, 100 top African entrepreneurs will be honored, and one them is an Egyptian start-up called Vezeeta. It has grown into an important online health-care booking platform for Egypt—and has expanded throughout the region.

On Friday, IFC is investing $1 million in Vezeeta. IFC CEO Philippe Le Houérou signed the agreement with Vezeeta’s CEO Amir Barsoum in a ceremony in Sharm El Sheikh.

But Vezeeta’s success didn’t happen in a straight line. Instead, like many of the startups gathering in Sharm El Sheikh, Vezeeta began to grow exponentially after a major shake-up in its business model.

In January 2015, Barsoum, who had co-founded Vezeeta only two years earlier, sat at a conference in Silicon Valley where he heard an Uber executive talk about his business, saying that Uber grew so quickly in part because it followed a “pay as you go” model.

“I was hit,” or struck by the approach, said Barsoum, who texted his former co-founder and chief technology officer at 4 a.m. to discuss changing Vezeeta’s business model, moving away from a doctor-focused organization to one that focuses on patients.

Vezeeta provides patients with the ability to search, compare, book, and engage with doctors in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Lebanon. It also helps providers in hospitals and clinics manage medical appointments and patient data.

In Vezeeta’s initial model, patients only rated their doctors. Vezeeta changed the model to allow patients to post ratings on different aspects of their doctors’ visits, including the cleanliness of the office, the staff’s friendliness, and waiting times. Suddenly, Barsoum said, doctors started to see an increase in patients’ feedback – giving many practitioners the incentive to improve their performance or face a stream of negative ratings on Vezeeta’s service.

 “You are a consumer in every single industry, except in health care, where you are a patient. This in itself tells you a lot about how patients are unempowered, and they are weak in the decision-making of the journey in such an industry,” said Barsoum, sitting in his company’s office. “Our role is to empower patients—empowering them through data, through knowledge. Empowering them to access health care, but also empowering them in their journey with health care.”

And after many months of fast and steady growth, Vezeeta went from being a struggling health-care business with only 20 employees and 500 registered doctors to one that today employs 200 people in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and caters to more than 200,000 users. Today, 10,000 doctors have subscribed.

“Vezeeta is like Uber where they identified a pain and they came up with an idea that fixed it. They bridged the gap between patients and health-care providers,” said Dr. Yasser Abo El Ela Hamed, a dermatologist based in Cairo. He said that Vezeeta has helped his clinic attract more patients. Moreover, he believes the ratings system is improving the quality of health care.

Dr. Abo El Ela’s combined rating is 4.5 out of 5. Patients’ reviews include:

Mona A.: “Professional doctor and expert doctor assistants.” (5 stars)

Menna H.: “The doctor is very good, and the clinic as well” (4 stars)

Barsoum, a former executive at an international pharmaceutical company, had a couple of pieces of advice for start-ups in early stages.

First, he said that entrepreneurs must be able to “pivot” to solve pressing problems. “Dance until you get to the right spot on the dance floor,” he said. Second, hire well. “Hire the best people. Truly. Be ruthless about that. Hire people who know more than you do.”

He looked around his office, gesturing at colleagues down the hallway. “That’s what I did,” he said. “And it worked.”

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