An Interview with Nadeem Sarwar – Founder & CEO of Phlo

Mairead Quigley

This week, we talk to Nadeem Sarwar, Founder & CEO of Phlo about his vision for Phlo, some exciting product developments we’re working on and our crowdfunding campaign which is now live on Crowdcube.

Talk us through your career path so far and how the idea behind Phlo started?

I started my career in banking after I left University. However, I’d always dreamt of running my own business at some point.  

In 2014 I took part in the Saltire Foundation Fellowship Programme with Entrepreneurial Scotland completing an executive MBA programme at Babson College in the US. During the programme, I stumbled upon digital pharmacy services lightyears ahead of what was available in the UK.

The apparent ease with which patients could use these services and access their medication hassle-free resonated with me as I was on a repeat prescription as well. I was fed up with travelling to the pharmacy to stand in queues, experience long waiting times and stock shortages.  

After seeing what was possible, I returned home on a mission that was driven by a simple vision: healthcare should be easily accessible and manageable for all.  

That vision eventually grew into Phlo – a pharmacy that takes advantage of cutting-edge technology to deliver a service that is truly unprecedented in terms of convenience, accessibly and ease of use.  

What is your vision for the future of pharmacy and how does Phlo fit in?

My vision for the future of pharmacy is clearly reflected in the product and service that the team at Phlo has built. The future of pharmacy is digital, and when done right, coupling pharmacy with technology and excellent patient care can result in a truly innovative and patient-first pharmacy service.

That’s what we’re doing at Phlo, and I believe that anyone that’s used Phlo can clearly see just how many advantages there are to a service like ours. Our on-demand delivery service is currently unmatched within pharmacy in the UK and we plan to roll out more pharmacy hubs across other major cities in the UK. As traditional community pharmacies pivot more of their services to relieve pressure on GP’s, I believe we have a fantastic opportunity to ensure that patients receive their medication at a time and place that suits them.

Our vision for the future of Pharmacy has been validated in 2020 in the context of the current global health crisis, as we’ve been able to help thousands of patients get their medication safely and securely.  

I see Phlo at the forefront of the digital pharmacy revolution that’s already underway. We are more than just a prescription delivery service - we’re an entire pharmacy on your device. That’s what really sets us apart and positions us so strongly in the digital pharmacy landscape.  

What are your key growth drivers in 2021 and beyond?

Patients and by extension, the patient experience, is really our ‘North Star’ at Phlo. We’re driven by the ambition of providing exceptional patient service.  

Judging by the feedback we’ve received so far – I’m confident that we are on the right track. The focus for everyone at Phlo is providing excellent patient care and service. If we can do that consistently then everything else will follow.  

Our people and the culture at Phlo are another central focus of mine. I strongly believe in investing in excellent, talented individuals and creating a work environment defined by the right values.  We would not be where we are today without the talented and dedicated team that I am lucky enough to have.

Technology is another key growth driver at Phlo. It’s yet another area that I believe we excel at, and my goal for 2021 and beyond is to expand our innovative same-day, real-time delivery (currently exclusive to London) across England.

How does Phlo stand out from your competitors?

For one, we are the most technologically advanced and innovative pharmacy service that’s ever been launched in the UK. As I mentioned previously, we offer an on-demand, same-day, real-time delivery option in London that is yet to be matched by any other pharmacy. Effectively this means that a patient can order and receive their medication that very day, within a time slot of 4 hours, all while tracking their delivery on the live map as it travels to their doorstep. Our average delivery time is under 2 hours!

The convenience, security, reliability and trackability of this service is unmatched.  

This service is a key differentiator for Phlo as our patient can track their order from our Pharmacy to their door. Patients will know within seconds when our delivery drivers will arrive, thus giving them piece of mind and control of when and where they receive their prescription.  

Our same-day service enables patients to use Phlo for what is known as acute prescriptions (one-off medications) as we can deliver these immediately after you have seen your GP. Existing online pharmacies can’t do this as they use more traditional next-day/48hr mail order services. This means Phlo is a full-service digital pharmacy.

