Founders of Vibrantme.ng, an online marketplace that connects people to health and wellness professionals in real time, talk on the benefits of the platform to users and healthcare professionals. The platform is the brain child of three young Nigerians that include Chioma Ukariaku and Femi Daniels. The team shared their experience with IT Edge News, Oluwatobi Opusunju and Chinedu James in Lagos.
What is the driving force behind the launch of Vibrantme.ng?
Vibrantme.ng is actually the first online market place for health and wellness services in Nigeria. The idea behind the platform was to fill a gap we discovered was inherent in the Nigerian health sector. Filling the gap requires reaching out to health and wellness professionals; to create a place where you can get connected to them easily online; book appointments for health services in real time. We also observed that a lot of people have challenges finding professionals that actually deal with their health needs such as getting a physiotherapist, a dietician or a nutritionist. Our society still runs on the case of ‘someone who knows someone who knows someone’ − you keep asking until you finally find the expert you need. But we thought life shouldn’t be that difficult; if you can find an e-commerce site where you buy shoes and clothes without asking anyone, then why can’t we have something similar − a market place where you can get health and wellness services from licensed professionals without breaking a sweat. That’s the basis for Vibrantme.ng.
How do you plan to engender trust on your platform?
First of all, what we do at the point of signing up professionals on the platform is have some interviews with them to understand what they do and what field they play in. Also, part of the signing up requirements is that they give us a copy of their valid professional licenses, such that one can easily run some background checks on them to ascertain their validity. We also have some agreements in place with our professionals; we call it merchant service agreements. During the signing up process, we ensure they agree to the terms and conditions contained in the agreement before on-boarding. The agreement clearly states what is expected of them. While the customers themselves also have the terms and conditions that explain what is expected of them and what they are going to get. Basically, the agreement entails obligations for everybody who is involved in a transaction or a booking service.
“For Vibrantme.ng, we want to be part of that revolution that will drive the awareness of health and wellness in totality and that’s why we are doing this today.”
Again, we try to keep in touch with the professionals who offer services on our platform to understand what they are really into and monitor them as well. And also to give comfort to the person purchasing a service through vibrandme.ng. We carry out pre and post appointment discussions with the clients. For example, if your appointment is tomorrow, we typically call you a day ahead and tell you who the service provider for that appointment is. And then you can call and speak with the person to get used to them before the day of the appointment. At the end of the appointment, we also call you to find out what your experience was like with the service provider. This is for us to know if that service provider was good enough or match the requirements expected of him or her. When we have a service provider who doesn’t meet up to the standard we have put in place, we then issue out some kind of penalties for such professionals.
Also, there’s a review section for every professional on the platform. Because, apart from what the service providers put up in the ‘About me’ section on the platform that tells a bit about them, we rely heavily on reviews that other users who have enjoyed our services will provide. On the Review section, users can provide feedbacks and rate them about their services; and it’s available to everyone who goes to the website. We also have their social media handles and website links on the platform, so customers can easily check information about them and what they do.
However, we are still working on getting more streamlined process to doing all these checks. But most of the professionals we have today on the platform are trusted people we know are very good in their field.
How affordable are the services on your platform?
Since we are just starting out and the idea is a marketplace, we allow the sellers to set their own prices. We don’t want to influence that so much so it doesn’t affect the quality of services that they bring on the platform. What we also do is to encourage them (the professionals) to make their prices very close to what’s available out there as much as possible. With time we hope to be able to push for discounts on these services, at least by then the value of what they are doing would have been made clearer to the market.
How the payment is process and how secured is it?
We have made the payment process as simple as possible because we don’t actually want to make it feel like going to the hospital which is always characterized with queues and long processes. We really are trying to avoid that. So what we have done is create a situation where you book for an appointment online; you select a date and a time and see an amount that is due for the service you have selected and make the payment on the platform. So as you are going for your appointment, you wouldn’t need to worry about anything financially.
And also we have broken down our price structure in such a way that you know what you are paying for. For a first time appointment for example, you know that it covers your consultation and assessment. Everything is worked into the price so you know once you make the payment; you will just go and have your appointment without any financial glitch whatsoever. Same processes apply for follow up section too. In a case where they have to use some equipment or come for home service, the prices are also clearly itemized so users can understand.
“If you can find an e-commerce site where you buy shoes and clothes without asking anyone, then why can’t we have … a marketplace where you can get health and wellness services from licensed professionals.”
Meanwhile, when a client makes payment for a service, it doesn’t go to the professional immediately. It goes into an escrow account. So it’s only on the completion of that service which is determined within a 48hrs window that the professionals can get their money for services rendered. The time frame is for cases of complaints. For example a customer can come to complain that a professional didn’t show up or something of sort. So within the 48hrs, refunds can be made. But if no complaint comes in and the 48hrs window elapses, then we settle the professional. It’s all part of what we have in the agreement and in the terms and conditions.
