Podcast Transcript – Series THREE, Episode 52
OLUWASOGA ONI, MDAAS GLOBAL August 2022
[00:00:00] Soga Oni: I think it goes back to what our mission is, our vision for the company, which is like health care for Africa’s next billion, even though it’s just a tagline, but I really believe that we can do that. I think that we can impact a billion lives by building great health care for people. And given the growing population of Africans, I think the continent’s population will double by 2050 or there about, so in five years from now, I want to be well on my way to that billion number.
[00:00:29] I think that [00:00:30] last month we celebrated a hundred thousand visits to our centers. I hope five years from now, we’re doing millions of visits and we genuinely believe in what we are building and if not us, who? We have to be, the ones building the future we want. And so I think that time and time again, I think just being true to who we have as a team has just been a hack to make decisions.
[00:00:53] Dan: What’s up Unfound Nation, Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so much for checking out another episode of Founders Unfound. [00:01:00] That was Oluwasoga Oni, co-founder and CEO of MDaaS Global, a company that is building Africa’s largest network of physical and virtual diagnostic and primary care facilities. He and his team are determined to provide quality and affordable healthcare for the continent’s next billion.
[00:01:16] Soga, as he is known, grew up in a rural town in Nigeria, surrounded by a family of doctors and medical professionals. And while he didn’t have the calling himself. He saw firsthand the gaps and challenges faced by providers. His [00:01:30] love of tinkering and problem solving led him to software development and work in the us. But it was his time at MIT where he was challenged by one of his professors come up with a business that will impact a billion people.
[00:01:42] And so MDaaS Global was born. Since inception, the company has pivoted from a medical equipment supplier to a full stack of diagnostic and testing centers, where MDaaS focuses on patient experience on site and prevention and wellness when patients are at home are on the go. The company is backed by the likes of [00:02:00] Techstars, Google for Startups and the Jack Ma Foundation.
[00:02:02] SGA has a great story. You’ll wanna listen in.
[00:02:06] Our episode is sponsored by The Plug. Sherrell Dorsey and her team have become the source for unique and insightful data and stories about black professionals and the black founder ecosystem. They have stuff you won’t find anywhere else, including industry briefs and member only access sessions with leading innovators, but more information on the plug.
[00:02:23] Look for a link in the show notes before we continue, please make sure to like, and subscribe to the podcast. We’re available [00:02:30] anywhere you get your podcasts, even YouTube. And of course you can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn @foundersunfound. And if you like what you hear, drop us a review on apple or at podchaser.com.
[00:02:42] Now on with the episode, stay safe and hope you enjoy.
[00:02:55] Hello and welcome to Founders Unfound, spotlighting the best startups you don’t know yet. We [00:03:00] bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented and underestimated backgrounds. This is the latest episode in our continuing series on founders of African descent.
[00:03:09] I’m your host, Dan Kihanya, let’s get on it.
[00:03:12] Today, we have Oluwasoga Oni, co-founder and CEO of MDaaS Global, a company that is building Africa’s largest network, a physical and virtual diagnostic and primary care facilities. Ultimately to provide quality and affordable healthcare for the continent’s next billion.
[00:03:29] Welcome to the show [00:03:30] Soga. We’re super excited to have you on. Thanks for making the time.
[00:03:33] Soga Oni: Nice to have me here. Um, looking forward today and having, share my journey and my story.
[00:03:40] Dan: Awesome. So I gave a brief introduction for the company, but maybe you can tell our audience what exactly is MDaaS and what are you trying to solve?
[00:03:48] Soga Oni: At MDaaS, we are building the fastest growing network of diagnostic facilities right now in Nigeria and hopefully across Africa. And the problem we solving is lack of access [00:04:00] to high quality health care. Well, also very critical diagnostics, as you know, over 70% of all doctors visits would result into a diagnostic test being done, but unfortunately, millions of Africans don’t have access to that diagnos. What that means is that you are able to make better decisions so that people can get better. And that’s what we are solving. We want everyone that needs diagnostics to have diagnostics.
[00:04:26] Dan: I love it. And this is such a powerful, big vision that you [00:04:30] have from talking with you before. And we’re gonna get deeper into that and find out exactly where MDaaS Global’s going. But before we go there, let’s find out about you. Where did you grow up? Where are you from?
[00:04:42] Soga Oni: So, yeah, I grew up in Nigeria and which explains why my work is in Nigeria. Right. I grew up in a small town, six hours away from Lagos, the commercial capital of the country. I mean a really small town. My dad was a medical doctor and funny enough, everybody in my family right now works in the [00:05:00] healthcare sector, in the, in Nigeria, in the UK, in the US, and in Canada, everybody, even my sisters and their husbands, which is very funny.
[00:05:09] So we all grew up being close to that sector. Cuz my dad was a medical doctor. My mom was a teacher. She runs our own high school that we all went to. And so it was a really small town and I loved my childhood growing up. So yeah, that’s where I’m from.
[00:05:25] Dan: That’s interesting. So growing up in a small town and I, I hear both [00:05:30] perspectives. I wonder how you thought about it. Did you feel like this was such a great, simple life? I have what I need. Or did you have this sense of like there’s bigger places out there and there’s places I wanna strive to. How did you think about it when you were growing?
[00:05:44] Soga Oni: To be honest, when I was growing up, I just didn’t know much about the world out there. Right. The small town was your word was your universe, you know? So everything revolves around all the things that you do in the small town. And so, yeah, at that point, I didn’t really [00:06:00] have this word view where like, you know, I wanna see the world or whatnot. But that obviously changed as I grew older, went to school, went to college and then, you know, and now I don’t know if I could live in that small town it’s way too small for me now. yeah, but at the time that small town was my universe, it was how I lent about the world at the time.
[00:06:22] Dan: And so you said that basically the constellation of your family is all around the healthcare. Did you feel [00:06:30] any draw or maybe even a little pressure from your parents to become a doctor?
