We meet in an old-fashioned café in the centre of Zagreb, where smartphones or even laptops belong to another world. In Mala Kavana, older Zagrebians meet to chat over a coffee, they gossip, talk about politics and maybe their hip problems. One wouldn’t expect Josipa Majic and Ana Burica, both 23 years old and the founders of IDerma, a developer and provider of mobile applications for the health sector, hanging out there. But since they don’t have an office, nor have they registered their company yet, a central place in the Croatian capital seems more suitable to meet than a clinic. In their appearance, the two students stand out: They act like professional businesswomen who are ready to tear down all obstacles, and who know what they want. Their startup IDerma is highly recommended and awarded. The duo is still astonished by that fact, because only one year ago, none of this seemed possible.
Talk to your doctor about it
Josipa is the well for ideas of the startup, Ana is the data analyst, and both are developers and communicators. “It all started after Josipa attended a startup camp. She called me and said: Let’s start a company,” Ana recalls. “Because of our personal experiences we decided that our project should be about dermatology and health in general, an area we both wanted to work in.”
IDerma provides patients with access to their documents and health charts, gives them the possibility to stay in touch with the doctors via app and email, and includes a timetable and therapy plan over a mobile phone. Also, the app can be a communication tool, where patients can exchangeexperiences, like in a virtual waiting room. This personalised access is an asset to every clinic, finds Josipa, emphasising the importance of data mining: “The analysis of the requests and the whole communication is the basis for decision-making for a clinic or a doctor, about the staff, the medication, the offers of the clinic and everything else.”
Josipa started her own research on dermatology and skin conditions already in grammar school, and she chose the topic for her graduate thesis. “The majority of illnesses are of psychosomatic origin, so the therapy itself won’t solve the illness. What solves the problem is communication with the doctor,” she says, explaining her motivation to create a tool that helps doctors and patients stay in contact better. “A survey shows that 40 percent of mistakes are made because the communication between doctors and patients, and doctors and staff fails.” Also, dermatology and skin didn’t seem as a sensitive legal matter like other health issues. And, among others, “dermatology has one of the highest margins in the private sector, so it is highly profitable. It doesn’t suffer from the crisis,” Josipa explains the business idea.
Josipa and Ana met when they started studying at the University of Economics in Zagreb. They teamed up immediately, “but we are totally different”, says Ana and laughs. “Josipa is the creative head, I am more the technician.”
Photo credit: IDermaDon’t forget your alma mater
While the duo was convinced by IDerma from the beginning, not everyone was supportive of their idea; in Josipa’s case, not even her parents. “My parents think more traditionally, also profession-wise. They absolutely don’t get what ‘the little one’ is doing. They were against the project in the beginning, which was a real problem, because it made it hard for me,” she recalls. But after the project got going and was recognised by the World Bank and the European Commission, to Josipa’s relief, her parents “accepted it a bit, although they don’t understand it really. They still think that it is not so clever thing to do.” Ana was luckier: Her parents are both engineers, her mother is a software developer and works for a pharmaceutical company.
But one of the biggest supporters of IDerma was the duo’s university faculty. “This is not as surprising as one would think,” Josipa says. “It is said that only drop-outs make good startups. Butour experience is that university networks have great potential.”
“Transfer of knowledge happens in universities,” Ana says. As the two seem to have the tendency to add to each other’s sentences, Josipa continues: “There is the trend in the world for academic startups. At universities you have years of experience and the right people. And per definition this is a place where new ideas are born.” With the two, it’s not just talk – they act: Ana and Josipa developed an app for students to connect in order to pursue their idea and make academic startups more popular.
Starting their own enterprise, not everything went as smoothly as it seems, now that they have a neatly made website, a good product and more than 20 clinics worldwide using their applications, from India to the USA. Starting with the resistance of Josipa’s parents, the obstacles included finding somebody who could support the team technically. Soon after, however, they figured that a good programmer was difficult to attract.
“At the beginning, we had a rather naïve approach,” says Josipa. “We thought it would be an easy thing to contact a programmer, like: ‘Thank God, there are enough of them who are just waiting for an opportunity’. On the contrary: Shortly after we started developing the idea, we found ourselves facing a wall,” Josipa remembers the difficult times, when they were having an idea but, because of the lack of programming skills, no product. At the same time, their clients were already waiting for one. “In the end, we did everything ourselves.” This took them three months.
Ana explains: “We both are economists, but after we decided to go from clinic to clinic and offer our product, we put on paper what is needed for a mobile application.” If you had asked them to put their own app in the Apple Store at that time, that would have been close to unthinkable. “But then we looked into it and learned how to do it on Android and Apple,” she continues. “We don’t programme software, but we personalise our suggestions for our clients.”
The WWW was on their side. “Everything what we needed to develop the app is online, so we figured that there was no need to be desperate,” says Josipa. “It was a genius thing to learn all that from scratch. Looking back, we wouldn’t have liked to rely on a programmer for the entire project development anyway, as they would neither know our aim nor the needs of a client.” All this eventually resulted in a better understanding of their project – “from learning code to creating the website and the apps.”
What’s more, Josipa now understands the point of view of their clients well: “In the health sector time and speed is of outmost importance. When you cannot answer immediately, there is no need to answer at all.” In order to stay on top of it, you have to be able to adapt to your patients’ needs, she adds. “And that’s why it works with us, we are flexible.”
Photo credit: IDermaSuccess in a small range
When Ana speaks about the definition of success, she stays modest: “What fascinates us nearly every day is what we have achieved in three months…If we continue with ten percent of this energy, it is going to work.” For Josipa, success has a similar meaning: “We see success in a small range. A clinic in India for knee operations that uses our app and with the help of which patients all over India can do their training is a success.”
Until now, Josipa and Ana could not measure the success of IDerma in high profit. “We are doing our best knowing that not the amount of investment is important here,” saysJosipa. “The applications are our first cash flow, but it is not enough to pay the costs.” Currently, the duo is working to improve their newest product Teddy the Guardian, a health monitor for children and their parents, built in a soft toy. (Read more about it here).
As of right now, “it is time to start IDerma as an own enterprise,” Ana names the next goal.
The biggest marketing tool for the young Croatian enterprise is their clients and their patients, and word-of-mouth recommendation. And who knows, perhaps this traditional way of advertising just happened a few tables away, in this old-fashioned café in the centre of Zagreb.