Each week, Female CoFounder features a female founder in the community. Follow along each week and learn from different founders and their journeys.
FcF: Tell us about yourself?
Joella: Hey! I’m Joe, and I’m a startup geek, founder and partnerships guru in Toronto working to improve the healthcare of patients taking multiple medications. I also spend my time on Canada’s first and only womxn’s chamber of commerce (CanWCC). Fun fact about me is I’ve lived and worked in three different cities - Dubai (U.A.E), Pune (India) and Toronto so I'm a proud Third Culture Kid. I care deeply about building an impactful venture and advancing women’s economic outcomes so I’m grateful to get to work in areas I’m passionate about daily. I try to learn two new things a year to challenge myself so if you’ve got an interesting hobby, tell me about it over Slack DM!
FcF: What is MedEssist?
Joella: MedEssist is a healthcare app that guides you through your treatments and connects you to your pharmacy for refills. MedEssist is completely free and so easy to use that there’s no typing or account required. In Canada, it’s supported by 3 hospitals and over 130 pharmacies but can be used with any pharmacy. We’re particularly proud of the fact that even your grandparents can use MedEssist because of how easy and accessible it is and we work very hard to keep it that way.
Q: How did you come up with MedEssist?
Joella: Michael, our CEO and fearless leader came up with MedEssist having been a pharmacist for over 8 years. A mutual friend introduced us and I was intrigued by how challenging it was to get something so new off the ground. In my previous role, I had been part of a later-stage startup that felt cushioned in some ways. I had been through two acquisitions, tried something on my own, and was looking for a new challenge so it felt like an exciting opportunity. In my role, I help operationalize MedEssist and like most founders, wear multiple hats.
Now MedEssist is a growing organization helping pharmacies across the country connect with their patients in a completely novel approach, that’s both highly impactful and healthcare centric. As the flu season approaches and Covid-19 vaccines start to get discussed, MedEssist will be playing a key role in how you access your pharmacy for these vital services. The platform that we’ve built for MedEssist which connects every pharmacy together can be used to help people receive the COVID-19 vaccines from pharmacies in a safe, efficient, and organized way. We are excited to use our platform to solve this critical COVID-19 problem.
FcF: What were the first 3 steps you took after you knew you wanted to pursue this idea?
Joella: Some of the first steps included validating the idea through focus groups and user interviews, followed by building an embarrassing MVP of course. Unfortunately in healthcare, this cannot be done cheaply as data privacy is a huge concern for our patients and customers so it’s got to be done right. Finally, getting it into the hands of users and observing how they use it instead of directing them on how to use it is really important in helping you hone in on an acquisition strategy. As a B2B model, we were hyper-focused on growing our pharmacy subscribers which helped get our mobile app into the hands of patients faster and more efficiently which subsequently had us learning and testing efficiently too. MedEssist is available in 9 languages as a result with more being added every quarter!
FcF: How did you meet your Co-Founder? What do you look for in a Co-Founder?
Joella: A mutual friend introduced us hoping we’d chat about startups and it worked. To the dismay of my peers, I refer to looking for a co-founder (and startup investment!) as analogous to dating. I suggest not focusing on the person but the problem and if you can solve the problem together. You are embarking on a mission to build a company, which is no easy feat. Trust, communication and a willingness to learn while doing hard work are key components of a good founder. Doing it alone sucks and is twice as challenging so find someone that makes coming to work fun!
FcF: What is your advice for founders looking to build a startup in the healthcare space?
Joella: Being in Canada, and in healthcare, is a double whammy. Both are not easy and I’d suggest only going into healthcare if you have a strong passion to solve a particular problem. No business plan is easily executable in our healthcare ecosystem so make sure your idea or startup is scalable before you embark on this uphill battle. Ilan Shahin wrote an interesting piece on his experience starting and closing a health care company in Canada earlier this year. Surround yourself with a passionate, driven team and get yourself a strong advisory board cause you’re going to need all the help you can get.
FcF: What advice do you have for other women who have a start-up idea or side project idea?
Joella: Honestly, just get it out. Don’t wait for the most perfect, most beautiful branded, awesome version. Get it out early so you can test and learn. If you find product/market fit, great! And if you discover it’s not needed(it’s not really a problem), or it’s a crowded space or whatever hurdle you come across, know that you are smart enough to move on to something else. To pivot, to upgrade, to enhance or to join an existing team till a new idea strikes you again. It’s totally okay to change your mind! I will say pay attention to the math, whether that’s paid sales, new users, new features etc, have a strategic achievable goal and work backwards to determine how you can get there.
FcF: How can the Female CoFounder community help you?
Joella: If you’re taking any medications weekly or monthly, you have to see how easy it is. Download the app and take a pic of your prescription receipt.
You’ll literally be added to your pharmacy in 3 seconds! https://www.medessist.ca/get-the-app.html and follow us on social media at https://www.instagram.com/medessist/ or https://www.linkedin.com/company/medessistapp/ for all the latest updates, new languages and the upcoming flu season!
MedEssist is also an official UofT APPE rotation site for pharmacy students if you have pharmacy friends still looking for an opportunity during COVID-19.
FcF: How can people contact you?
Joella: I’m very responsive on the FCF slack channel @Joella.
If you download the app to try it out, you can use any of the receipts on our website : https://www.medessist.ca/patient-mobile-app.html
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