The healthcare industry has long clung to expensive and outdated processes that don’t benefit providers or patients. Disruptors like Uber and Airbnb have turned their respective industries upside down with smart applications that tap into the power of data and technology. Why can’t healthcare?
Surge Singh and Kavita Nadan, a husband-and-wife founding team, are doing exactly that in the Australian pharmacy industry with their platform, Locumate. Locumate connects pharmacies and temporary pharmacists (called locums in Australia) through their marketplace.
Locumate provides the largest network of independent locums who pharmacies can hire when their team is sick, on holiday, or needs an extra pair of hands. The pharmacy posts a shift on the app which notifies available locums. Once a locum accepts the shift, the app automates time-sheeting and invoicing on their behalf once they’ve completed the job.
Before its official launch in January 2022, over 1,000 pharmacies pre-registered for Locumate – out of the 6,000 local pharmacies in Australia. In the last one and a half months alone, pharmacies have added 1,400 shifts to the platform. Locumate is on track to generate more than six figures in revenue during its first year in business.
When Your Partner’s Skills Align Perfectly With Your Own
Surge Singh, cofounder and Director of Locumate, comes from a tech and HR background. He worked for American companies as a systems engineer and IT architect for ten years. His wife and cofounder, Kavita Nadan, is the owner of a pharmacy in Victoria, Australia.
Surge says, “My wife came home one day with an issue she faced at the pharmacy. She was struggling to cover shifts while pharmacists were out sick. After listening to her struggles, I figured there must be software that can solve this problem because it’s essentially just streamlining the temp hiring process for a pharmacy.” Surge and Kavita researched the market but couldn’t find a solution in Australia or overseas.
The lightbulb moment came to them in March 2020, the peak of COVID, when Kavita felt that many of the archaic processes in the pharmacy industry were at a breaking point. Surge treated it like any other engineering problem and designed an app that would streamline the process of booking a locum so pharmacies could improve their bottom line.
Surge says, “My wife brought the domain expertise as a pharmacy owner and I brought the technical understanding of how to innovate in an outdated industry. It was the perfect match of skills that helped bring Locumate to fruition.”
Listen to the Market and It Might Tell You What to Build
With the blueprint for the application ready, the founders asked an agency to build them a prototype. “Creating a clickable prototype was essential to validate our idea. Without that validation, there would be no point in building the software. And while I am a technical founder, I still had a full-time job and didn’t have time to build the product from scratch myself,” Surge says.
In May 2021, the agency delivered Surge and Kavita an MVP with four working screens on the app. “We bit the bullet and set up a booth at the largest pharmacy conference in Australia. We wanted to announce our brand to the market and get feedback from people in the industry before we had our soft launch. The feedback from the conference was phenomenal. They told us we would revolutionize the pharmacy industry,” Surge says.
The feedback also changed Locumate’s rollout model. Close to 6,000 community pharmacies exist in Australia, all of which could benefit from Locumate’s platform. Initially, Surge thought they would have to approach them individually.
“But by going to this conference, we got in front of the head offices, operation managers, and group directors of these pharmacies. They wanted to roll out our software to 200, 300, or 400 of their pharmacies. This flipped our launch strategy. Instead of approaching it from the bottom up, we were going to target top-down,” Surge says.
Because of this new approach, the founders decided to take more time to develop the platform rather than launch it right after the conference. Surge says, “Based on their input, we understood that the pharmacies wanted to come on this journey with us. We had real feedback about how they were going to use our platform. They told us what to build. So we took the time to round out a couple of other features and deliver an end-to-end product.”
One thousand pharmacies pre-registered for Locumate – one-sixth of the Australian market. Once customers had validated the prototype, the founders asked the agency to develop the complete app.
Surge says, “Most of the time, people build products and then try to find market fit. We’ve been in a unique position where the market has driven the fit. And because customers came on that journey with us, the transition from prototype to live product was much easier.”
Bringing Much-Needed Innovation to Pharmacies
Most local pharmacies cannot afford to employ ten people at a time. They usually have two pharmacists on alternating shifts to cover the hours. But if one of them is on sick leave or goes on holiday, how does the pharmacy cover that shift? Typically, they would call a recruitment agency that finds a locum to fill the gap. Locums are shift workers, similar to freelancers.
However, the pharmacy needs to pay a large finder’s fee to the agency and won’t know how much the locum’s shifts will cost until the transaction is done. Likewise, the locum struggles to find suitable pharmacies that pay within their price range and needs to take care of all the legal and invoicing themselves.
