The last time I had Al on YHP, he was working on a completely different business, in a totally different industry. One minute, you’re starting a business and the next you closing up shop. This is the reality of being an entrepreneur. Failure or stumbling is just part of the process. This shouldn’t upset, scare, distance you from starting businesses, following your passion, or dreams.
Hi Al, how are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, I am fine thanks. It’s good to be back on YHP.
It's great to have you on YHP again.
Before we start talking Better Chemist, refresh our memories about your last start-up A-Kar and why you decided to move on from it?
The A-Kar is a three wheeled electric vehicle, made out of fibre-glass and powered by lithium ion batteries. It is designed to be used as a taxi or a delivery vehicle for urban cities.
I spent some time in China, built a fully working prototype and brought it back to the UK. We had a British automotive partner ready to make the necessary modifications for the production vehicle.
However, the biggest hurdle was that A-Kar had to secure private funding for the roll out and this was hard to find, given the state of the economy.
There were many Government backed funding schemes for green businesses, but as larger automotive manufactures were beginning to invest in and make their own environmentally friendly vehicles, I don’t think that supporting a venture such as the A-Kar was very high on their list.
Due to length of time it was taking to secure finance, it was better to find other opportunities. Regardless of how passionate you are of something, you sometimes have to let it go. There will always be something round the corner if you look for it.
Give us some of the key lessons that you learnt from that experience and how you're integrating that into your new company?
Be Obsessive In Planning:
We always plan any new idea, or extension, to our business thoroughly, going through them in fine, almost maddening, detail. Thinking of the best and worst case scenarios at play.
Always Benchmark Yourself Against Industry Standards & Regulations:
This goes without saying, but its critical to always refer back to them. In fact by keeping abreast of the latest standards and initiatives and implementing them straight away, your concept or business will be one step ahead.
Learn from Experts and Market Leaders:
They are in that position for a reason. Listen to what they are saying and how they operate.
These three key lessons lead onto something that I am passionate about:
Creating Opportunities Works Much Better Than Waiting For Them:
You can spend hours and even years thinking about starting a business, waiting for the opportunity to arise. Instead, do everything you can to make it happen for you right away. Without the first 3 key lessons, it is hard for us to implement the creating of opportunity.
So now Better Chemist, I remember the last time we spoke which has been some years now you gave me a vague description of the project, can you elaborate on it and tell us how the idea came about?
The idea came about with discussions with my Pharmacist business partner, who operates retail Pharmacy shops.
Online Pharmacy is the future and a growing industry so it made sense to work together and develop an online Pharmacy, with a strategy of providing excellent service and international customer base. We both have different skill sets to bring to the table, which when combined make it a strong partnership.
Two completely different industries, from the car industry to a medical industry? Why this industry?
Pharmacy is involved with providing health care solutions to others. It is rewarding when you know that your level of services has genuinely improved the health or comfort of your customer, or if someone has contacted us and benefitted from the advice given by one of our expert Pharmacists.
You should not be scared of entering any industry, no matter how different, as long as you are passionate about delivering value to your customers. The basics are the same.
How have you gone about getting traction for the business?
By continuing to improve our levels of service to our customers and to focus greatly on after care. Once you have served your customer you must follow up to make sure that they are happy. Always communicate with them and listen to what they have to say.
And how about funding it?
There was an initial small amount of funding required to build the site and set up the company. We had offers for equity stake funding but we are currently working hard to let the business grow organically. It is encouraging to see another Pharmacist who has joined and is adding tremendous value to the Company.
What would you say was probably the hardest part of starting and launching the business?
A website is no different to a physical retail store in that people want to feel like they are getting service and both suffer similar problems.
Our hardest part was to make sure that everything was in its place. This meant lots of research, back testing as well as uploading and pricing thousands of products.There would be nothing worse than for the site to collapse as soon it went live.
What advices can you give to first-time entrepreneurs looking to start a business?
Be a self starter – as mentioned earlier. Create your own opportunity, don’t wait for it.
Persistence – don’t fall at the first hurdle or lose faith. Always keep the excitement and passion you had when you started the business and reflect on it.
Have a thick skin – Don’t take thing to heart if things are not going your way. The majority of times are an upward hill battle. It is the small moments when things go right that make up for all the hard work.
Be Consistent – Set your values and keep to them. Or your business will be seriously affected
Delegate – Even though it is like your own baby, it is important to know what you are good at and trust others to add their input and expertises to help grow the business.
Switch Off – This is probably one the hardest things to do but vital to take a step away from time to time. You will feel much better and come back more productive.
What can we be expecting from yourself and Better Chemist in the next coming months?
We have recently launched an Ask Our Pharmacist Service (www.askourpharmacist.co.uk). This is a free 24hour online service where visitors to our site can ask our team of expert pharmacists on any health or medical concerns that they have.
We have also teamed up with Dr Thom, who was the UKs first online Dr Service, so we can provide many treatments without the need for our customers to have face to face meeting with the Doctor.
Within the next few months we are hoping to expand our services locally and will be offering delivery and collection services in London.