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Going all the way with KAPSULE

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

It's been nearly 2 years since myself, David Chen and Hannan Hashmi  recorded a podcast together.  So much has changed since S1 Ep 2.  Whilst we were not able to be in the same room to record this time, we were fortunate to connect via Zoom. We talk about take the big plunge into entrepreneurship, the exciting journey of Kapsule and how they both ended up in Nigeria. In addition to the amazing connections they were able to maintain from MSDUK innovative.  The Mission statement that Kapsule continues to strive for is to provide  Affordable, authentic, and accessible medicines in Africa. Enjoy the interview.

Steven Adegboye: Hey everybody, welcome to the Colchour Shock Podcast. My name is Steven Adegboye. And again, this is a special edition, because we're doing this by zoom and we're still kind of quarantining because of lockdown. But I have two special guests that you probably heard before in the previous podcast. So, I’m going to let them introduce themselves to you guys.

David Chen: Yeah, I’ll kick off I’m David Chen. Co-founder and co-CEO to Kapsule.

Hannan Hashmi: I’m Hannan Hashmi also co-founder and co-CEO of Kapsule.

Steven Adegboye: Awesome. So, the last time like we mentioned, we met almost two years ago so this is like way back in 2018 and I’m sure there's a lot of changes that happen. So, tell me how things are with you guys with Kapsule?

David Chen: Yeah, I’d say it's been a lot of growth and a lot of learning. If I was to summarize it in one sentence, I’d say the biggest thing for us has just been really refining our processes and becoming better leaders becoming better business people and just trying to learn as quickly as possible and apply those learnings on a day-to-day basis. So yeah, we've gone through a lot of personal changes in our lives and of course business changes and now we've COVID, the world changes. I think the theme would just be learning and adapting refining, over the last few years.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah, obviously two years is enough growth, but then the last six months or so it's just been a complete whirlwind of changes and stuff. So, how have you guys adapted with running a business doing this time?

David Chen: All right for us and I Hannan feel free to jump in any point, but for me it's turned out to be a kind of blessing in disguise. Where all of the stars seem to line up for us quite conveniently. It's odd to talk about COVID being a blessing in disguise with all of the things that have happened. But I think it allowed us to take the principles that had learned that we'd learn, apply them on a day-to-day basis and then really refine how we work together and how we manage our time a lot more efficiently.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah.

David Chen: And I guess the biggest change because we mentioned it quite a bit and the last one was working full-time jobs as well as working on Kapsule. Which was a huge challenge and the plan being from March this year this year was to work on it full-time. Then we had a strange situation where I resigned from my job, I had a long-noticed period to serve, so I was serving that for a few months. You know my former boss he told me, ‘Okay, well coronavirus has just launched and your actual end date is in a couple weeks. But we can finish it early if you like.’ I was like, ‘Yep sure, I’ll take that offer.’ And then the whole country shut down and then Hannan is also like, ‘Oh, David I’m also free’.

So, in a weird turn of events in the universe so we both ended up free on the same day to start working on almost full time. So, I think that's the major change.

Steven Adegboye: It's crazy how the world works. I mean I know there's a lot of negative that has come from the situation but again with timing. It's not really up to you and then it thing do align you have to roll with it and make the best of the situation. I think it just shows that you're prepared for that moment, I believe.

David Chen: Yeah definitely. We've said it many times where it's a once in a generation, it's not a once in many generation events and it happened on the day that was convenient for us. We said it could have happened at any time six months before six months after a year from now a year before. But it just happened when we were at the kind of critical moment in what we were doing so. I’m not a religious person, but I do think that there's some things that you can't explain happening and that certainly felt like one of the universe or a higher power, whatever they call it. I’m just like okay that is a bit too convenient. I guess over the last few weeks Hannan and I just been finding a system. Where we can not only have productive work time while working remotely, but also just use this time to become more holistic people and take care of our lives on a broader sense. So, whether that's the fitness or artistic things or just trying hand at something new. We have the unique ability to do that in sort of this weird summer holiday situation that coronavirus has kind of ended up being.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah, feels like the longest summer holiday that I’ve ever been in. I remember myself being 10 years old and thinking it’s great to be outside. But in a way I kind of miss going to school. But at some point, towards the tail I ended up thinking, I’m ready for that moment [to get back to school]. It's good to use that time to sort of reflect and kind of regroup. You have the time to pick up some new skills because from a creative standpoint, it kind of helps with your mental and your emotional wellbeing. It also gives you the time to regroup and find better avenues in the work that you do.

