“You can’t make a living in Egypt selling pharmaceuticals online.” Ahmed Shabana still recalls what was said to him when he pitched his idea. He remembered those same words as he signed his deal with Vodafone Ventures to fund his start-up, agzakhana.com: “These were the words of the CEO of the biggest chain of pharmacies in Egypt,” he said.
As the name implies to Arabic speakers, Agzakhana is an online pharmacy that offers a wide selection of products typically found in high-end drug stores, but promises to make the experience much more convenient.
“The point is to have pharmacies be immediately accessible; anyone with internet access can use agzakhana.com. Having access to our service through mobile phones, for example, means that the medical content and relevant information is always available without access to the pamphlet that comes with medicine.”
Shabana says this can have major implications on people who live in rural areas: “If an unqualified pharmacist gives you something you do not know or the wrong kind of medicine, you can always refer back to the website.”
Founded in 2006 and launched in 2008, Agzakhana came to life after Shabana finished his BSc in Pharmacy. “I started the project when Facebook was not available to everyone and the only eCommerce website in the Middle East was otlob.com. I was working multiple sales rep jobs to support my idea and saving up to keep it afloat,” he said. He added that the two-year gap between founding the project and officially launching it is due to building agzakhana.com’s extensive database of products and medicine and providing accurate medical information.
Shabana says Agzakhana has a lot to offer, which will convince customers to forgo conventional pharmacies for this service: “Agzakhana is convenient; for one thing, you are avoiding traffic. You can search and scan products as well as locate the nearest pharmacy that has a product we do not have. You also avoid false medical information when consulting pharmacists because Agzakhana.com has accurately revised medical information categorised by use.”
Shabana has ambitious social goals for his company: “We want to create access to Arabic medical content and improve the health of millions of Egyptians through mobile reach. We also aim to limit misdiagnosis and the medical malpractice of primary care physicians in rural Egypt.”
His business goals have equal foresight: “We want to reach annual sales of EGP 500m in five years through a conservative plan of EGP 2m a day, which is the average revenue a pharmacy chain of 30 stores makes a day.”
Agzakhana’s future includes plans to expand regionally to the Gulf; Shabana says the startup has seen a steadily growing user database and has recently enhanced its accessibility through installing a hotline for those who do not have internet. For now, it is one of the most convenient places to turn to, owing to its substantial selection of products and its comprehensive medical information.