[00:06:37] Soga Oni: Oh, absolutely. And it wasn’t like, my parents pressured me. It was that that’s what everybody around me, you know, was doing or aspired to. Of course, many people didn’t get there, but that’s a lot of what people aspire to see. And so for. All of my dad’s friends, at least one of their kids is always a doctor. One of them would take to the family [00:07:00] business, you know, , if you can call it that.
[00:07:03] And so for me, I was lucky cuz I was one of sex kids. So my older brother is actually a not to protect surgeon now. And you know, it was, the doctor was the one that had the most pressure cuz it was the first boy first band. So a lot of the pressure was more on him. And for me, I. Went to the engineering route.
[00:07:21] So I was an engineer by training. So never felt the need was when I was trying to do something that I felt called into that line again, cuz I just, [00:07:30] by being around ed care, I just knew a lot about it. I know cuz my parents share a lot. My brothers share a lot. So I, I knew a lot of information about that, which when I was looking for a problem to solve, it made sense that I sought something in, in net care because that was what I knew.
[00:07:45] Right. So that’s how it came to.
[00:07:48] Dan: So, where are you in the birth order? You
[00:07:49] Soga Oni: said I’m lucky number three, number three.
[00:07:52] Dan: Say right in, right in the middle, right in the video. So was there a moment when you thought I’m probably gonna be a doctor and then [00:08:00] what was the thing that said, no, I don’t think I’m gonna be a doctor. Like what was the epiphany or the realization where you said, yeah, that’s not the route that I’m gonna.
[00:08:09] Soga Oni: Yeah. So for me, pretty earlier on, I knew that I didn’t want to be a doctor, even though I knew that, you know, there was a lot of pressure to do medicine. I wasn’t never really interested in it. I didn’t feel like it was my calling or anything. And I felt like I saw my dad spend a lot of long hours, you know, working doing [00:08:30] is, is rounds. And that didn’t sound ties to me at all. I didn’t want that to be my life. Frost, a lot of the doctors out there they’re really doing a lot of work, you know? So, so yeah, so I didn’t really want to be a doctor. So I went to the engineering route from the, you know, when I was a kid, I never really liked biology or now I was more interested in physics and maths.
[00:08:52] And so like, I just didn’t feel like there was a space for me in math itself.
[00:08:56] Dan: That’s a great story. And you know, I think that sometimes people [00:09:00] come from backgrounds where the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and then there’s other situations. The apple wants to fall very, very far from the tree. Yeah, absolutely.
[00:09:10] You know, so you gravitate towards math, sort of the, what we call the stem stuff. These days you’re drawn to engineering. Were you thinking about what you wanted to do for a career or where you wanted to go for a college? Like when you’re coming up through high school, what was your thinking about where do I want to go.
[00:09:28] Soga Oni: So I knew that I loved [00:09:30] to tinker with stuff. Like I love to tear down our radio sets at home and put them back together. Even since I was a kid, I was really curious about how things work. So if I see something I want to like, understand how it worked. And so when I was in high school, I just knew that I wanted to do computer engineering also because, you know, at the time computers was getting up, like in Nigeria and I felt like this was something totally new.
[00:09:54] That it would be interesting to even know how everything worked in this box, you know? And so I [00:10:00] ended up studying computer engineering in undergrad, in Nigeria and doing that for five years after doing that, like, you know, I felt like, yes, I knew how computer worked, but then I felt like, you know, I was still missing something.
[00:10:13] I wanted to learn more. And at the time, obviously Nigeria was starting to become very small for me. Like I wanted to. A lot of my siblings had already left the country to go to school in the us or Canada or the UK. And so because of that, I also was like England to live the country. [00:10:30] So I actually came to the us to study electrical engineering.
[00:10:34] So I did compet engineering in my undergrad. I did electrical engineering degree at Illinois Tech in Chicago from a masses. And I think at that point, Doing that master’s degree. I started to figure out where my interests were at that point in time, it was like, oh, software engineering. So I actually became a software engineer writing code.
[00:10:53] And so I moved to Boston where I am today to take a job at Dell [00:11:00] EMC. It was EMC then, but Dell bought over them. And so we became a software engineer there and worked there for a few years. And it was after working for a few years there. I was like, you know what, now I have all of this specialized knowledge about how things worked.
[00:11:15] I really wanted to see if I can contribute back to my country. At the time, this was, I think 2011,2012. I’d worked for a couple of years. And I was like, I wanted to contribute back to my country at the time. Not [00:11:30] like now where tech was a lot more global. There wasn’t any role for me as a, you know, very specialized backend engineer in Nigeria.
[00:11:38] So I was like, If I wanted to go back, I wanted to do something that mattered. And how do you put it? I was just tired of being a club in a huge will. I didn’t feel like I mattered. And so I didn’t have a lot of pops. My work was easy enough for me to do that. I can, it worked for two weeks. I can crank it out and do it in three days.
[00:11:57] So I had a lot of downtime where, you know, I, [00:12:00] I finished my work. I started learning a lot about entrepreneurship and that was super interesting to me. And I remember thinking that, wow, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could go back to Nigeria to do something that I really, really mattered where I won’t be just a plug in this giant will, but I would be pushing the boundaries of what could be.
[00:12:19] Dan: Before we go deeper into that, I wanna rewind a little. So I think a lot of people take for granted that, that when people come to this country to the United States, it’s [00:12:30] everything they wanted it to be. And it’s this big dream. I gotta hear a little bit about what it’s like to go from a small environment, rural Nigeria, to a cold, big city, like Chicago into a university setting like that.
[00:12:45] And probably your older siblings helped to prepare you about what would be like. Tell us a little bit about what was that adjustment? Like? Was it easy? Was it hard? Were there things that you just didn’t expect?
[00:12:59] Soga Oni: Oh, I [00:13:00] moved to, to Chicago in January. So in the middle of the winter, which was super cold and I was coming from Laga, which is like, you know, over 90 degree weather at the time, it was just a weather shock. Nobody prepares you for that. You know, but for me, I lived in the big city is a huge city. Legacy is bigger than Chicago, but Chicago.
[00:13:19] Totally different because I was moving to Chicago in the winter. So everybody’s mostly in indoor and it was a winter winter. There was a lot of big storms. So I remember like my [00:13:30] hairs almost frozen a lot of the times cause I would forget to wear something and I would go out and I just remember that, oh, damn I forgot.
