Healthtech Alumni Spotlight with Andrew Garza CEO, of Lifestores Healthcare

Could you please share a brief overview of your journey in the health tech industry and what inspired you to pursue this path?

Growing up, I wanted to have an impact. I had the opportunity during high school, university, and my early career to lead projects in early education, affordable housing, and microfinance in Ghana, Mexico, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, and Bosnia.

My journey in healthtech started a decade ago as a management consultant working in South Africa and Nigeria. I had been living with Type 1 Diabetes for 5 years when I completed my first project in the healthcare space, advising an insurance company. While I had personal experience managing diabetes, it was only at that point that the unique challenges of the healthcare industry jumped out to me; there are more stakeholders than most other sectors – such as regulators, pharma & device manufacturers, distributors, insurers, and healthcare providers – and all of their incentives need to align in order for the patient to benefit. This complexity often leads to suboptimal care for patients and I was motivated from an impact, commercial, and intellectual perspective to understand the situation better.

Soon afterward, I became a leadership team member at one of the largest pharmaceutical importers & manufacturers in Nigeria; it was during this experience that I met my fellow co-founders of Lifestores, Bryan Mezue, and Pharm. Ken Ahaotu and I were motivated to find ways to use technology to democratize access to primary healthcare in Nigeria & other markets.  

We initially started Lifestores with the intent of building a tech-first chain of mass-market pharmacies & digital B2C offerings. In 2020, after seeing some challenges with the scalability of a B2C-only model, we pivoted to a B2B approach, in which we used technology to address the large challenges healthcare providers face around procuring genuine medications at a reasonable price, accessing financing, and improving their revenue. We think of our platform as a digital sidekick to healthcare providers, enabling them to focus on treating patients while our technology manages critical backend & commercial tasks on their behalf.

What are the major impacts your organization has made, please include the success numbers.

On a monthly basis, our platform supports over 100,000 patients directly & indirectly.

We support over 1,300 registered healthcare providers on our procurement platform, including ~15% of pharmacies in Nigeria.

Our procurement platform saves healthcare providers an average of 10-20% when buying prescription medicines, over-the-counter (OTC) products, and consumables.

Our monthly revenue grew by 4x during the course of 2023, indicating the pent-up demand from healthcare providers for better ways to buy genuine medicines & finance their businesses.

What excites you most about the future of your organization and its potential impact in the next decade?

We recognize that healthcare providers are the heroes of healthcare, doing important front-line work with patients every day and often below the radar. Many of my teammates are pharmacists & doctors themselves, so it really motivates us to see our technology amplify our customersโ€™ patient impact by ensuring that their medications are genuine; theyโ€™re able to access financing as needed to grow their practices; and theyโ€™re able to use the tools we offer to boost their financial sustainability.

Weโ€™ve seen the impressive power of the marketplace business model to give small healthcare providers (which make up >90% of the market in Nigeria) similar access to guaranteed genuine medications & purchasing power relative to what the large pharmacy & hospital chains enjoy. Weโ€™re currently serving <1% of the addressable market in Nigeria alone, so thereโ€™s tremendous room to scale up, helping more healthcare providers & patients!

We live in an age with an incredible pace of technology development. Iโ€™m particularly excited about how we can use machine learning to support patients directly and to transform how healthcare providers purchase medicine, access credit, and provide new value offerings to patients. Watch this space!

If weโ€™re wildly successful, we will help to close the ~20-year gap between lifespans in Africa and OECD countries โ€“ this is the impact that weโ€™re ultimately driving towards.

Which of the CHUB’s programs have you been involved in and how has CCHUB supported your growth?

We participated in an investor pitch session that CcHub organized several years ago, which gave us a valuable opportunity to connect with new investors. In addition, we interacted with CcHub as it helped to administer the investing for innovation (i3) program; CcHub gave us helpful advice on fundraising and connected us with potential customers. 

 What are some of the key challenges you’ve faced as a health tech entrepreneur, and how did you overcome them?

The uncertainty & fear in the early days of COVID stands out for me. None of us knew the precise nature of the virus or the extent of its deadliness. In this context, the team members in our pharmacies โ€“ and those of our partners/customers โ€“ displayed courage & dedication in remaining open so that they could continue to treat patients. We also partnered with a COVID center in Lagos to make sure that they were well-stocked with the right medicine to help their patients.

During and after COVID, global pharmaceutical supply chain disruptions led to the lack of availability of key medicines. We were proud that our team & tech platform was able to help pharmacies & hospitals access the medicines their patients needed during this difficult time.  

Weโ€™ve also dealt with our fair share of the classic start-up challenges around new product launches, company growth, and fundraising; fortunately, we have one of the top teams in our space and weโ€™ve been able to work together to tackle the various obstacles that have arisen.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in the health tech space?

  • Focus on a large, growing, and fragmented market with acute pain points. A start-up truism is that you can afford to make mistakes if you focus on a large, attractive market, while even if you operate brilliantly in a space with a small market size, itโ€™s tough to succeed.
  • Get to know your customers well and make sure that youโ€™re building features that truly address their needs; your customers will teach you a lot of what you need to know if you ask them the right questions.
  • Spend a lot of your time on recruiting the right team. You want to look for people who are motivated by the same mission & values as your company, so that youโ€™re providing them an opportunity to do what they feel theyโ€™re meant to do with their lives, as opposed to just working a 9-to-5 job.
  • Develop leadership skills before starting your company and gain at least basic exposure to coding, product development, sales, marketing, finance, people operations, and project management. You can & will learn a lot on the job, but a solid foundation is valuable.
  • Be careful with money, both personally and professionally. On the personal side, you ideally want to save enough before you quit your day job so that you can live without too much pressure even if you donโ€™t receive a paycheck for a couple of years. On the professional side, treat your investorsโ€™ money with great respect, both from a governance standpoint and also in terms of operating in a lean way, e.g. testing demand for new offerings cheaply before spending money to scale up.
  • Make sure to understand and follow the regulations & best practices about protecting patient data & any features that may impact patient health; the fact that weโ€™re supporting human health means that we canโ€™t just โ€œmove fast & break thingsโ€ without the right testing & controls in place.