So, I thought I just ask you Hannah, how is the transition in terms of where you were previously to going full time as well?

Hannan Hashmi: I’m just kind of in shock that it's been two years already. I was just looking at the date when we last did our first edition of this podcast and it was July 2018. I’m just thinking, has it really been two years.

Steven Adegboye: I know.

Hannan Hashmi: Yeah. So, I guess for us or my kind of perspective when it comes to structuring how we work is very much in the next step. So, what can we do as a very next step to push things forward? So, I’m always focused on that and it's only in these rare situations where I look back and I’m just thinking, ‘Wow, we've traveled quite a long way to get here.’ So yeah, the transition has been fairly seamless to working full-time. I think we planned a lot for it, we sort of tried to come up with how the ideal versions of ourselves would work when it came to having investments. So, what we would structure our day, week and month like.

So, having those thought exercises came in really handy when suddenly we were just given three months of runway without even needing to get the investment. So, yeah as David was saying it just sort of worked out that the preparation met opportunity.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah absolutely. You know just kind of hearing about your story, I mean definitely touch ground on that in the first podcast. But just says in the introduction, what is Kapsule and what's this overall objective?

Hannan Hashmi: We're still guided by the same the same mission, which is three A's. So, affordable, accessible and authentic medicines. And the how has sort of changed or has become a bit more specific in the last few months. As we have spoken to more clients more investors and just learnt more about ourselves and about the problem. So yeah, I guess the way that we describe it now is that we're facilitating the sales of medicines going into sub-Saharan Africa by digitizing the supply chain.

I think that's more of a complete way to look at what we're doing. Yes, the problem is that there's a huge lack of visibility when it comes to medicines moving in certain regions in the world. So, the manufacturer will sell them to a national wholesaler. But then beyond that point, you don't know what's happening. You don't know if dome of being sold on a black market, you don't know if counterfeits are entering the supply chain what not. So, I think that this opacity is just where the problems arise.

So, it's just kind of bringing light to that darkness in some way that we think is the way to tackle this. But then on the business side, having access to that or providing access to that data that these manufacturers these wholesalers the pharmacies and patients they start here wouldn't have had access to before can unlock so much value. Value in terms of the simple human level of people being able to access medicines. It will save lives but it will also create jobs just adding this extra layer of security will help pharmacies grow more sustainably.

For instance, we've spoken to pharmacies based out in sub-Saharan Africa and there are often stock-outs of certain medicine types. But then so the supply diminishes but the demand rises.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah.

Hannan Hashmi: So, we've had that with situation with the current situation. So, the moment Donald Trump said something about hydroxychloroquine, you'd get a surge in demand for that. But then there are more evidence-based surges that correspond to demand. But yeah, just having access to all of that data making it visible would just unlock tremendous amounts of value.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah, I mean it's amazing work that you guys are doing. I think when I look back if with all the episodes, I’ve done I know that this is a cause I firmly believe in. Not only just because of my heritage being Nigerian but also because of the human aspect of making sure people are staying safe with the medicines that they are taking. Because of the pandemic, there's a lot of noise in regard to what the vaccine might be. But again, that's a such a big problem area to be solved. Even if we get that vaccine in whatever time frame that might be there's always that issue that you mentioned regarding the counterfeit market.

If people are desperate to have that medicine, it could cause a lot of damage as well. So, I just kind of wanted to talk about the ecosystem in Africa as a whole. Because from my knowledge COVID 19 hasn’t done so much damage in [Africa] comparison to what's happened in Europe and united states. Do you think that's something to do with the preparation or do you think that's something to do with how they so operate in terms of looking after each other? I don't know if you have any thoughts in that area.