[00:13:39] And I want to power through the work to the school and then realize that now that was the wrong idea to do so, and then there’s also the culture shock, right? You know, you’re just in a new environment and you have to adapt to totally new culture of people looking at you slightly differently. You know, when you, in Nigeria as Nigerian, you’re not black, you’re in [00:14:00] Nigerian, you know, but when you get into the us, you become black, you know, you understand, okay, now these people see me as black.
[00:14:06] They see me this way. They see me that way. And just like also the educational system in the us, the, at least the college, the university system is so different from the Nigerian university system. Like as a student, you’re been pushed to challenge your, your lectures, like with your professors and where you can just, you know, have a conversation with your professor in Nigeria, your professor [00:14:30] must just talk like at you and just teach you and then you just, you know, take everything.
[00:14:34] And then when they give you an exam, you just point it back for them. Give them what to give. For me, I’m one of those guys that I want to learn. I don’t care about passing exams as much, but I care about learning. And so it’s definitely worked in my favor that I could come in here and learning stuff in a way that’s has helped me in, in my career.
[00:14:54] Dan: I’m hearing definitely some entrepreneurial DNA with the restlessness of not wanting [00:15:00] to be a cog and this idea of learning and pursuit of learning as opposed to pursuit of what do they call it rubrics. Right? Like I just need to do what I need to do to get the A. So you’re basically deciding I want to do something different and I want to give back to my home country what happened at that inflection point.
[00:15:20] Soga Oni: So what happened was I started talking to my brother about it. Ooh. At the time was already a doctor in the us. And of course, you know, we were bouncing out ideas. I [00:15:30] knew I wanted to do something in the sector at that point. So we just bouncing out idea, but I didn’t feel I was prepared for it. I felt like there was a lot of things I just didn’t know.
[00:15:40] And so I was like, I would either have to go for an MBA to become more knowledgeable about how to run a business and. But then my manager at the time was a student at MIT and told me about this program, this systems engineering program at MIT that combines engineering with like, you know, some business education.
[00:15:59] And I was like, [00:16:00] sign me up for it. So I applied to that program and got into it the next year. And that program pretty much changed my life. I was in going to school with the best of the best. And my program had a lot of, you know, people that were eye level, CSU people already like, you know, and then they love of military people.
[00:16:21] So you get to learn a lot from your classmates, as well as your, your lecturers. And then just bring around an environment where everybody’s [00:16:30] building. That’s one thing I love about MIT. Everybody’s building, you know, when I was in Chicago, I didn’t see a lot of people building stuff actively around. So even when I thought about like, maybe this is, was a pathway for me, I couldn’t think about like, it’s like, well, I will be the weird one doing it here, but MIT, you’re not the weird one.
[00:16:47] If you’re not doing nothing, then you are the weird one. Right? Everybody has a site project they working on that is really cool. It might be just an hobby. It might be something that they just do for fun, but everybody has something they’re [00:17:00] working on. That is really interesting. And they have very interesting stories and they come from very interesting backgrounds and stuff.
[00:17:06] And so being around that environment, just kind of like catalyze me in some amazing ways.
[00:17:11] Dan: That’s so important. I think people don’t think about that. Just how the environment can be reinforcing like that. Right? Like when you’re in these places like Silicon valley or a place like MIT or places that become innovation hubs, it’s really like this idea that [00:17:30] there’s many, you know, electrons that are bouncing around off of each other, as opposed to that one person who.
[00:17:35] I’m gonna just stay in my basement and I’m gonna do it. And I’ve got no support. I’ve got no role models. I’ve got no infrastructure. We’re gonna take a short break and we’re gonna hear how MIT translated into the ask global, but we’ll be right back with Soga from MDaaS Global.
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[00:18:50] Dan: Okay, so we’re back. So Soga tell us about your MIT journey and how MDaaS emerged from.
[00:18:59] Soga Oni: Yeah, [00:19:00] so getting to the MIT campus was great. And as soon as I got there, I was like thinking about what I could do. And I was lucky enough to take a class called development ventures is this class taught by this very cool and a little bit acentric guy called Jo and use gives you a challenge for that class.
[00:19:21] You say is, Hey, for this class, your goal is to idea an idea that can impact a billion lives. The only caveat I’m going give to you is [00:19:30] that, you know, you don’t have to impact a billion lives right from the get go, but it must be something where you can scale it up to impact a billion lives. And so just thought about some of the problem my dad was facing at that time, which is around, you know, getting access to high quality medical equipment.
[00:19:46] He can using his practice in the small town I grew up in. So I was like, Hey, this is a challenge I can take on. I’m an engineer, train engineer. And looks easy enough. So in a couple of years, I’ll be done move on to the next end. You know, [00:20:00] so for that class, I created some materials, beauty team around it.
[00:20:04] And funny enough, one of the guys I met during that class still is Joe leads, our supply chain operations in the us now. And so we met. During that class. And then we started talking about how are we going to solve it. So at that time, our solution was very simple, was ridiculously simple. And also, you know, that’s probably why it didn’t work.
[00:20:26] We didn’t really understand the challenge at its core. It was something that we saw that [00:20:30] was happening, that we said, okay, that is the problem. So we should. You know, solve it. We didn’t really understand what drove, what we saw. Right. And so we decided that, Hey, I love African hospitals. Don’t just have access to the equipment they need.
[00:20:42] And when they have the, the equipments, they break down very often. And what that leads to is like what you call it, equipment graveyard that you see in almost every hospital. And my dad also has his own equipment grave, where it just shows all of the old medical equipments that it could fix. And so that’s what we set out to do, where we would say, Hey, [00:21:00] there’s a lot of.
[00:21:01] Equipment in the us. There’s 20 billion in equipment, just sitting on shelves on secondary market, in the us 20 billion of medical equipments that could be useful in other clients. So we are like, we’re just gonna bridge that gap. Take those equipment from the us to Nigeria and provide a lot of technical support for them to make those equipments operational at all times, and reaches what we set out to do with our first couple years.
