I caught up with Vivek Patni, COO and co-founder, of WeMa Life, an online platform which brings together multiple social care and wellbeing service providers within a single ecosystem.
Patni spoke about what it’s really like to launch a tech business with family and the challenges they’ve faced when launching to market.
Q: Where did the idea for WeMa Life come from and what were you doing before?
The idea for WeMa Life was very much borne out of my family’s own personal experiences when having to look after one of our elderly relatives. This was a new experience for all of us, and we found the process of organising care services to be unnecessarily time-consuming, and often difficult to manage.
What became particularly frustrating was the lack of digital solutions to help manage the experience, with the sector failing to make use of similar technologies that we have seen transform lives with the rise of FinTech and PropTech. As a result, my parents, Rajal and Rohit, and I set out to create an online solution that would change the way people manage the care of both themselves and others.
Prior to this, the three of us had quite varied backgrounds. Rohit, WeMa Life’s CEO, had a career in IT spanning more than 30 years, which included successfully selling card payment services company YESpay to WorldPay for more than £20m. Rajal oversaw this M&A and integration activity as CFO for YESpay; indeed, Rajal has over 25 years’ experience working within a range of businesses in the construction, outsourcing and technology sectors, combining strategic, operational, and financial expertise helping these businesses grow. And finally, having graduated with a degree in biomedical sciences, my background was in professional services before I put that to one side to focus on making our vision of WeMa Life a reality.
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Our lack of experience specifically in the health and care sector did little to deter us; on the contrary, by taking advantage of our private sector experience, we commissioned extensive market research to understand the industry, and have immersed ourselves in the sector ever since.
Q: What’s it like to run a company as a family? What are the challenges/benefits?
When running a company as a family, there is a negative perception that businesses struggle to form an effective balance between company matters and social or family relations, resulting in one spilling over into the other. While I do believe it’s important to be aware and upfront with these issues, there are many advantages of working as a family unit. There is much more transparency and flexibility, and a clear expectation of targets we want to collectively achieve.
Importantly, right from the beginning, we all established clear guidelines as to how the business would function. We respect each person’s role within the company, maintaining a formal relationship and making sure there is time dedicated to both business and non-business discussions. Of course, this can be difficult, particularly in the early days of launching a start-up, but it’s also fantastic that business achievements can be celebrated as a family as well.
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Q: Who are your competitors and what sets you apart from them?
What makes WeMa Life unique is the fact that we offer, for the first time, an online marketplace for service users seeking health and wellbeing services. For service providers, WeMa Life also offers businesses an online portal, which enables them to promote their services and gain access to more clients. Through the WeMa Life mobile apps, they are able to improve the management and delivery of their services in an efficient and trackable manner to service users. This type of all-encompassing service model has never previously existed, which is why we have launched WeMa Life in both the UK and India.
We are connecting care in the community, improving the health outcomes of society by taking advantage of digital and online solutions. HealthTech is rising in popularity, and I’m sure we will see the same momentum movement towards tech continue to take hold of the health and care industry in 2018. As such, competition in the HealthTech market as a whole will undoubtedly increase in the months and years ahead, but we’re confident our solution will stand-out from anything else consumers or businesses have available in the health, care and wellbeing management space.
Q: What will it take for your business to succeed?
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Success is always difficult to measure for young companies, but I am confident in the USPs underpinning WeMa Life. The UK has an ageing population, and more and more people will find themselves acting as an informal carer for close friends or relatives. Naturally, with technology becoming more embedded in our daily lives, there will be an expectation for online products and services, particularly from younger generations. This is where WeMa Life will become particularly useful, both for the UK and Indian markets.
As with many new technologies, our success will rely upon a willingness for people to embrace tech in order to source, book, pay for and manage health and care services, whether that’s for themselves or a loved one. But we know that if you are able to build a solution that is relevant, accessible and easy to use then people will get on board.
Q: What can we expect from WeMa Life in the next year?
Having launched to market, 2018 is poised to be an exciting time for WeMa Life as we roll the app out across both India and the UK. At the moment, we are focusing on acquiring more users, and increasing the number of services and companies listed on the platform. So, with the app and online marketplace now live, we will be undertaking a dedicated push to increase market awareness, particularly in the health, care and wellness sectors.
Q: What challenges have you come across in terms of launching your business? How did you overcome these?
There are always challenges to overcome when launching a startup. For WeMa Life, the challenge for us was to determine when would be the ideal time to launch to market. With the technology for the app developed last year, there was a real eagerness to launch WeMa Life as soon as possible – the challenge for us was showing restraint and putting into place a launch strategy for both the Indian and UK markets.
Q: What key pieces of advice would you share with any other budding tech entrepreneurs?
Launching a startup is one of the most challenging yet fulfilling experiences available. For tech entrepreneurs based in London, I would urge them to take full advantage of the opportunities on offer in the city. Not only does it have a thriving alternative finance scene backed by investors willing to support young companies, it is also an ideal place to network. Get out there and meet like-minded people.
Another key piece of advice is to remain flexible. It’s tempting to start a business with a clear idea of how things will unfold; but of course events will almost never play out this way. Test out your assumptions, product or service at various stages of development with prospective end-users, they are after all your customers. You may find that you have to pivot and react to obstacles, so have an open approach to finding the best solutions to every problem that emerges.