Less than a year after launching in 2012 DrBridge, a cloudbased electronic health record, Amir Barsoum faced a sobering reality. Doctors would sign-up, but then quickly abandon DrBridge. Reason: They didn’t really have an incentive to integrate a digital patient record into their daily practice. “We needed to provide [doctors] with something they not only wanted, but they wanted to use,” says Barsoum, 34. While trying to salvage DrBridge, Barsoum hit pay dirt in 2013. He added a feature for patients, allowing them to schedule doctor appointments online for free. He called it Vezeeta.
Through word of mouth, people started using it. More important, Vezeeta offered doctors a way to generate revenue by adding more patients. Unlike an electronic health record, the benefits were immediately clear. “It was like the piece that was missing,” says Barsoum. The new addition was so popular that acquaintances would call up Barsoum, saying they’d heard rumors of a competitor that was better than DrBridge, called Vezeeta.
Barsoum dropped the name DrBridge, rebranding the startup in 2014. Currently, 2,500 doctors in 38 different specialties are available through Vezeeta in Cairo, Alexandria and the upper Nile delta. Patients know how much they’re going to pay, their estimated wait time at the doctor’s office, and they can rate the physician on a 5-star scale after their visit.
On average, Vezeeta books 30,000 appointments a month from a pool of nearly 70,000 available slots. Most patients are able to secure a visit within two days—no small feat, considering that few doctors use computers in Egypt. Most people now rely on word of mouth to find doctors, and unless it’s a family doctor, it can take longer than two days to schedule an appointment. “You don’t know who is good and who is bad,” says Barsoum.
Vezeeta is far from the first company to develop appointment- scheduling software. In the U.S., Zocdoc has been doing it since 2007. The startup wasn’t even the first in Egypt. Ekshef beat it to the punch in 2011, but it folded in 2015 after failing to gain traction. Another is Dubai’s Doctoruna, which has 2,000 doctors in the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt. Like Zocdoc, Vezeeta makes money by charging a monthly subscription fee—about $26 a month per doctor. Barsoum says he keeps the price low to attract physicians. (By comparison, Zocdoc charges doctors $250 per month.) Vezeeta also gives them the other option of paying a 35% fee for each new patient it delivers.
Vezeeta’s clients are mostly small clinics, with one or two doctors, but it is working to snare larger practices of 10 to 15 doctors, which is less expensive than going after individual physicians. In March, it is introducing its service to outpatient clinics affiliated with private hospitals.
Barsoum is wagering there will be demand for online appointment booking in the region. He’s expanding to the U.A.E., Lebanon and Jordan, financing the expansion with money from a recent $5 million series B round. Dubai’s Beco Capital, Sweden’s Vostok New Ventures, the Egyptian Technology Development Fund and Jordan’s Silicon Badia were all investors. To date, Vezeeta has raised $9 million. “There’s still a lot of opportunity for a business like Vezeeta to capitalize on,” says Alvaro Abella, managing partner at Beco Capital.
Barsoum knows the healthcare business well. Growing up in Egypt, he watched his father create a chain of pharmacies, and went on to earn a degree in pharmaceutical studies from Ain Shams University. After a brief stint in the army, he founded in the early 2000s a small distributor of cosmetics, which he later sold.
After earning an MBA from the American University in Cairo in 2008, Barsoum became a healthcare consultant at McKinsey & Co, travelling for two years around the Middle East and North Africa to advise clients in the public and private sectors. He left McKinsey for AstraZeneca in 2010, working in business development in the region, before being promoted to strategy manager. Because of a chronic bone condition, Barsoum had to frequently visit various specialists in Cairo.
He got frustrated repeating the same litany of symptoms each time he saw a different doctor. If physicians could share a patient’s electronic health record, he thought, it would make care more efficient. That’s when a friend, Ziad Mokhtar, who’s a partner at Cairo venture capital firm Ideavelopers, introduced Barsoum to Ahmed Badr, a software engineer. The two joined forces, and agreed that cloud technology would be the best solution for sharing patient records.
The Egyptian uprising in 2011 almost halted their plan. But, watching how protesters used social media changed their minds. “We decided you know what? The revolution is actually increasing technology adoption. Let’s start,” recalls Barsoum. He left AstraZenca in early 2012. Friends, family and coworkers were baffled, in particular his wife. In an unstable time, he had a good job at a good company. “She told me ‘I really encourage you, but you need to understand that this is absolute craziness,’” says Barsoum. He and Badr used personal savings to set up the company, and Ideavelopers invested $1.3 million.
This past December, Badr left Vezeeta to move to the U.S., but he remains on the board. Barsoum is moving fast. This month, he rolls out a new service where patients can schedule certain operations, such as Lasik surgery or root canal. They will get price quotes and information on clinics or hospitals that specialize in those procedures. In March, he launches a booking service for house calls. While it all sounds terrific, he needs to make sure he’s not ahead of the market.