[00:21:26] That’s how the idea evolved from something we did in the [00:21:30] class to a natural business. And what is very interesting about this was that, you know, used the professor encouraged us to apply for many competitions as part of the class. In fact, our finance for the class is just a bunch of the application that we’ve put in for many competitions.
[00:21:48] And then by the end of that class, I’d gotten one of them. And that came with $20,000 in grant money, an offer to come to Nigeria, to go to South Africa, to learn about, [00:22:00] to be a part of financial director program. So that just worked out for me was like, I got lucky in that regard.
[00:22:06] Dan: Interesting. Sometimes these things are like opportunity meets preparedness. This is a great story. So do you think, were you convinced already to do the business and to move forward? Or was this sort of like that catalyst? Like how can I not do this now? Like where were you in sort of the decision from taking it from a class project to an actual business?
[00:22:26] Soga Oni: So it was the money, the $20,000. I’ve never seen [00:22:30] money that big in my life before
[00:22:32] Dan: Keeping it real. I love it.
[00:22:35] Soga Oni: You know, it came with free flights to Nigeria, and it’s not like I’ve not seen money that big before. It was the fact that someone cared enough by just a random idea. I ID it to say, Hey, I’m gonna back you 20,000. I believe in you.
[00:22:50] And I feel like that was the push for me that, you know what, maybe I can do this. Maybe this is something maybe I should give this a shot. And of course at that time I was [00:23:00] naive about how the word works, you know? So I felt like everything I want, I can get, you know, like I feel like it just makes sense that I just go since now I have it now looking back at that, I was like, actually I had a choice not to go.
[00:23:14] I didn’t know. . You know, so it was fun story, but the funny thing is that as a, right now, they’re still not cap table and I still touch base with them and they’ve been supportive. In fact, that’s a little itself closed, but the guy that runs. Still, you know, it is actually [00:23:30] quite big in Nigeria. He runs one of the biggest educational institutions in, in Africa, African leadership, academia, and university.
[00:23:38] And even though the athletic itself did not work out, its also always supported us. And so throughout, you know, our journey in very subtle ways that I’m really glad we made that decision to join the accelerator.
[00:23:53] Dan: That’s cool. And again, I’m hearing a couple things. One is this idea that you have validation, right? I think a [00:24:00] lot of entrepreneurs, they have a question or a challenge or a problem they’re trying to solve and they start to work on it and they’re getting nothing back. Right. They’re getting no confirmation from customers or partners or investors. A signal like you got is very strong, right? And so it’s almost like this binary journey of like, oh, okay, now we have momentum auto, you know, like just out of the gate.
[00:24:21] Right. And the other thing is this idea of the fact that people who back you tend to be folks who are invested in you and the [00:24:30] relationship and for the long journey, especially if they come in early, when you don’t really have anything yet, it’s really about your vision and you as an entrepreneur. I mean, those relationships can really stand the test of time.
[00:24:42] So let’s move into, like you start the company you’re focused on equipment, essentially, right. Becoming a supplier. And at some point you realize there’s a different opportunity and the company changes direction. Tell us a little bit about that.
[00:24:57] Soga Oni: Absolutely. So we started the [00:25:00] business, given what we know, in fact, I wrote my thesis on the business on MIT, moved back, got my first few customers.
[00:25:08] My dad was my number one customer because he actually needed the equipment. And so him and a couple of his friends became my first set of customers. I supplied them x-rays patient monitors and, you know, ECG machines and whatnot, supply the bunch to. That was in 2016, by 2017. It was clear to us that we weren’t in any of the traction [00:25:30] that we thought we had been promised, you know, by the market, the market doesn’t respect if you’re coming from MIT or not.
[00:25:36] doesn’t so it was pretty clear to us at that point that the opportunity was so different. And funny enough, we knew that the problem was still there. People still didn’t have diagnostics. Right. But we realize that the economic model, the sustainable economic model for those equipments, doesn’t just exist.
[00:25:58] If we’re focused on [00:26:00] supplying equipment to doctors, because when you look at it, most doctors don’t have a lot of patients. You know, they have maybe 20 patients a day or 30 patients a day, let’s say for a busy guide and maybe, you know, 10 of them need your X. Most likely five of them will need an x-ray that day.
[00:26:16] Right. And then at that point, it doesn’t make sense for you to go spend a hundred thousand dollars buying an extra machine. So we started seeing that, Hey, the market was not what we thought it was that yes, there was a problem with like the ed [00:26:30] care infrastructure that the underfunded, the K infrastructure across board across the country.
[00:26:36] But more importantly, the current economic model that we see around, do they. To deliver access to diagnostics because you don’t have enough patients that can pay you to use those equipments. And most patients in Nigeria, most of the payments comes out of pocket over 90% is out of pocket payments. Right?
[00:26:56] So that means for our initial model, it was pretty much doomed from the [00:27:00] start. Really all of our NAS were. But what we saw was that, Hey, there was an opportunity to aggregate all of this mom and pop ed care facilities together and become their diagnostic provider. And we’ve seen cases of that working in bigger cities, but we see that outside bigger cities, they were just mostly a abandon.
[00:27:19] A lot of the bigger players don’t want to go into those types of cities. So we decided to become that aggregator. So we would provide all of the equipment x-ray ultrasound ECG, [00:27:30] a fully automated lab at a local level, within a community within an underserved community, and then partner with all of the local clinics pharmacies PHCs primary care centers.
[00:27:42] So we able to deliver diagnostics to them. And so we, by granting our own volumes can make the economic model work for those equipments, which is what we did. So in November of 2017, our business was literally on its last legs. My wife also happens to be [00:28:00] one of our co-founders. So at the time she had just gotten into MIT.
[00:28:04] And so she’s left a job as a, as she director at, at the foundation. And so somehow she was able to convince our old boss to invest 50 K that business. Just because of the, you know, my wife used to work for her and that money. We used it to build our first diagnostic center in the tier two city. So in called, when the numbers started coming out over the first three months, [00:28:30] We knew that this was the model because we saw that people started coming to our centers right from the get go.
