It Pays to Pay Your Own Way: Three reasons self-funding helps lead to a successful business
The success of SmartPrac is ironically owed to its greatest struggle: funding. Self-funding this project has been the hardest part of it all but it has taught us how to grow a successful startup business.
SmartPrac, which I co-founded in 2012, is based on solving the inefficiency of health care system processes in Africa; specifically, at first, in South Africa. Thousands of patients suffer from lost or incomplete records due to outdated and mismanaged data collection. We created SmartPrac to rectify and improve these issues by offering doctors and patients a reliable, convenient and efficient way of managing their communication and system processes – online.
The power of digital innovation is literally at our fingertips as South Africa has the highest mobile penetration in Africa. We don’t lack access to innovative technology, so what is stopping us from using applications and online systems to enhance our society and, in particular, our medical care? Curing sickness and disease starts with the right medical care and a large part of the right medical care comes down to how well medical professionals can communicate and keep track of data. The SmartPrac system allows doctors and patients to keep track of administration, payments, bookings and diagnoses – saving both parties time, resources and money.
SmartPrac is cloud-based, which allows comprehensive management in one enhanced system – from billing to scheduling, electronic health records management and financial reporting. The responsive design of SmartPrac is not limited to PC or Mac hardware and allows access from any web browser, tablet or smartphone. Core elements of product quality, functionality and ease of use allow management to operate without IT teams. The secure, backed-up and web-based system also ensures that customers have the latest version automatically every time they log in.
The idea for SmartPrac was born in Zimbabwe where a friend and I discovered that doctors had to submit research data remotely. We knew that digital could bridge that gap and started brainstorming an online system that would help doctors record data more efficiently. We later realized that there was a need for an appointment system and electronic health records. Since then, the popularity of SmartPrac has been growing, specifically amongst lower-income practitioners. We now have 60 doctors with digital footprints as far away as Brazil. We are currently scaling up to expand SmartPrac to Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as develop an easily accessible app. Eventually we hope that from the data collected, SmartPrac will become a central repository for research processes that medical researchers worldwide can access, and perhaps we can even contribute to disease control and monitoring.
Funding still remains a large part of the SmartPrac adventure. When you’re strapped for cash, things go slower. This can become a huge risk to your business plan, especially when it’s in the digital realm, where things change so quickly. Also, when you’re self-funding you don’t have the luxury of having spare cash to take care of unforeseen problems and faults that need to be addressed. We’ve had a number of difficulties in developing the product, where money saved for development had to be spent on repairs instead. And there’s generally not enough cash available to hire anyone so you have to put in all the extra hard labor, which can be both financially and physically taxing – especially when you’re managing multiple jobs.
Despite the challenges that self-funding has caused, in the long run it’s taught us three important things about how to own and grow your own startup business.
Focus: When you’re self-funding, money is tight, which means you have to come up with an idea that will work from day one. You have to really focus on the quality and direction of your idea in order to make the revenue you need.
Passion: When you’re investing a large part of your savings into an idea, you have to be passionate about it and believe that it will work. If you’re doing what you’re passionate about it means you work harder and produce more.
Ownership: Self-funding means you have total responsibility. Many entrepreneurs lose sight of their original goals when they accumulate financial partners. Eventually, your financial partners might want to interfere and even steer focus away from your plan toward a plan that will suit them, too. Self-funding means you have the freedom to change and grow however you see fit.
Having grown up in Africa and having experienced both the good and bad transitions of our continent, I’m excited to have developed something that will contribute to the well-being of our people and, moreover, might even be able to cross international boundaries. Due to the focus and determination that self-funding SmartPrac has given us, we made something that we’re passionate about, that will work and that will improve the lives of those around us.
Self-funding is about the money, but it’s more about the determination to succeed that really gets you going. For any startup business or entrepreneur, I’d highly recommend sticking to your guns and ensuring that the future of your business is in your hands only.
Roddy Chakaipa is the co-founder of SmartPrac.