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From physician to Web entrepreneur

SINGAPORE — As someone used to plying 20-hour shifts in a highly stressful hospital environment, Dr Dawn Soo was no stranger to hard work. But it was not until she made the transition from physician to entrepreneur that she truly understood the concept.

Dr Dawn Soo says the DocDoc website sees about 1,000 to 1,200 appointments made each month. Photo: Don Wong

Dr Dawn Soo says the DocDoc website sees about 1,000 to 1,200 appointments made each month. Photo: Don Wong

SINGAPORE — As someone used to plying 20-hour shifts in a highly stressful hospital environment, Dr Dawn Soo was no stranger to hard work. But it was not until she made the transition from physician to entrepreneur that she truly understood the concept.

“Your brain never (really) stops working. Starting a company from scratch is like having a baby — you don’t have time for anything else,” said the 30-year-old, one of five co-founders of DocDoc, an online medical portal.

After three-and-a-half years of practising clinical medicine in Singapore, she went to France to pursue a Master of Business Administration at the prestigious INSEAD business school to “try something different”. But what started as a career detour turned out to be a start to unforgiving hours, constant worry and bouts of adrenaline rush to build a profitable business.

Months after graduating early last year, Dr Soo met two entrepreneurs who were developing a website that allowed the public to browse a directory of doctors and make appointments online. They invited her to join the venture, then known as DoctorPage, hoping to tap on her skills as a medical professional with knowledge of the local industry.

The company aimed to improve the often trying experience of securing an appointment with a medical specialist; one fraught with delays, detours and misinformation.

“When we first started, it was just a transactional website where patients came in to book an appointment. But we realised that just having a website was not enough, so we added a lot more content,” she said.

To get more information, users can call a hotline or engage in a live chat with two concierge nurses who are full-time staff. For doctors, the portal helps them boost the efficiency of their operations and provides a platform to promote their services. The service is free for the public, while doctors pay a fee to be listed on the portal, starting at a few hundred dollars a month.

In June, DoctorPage merged with another start-up, DocDoc, which essentially offered the same service and was co-founded by Ms Grace Park, a Korean-American who had previously held senior positions at multi-national corporations in the healthcare industry. The Harvard Business School graduate and former United States Army Captain arrived in Singapore nine years ago as a Fulbright Fellow.

Ms Park serves as Chief Executive of the combined entity, now known as DocDoc, while Dr Soo acts as its Chief Operating Officer.

The company has secured nearly S$6 million in funding to date. Its investors include prominent businessman Koh Boon Hwee, former Chairman of DBS Bank, SingTel and Singapore Airlines; Jungle Ventures, a Singapore-based venture capital fund supported by the Singapore National Research Foundation; and 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund.

About 400 doctors in Singapore and another 1,000 in Korea have registered with the portal. Some 500,000 users search for health-related information and healthcare services each month. Meanwhile, about 1,000 to 1,200 appointments are made through the website in Singapore each month, revealed Dr Soo.

STANDING OUT IN A CROWD

The challenge at the start was getting doctors to commit to the new company, but as more came on board, word of mouth helped to grow the pool.

“Doctors want to be associated with brands that are here to stay. So it was a struggle at the beginning, but we had a group who were very supportive early on,” she explained.

The company, which hopes to have a positive cash flow within the year, currently has 18 staff in Singapore and seven in Korea, including the founders. They are planning to start operations in other cities in the region, with Malaysia likely to be next on the cards.

More than a year into her stint as an entrepreneur, Dr Soo has found doing business a far more complex undertaking than medicine.

“Medicine is very straightforward. There is no good or bad; there is just right or wrong. But in business, there isn’t (only) one way to do something. There are different stakeholders and different considerations,” she said.

“I miss that simplicity,” she added. While she hopes to volunteer at free clinics in future when time allows, she is wholeheartedly committed to making her “baby” a success for now.

As a woman in the male-dominated tech world, she chooses to see the silver lining in the gender dynamic. “It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve been to a conference where there were 18 male speakers and two female speakers, but when the (woman) goes up to speak, people will listen. At networking events, you leave an impression — it’s easier to stand out,” she said with a chuckle.

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