[00:28:35] And because they, we focused on three key things, we focused on providing a great patient experience. People like to be treated well, surprisingly, and which includes like having a great ambience for our centers. Number two, having recruitment that can deliver really great clinical accuracy. So paying a little bit extra to be able to deliver better resolutions for ultrasound.
[00:28:58] So that when people [00:29:00] have questions they really want to answer will be that first point of call. And of course, having great clinicians. So we invest will pay above market rates for our clinicians so we can have great clinical reporting. And finally, we focus on fast and around times we want to make sure that people are able to get their results on time.
[00:29:16] And those three key things as just, just when we went to the markets, just kinda like disrupted the market. Massive. Because before we came there, the players that were in those places, cause this was a really, really underserved [00:29:30] community, felt like they were doing the community a favor. So they don’t care about you waiting for like five hours in their centers.
[00:29:37] They will attend to you when they attended to you. In fact, we took a tour of many of these diagnosis centers to experience what care was there before we started. And at that point I knew I had a feeling that we were going to be okay if this was what we were competing against. That that we be okay. And coming from people who never operated a clinical facility before.
[00:29:57] Dan: Sometimes that’s the key, right? Sometimes [00:30:00] it’s you don’t have. Preexisting biases or like, this is the way it’s always been done. Or so sometimes it takes, you know, fresh eyes to disrupt things like that. I have a question around sort of like, cause I’m not as familiar with how healthcare works in Nigeria. So the diagnostic part of it, do patients come at the behest of the doctors or do they come thinking, well, I just need to get checked out and then. Is diagnostics also out of pocket at that point. [00:30:30]
[00:30:30] Soga Oni: Yeah. That’s a great question. So most of our patients actually come to us via their, their primary care doctor. So they’ll go to their doctors first and then they come to us. So initially our biggest customers were actually. The hospitals cuz they one’s referring to us.
[00:30:45] But what is interesting about it is that even though they’re getting referred to us from the hospital, the patients are paying cash front. Got it. And in fact, what is funny is that the patients prefer to pay more for diagnostics than to pay [00:31:00] more for consultation because for consultation, you’re just having a conversation with someone, right?
[00:31:05] So they feel like, come on, I can’t pay you $10 for it. Like we’ll go to the same church. Come on. When they come to me right. When they come to our centers and they see the nice ambiance they see like our extra machines and our ultrasound machines, very imposing. They’re like, yeah, I think I need to pay here.
[00:31:21] I think I need to pay something. So..
[00:31:23] Dan: That’s really great. Cuz the customer insight. That’s awesome. So this is an awesome model. I mean, it feels very much like [00:31:30] Quest or Lab Corp here in the United States.
[00:31:32] Soga Oni: So we are literally the quest on lab core of Nigeria. And I think the vision for us is to become the lab quest for Africa, you know, but right now we are actually by just number of, um, locations. We have, I think we’re probably the top largest in the country and we just have 15 locations. And by next year, we’ll double it to 30 locations. And at that point we’ll probably be the largest cuz you know, it’s a very highly fragmented space. You know [00:32:00] that it doesn’t take you much to become the largest, if that’s the funny thing about fragmented spaces, right.
[00:32:05] You know, it’s very fragmented. Most of the diagnostic centers that are the top tier diagnosis centers are only in the big cities. They’re not trying to go to the smaller, tiny cities that like we are.
[00:32:16] Dan: And so the company now is also made another big leap. I don’t know if you wanna call it an evolution, but this new grand vision around the Sentinel X, tell us a little bit about what that’s about and where you’re going with that.
[00:32:28] Soga Oni: I talk a little bit about something next. I [00:32:30] want to explain a little bit about art thesis, you know? Sure. Our core thesis is that the most important thing right now is to build scalable infrastructure for Africans everywhere. They need it. In the way that is sustainable, because sustainability is what ensures that you scale.
[00:32:44] But once you do that, you can deploy more digital tech products through those physical networks. So we are building that first layer, that physical layer that you need that to be able to deploy a lot of digital tech tech products like [00:33:00] Nia. And so to just to explain Senti X, so cent X came out of actually our COVID work, where we were doing a lot of screenings for people.
[00:33:07] And at the time COVID, didn’t hit Nigerias much as he hits the us or whatnot. So we’re doing a lot of screening for people, but we were realizing that most people didn’t have COVID, but what they have was a lot of preexisting conditions, right? So a lot of people were pretensive, but like people in the big cities like Lagos and Abuja were, are hypertensive or pre diabetic.
[00:33:28] Or they have like, you know, their [00:33:30] lipids, we are messed up and they didn’t know this, you know, so we are screening them for the first time. And then we are like, wow, you too young to have these numbers. But people just didn’t know because, you know, when you getting worse, you don’t know, you know, you just, literally, it happens a very long period of time.
[00:33:45] And so we were thinking to ourselves just how can we sure that people know this, that they. You know, focus on preventive care rather than, you know, waiting to the, get sick before, you know, they go get care. And one thing we also know is that preventive care is much, [00:34:00] much, much, much cheaper than when you have dealing with like, you know, cancer or like.
[00:34:06] Her issues or many other, these are the things you could do it or liver, kidney issues, whatnot. So how can we get people to do that? And we’re able to do this because we have a medic of centers where now we’ve built digital tech product called SentinelX. It’s a preventive care platform where, you know, we are able to provide screens for people, but not just screens.
[00:34:26] We provide you the clinical report. That comes with a lot of recommendations for, [00:34:30] for you through and app or via WhatsApp or even vape phone call. So we have multiple channels of that. And then we can introduce you to a dietician that can help you plan your diet and track you over time, as well as a fitness instructor, if you need to move more and whatnot.
[00:34:45] So it’s like this like ecosystem of services we’re offering to you just on a simple platform so that people can make sure that they’re healthy. And so when your numbers. Getting a little bit worse. You can easily know. So like, you know, last [00:35:00] summer I’m on the program. And last summer I was, you know, I was excited to be back after all of the COVID stuff, you know?