David Chen: I can give a quick thought from me just, and again I am a bit of a spectator as well and the only access I have is by the news outlets and so on. But it seems to be the resource management within Sub-Saharan Africa has been very impressive and the planning and responses have been very effective. Because I think the phrase is necessity is the mother of invention or more similar.

I think in the health systems of those countries, they know that there's something coming they already have these restrained environments. They think okay what is the most impactful thing that we can do in a short space of time and on a limited budget. I think that's what's been very impressive that they've been able to think okay, let's just do the high levels tasks as soon as possible and that should contain the damage. The rhetoric has been quite interesting to watch from more the European outlets where it's more of a sense of disbelief that it could be managed that well in African countries.

Which I think it just stands to as evidence of sort of the historical perspectives of Africa or the African continent. That you know there must be some other reason why things were managed, all things have been less apparent in Africa or managed better in Africa. It can't be that it was just good policy done in a timely manner and done in a very organised way. For me what I find and this is just sort of my personal way of sense checking my own biases or opinions, is just looking at economies which are of similar size or and similar environmental or similar weather conditions.

For example Brazil's had a horrible management of coronavirus. So, you have two almost identical climates almost identical economies and infrastructure gaps. Then one region manages it very effectively and another one seems to be in chaos. So, that's my way of making sure that oh I’m not pulling my biases into how I’m analysing what I’m saying. I’ve just been generally very impressed by the response.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah absolutely. I think I was looking at a few news outlets and to hear African leaders speak about the situation and medical officials from those continents talking about [there experience with the pandemic] it in a way where they're educating people from the western world. It was interesting to see that type transition happen. Where a lot of the knowledge that exists in Africa can benefit the rest of the world as well. The fact that this knowledge transfer that you guys have can definitely help aid them in much more bigger areas as well. So, that's very impressive.

I wanted to touch on one thing, because I know we haven't done a big catch up in a while. But I remember in one of your Snaps or I think it was your Instagram post that you both went to Nigeria at some point. How was that experience?

Hannan Hashmi: Yeah, it was amazing. I think it was one of the most mission affirming moments. Which took the shape in a sales discussion with a large pharmaceutical. It wasn't really planned, we literally picked up the phone and got in touch with somebody just [moments] after we landed in Lagos more or less the next day. We just explained what we were doing, and he was really was interested and wanted to speak with us more or less right away. We set up a meeting in their office the next day. We went in and just had what we felt like a hero's welcome and just not needing to explain the problem just getting a feeling of understanding was great.

But I guess looking back it's fairly obvious that we would have a reaction like that. Considering the majority of who we were speaking with beforehand we'd have to kind of explain the whole premise of not only where Nigeria is on a map, but then going to where the actual deficits lie and how then Kapsule tie into resolving those. So yeah, it was a great experience that one meeting. But yeah, the highlights were the food obviously. The food is incredible. The people were really welcoming. I think the streets being as chaotic as they were was something that we had to acclimate to, but we quickly did which is surprising. But yeah, I really enjoyed it.

David Chen: Yeah, an antidote from our first night. We landed we it took a while for us to find out where our hotel was and then we get into the hotel and we ordered a twin room. But they just had one bed, and we just had to explain to the receptionist and so on. So, we had to share a bed and we were just like we're tired, it's hot, let's just go out and get some food and walk outside the hotel. Then we just heard noise in the darkness because there was no lighting on the street.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah.

David Chen: There was about 30 40 people kind of out and about in this dark street. So, we were just like okay, then I was like oh well let's go to the main high street because streetlights were there. So, we're walking there and then Hannan was like, ‘David, shall we go back?’ And I was like, ‘Haha, let's carry on going forwards.’ Then we just ended up like going around the area and I think we almost got run over by a motorcycle driving on the pavement and yeah.

Steven Adegboye: I’m trying to sound surprising, but I’m not.

