Events

Building a pharmacy that works for everyone: Cedar Talks with Eric Kinariwala


In the latest installment of Cedar Talks—our monthly speaker series featuring thought leaders across entrepreneurship, healthcare and technology—we talked with Eric Kinariwala, the founder and CEO of Capsule and a visionary leader in direct-to-consumer healthcare.

During the hour-long conversation with Cedar co-founder and CEO Florian Otto, Kinariwala shared his insights into the vertically integrated future of digital health, building an end-to-end digital pharmacy from the ground up and more. Recently, Capsule received a $300 million funding round, valuing the company at well over a billion dollars. “[Eric] is building a product that literally everybody needs,” said Otto. “I am a user as well, and I’m amazed by the service.”

To watch the full conversation, click here.

A pounding headache leads to a new company

Kinariwala recalled that Capsule came about not as part of a business plan, but a terrible experience at a pharmacy.

In January 2015, Kinariwala woke up one morning with a throbbing headache. He called his doctor, who asked him some questions, told him he had a sinus infection, and called in a prescription to a local pharmacy. Kinariwala walked in, head pounding, “and everything that you can think about going wrong at a pharmacy went wrong for me.” Among other things, the pharmacy was out of stock of the medication he needed. He left feeling defeated.

Kinariwala began asking some fundamental questions: “How does a pharmacy work? Why are there so many pharmacies? Is everyone’s experience this terrible, or is this unique for me?” he said. These questions were the foundation for his research. As he educated himself, he learned that there were 70,000 pharmacies in this country, that it’s the second largest category of retail—a $400 billion industry—and that 70% of American adults go to a pharmacy at least once a month.

When he launched Capsule 2016, the company was “me in a room in a WeWork in the Financial District by myself” he recalled, working to slowly build out the team, the technology and the brand.

What were the “errors of omission” and “errors of commission” that Kinariwala felt he made early on, and what did he learn? Check out 10:25.

How to disrupt an industry that hasn’t budged for 100 years

With traditional pharmacies, said Otto, “There is no price transparency, a lot of medications are out of stock and they’re inconvenient.” He asked whether Kinariwala had seen any shifts as a result of Capsule’s innovations.

“Our view is that all categories of modern retail are going to be responsive [...] not just pharmacies” Kinariwala said. “You’re going to be able to pull your phone out and get anything you want brought to your doorstep in a matter of hours.”

“There has been a lot of innovation in digital health [...] over the last few years,” continued Kinariwala, “There’s also an incredible amount of fragmentation around point solutions, where there’s a lot of companies solving very narrow problems. And our view is that there will be—and needs to be—a single, simple [and] holistic place where consumers can access a wide breadth of things that they need to do, across their healthcare journey.”

The full details on what Kinariwala considers the “heart” of what his company has built, and where he has invested heavily are at 28:00.

Time to get personal(ized): it’s all about Mom

“I admire how you put the patient, the consumer, at the center of everything,” said Otto. Since one of the Capsule values is “Everybody needs looking after sometimes,” he asked how Capsule achieves that.

“We built our product experience around the idea that [...] if there was one pharmacist in the world, and that pharmacist happened to be your mom, what would that experience look like?” Kinariwala said, noting that she would send you texts, make sure you got the best price, and coordinate with your doctor. “You would feel like you had someone in your corner at all times so you can go and live your best life.”

As the conversation wrapped up, Otto asked Kinariwala about his Twitter tagline, “Curious about everything.”

Kinariwala explained that he read a lot as a child, instilling him with “a sense of wonder,” he said. “I think that quality has been super helpful to me as an entrepreneur, in terms of really wanting to understand the ‘why’ of how things work.”

What drives customer loyalty to a brand? To hear Kinariwala share the three things that he believes brands are all about, click here and navigate to 34:09.

Cedar Talks is a thought leadership series highlighting experienced entrepreneurs, tech innovators and healthcare leaders who are solving important problems by challenging the status quo. Recent Cedar Talks have included fomer CTO of the United States Aneesh Chopra, Affirm founder and CEO Max Levchin, Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton, Peloton co-founder Graham Stanton and former President of Livongo Dr. Jennifer Schneider.

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