[00:35:07] So I was eating a lot of steak in the us and, you know, messed up my lipids a little bit. I wanna go back to Nigeria. I was like, oh, I messed up my lipids. Now I have to work hard at it. and, you know, fix it cuz I do this every year and I can, you know, I’m part of the program. I am able to. Make sure that, you know, I’m I’m okay.
[00:35:23] Over time. That’s the beauty of the program. So, so yeah, and we are open to do more digital tech products like [00:35:30] that. So SentinelX is one of the many ideas we have was just the first one we launched.
[00:35:34] Dan: I love it. And if I step back and look at your journey, you went from. Opportunistic part of a market, basically being almost arbitrage like, Hey, I can bring equipment in cheaper to, well, we can verticalize because there’s these other aspects of how this system is broken and a poor experience for customers. But now you’re talking about something that’s society changing, right? That is this [00:36:00] idea that you don’t just fix people when they’re broken. Because by then a lot of times it’s both expensive and hard to do. Let’s help people have a journey of health, you know, throughout their lives so that they have those early indications of potential problems, diseases, conditions that might emerge and try to nip them in the butt as they.
[00:36:19] Before they get into a situation where they’re chronic or irreversible, I think it’s an amazing and ambitious program. And it’s one of those things where COVID was very [00:36:30] binary for people, right? Like some businesses had just crushed it, right? Like if you were in travel for instance, right. Like it was done.
[00:36:36] And some didn’t survive if you’re a small restaurant. Right. But there’s other businesses like yours. That’s just an amazing story that like, Hey, we’re checking people for COVID. Wait a minute. , we’re getting all this other information and there’s opportunities to help people in other ways. So I think it’s an amazing evolution for your company.
[00:36:53] So we’re gonna take another short break, but we’ll be right back with Soga from MDaaS Global. [00:37:00]
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[00:37:58] Dan: We’re back with Soga Oni [00:38:00] from MDaaS Global. And so Soga, I wanna know. If I show up in your life, let’s say five years from now, 10 years from now, and you tell me MDaaS was a wild success. What’s gonna be your measure for that. How are you gonna explain to me that this thing was just a rocket ship that took off and we were able to achieve X, Y, and Z. What are the things that you would use as sort of your north star for knowing that your company’s success?
[00:38:29] Soga Oni: I [00:38:30] think it goes back to what our mission is or our vision for the company, which is like ed care for African’s next billion. Like I really, even though it’s just a tagline, but I really believe that we can do that. I think that we can impact a billion lives by building care for people and given the growing population of Africans. I think the continents population will double by 2050 or there about so, so yeah, in five years from now, I want to be well on my way. So that billion dollar number. I think that last month we saw their birthday [00:39:00] hundred thousand visits to our centers.
[00:39:02] I hope five years from now, we are doing millions of visits.
[00:39:06] Dan: Amazing. And that’s what I thought you would say. So , that makes a lot of sense. So let’s change gears a little bit. Let’s talk about your fundraising journey. I know you’ve had a couple of rounds. You, like you mentioned you had some grants early on. Tell us a little bit about how that’s gone. And a little bit about the, the investors that have that believed in you and have bet on you.
[00:39:26] Soga Oni: We’ve had a very interesting fundraising, Jenny, because, you know, [00:39:30] for, I had that 20,000 that give me that push, then some family and friends as we were about to start and then nothing.
[00:39:38] For the next two years, like from 2016 to maybe like 2018, there was nothing, nothing. We just had to survive and figure things out by ourselves. But once we got the, that first center going and the numbers that are coming out, we were lucky enough to get into techs. And also before that, just before we got into techs, we met in Nigerian investor, amazing Nigerian [00:40:00] investor.
[00:40:00] They is one of, um, a big fan ventures platform. And virtual platform pretty much just bet on us three weeks in because they just liked the business so much that they were like, you know what, we’re gonna give you a hundred thousand dollars check to keep going. And then we got into textile also. So I started to give us some confidence about our business and that got us through the year and post texters.
[00:40:22] We were able to raise another round about a million dollars. We grew from one center to five centers without money. And [00:40:30] then just learn about how to operate just instead of just one center operating five locations. And then luckily for us in between the journey sometimes in 2019, We applied for Africans business Euro, which is a huge competition in Africa.
[00:40:45] And we were lucky to be one of the winners. We were runners up and we won big check two $50,000. Is that the Jack ma program? That’s Jack ma foundation. Yeah. And that was amazing because it just gives. Number one [00:41:00] that validation matters. You know, the PR you get from that, we were on the TV show, you know, just introduced a lot more people to us and they’ve been even post program.
[00:41:11] They’ve been also amazing, even though, you know, that program up on the, in the middle of COVID, you know, they still made it happen and. We’re lucky to be one of those winners because that money was catalytic to us at that point in time. And then last year we were even thinking about raising, but, you know, there was an opportunity to raise because we found another amazing [00:41:30] investor called Newtown.
[00:41:31] And so they led our series 2 seed extension. Now we have 15 centers. So without money, we were able to grow from five centers to 15 centers, and now we are looking for the next round. So I’m currently fundraising, hopefully we’re done by the end of the year or thereabouts, so that we can go from 15 centers to 40 centers, which would be really amazing.
[00:41:53] Dan: So tell me though, when you were in the journey. So, I mean, you just went through kind of maybe like a half a dozen [00:42:00] investors. In those steps though. Did you have to do a lot of meetings where you got no’s? Did you focus only on people who had a context or a thesis around Africa? How did you figure out how to align yourself with the investors that ended up investing in you.
[00:42:17] Soga Oni: Earlier on, we were just talking to every Tom, Dick and Harr that had investor in their byline, which is bad. Don’t do that. And so we were obviously not unsuccessful, but once we got into texts, what [00:42:30] going through text does for you? Just kind of like teaches you some of the rules of the game. We we’re recommended to reach venture deals.
[00:42:37] So our understanding of that also started improving. And so for our texts, we had a pipeline. We tried to focus as much on, you know, who would give us money in Africa. Eventually what we found out that there was three buckets of people who wants to give us money, either African visits, who understand the market and really wants to do work in Africa, impact [00:43:00] foundations, who like what we’re doing, we helping them advance a lot of what they’re trying to do.
