I met Dr. Devashish Saini, the founder of Ross Clinics and family physician for the first time at a local startup networking event, where I was the panel moderator and he was one of the guests on the panel. I immediately realized that he is one of those guys who every mother wants to have as a child.
He is an AIIMS alumnus and has a postgraduate in health informatics from the University of Birmingham and in family medicine from CMC Vellore. He lived in the US from 2004 to 2008, while he studied health informatics. It was during the time that he was a resident physician at the University of Missouri-Columbia that things started happening. The entrepreneurship bug bit him.
He decided to come back to India with a mission to build something that will change people’s lives forever. And, after a lot of hiccups, he finally started Ross Clinics, a chain of everyday care clinics providing quality healthcare services.
Today, Ross Clinics has multiple locations in Gurgaon and New Delhi and more will soon open in Ghaziabad. His mission is to bring back the trusted family doctor, making quality healthcare accessible and affordable for the teeming middle-income Indian families.
He is also working on getting doctors on board who want to set up their own clinics. Ross Clinics will provide the professional expertise and information on how to set up a clinic and how to accelerate the growth of the clinic. He also showed this concept at an entrepreneur conference in Mexico and many entrepreneurs there expressed their interest to replicate the model out there.
Well, although he is today a well-known figure in the Indian primary care physician community and running a wildly successful chain of clinics, the journey has not been as smooth as it may seem.
He had his share of ups and downs, went through failures, and faced many other setbacks, but none of these stopped him from working on his mission. That is how geniuses are born.
This made me curious to learn more about what lessons he had learned and are still learning in his entrepreneurial journey that made him successful and what his advice would be to every entrepreneur. So, I asked him for an interview and he gladly accepted.
Read on to learn his take on running a startup which he shared during the interview. This gave me food for thought for both my business and personal life and I am sure it will do the same for you.
#1 Only Start a Business If You Are Passionate about It
You do not only need skills, talent, and experience to start a business and make it successful. First and foremost, you also require passion to solve the issue that your startup will solve. You need to live it, dream of it and die with it. (Well, do not actually die!)
Dr. Devashish adds that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Only if you feel passionate and strongly about the issues will a reasonable amount of money be made.
Also, your services or products should have a value proposition and entrepreneurs must think from the customers’ perspective.
#2 Do Not Have a Cofounder Unless You Really Need One
Dr. Devashish suggests that you should not have a cofounder simply for the sake of having one. Only if you really have a role that you cannot fill yourself, which is especially applicable to tech startup founders, is a cofounder the way to go.
This is because, although having a cofounder offers some benefits, it also comes with a set of complex challenges, especially if you get a cofounder on board who you have never met before. This, in fact, may rip your business apart because, if you do not know the other founder well enough, there is bound to be some communication issues.
We do have differences in our values and it is hard to distinguish when these changes are affecting your relationship because the other person is working against you. So, it could be happening when you do not even realize it is happening.
Yet, if you have worked with a person for around 10 years, then you can probably work well together. In such cases, you will already know each other and communicate wisely. Your values will be known by the other person and you will already know how to work around each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
All in all, having another person is great. But, if there is something you do not know, you should rather learn about it yourself and develop that skill. Learning is the only way to go for in the long run.
In a nutshell, before you start looking for a cofounder, make sure that you are prepared to ensure zero communication gaps or personality and value issues later on. And, if you would rather avoid getting a cofounder, you can cultivate the middle management layer.
#3 Pivot Really, Really Fast
Dr. Devashish suggests that you need to pivot really fast, depending on what the customers’ needs are and when you find low hanging fruits. So, you need to be quick to adapt your business to work around what will bring more clients.
Also, accept the easy projects that you are offered, instead of confining yourself to only one type of project. And, make sure that you present a professional image so that you can get more projects.
#4 Do Not Get into a Pricing Competition
Startups often get into a pricing war and offer huge discounts, which ultimately kills them later on.
Dr. Devashish says, “the price should be above your cost, but less than the customers’ perceived value. It is also unwise to get into a pricing competition. Discounts are good and easy, but anyone can come and offer greater discounts than you are offering. So, it is best to deliver a better quality service or something which no one is offering.”