To ensure security, our payment structure is built on trusted payment gateway platforms. At the moment, we have Remita. We are in talks with some other providers to integrate to the platform for card payment in order to make it very easy and also make users have different options to choose from whether through internet banking with Remita or card (Visa, MasterCard or Verve).
Having been in the FinTech (Financial Technology) industry for some years has actually helped a lot, because it gives the opportunity to also see things from the side of the user. So, what we have done is make the platform more user friendly from a UX and UI point of view. It is very easy to navigate and find all you want. For example, we have categorised the services, so if you are looking for everything about massage therapy you can easily find them and also select subcategories like Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage and the rest. Or if you are looking for a physiotherapy service for example, you can select the likes of orthopedic or neuro. But beyond that, there are also clear descriptions as to what the user will get with each service that is displayed on the platform. Users get to access information about health benefits of the service as well as other additional information that will help the user plan for the appointment.
How do you hope to manage risks or sustain clients on the platform?
We have taken out time to consider risks that might come up and part of that led us to do some researches. For example, we looked at the Airbnb structure because there is actually no one yet who does the same thing we do today; it’s still a very new area. So looking at what the Airbnb has done over the years to get to where they are today, do they have drop-offs? Yes they do! But a lot more still flow through their platform. So we picked some lessons from there and added that to what we already knew.
One major lesson for us is customer service. If we do not give top notch customer service, then we might as well close shop. So for us that is number one; we want to keep customers engaged and aware of what is going on. So you will typically find us calling them before their appointment to tell them or remind and even call them after the appointments and get their feedback. Things like discount offers, awareness and more are what we plan to do to impact the society, so it’s not just about us taking but about also giving out. In time, we will begin to have events where we raise that awareness and become known as a brand that pushes for the wellness of Nigerians.
On the side of the professionals, what we look at is if they are not comfortable with how the business runs or how the platform projects them. So, we plan to celebrate our professionals a lot because without them there is no us. We plan to talk about them a lot so people get to know what they do and give them opportunities to be part of the events we do just as a family. At the end, it’s a win-win for everybody and that’s what we are pushing for.
How do you intend making money from the platform?
The interesting thing is that signing up on the platform is totally free. Professionals also don’t need to pay any sign on fee. We have taken that out. We also give all our support free basically. However, how we intend making money is from the transactions, so we charge a commission per transaction that is processed on the platform. With that, we will be able to run marketing expenses because we are heavily relying on online marketing and would also be combining that with the traditional media. But a lot of online presence, so we will be able to drive the knowledge and awareness of health and wellness related issues online where you actually have a lot of people visiting.
“Our vision is actually Pan-African. We plan to start with Nigeria and go round Africa. It’s an online marketplace; adapting it for any country we may go into in the future would not be hard.”
How many Nigerian cities do you have presence now?
At the moment, we have launched in three cities in Nigeria: Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. But being an online platform, anybody can come on board and access it from anywhere. Our plan is to use these three cities to validate the idea to show that this is possible and it’s actually an existing gap that needs to be bridged. But we don’t intend to stay long focusing on just these three cities. We plan to roll out nationwide within the next three to six months.
Where do you see your brand in the nearest future?
Our vision is actually Pan-African. We plan to start with Nigeria and go round Africa. It’s an online marketplace; adapting it for any country we may go into in the future would not be hard and that was what actually informed the choice of name for the platform. We didn’t want to make it something that in the future will be restrictive or connote just one sector or just one area or geographical location. Everybody around the world wants a vibrant life. I mean that’s just the summary of being healthy. When you are healthy, you are vibrant and it shows in everything you do.
How rapid do you see Nigeria’s health sector’s narrative altering for good?
The way Nigeria is evolving, when you talk about internet or online services, it’s very much encouraging. For us, what we see in the nearest future is a time where Nigerians will not necessarily need to walk into a hospital before they get that medical aid they need; someone can come to them or it can actually be done via artificial intelligence.
Today for example, there are some messaging- payment solution providers; you are chatting and at the same time doing your transaction, and it’s so easy and you are satisfied. So there are certain things like quick information, consultations that you can actually get without stepping out of your house. For Vibrantme.ng, we want to be part of that revolution that will drive the awareness of health and wellness in totality and that’s why we are doing this today. Because we are confident that in the nearest future, wellness will become a sector to be reckoned with not just in Nigeria but all around the world.
What is your parting shot for young Nigerians out there?
I will say, believe in yourself. There is one thing I have come to understand and that is, ideas are not loyal. So a lot of time, God puts out ideas out there and many people may get it. But taking action to pursue the idea you have gotten is what will make the difference. So don’t just think up ideas, do something about them. You may not win, you may not get it right, you may fail, but that shouldn’t stop you; just keep moving as long as you believe in what you are doing. And yes, have a conviction that what you are doing is actually solving a need or a problem. I always look out for problems because they are good; they create opportunities to solve them.