Asia, Interviews

Maliha Kayani – Founder and CEO of Doctory

Meet Maliha Kayani, founder and CEO of Doctory, who is passionate about making high-quality healthcare accessible to everyone in South Asia and the MENA region. Working in health-tech for the past 5 years have shaped her vision of empowering women and the underserved to enjoy a better quality of health care services. Learn more about her journey as a founder and entrepreneur and the learnings she’s made in a very tough environment. 

What role does technology play in your everyday life?

My daily routine revolves around tech each day of the year. To be honest, it seems that tech will only continue to become more and more integral to our daily lives – almost like a family member or my personal assistant – as it evolves further.

Though I do like to take some days off with all the phones, laptops, social media, television turned off. In other words: I do believe in technology fasting. Instead of food one abstains from tech and enjoys the other pleasures and experiences life has to offer 🙂

Tell us a bit about your journey? How did you get to where you are now?

For me entrepreneurship wasn not a conscious decision that I took one day. I began with a challenge – which was trying to fix the problem of access to quality healthcare – and I thought it would be a six month project. But I realised early on that this project would last beyond my working life time and that I needed to work on a solution that would be structured and sustainable. This is how I formed a private limited company.

So my journey in tech started 5 years ago but I still feel that this is only the beginning. Every passing day, I get the opportunity to meet more people and hear their stories. Through this my passion towards my work reignites and I am more than ever ready to find more effective ways of providing access to quality healthcare for the underserved.

Yet, getting to where I am today, wasn’t an easy journey. I can best describe it in three words: persistence, perseverance and grit. I learned those three principles early on in my journey and still apply them on a regular basis.

Most importantly though, I am so grateful to wake up every morning and work towards moving healthcare towards people, especially the underserved, rather than people towards healthcare.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

The rockstar in my life is my mother – she has been my inspiration, my rock and my guiding stone throughout this rollercoaster journey that I have chosen for myself. Whenever I feel stuck, I power on based on the examples she has set for me and my three siblings.

What makes her a rockstar is that as a single parent, at every step of our upbringing she has held the fort high. No matter how tough the times were – and most of the times they were tough – I learned from her how to balance the highs and lows and that is something I rely upon whenever I face challenges in my own company.

What is the hardest lesson you have learned as a founder and woman in tech?

The hardest lesson I had to learn, was the importance of trusting in the integrity of our tech partners. I learned this the hard way when one of my tech vendors refused to hand over the code for the app, which he developed based on years of our market research.

This was an especially challenging time, because at that point we had received an initial angel investment for developing the technology to deliver on the vision that we had. I had been the one who chose the tech vendor we were supposed to work with and unfortunately it did not turn out the way we wanted it. The loss was not only financial but also personal, because I completely lost trust in myself and my decision-making.

During that time, while the team was recuperating from that loss, one thing that I realised in that moment, was that the lows were going to define the highs that were going to result out of this challenge.

It was then that I joined an online startup school programme, and used this opportunity to learn more about the problems that caused that issue, about what went wrong during the development process, what makes a product a great product and what tech knowledge did I lack throughout that time.

Once we were back up, we had enough information to execute our product and business better and to not make same mistakes again. Thus learning that somebody was able to take advantage of us, because of my lack of understanding of tech at that time, was a valuable experience and I made sure that that deficit did not exist anymore.

Of course, another important learning that I made through this experience, was to trust my gut at all times. I now feel that an entrepreneur’s gut is one of my most important weapons.

What are three tech trends you see happening in the next 5 years?

I feel tech trends are divided in two; the ones in the developed and then the ones in the emerging markets.

For the developed economies where the cultural competence has evolved into driving smart cars, the silicon valleys around the world will continue to create products and services using AI and robotics, block chain and AR/VR.

For the emerging economies, the focus will be on creating the cultural competency, encouraging trust in technology by making tech available in the native language and dialects for solutions in the fintech and agri-tech solutions.    

What is the thing you’re currently most excited about?

I am currently most excited about our growing user base. Especially the moment when a patient calls in Doctory and their voice simply calms down as soon as they hear the doctor’s voice on the other end.

Our mission with Doctory has always been to provide access to quality health care for the underserved. We want to start in Pakistan and then grow globally. Currently, Pakistan ranks only 57th out of 60 countries in the access to healthcare.

Yet, achieving this goal meant that we needed to find a solution that is culturally engrained and adapted to each market so that we can penetrate into peoples daily habits rather than just develop an additional piece of technology that people have to learn how to use.

This is why Doctory currently offers a health center and call service. The Doctory Health Center is basically a virtual center where health care is only a phone call away. Once we realised that the market is not culturally comptent to respond to a new tech initiative right now, we focused on the current tech people are using – which is a mobile phone.

So instead of us asking to adopt something new, we went to them in the state that they are more used to right now and trust. In the very first week we started seeing 500 calls a day. This was an exciting development because in that moment we knew we got the right product market fit. And I had read about that but seeing it happen – you suddenly know that things are working, this truly was a special day for us. All this happened back in December. Since then we’ve been seeing this amazing response and our user expericence rates 4,5 out 5 right now.

Which job in tech, other than your current one, would you like to have?

If I could chose any other job in tech, then I would like to become a product designer who helps companies humanise their products or solutions according to their target user segment.

This decision is actually inspired by my learnings with Doctory. Before Doctory, I had an other startup of my own, which was tackling a similar problem to the one we’re focusin at. At that point in time we were solving that problem through moile apps, which was how the rest of the world was trying to solve the problem.

Yet, we realised after a while that Pakistan is not a country where we have a cultural trust in technology. People felt that our solution was too complex. On top of that, the healthcare language is very complex as well. If you download an app and you have to search for a doctors, people don’t know for example what a nephrologist does etc. If they don’t know which expert they are looking for, then they cannot navigate through the user experience that you have designed for them.

Thus the reason I want to humanise technology is because tech should not be based on what the current tech trend is in the rest of the world. It should be based on the human behavior – designed for the people that you are working towards. Otherwise it fails. I’ve been through that entire experience and I have seen it fail – especially in the emerging economies. A lot of people are trying to implement the existing model in the developed world is using, in the emerging economies.

If you could host a dinner party with 3 influential people in tech, who would you invite and what would the setting be?

The three tech people, that I would invite to my dinner would be:

  • Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer
  • Katie Bouman, the woman who helped make the world’s first black hole image possible
  • and Dr. Leana Wen, the current President of Planned Parenthood and the one fighting the politics of medicine.

We would spend a day basking in the sun. Preferrably at the terrance in a challot at the river bank in Luxumbourg, where I will prepare a Pakistani feast for dinner and we will dine under the stary lights 🙂

With five years of experience working within health-tech, she is the Founder and CEO of Doctory, with a vision to make high-quality healthcare accessible to everyone in South Asia and MENA. She participated in Vodafone’s F-Lane Accelerator in Berlin, empowering women through technology. Maliha was elected by Google as having one of the most fast-paced growth potential startups in Pakistan. Furthermore, in 2019 she also served as a faculty member at the Albright Institute Wintersession by Wellesley College.
In the past, Maliha worked with The Hemophilia Society, Pakistan’s first patient-led advocacy organization. She also mentors startups and helps develop Pakistan’s startup ecosystem, working with organisations like Invest2Innovate and Code for Pakistan.  

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