#5 Focus on Building Competencies and Not Just Huge Profits
Businesses exist to make profits, no doubt about it. However, the focus should not necessarily always be on making huge profits.
If a client does not offer huge profits, you should still take the job and do it. It will help you pay the bills, even if it is not very exciting, and it will help you build new competencies. And, according to Dr. Devashish, building new competencies will be beneficial in the long run.
He cited his own example of how he is doing it:
“At Ross Clinics, the core value is to provide all the services a typical Indian family needs on a daily basis. Home visits are one of Ross Clinics’ offerings, which a lot of doctors are hesitant to do. But, it has proven to be a very big revenue stream for us. Similarly, we do vaccines, corporate vaccines, and corporate health checkups which are traditionally the job of the diagnostic centers. We, as a primary care clinic, believe in preventative health checkups and it too has become a good revenue source.”
#6 Startup Founders Need to Be Control Freaks
Dr. Devashish says that, at the starting point, the founders need to be on top of everything to ensure good quality services are delivered. They need to be control freaks. They should also set up a process for those things that can be standardized and for those that cannot be and how they can go about doing it.
In addition, it is important to start thinking about middle management, especially if you are a single founder. This is because the small tasks will become tiring and boring very soon.
#7 Do Not Expand Too Soon
Patience is key to the success of all startups. According to Dr. Devashish, do not expect too much too soon. Your business model has to be reasonably well-defined before you can expand; otherwise, you will lose a lot of money.
Also, if you are in the service industry, there is bound to be a loss of quality when the business expands. So, your core model should be able to deliver excellent care before you expand.
In addition, only expand when you have the whole budget to do so: Do not spread yourself too thin.
#8 Never Give Up
I am a big believer in not giving up, no matter what happens. So, learn the lessons you need to from your setbacks and keep moving forward. Remember what Rocky Balboa said?
“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Dr. Devashish also advises that if you have an idea, work on it for a year, as there are a lot of opportunities and you will only get to know about these when you have worked in the industry for long. So, if you give up within two months, you will lose out on the opportunity to actually study the market.
Once you know the industry, you will know what the low hanging fruits are and what gaps you can fill.
#9 Be Optimistic and Always Think Positively
Dr. Devashish shared his personal story on how being optimistic and positive helped him achieve great heights:
I used to be a very calm and quiet person and working in a startup was a very anxious experience for me at the beginning, when things were not going so well. I then realized that my expectations are not going to be met. I changed from medicine to informatics to health consulting and finally to primary care. But, I have always had the thought that I should quit if it’s not going well and should do something else. So, I always have to instruct myself and say, ‘No, I have to commit to this. Maybe things are going bad, but it’s not the worst and there is still potential and if a tweak is made, then we can make it work.
So, you have to be optimistic and always think positively, no matter what you are going through.
My personal definition is that if I did not try, it means I failed. And, if I tried and it still did not work, I still learned a lot of things and I will not consider that a failure because I have learned so much from the experience.
I think that learning is one of the greatest things in life. We need to keep learning; keep going as human beings and as professionals. Also, it does not work to compare ourselves with others. If you can define your own terms of success, then you can reach for those goals.
Well, that is it. I was done with the interview, but these nine tips will always help me in my life and business ventures and I am sure they will help you too.
But, I would like to close off with what Dr. Devashish said at the end:
Running a startup is an emotional rollercoaster. You may try to disassociate yourself and you might have a buffer, but the daily successes and the daily good things and bad things that are happening in your business will happen to you too. There is no getting around it. We are so passionate about our ideas that it almost becomes a definition of ourselves. If the idea is getting replicated, being liked, and getting a lot of recognition, including financially, it’s a validation of ourselves. On the contrary, if things are not going so well, you start asking, ‘where am I going wrong?
I hope that you have learned some valuable lessons from this interview. Which lesson is your favorite?
Also, are you an aspiring or established entrepreneur?
Is there any specific topic or problem that you want help with? Please feel free to share these by leaving your comments below.