David Chen: Yeah and it was just like I remember we ventured out for about a ten-minute walk and then we were like, okay now let's go back. I think we need to kind of get used to a small little area, become familiar with what's there and then slowly expand. Then when we got back to the hotel, I was talking to Hannan and he was like, ‘Oh, David I was serious when we said let's go back.’ It was just kind of the baptism through fire. But I think once we got used to that, we just kept on pushing the level of discomfort more and more and just going to more areas and places.

I think, most lively place was on Ikoyi the Island. We went to the mainland Yabba like on the second week I think it was and yeah that was like the definition of buzzing and busy. Then by the time we left for me at least I remember feeling man I could see myself living in this chaos. I could see myself around, it's just so much happening. It's like yeah from the traffic to the food to people trying to sell things on the side of the street. Beeping and having to keep your wits about you, because there could be someone driving on the pavement. It's just like everything, it just felt so lively.

Steven Adegboye: I mean when I tell people what Nigeria is about…by the way Abuja which is the capital of Nigeria is a bit more structured because of its infrastructure. But in Lagos everyone's busy. I remember when I came back from my trip from Lagos to the UK, I recognised the work ethic that Nigerians have. I don't think that work ethic glamorised here in the UK. Did you take any lessons coming out and the experience that makes you feel motivated to push forward, or any other takeaways in general?

David Chen: I’d say for me in terms of the lesson I’ll take, I’d say it was when we were driving around the different areas it made it a lot more real for us. When we talk about the infrastructure gaps and technology gaps and even how the opacity creates opportunities for things to go on kind of behind closed doors that no one could see. Seeing that level of chaos and also the people and everything there just was for me it was like; okay this is a real problem affecting real lives with people every day. Living in London and working in London kind of distances you from that human impact.

For me, now I think back to when I was looking at individual people looking at the infrastructure and thinking okay this is what we're doing here.

Hannan Hashmi: Yeah it definitely made me feel really privileged. I just read something earlier today that I thought was quite a good definition of privilege. Whereas it's an issue that you can forget about because it doesn't directly affect you, which I thought was quite interesting (that's not me, that's borrowed from someone). But yeah, I definitely felt privileged but also felt similarly connected on a more emotional level as to the nature of the problem and the impact that helping solves it would create. I think it’s definitely a big part of the puzzle when you're working for yourself and also looking to find meaning in what you're doing. There can be like an intellectual and theoretical understanding of your why. But I think the emotional anchoring of going into the field and seeing where your work will have impact would also be essential.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah absolutely. Again, you were able to go there and see it for yourselves and feel that. It can make what you do more valuable in terms of why you are doing it. I've been stalking you guys for a little bit. But did you enter a competition or are you both part of an initiative in terms of an ethnic minority entrepreneurship scheme?

Hannan Hashmi: Yeah, so that was a scheme for a conference that promotes suppliers or businesses that are run by ethnic minority founders. So, this particular organisation is called MSD UK. So, yeah that was a really good experience. We worked and so in preparation for it we had to fill out a huge form and do some pitch practice some other workshops. We did a session with David McQueen actually; who I think you've interviewed. Yeah, great guy who knows what he's talking about. I think we took a lot of learnings from our session with him on how to present ourselves.

I think it was the biggest presentation that we've done together as part of Kapsule in terms of the amount of people in the audience. I think there were maybe 100 or 200 people there. So yeah, it was a great day. We met loads of potential clients there. We were also able to just be on this journey with our contemporaries who are the other startups that had gone through the same sort of program as us. So, it felt in many ways like a weird kind of graduation, like giving a valid Victorian speech that kind of thing. So, yeah it was I thought it was a really good experience.

Yeah, off the back of that we were invited to go to um to go to a further conference and sit on a panel with solely funds global pharmaceutical companies and talk about just what we're doing and the effect of you know substandard and falsified medicines globally. So, that was that was really good. David do you want to add?

David Chen: I'd say, you did a great summary for that. For me, it was the opportunity for us to pitch together for the first time. So, we were kind of the only team that pitched as a duo and we never actually did it publicly before. But I remember when we finished, it went absolutely perfectly. We had a five-minute timer and when we finished saying thank you for listening, that is exactly when the timer went off.

