It was the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone was under lockdown. Ashfaqur Rahman noticed that almost everything like groceries, clothing and even household items were delivered to people's doorsteps through e-commerce sites. But when it came to medicine, people had to go out to buy them, risking their lives. That is when he developed the idea of delivering medication to people's doorstep.
"Back then, very few companies sold medicine online. [Additionally] they were providing a very limited number of services. We wanted to do more. I took the opportunity to develop the service, and thus Osudpotro was born," said Rahman.
Not just to ensure timely home delivery of medicines, but Rahman wanted to address some of the existing problems in the pharmaceutical industry.
For instance, in Bangladesh, it is incredibly easy to buy medicines that are not classified as Over the Counter (OTC) drugs. The local pharmacies, from a regulatory point of view, are usually non-compliant. With or without prescriptions, anyone can step in and ask for medicines and, generally, shopkeepers instantly oblige.
Additionally, drug stores here do not have licensed pharmacists rather shopkeepers.
Oshudpotro, the brand-driven online pharmacy, wants to address this problematic culture and make amends. When it was launched in 2020, the founder and his team started to work to make this entity more than just a drugstore.
The founder and CEO Ashfaqur Rahman comes from a business family but Osudpotro was his brainchild. He came up with the initial funding to start the business; and it continues to work to expand its operations all across the country.
Trials, tribulations and successes
At the early stage, Osudpotro realised that to verify the authenticity of the product and also to deliver the products on time they had to source the medicines themselves.
"So we decided to build our own inventory. First, we opened our first model pharmacy and brought nearly all types of local medicines available in the country. We have to show our inventory to the customers [online, on our website and app], so we hired a team of 22 to manage that inventory.
For six months straight, they worked double shifts to get the job done. We added somewhere around 17,000-18,000 medicines to our inventory database; we have images for around 70-80% of those medicines," said Md Jewel Rana, Lead, e-commerce and retail.
"We also wrote down the description for the medicines; if there was a standard description, we used that, but if we got one from the internet, we also uploaded all relevant literature.
We SEO optimised the product descriptions so that the customers can easily find their desired product," he added.
Once they were done setting up their platform, they set out to get a better understanding of the market dynamics. They conducted a survey to that end and their findings from that study were quite interesting.
They found out nearly 80% of people across all demographics identify their medication through its packaging, including boxes and strips. Additionally, most people cannot name the medication they are under.
Since people are so heavily dependent on the packaging to identify their medication, Osudpotro focused next on uploading the photographs of the medicines they had in stock, which was a huge undertaking.
Ever since they began operation, under the supervision of the Director General of Health Services (DGHS), Osudpotro followed all rules and regulations step by step.
E-commerce medicine vendors have to show a greater degree of transparency. As Rana simply puts it, "If someone purchases a ton of sleeping pills and dies by suicide it is very hard to trace the seller responsible but if someone buys these pills from an online shop it is much easier to trace. So we have to ensure absolute transparency."
Oshudpotro only sells Over the Counter (OTC) drugs without a prescription; for all other medication, you will have to provide a valid prescription from a certified physician.
According to Rana, "If one can't come up with a prescription, we will cancel that order. Regardless of whether they ordered a single piece or they made a bulk order. For example, if you order Thyrox [medicine for thyroid] from us, you will be asked to provide a prescription. If everything checks out, you will get your medicine; otherwise, your order will be cancelled."
"Most people in our country don't keep track of their prescriptions. Especially in cases of chronic medication," added Rana.
The mechanics and the teams making medicine accessible
They have a team of six pharmacists to verify the authenticity of the prescriptions. For particularly tricky cases, they also consult their in-house doctor. After going through the motions so many times, it has also become a part of their software.
Operators of their 24/7 call centre now know which signs to look for in a prescription. But whenever they face doubts, they contact their panel of pharmacists immediately.
Their delivery services are tailored to the needs of the consumer. Their standard delivery time is within four hours of the order being accepted. For people who need the orders delivered quickly, they have an Urgent Delivery option providing all orders to be served within 90 minutes.
In case of an emergency late at night, they have a service called Express Delivery which is operational from 11 pm at night to 7 am in the morning.
They have four hubs in Dhaka. Their head office is at Mohakhali and outlets at Mirpur, Uttara and Basundhara.. But these hubs are not traditional warehouses rather pharmacies that act both as conventional pharmacies as well as warehouses with an inventory manager and their own dedicated delivery man.
Outside of Dhaka they deliver medicine through courier services. They have a dedicated delivery team of 12 at the head office, while other hubs have one each. Around 70+ people are working for their organisation running a 24/7 service.
The delivery men have even risked their lives as they have been robbed or beaten up on more than one occasion.
Osudpotro also provides doctor consultation services 24/7 for a fee of just Tk99. Suppose "it is 3 in the morning and you need to consult a trained physician, Osudpotro has your back. We even provided this service free of cost until January 2021. Even the amount we charge now is just token money," explained Rana.
Even if you have no access to the internet and little mobile balance, if you simply give them a missed call, to their customer service, they will call you back. They offer 24/7 customer service.
"If you can't find a particular medicine anywhere, you can send a request for it to us. That is one of our unique selling propositions. We don't like to turn customers away. We try our level best to source the medicine from the supplier," explained Rana.
Osudpotro now boasts 1,50,000 active users. The app has been downloaded over 1,10,000 times from the Google playstore for Android; from the iOS app store the Osudpotro app has been downloaded 10,000 times.
What does the future hold?
In an attempt to become a customer's one-stop solution for all-things-health, Oshupotro is in talks with diagnostic centres so that customers can book tests right from their website. They hope to launch the project by May 2022. "We plan to call this service e-diagnosis," added Rana.
Efforts are underway to launch a medical blog as well, where potential customers can find all sorts of information on health-related issues.
They also plan on introducing a loyalty program which means the longer you purchase from Osudpotro, the more benefits you can avail.
Oshudpotro is also collaborating with corporate houses so that their employees can access special employee discounts and other tailor-made offers.
So what does the future hold for Osudpotro?
According to their CEO Ashfaqur Rahman, "We want to become the best online pharmacy in Bangladesh. We are already providing quick delivery within Dhaka and normal delivery all over Bangladesh. By the end of this year, we want to provide the fastest delivery all over Bangladesh."