Locumate streamlines the process for both sides. Pharmacies can easily find a locum who can do everything they require while knowing exactly how much to budget for the shift. Locums can choose shifts based on their preferences and understand the pharmacy’s expecations before they arrive.
Locumate also lowers the cost point of finding a locum. By using the app instead of a hiring agency, a pharmacy saves close to $150 a day. “We recommend to pharmacists that of the $150 they are saving, they put $50 back in their pocket and use the remaining $100 to increase the locum’s hourly rates. That way, both parties win. Locums are getting fair compensation for their work and pharmacies are saving money in the long run,” Surge says.
The platform also supports locums with its built-in legal contracts. Surge shares that there are horror stories about pharmacies not paying locums for months. If you make a living in the gig economy, you then can’t afford your rent or bills. Now, locums are contractually protected. If a pharmacy doesn’t pay their locum after the shift, Locumate follows up on their behalf.
Locumate collects feedback from both sides of the marketplace. From the pharmacy side, it asks how the locum did and whether their performance aligned with industry standards. The locum also gives feedback about the pharmacy and whether they provide a good working environment.
Surge says, “It’s meant to be a constructive process, where we can chat with the pharmacy or locum and discuss how they can provide a better work environment. Each pharmacy is providing healthcare to the community and wants that service to be as good as possible.”
Building a Community Based on Trust
As a marketplace, Locumate serves two types of customers: pharmacies and locums. Surge says, “One thing we knew to be true was that in pharmacy, and healthcare in general, it’s all about trust. So for us, building trust in Locumate as a brand was key. No one is going to trust a random app out there, especially if technology innovation hasn’t permeated that industry yet.”
To that purpose, Locumate has aligned itself with industry governing bodies. It has partnered with the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, which has the largest pharmacist membership in Australia. This partnership has helped Locumate build trust with the pharmacists looking for locum work.
Surge says, “We are all about building a community for locums. As a locum, you are a gig worker and often don’t belong to a team or organization. We’re trying to build an environment where we support locums in finding the right work, getting paid, and growing their career as a pharmacist – and they can feel a part of a community.”
In conjunction with the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Locumate will present Australia’s first-ever National Locum of The Year award. This award will highlight a whole set of pharmacists who’d never been recognized before. When Locumate announced the award, its locum subscriptions skyrocketed – all through word-of-mouth within the locum community.
Have a Subject Matter Expert in Your Corner
Surge worked two jobs for a while to support Locumate as a bootstrapped business. “We used a lot of our savings to fund the business and, specifically, design the prototype in the beginning. We believed in the vision and so did the pharmacy industry. So, we knew that the upfront investment was going to be worth it.”
Surge transitioned to working on Locumate full-time in October of 2021. He didn’t take an income for six months but could focus on acquiring their first customers. Kavita has been working part-time in her pharmacy and part-time on Locumate. Surge emphasizes how important it is to have a subject matter expert in your corner who is active in the industry.
The founder’s biggest piece of advice is: “If you’ve got someone with domain expertise on your team, you’ll have a much higher chance of being successful. Even though I had a great idea for a software product, I didn’t know the ins and outs of the pharmacy world. That’s where my wife, and cofounder, comes in. With her help, we created a product that the industry wants and needs and convinced pharmacies that they are ready for it.
“I get asked about how to successfully launch a business, and it’s often by a tech founder trying to deploy something into a specific industry. They need to ask themselves: How do you know that the customer is going to use it? If I didn’t have someone with a pharmacy background on my team, it would have been difficult to answer that question correctly.”
It also brings a level of credibility to your company right off the bat. “I’ve had a lot of meetings with pharmacy groups and having a business partner there who knows the industry makes those meetings much more effective. You don’t have to convince people that there is a problem. Instead, everyone agrees that there’s a problem to solve,” Surge says.
Expanding Beyond the Australian Market
In three weeks, the founders will launch their newest product, Jobs in Pharmacy. The pharmacy industry has a huge skill shortage – not just in Australia, but across the globe. The founders have developed a new platform that will address all the other roles in a pharmacy.
Surge says, “Pharmacies have seen what technology innovation can bring to solve their staffing problems, and now they are asking for a similar solution for other pharmacy jobs too. It’s a great position to be in because we’re building based on customer demand.”
Alongside product expansion, they’re also looking to break into the UK and US markets. Surge says, “At the forefront of our mind is solving a problem for our customers in Australia, but our technology can scale and help customers globally. Our mission is to solve this problem in other countries experiencing the same issues in the pharmacy industry. Essentially, Australia is the MVP. If it works here, it will work everywhere.”
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