When Keswin Suresh was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder in 2020 amidst pandemic lockdowns, he could not complete the necessary routine visits to the hospital. The alternative solution was that a nurse was now required to come to his home multiple times a week to administer injections and medication.
However, while the concept of home nursing is not new, the inconsistency in the calibre and price of these services on the market quickly made itself apparent to Keswin.
In a conversation with the Abu Dhabi SME Hub, Keswin recalled his frustrations with the quality of service he received. His nurse was never punctual, was misinformed about his condition, and would not take patient notes properly, among other problems.
He shared these challenges with his now co-founder, Samer Masri, whom he used to work with at the time at the latter’s previous venture, FourMed. Masri is a serial entrepreneur, and when the two conducted market research into the home healthcare services sector following Keswin’s difficult experience, they realised the issues he faced were quite common.
The sector in MENA was fragmented, and prices and quality of services fluctuated wildly.
Keswin noted that the power dynamic in the market was heavily tilted towards home healthcare providers, where they were able to charge patients exorbitant amounts of money, and illicit patient trading in the ecosystem was rampant, in addition to the existence of patient referral programs between hospital employees and home healthcare providers, which led to patients paying even more fees.
The duo realised that they needed to “cut off all the unnecessary elements that existed in this industry.”
Therefore, Keswin and Samer decided to launch a platform to solve all these issues and offer accessible, monitorable and fairly-priced home healthcare services: DarDoc.
How the business model works and convincing healthcare providers to join
The duo set out to reach out to and pick from the over 300 home healthcare service providers available in the UAE market to partner with, and eventually incorporated the business at Abu Dhabi Global Market in 2021, as an online marketplace for home nursing services.
While Suresh realised that the challenges he faced were common in the market, there were still some good home healthcare service providers operating in the UAE. What they needed was a single unifying platform that would standardise pricing, make bookings easier, and increase access to customers, which is where DarDoc came in.
Given that the pandemic had shifted consumer attitudes towards being more accepting of home healthcare services, it was easier for DarDoc to market its services in the UAE market, which also made onboarding third-party healthcare providers easier.
However, friction did still exist. The founding team wanted DarDoc to set the prices, not the onboarded third-party providers. This was to ensure prices were accessible and fair, and so that these providers couldn’t double back and charge unnecessary additional fees to the patient.
Given that most of these healthcare providers were mostly traditional, it was a challenge to educate them on the benefits of the technology offered by DarDoc and how it would it would help them in scaling their business and making their operations more efficient.
Additionally, they had to come to terms with the fact that by partnering with DarDoc, their margins would be squeezed. Many soon realised, however, that within other areas of their business, such as operations and workforce management, they would be able to cut down a significant amount of costs, while also leveraging a much larger number of patients than they would have been able to individually. In that sense, one can draw parallels to the food aggregator business model, when weighing the costs and benefits of a positive but potentially strenuous relationship.
Competition and maintaining the cheapest prices on the market
While DarDoc is technically a healthtech startup, Keswin highlighted that they are not a telehealth company, which means they do not compete with a large portion of this growing market.
Instead, DarDoc is a purely specialised platform offering home nursing services, with much fewer competitors on the scene. Those that do compete with DarDoc, Keswin explained, offer a slew of home services, which means that their technology and services are not as dedicated to their home nursing vertical. DarDoc’s advantages are in the customisable and flexible services offered to patients, which are heavily automated and seamless, and in the peace of mind customers can feel knowing they are leaving their loved ones in the care of a trained professional, with the accountability of a vetted, official platform backing them.
Finally, DarDoc’s competitive edge is in their affordable pricing: as low as AED 29 per hour, the most affordable rate on the market, Keswin noted. He explained that neither conventional home healthcare providers nor rival online marketplaces have been able to beat their pricing.
The Abu Dhabi-based startup managed to achieve these prices due to the volume-based pricing model that DarDoc has agreed on with healthcare providers. It helps them keep prices low but profitable, with the gross profit made on each transaction averaging around 30%.
As a co-founding team, the duo bring varied experiences to the table. For Keswin, this is his first entrepreneurial undertaking, while Samer is a serial entrepreneur with 15 years behind him.
The variance in experience and skillsets helped the two co-founders bounce off each other in times of difficulty, with Keswin powering through entrepreneurial challenges with the support of Samer’s experience, while Samer relied on Keswin for innovative new ideas and technologies.
For Samer, his love for building things and for tackling challenges is what keeps his passion fueled.
“As an entrepreneur, you must be very ambitious, very determined to achieve your vision, and open-minded to change your way of thinking, ready to pivot, and willing to take risks. I totally believe that your ability to take risks and try to do things in different and new ways is crucial to be a successful entrepreneur. That, of course, is in addition to your ability to recruit a dedicated, talented team who will believe in your vision, along with your ability to lead the team towards achieving the mission of your organisation.”
Samer mentioned that their colleagues call Keswin the “disruptor” and Samer the “stabiliser,” where together they “form a bridge between the past and the future.”
The Abu Dhabi ecosystem and Flat6Labs’ support
For Samer, Abu Dhabi has been his home for the past 22 years, where he has launched his previous ventures. Looking back, he could tell that the ecosystem of today is a stark contrast to the one he was familiar with 15 years ago when he founded his first company.
“The ecosystem has significantly changed over the last few years, creating a better environment for entrepreneurs to establish and grow their business in the UAE and [the] region,” he noted.
As a healthtech startup with an innovative and disruptive idea, the startup got incubated by the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi, and then got accelerated by the Flat6Labs Ignite seed program backed by ADQ.
DarDoc’s selection among Flat6Labs’ third cohort has helped the startup grow significantly, connecting them with fellow startups, mentors and investors, and preparing them to raise funding. The startup remains bootstrapped, initially funded by the co-founders and Samer’s friends and advisors, and today is in the process of raising.
Moving forward, the team has its eyes set on growing its service offerings and cementing stronger relationships with home healthcare service providers, and ultimately pursuing regional expansion.
According to Samer, DarDoc is ready for this, but the last piece of the puzzle is more “money in the bank to go faster.”