BENGALURU: The nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of covid-19 has led to a surge in demand for e-health services. However, many such online medicine delivery startups continue to grapple with shortage of skilled manpower and supply chain issues. Bengaluru-based Medlife’s chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder Ananth Narayanan, in a telephonic interview, said while the company is aggressively trying to meet the demand, it is also investing in technology to improve productivity. Edited excerpts:
How has the current crisis situation impacted your business?
This sector has seen positive changes because of the current situation. Medlife is the largest e-health player. Demand for consultations and medicine delivery have seen huge improvements–between 2X (for medicines) and 6X (consultations). Lab business is down, but I think it will bounce back the minute the lockdown is lifted. We are witnessing a surge in terms of orders.
In terms of delivery, we are still constrained. We faced disruptions initially, but in the past few days, the government (at all levels) has been incredibly helpful in terms of trying to get essential services back up.
What about supply chain issues?
Supply chains are limping back up, but there are two problems. The first is ensuring last-mile delivery - we are trying to do that with innovative partnerships. People are in short supply and our attendance is at 50-55%. We have tied up with Yulu, Uber and Bounce to help us with last-mile delivery. The second problem is getting the medicines, inventory from pharmaceutical companies into our warehouses. It involves crossing inter-state borders, and even if you get permission, there aren’t many players who are doing inter-state deliveries. That is going to take lot longer to recover. The government has to help get the supply chains back in operation quickly, and also help getting skilled manpower back into the towns and cities.
Are you looking for any relief measures from the government?
We hope there are no disruptions (during the lockdown). Secondly, the government has to help ease up industry and supply chains. It’s a connected problem. Goods movements happen only when multiple industries move multiple goods from one state to another.
Should there be some stimulus package for your business/sector?
I think so. I think easing up of the regulations and norms around e-health and getting more clarity would be helpful. The tele-health one is a welcome change, there is more clarity now. The government is working quite closely with the digital health group on issues such as medicine delivery.
Given the uncertainty going forward, how is Medlife planning to cope?
Culturally, we have become a lot more frugal in terms of trying to make sure we conserve cash and plan for the next six-seven months. Given that we are in e-health, we are trying to play a bit offensive to make sure that we can take advantage of the surge in demand. We think about tech-led supply planning and ways to improve productivity using technology, in all our processes, even if we have 50% attendance to ensure 100% output. We are investing a lot more in technology to improve productivity of our people. We will continue to look for interesting acqui-hire type of opportunities in terms of technology.
Will you look at either salary or job cuts or downsizing in any way?
Not yet. We are hiring people, at this point, for our warehouses and delivery, due to a rise in demand. But we are looking at how we can continue to optimise our costs using technology, and ways to improve productivity.