[00:43:04] And at least earlier on, they were like angels who just liked our team, who just felt like, I know they’re doing some things, but like, you know, I think that they seem to know what they’re doing, so I’m going to support them. So we had a few of those too, which was surprising because, you know, sometimes you just have to believe in yourself, but when someone’s believing you.
[00:43:23] You know, you was like, well, that musts be nice at the earliest stages for I seat. That was the, uh, [00:43:30] focus for those type of people. And we also learned to screen some people impact investors, but they do want investment every five years. You know, we don’t want to talk to those people because they’re not, or some people, we had a case where we worked with.
[00:43:43] Like a fund that was a university fund that just wasted our time. And, you know, just cause they’re using us as a way for their students to learn how to do DD, which was not cool. But, you know, but when you work with a African startups, people feel like somethings are okay, so [00:44:00] which, which is not fair.
[00:44:01] Dan: Interesting. Yeah. That’s a good point. That’s a good point. I, I was just having conversation, you know, around our fund and you have to be really careful around not making people feel like they’re just being showcased or, you know, sort of presented there has to be some benefit for the entrepreneur that it was really interesting how you drew this distinction.
[00:44:21] And I think a lot of Africans who are born on the continent have this of like, I’m in Nigeria, I’m Nigeria. I come to America and I’m black. And I know that you still [00:44:30] spend time here in the United States. Do you feel like a black entrepreneur often? Is that a daily occurrence to you or something that you don’t think about until somebody reminds you?
[00:44:40] How do you process that? Or is that something that just doesn’t even occur to you?
[00:44:43] Soga Oni: So for me, either, I like it or not. I’m a black entrepreneur. I cannot hide from the fact . And so for, for me, it’s two things, you know, I’m not just a black entrepreneur. I’m also an African entrepreneur in that. A lot of my work is based in Africa. So even though yeah, we have [00:45:00] our D se cop and whatnot. It’s something that still, you know, people would want to know. Okay. Yes, you, because they are black entrepreneurs, they are Nigerian entrepreneurs that are doing work in the us doing amazing work in the us. They are black entrepreneurs doing work in Africa.
[00:45:15] You know, like me that are not Nigerians, but they’re, they do work in Nigeria and whatnot, you know? So that’s something that, you know, I’ve just for me, I guess accept it. I feel like the work I in the work I do, I just need to find my own people. The people that believe the [00:45:30] work we do. And you know, if you believe in the work we do and you know, there’s mutual respect, I’m happy to engage or sometimes, you know, It’s easier for the Potella in east Africa, right?
[00:45:42] People complain about like, like it’s easier for your white founder in east Africa to get funded and a black founder in east Africa to get funded sometimes, you know, the color of the money determines where the money goes to. And, and I feel like maybe this is a call for more Africans and more black [00:46:00] funds to exist.
[00:46:01] More funds that, target that to say, Hey, we are gonna support people from this demographic doing work in this place or whatnot. And I think when you look at the quality of the founders, I think you can find really high qualifi founders on both sides of the, you know, pond. Right. But it’s just a matter of who gets the opportunity.
[00:46:20] And for me, we are lucky that we we’ve got into this stage that we are in and our work pretty much speak for speaks for itself now. And also like we [00:46:30] already know right now also I’m at a stage where everybody, I, I speak to, I already know their track record. Right. So I don’t need to speak to someone I don’t understand.
[00:46:40] So right now, everybody, I’m speaking to the reason why you are this stage where I’m speaking to you is cause I already know your track record and there are a few exceptions, but most of the time,
[00:46:51] Dan: That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. And I love it. Like you’re kind of flipping the script, you know, I’m going to approach the people that I think will, will be the most benefit [00:47:00] to me that will understand what I’m trying to do. That have given sub signals to be a believer in the kind of work we’re doing.
[00:47:06] Soga Oni: Absolutely. And of course, right now, what are we mostly raised is steel checking change, right? We first $4 million thereabout…
[00:47:14] Dan: some founders wouldn’t agree with you. it’s interesting how the perspective changes from $20,000 to 4 million. But you’re right. You’re right. It’s not, when you think about what founders receive, it’s loose change compared to the tens of [00:47:30] billions, uh, every quarter that go into venture.
[00:47:32] Soga Oni: Yeah, exactly. And so for me, I think right now we are disadvantage point maybe as, of course, as you, the check size gets bigger, then that also changes my perspective also.
[00:47:44] Right. So, but for me, I’m here for it. I’m here to.
[00:47:47] Dan: I love that. One of the things that’s interesting, I, I saw in Silicon valley and I think my thinking has come full circle on this was this idea of people who are related founding companies, right? So either they’re a son and a [00:48:00] father or a daughter and a father or a couple that’s married. What would you say is the advantages to having a co-founder, which I guess is one of your co-founders is your wife.
[00:48:13] Soga Oni: Yeah, I don’t think it’s for everybody. So my wife is not a co-founder because she’s my wife, my wife is a cofounder because she’s amazingly great at what she does. And I couldn’t. Someone of pedigree and what she can do.
[00:48:28] Otherwise, I [00:48:30] just couldn’t, I couldn’t pay for it. I would have to pay it under grand for someone like that. I convinced her to say, Hey, suffer with me and let’s do this together. And so, but she’s good. Like, you know, I remember. We raised like a 500 K check, one of the easiest 500 K checks we, we raised and we went on the car and the guy on the end of the car, really successful person in the us said, wow, this is one of the best financial models I’ve ever seen because it’s like you out outlined everything I needed to see.
[00:48:57] And you like, you’ve talked ahead of me [00:49:00] for everything. Even though I’ve done a lot of work in the public markets. This is the best one I’ve ever seen, you know, and that’s not the only person I’ve commented on some of our fundraising materials. I think that having her on board just makes it easier on this journey.
[00:49:13] Of course there’s not so cool. Part of it is, is that like, you know, there’s no separation between work and life. Every year, we’ll do it in new year resolution and say, Hey, work is gonna be working. Life is gonna be life. The next day, we are like working at 10, 10:00 PM at night together. So, so, but then the next year we’ll do it [00:49:30] again.
