Rise In EU Online Medical Bookings Spells Success For Poland’s Top ‘Doc Com’ Entrepreneur
Forbes 7/30/2014. Online medical appointment booking may still be in its infancy in Europe, but Polish entrepreneur Mariusz Gralewski is adamant that like online hotel booking, negligible in 2000 but now representing a quarter of Europe’s hotel booking activity, healthcare is heading in the same direction.
As CEO and founder of DocPlanner a leading European platform for finding and booking appointments with medical and dental professionals, he speaks with considerable authority.
Founded in 2012, DocPlanner has raised $4million total in two funding rounds, backed by Point Nine Capital Piton Capital and RTAventures, and just this week acquired the Turkish online medical booking firm Eniyihekim.
Gralewski, who studied computer science at the Warsaw University of Technology and previously co-founded the Polish professional networking site GoldenLine.pl came up with the idea for Docplanner came when he moved from his hometown to the Polish capital, Warsaw, and couldn’t find a doctor in the city.
“The available websites at the time weren’t very useful in helping me make an educated decision on the best healthcare professional for me. I wanted to change that,” he says. Gralewski’s first foray into the dotcom business was with his fellow student and later Docplanner co-founder, Jakub Skoczylas, who together created Goldenline, a professional social network akin to Linkedin or Germany’s Xing, in their dorm room.
He says: “Although Linkedin was already in the Polish market we were able to surpass them quickly and we’re now about twice as big, with a team of around a hundred staff and a solid revenue stream. We sold a part of Goldenline to a Polish media company in 2011, after which I tried out angel investing for some time. But I found I liked the operational side of things a lot more and had a dream of building a global company.”
DocPlanner was designed to help patients receive faster and more convenient access to health treatment by allowing them to search for and book appointments with nearby medical professionals online. The website carries listings of over one million doctors and dentists, displays availability, and allows visitors to choose and book a physician by browsing through a review and rating system.
The markets in which the business operates are characterised by weak legacy public healthcare systems and long waiting periods, and given the dire state of government budgets, with little sign of improvement. It is a situation that plays into DocPlanner’s hands, by making patient-doctor discovery and booking much more transparent and efficient.
It is, however, a very fragmented market in Europe, with various local players in each country vying for a bigger market share.
He says: “As in the case of Eniyihekim in Turkey, once a player takes a significant lead over others, especially in terms of traffic, they become very difficult to dislodge. The market is still up for grabs; aside from ourselves, we are aware of only one other player globally who has been able to enter and secure a leadership position in multiple geographies. Even the leading US players, which were the first to offer online appointment booking, are concentrating on the local market for now.”
European market leader
Gralewski also points out that the continental healthcare market is a local one, with significant differences between European countries making international expansion extremely challenging. Nevertheless, from its Polish HQ in Warsaw, DocPlanner has expanded to 25 countries, operating through national websites such as Znanylekarz.pl in Poland, Docplanner.ru in Russia, and Znamylekar.cz in the Czech Republic.
“The Czech Republic domain znamylekar.cz, which translates into ‘well-known doctor’, was acquired from a young entrepreneur back in 2011. He wasn’t really focused on scaling it, while we had some experience from Poland, which we could employ in the neighbouring market,” says Gralewski.
“In Russia we also bought a local domain for a small sum but eventually decided to operate as docplanner.ru. In most other markets going forward we will operate under the docplanner domain unless we are able to acquire a leading player with a really strong and recognised brand, as was the case with Eniyihekim,” he adds.
The acquisition of Eniyihekim has pushed DocPlanner into a a dominant position in the European market, where approximately six billion medical appointments are made annually, increasing its unique monthly visitors from over 4.5 million to over six million, and expanding its team to almost 100 people. As part of the acquisition, DocPlanner will invest capital and expertise into Eniyihekim to bolster its sales and customer care teams, and optimise and promote its mobile app.
However, tapping into Europe’s lucrative medical tourism trade is not on Gralewski’s list of business priorities, for now.
He says: “We are currently not focused on this area, largely due to the larger-sized opportunity of the domestic segment. While we are aware that appointments in the medical tourism segment may have a large ticket size, as most procedures are quite expensive, the number of appointments is quite small, relative to the number of domestic bookings. However, we may reconsider this segment further down the line.”