Wow, we just nailed it to the second we did the and I just remember looking across at Hannan. Then when we went to sit down after the pitch and said, would you give that 10 out of 10. He is like, 10 out of 10.’ Now normally I’m the optimistic one where I overestimate the performance that we have. Hannan is the one that kind of leveled my enthusiasm. But when I heard 10 out of 10 from him, I was like yeah, I knew it, we couldn't have done any better. That was a kind of main feeling of the first day. And on the second day when we were speaking at the panel I remember sitting alongside these executives.

One of the things that spoke that kind of stayed with me afterwards was when they came up to me off the talk and they were like; you know what you're doing is very inspirational for me and for my career and so on. These are very senior execs very big companies very accomplished in their own right. It was very humbling to know that even people who are very capable and clearly very capable, they are slightly envious or slightly in all by people who have the ability to not only see the gap in the market that they feel uniquely capable of solving, but to back themselves and to better themselves and to go for it. For me, it was just more like just more energy it gave me to be like we not only trust ourselves but we trust each other. And what we're doing well enough to kind of go all the way, which for those people who remember the first podcast that's our motto and to be honest that's how I want people to remember us. If they are to think about us in any way is just to say, these guys are capsule they're going all the way. They'll learn whatever they need to learn, they'll do whatever they need to do. They'll take however long it needs to take but they're going to fix this problem.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah absolutely. Is it about you getting a seat the table or is it about you to creating your own table and doing something that no one else has ever done before?

David Chen: I think Hannan you have the best phrase first you said it the other day, the game one. I'll let you say it.

Hannan Hashmi: Yeah, so well David and I went off on a tangent as we often do. We're talking about simulation theory and how if what we're doing with Kapsule were to be part of a simulation. I think it would probably be the best game I personally have ever played. Then I said that to David and he was like, ‘You know yeah I completely agree. This is pretty much the best game I’ve ever played.’ Just getting to do that day in day out and for it to be of service to others is just fantastic. So yeah, I think that's the way we look at it NOW.

Steven Adegboye: It's amazing too. So, I feel like you know in two years, there's the growth. And not just the way you guys look now but in terms of just the progression of your journey, it's really beautiful. And to be in the sidelines watching you guys grow is it's been you know a pleasure. It's weird how the world connects in terms of you know how we meet each other and stuff. But I feel this story is developing and I feel like this is still you know very early stages. But I know you guys are going to be much bigger in the future and I feel like I’m always here to support you guys with me.

David Chen: Likewise, and I’d say for me, I said this to Hannan before we came on, how would we want this podcast to go really and what message would we really want to leave. For me, it's more that it's a journey and a process that you need to love. This doesn't feel like work to Hannan's point it's like a game. A game of self-improvement, a game of self-development of challenge or problem solving and not failure. But you take each one of those and you just say oh I’m going to come back again and I’m going to come back and I’m going to learn and we keep going again.

I think for us the real privilege I feel now is like Hannan said is to be able to do that every day and I haven't questioned what I’m doing in life or how I’m spending my time at all. I feel every day a sense of purpose and focus which I think as a human being that's the highest calling that anyone could have for themselves to just like what I’m doing every day every day is what I’m meant to do. I'd say yeah, it's taking the time and allowing yourself the space and room to grow and to have the wins and losses, to learn what that thing is and then to just enjoy it but as you go through it.

Steven Adegboye: Yeah, I couldn't top those words with anything else. I think that's a beautiful way to end the podcast. I think finding your purpose is probably the best thing any person should find in this world. The fact that you two have found that and continue to live by that truth, it's amazing. So, I do appreciate you guys taking your time, your busy schedules as well be in the podcast. I’m making sure we're not gonna have another two-year lapse for sure.

David Chen: That's for sure. I can't wait for a few more exciting updates, but I have a tendency to talk too soon…

Hannan Hashmi: Take care, all the way.

Steven Adegboye: All the way.

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