[00:49:30] This year is gonna be different, but we work really well together. And I’m really grateful that she’s on this journey with me. And I have a fun story actually about when she joined. So I had an advisor at that time, really early in the journey. We didn’t have any funding then. And the guy said, Hey, when I told him that, Hey, at the time she was my girlfriend, my girlfriend’s gonna join the team and I’m going to have to give her some equity because she deserves for, she was already working a lot for us at the time.
[00:49:55] And I felt weird, you know, she was just working for. So I felt that, you know, there’s a [00:50:00] fundamental sense of fairness to that. So I shared with this, my advisor and the guy’s like bad idea, bad idea, and you should never, ever do that. And I was like, well, like my sense of fairness is just, doesn’t tell me that this is right.
[00:50:12] So the guy just said, you know, what, if you are going to have I joined the team, then I cannot be your advisor anymore. And I was like, well, that’s really easy decision, really? And so, so right
[00:50:25] Dan: Advisor, or am I, ultimately, my who’s gonna be my wife?
[00:50:29] Soga Oni: [00:50:30] Yeah. And in some cases I see, I understand this perspective, but I felt like.
[00:50:36] My wife, Genevieve, um, provides a lot, you know, she’s just, she’s a force. Like she does a lot of things for us and we are really happy to have her on board and, you know yeah. And we work really hard on this together.
[00:50:48] Dan: So thanks for sharing that story. You know, it’s really interesting to me, we are a little bit of kind of duplicitous, right? Like. Investors are always talking about like, well, you want a co-founder who’s like, it’s [00:51:00] like, you’re getting married because you’re gonna be with that person for, for a long time and you have to get along. But then when you’re actually married to somebody, they look at it like, oh, well, Hmm that’s what’s what, this is a lot of problems with that.
[00:51:10] Right. So I think it’s a really interesting dynamic and I love the way you talked about it. Like. If she wasn’t your wife, she still, she would be this awesome co-founder that is bringing so much to the table.
[00:51:21] Soga Oni: And for a few of my investors, actually, we are the first time they invested in a husband and wife couple, and they look at the business and it’s like, well, we like what you’re doing. [00:51:30] We usually have reserv reservations about this, but like, you guys have figured it out, so we’re gonna let you be so, so, which is great that they’re able to change. The mind’s about it.
[00:51:38] Dan: Yeah. So you’re breaking molds, just all over the place. As we get to the end of our time here, we always like to ask sort of this quintessential question. If you could go back in time to let’s just say your software days, cuz then it seems like at that point, at least you weren’t really looking to become an entrepreneur. So if the 2022 version of shore guy could [00:52:00] go back to that version and give him advice. What to look out for what to do, what not to do. What advice would you give him?
[00:52:09] Soga Oni: To always be true to who I am, be on reserve, leave myself. Don’t make no excuses for myself. And we have a saying on my team that we do and we do dope things. That’s the PG version
[00:52:24] Dan: sure.
[00:52:26] Soga Oni: You know, and just to be, because in the end we’ve got, been [00:52:30] through ups and downs. And I think that even when COVID hit at that, nobody was sure about where the business would go up and down.
[00:52:38] One of the things that is haven’t done north star helped us a lot that, Hey, this is why we’re doing this work. And, and we genuinely believe in what we are building and if not us, who we have to be, the ones building the future we want. And so I think that time and time again, Just being true to who we are as a team has just been a hack to make decisions.
[00:52:59] And even [00:53:00] when you negotiate with investors, right. And if someone brought something that wasn’t like, I’m not like Hecky here about that. I didn’t think that we’re like a fit, like to who we are our values, then it doesn’t matter how much it is. We’re rather just past and we’ve passed on opportunities also that have come cause it’s not the right fit for us.
[00:53:20] And sometimes I feel like it’s easy to say. But when you are passing on opportunities, because something’s not, not right fit for you, that’s where you you’ll know that, Hey, this is [00:53:30] going to hit me, but like, you know, I’m being true to who I am. I still give myself that advice to always know that look.
[00:53:37] Because in the end, it’s all about having this internal peace or happiness. Not really about money, money can come and go. Whatnot. Always having that internet peace and happiness with you, with who you are. And I, for me personally, I feel like if I’m true to who I am, it doesn’t matter if I’m rich or poor, I will always be okay.
[00:53:55] Try to remind myself that every time.
[00:53:57] Dan: Incredible. I love it. Well, we’re coming to the end of our [00:54:00] time. This has been an amazing conversation, so sure guy, we like to give a call to action to our audience. Are there any ways that we can be helpful to you or to the company?
[00:54:10] Soga Oni: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I’m reasoning around right now, but you know, you already know.
[00:54:16] Well, actually, I’m starting something interesting tomorrow. Actually, I’m going to be writing every day for 30 days about African ed care. And I think that over the past five, six years just lent a lot about African ed care. And I want to [00:54:30] create a bunch of materials that next set of ed care entrepreneurs can use to understand the African healthcare L.
[00:54:36] And so over the next 30 days as part of the ship, 30 for 30 QUTs would be writing every day for 30 days. So if you want to, are we posting on Twitter on type share mostly. So if people want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is S O G A T E M I, @sogatemi
[00:54:57] Dan: Awesome. This has been an amazing [00:55:00] conversation. I probably could talk to you for like another two hours, but we really appreciate you taking the time today. It was just a wonderful, wonderful discussion.
[00:55:07] Soga Oni: Absolutely. And this was great for me too. And you, you asked a lot of great questions, you know, how to tease out all those stories. So thank you so much for that.
[00:55:14] Dan: We’d like to thank our guests Soga and our sponsor, The Plug.
[00:55:18] This podcast was produced by me, Dan Kihanya, with audio editing and production by We Edit Podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to [00:55:30] foundersunfound.com/listento. That’s listen T-O. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @foundersunfound, and make sure to tell your friends about us.
[00:55:38] We so appreciate every new listener.
[00:55:40] Thanks so much for tuning in.
[00:55:42] I am Dan Kihanya and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.