Our focus on being a pharmacy, and not just a medication delivery service, is another key area that sets us apart. We aim to provide flawless patient experience, and that is driven by a team of highly trained, helpful and professional pharmacists. Our patients have been really impressed by the service they have received so far.  

What are some exciting product developments/ changes/ partnerships in your pipeline?

We’re currently looking at developing and releasing native iOS and Android apps in 2021.  

We have got some very exciting telemedicine partnerships in the pipeline with some of the biggest names in UK telemedicine, and we’re really looking forward to sharing more with the public once the time is right.  

In addition, our team is ever-expanding. We’ve grown by 93% in 2020 alone, and we’re currently sitting at 32 employees, and I estimate that we’ll be looking at close to 200 by the end of 2021.  

We’re launching in Birmingham in 2021 as the first city outside of London to receive our real-time, same-day delivery service, and we are targeting 5 more cities in England in 2021.  

What are the benefits of investing in Phlo through the Crowdcube Campaign?

Investing in Phlo will give you the opportunity to invest in one of the fastest growing online pharmacy businesses in the UK. Not only will you get access to our exclusive investor benefits, but you will have the chance to actively shape the future of Pharmacy in the UK.

For our crowdfunding campaign we are using what is known as a Convertible Loan Note.  The key difference between a convertible loan note and an equity round is instead of immediately purchasing equity shares at the existing share price you, the investor, purchase shares at a future valuation when large institutional investors join but with a discount agreed today.  

The valuation is created at the “conversion point” when your money is converted into shares. We are then offering a 20% discount on that share price.

So, for example, if a VC invests at a £20 million valuation at our next funding round, you’re effectively buying shares at a £16 million valuation. Meaning you’re getting a 20% discount!

Furthermore, we are offering 8% interest on the money you’ve invested whilst it’s waiting to be converted to shares.

To put it simply, let’s say you invested £1,000 and the “conversion point” was exactly one year after the date you invest, you will earn 8% interest on that money and receive £80.  

Your interest will then convert to shares at the same discount as your investment. So, in the example above your investment converting to shares would be £1,080.

What will the proceeds of this round be used for?

We will deploy all the money raised to accelerate our growth, invest in our product/service and scale out same-day delivery service across England.  

If you could give any aspiring entrepreneurs one piece of advice, what would it be?

Entrepreneurship is never easy. It’s a rocky road filled with obstacles and barriers. Things tend to go wrong all the time and the amount of work that you find yourself putting never seems to end.  

As a result, it’s easy to give into the temptation of ruminating about how you could have done things differently in the past, but my advice would be to learn from past mistakes and keep looking forward. I’ve made many mistakes, but I try to learn from them and move on.  

What will the healthcare system in the UK look like in 2030?

I believe that technology will become increasingly more ingrained into existing healthcare solutions and will in turn improve them. Regarding the pharmacy sector, I see a much larger proportion of the population taking advantage of digital pharmacies and the advantages that they provide.  

I also think that the increase of telemedicine services in the UK will continue as we all try and battle a global health pandemic. As community pharmacies are doing their part to relieve pressure being put on GP’s, we want to be able to support patients with a service which ensures they can access their medication anytime, anywhere.

What’s been the impact of Covid-19 on Phlo and how will our healthcare system adapt moving forward?

Covid-19 has driven and continues to drive an increasingly high number of new patients to Phlo. I’m very pleased with the fact that we’ve been able to help thousands of patients receive their medication safely and securely during this crisis.  

Helping people is why I started Phlo in the first place.  

Like many other businesses we’ve been forced to move to remote work, however the team has been able to adapt well to working from home.  

It’s hard to predict how our healthcare system will adapt moving forward. It’s the healthcare workers that have gotten us through this crisis so far, and they’ve sacrificed immensely and worked with a dedication that is nothing but noble.  

My hope is that once the Covid-19 crisis is over, we’ll see a societal shift towards pro-activity and that we will be better prepared to face similar challenges in the future.  

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