As an undergraduate, Serene Cai (CS’15) was inspired by technology companies like Grab and Uber, which were making headlines as emerging startups at that time. Even before graduation, she dreamt of starting a company in the on-demand services market.
However, upon graduation, the then 23-year-old had to put those ambitions aside, as she decided to take on a communications role at a proprietary trading firm for practical reasons.
Less than a year later, Cai was attending a startup event where she met Shravan Verma, 33, a doctor who would later become her business partner.
As they conversed and exchanged ideas, the duo realised that there was a group of patients whose needs were not adequately met in the current healthcare landscape — those who are immobile or too weak to leave their homes for medical assistance.
“We had similar leanings towards the kind of medical startup we wanted to do and we were able to sense the passion in each other. So we took a leap of faith and quit our jobs to start the company,” Cai said.
That’s when Speedoc — the Grab of the medical industry — was born.
Founded in March 2017, the healthcare startup provides islandwide house-call services. According to Cai, new services and regional expansion are in the works, with the ultimate goal of going global.
However, as with most businesses the COVID-19 outbreak has thrown a curveball to Speedoc’s daily operations.
Cai said that the startup, considered an essential service provider during Singapore’s partial lockdown, will for the time being not visit patients who have flu-like symptoms, recent travel or close contact with COVID-19 patients. Instead, they will redirect these high-risk patients to the nearest hospital for treatment.
“The investors that put money in us do so because they can see the passion and dedication that the Speedoc team has.”
Serene Cai (CS’15), co-founder of Speedoc
Located in an office at Alexandra Road, the Speedoc medical team currently comprises five full-time doctors and six full-time nurses. On top of that, there is a locum of approximately 50 doctors and nurses ready to take over the duties of regular doctors or nurses when required.
Back in the initial stages of starting Speedoc, Cai had Dr Shravan’s network of peers to thank for solidifying its foundations. “When Speedoc first started, most of our doctors were from Dr Shravan’s circle of friends who he had worked with previously, including graduates from the Duke-NUS Medical School where he graduated from,” she said.
Speedoc has a range of investors from private investors at small ticket sizes to family offices.
“Many investors believe that tech-led healthcare is the way forward. The investors that put money in us do so because they can see the passion and dedication that the Speedoc team has,” said Cai, who declined to disclose financial details.
Services and Regional Expansion
Most recently in 2019, Speedoc added a few other on-demand services such as nurses on-demand and ambulance booking to make healthcare even more convenient and accessible.
Currently, Cai and her team are working on their newest development — video conferencing between the Speedoc team and medical specialists during house visits. They plan for this to be operational by June.
This would reduce the hassle of patients having to get a referral letter from their doctor to see a specialist.
“Having a medical professional on the ground makes the specialist more willing to take part in video conferencing. If it’s just between a patient and a specialist, they are not as keen to do video calls,” Cai said.
In the coming years, Cai also plans to provide on-demand services for medical equipment and harness data to make the company more technology-driven.
Eventually, Speedoc aims to go global with their services. Cai is working on getting investors and gaining support for the future development of her company.
“If a caller from Germany is requesting medical help for a patient in Thailand, we want to be able to have the resources to coordinate the effort in Singapore, and dispatch a team of doctors within Thailand itself,” said Cai.
“We are currently boosting our telemedicine and central dispatching system to be able to handle higher loads of requests,” she added.
“Our ultimate goal is to be a global hospital without walls.”
When she first made the leap from communications to healthcare, Cai found herself in a foreign environment. Unfazed by the challenge, she quickly adapted to the change.
She had to learn on the go what various medical terms meant, and memorise functions of different medical equipment.
“When I first started, I didn’t even know what an ml syringe was,” said Cai who soon picked up medical jargon like “oximeter” and “ultrasound probe”.
On top of familiarising herself with medical terms, honing her customer service skills was also key to handling various patient requests effectively.
“Customer service is all about putting yourself in the patient’s shoes. I take the time to understand why they are feeling frustrated or anxious and come up with a solution to address their situation,” she said.
While Cai had to adjust to the requirements of working in the healthcare industry, her communications background led her to oversee public relations and marketing for the company.
“I take care of everything ranging from answering queries to reputation management. I also meet with the leaders of large corporations to form strategic partnerships,” she said.
With the support of her co-founder and a close team of dedicated workers, Cai is not alone in her journey as a young businesswoman.
“The people working with me are very dedicated to the cause of helping people around the world and making healthcare more accessible for everyone.”
“We are living in an ageing population so the demand for our services is high. The government also provides funding which helps us in terms of costs. But if you don’t work hard, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
Serene Cai (CS’15), co-founder of Speedoc
While Cai believes that luck gave her the perfect opportunity to start her company, she also emphasised the importance of hard work in operating a startup.
“We are living in an ageing population so the demand for our services is high, which is good for us. The government also provides funding to local startups which helps us in terms of costs,” she said. “But if you don’t work hard, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
As the company grew, the number of challenges only multiplied. Managing manpower to efficiently carry out Speedoc’s services is one such difficulty.
Cai’s team might be small, but they are always ready to answer phone calls from patients or family members, and respond promptly to emergency cases.
Running the business has not been a breeze but Cai has a rule of thumb when it comes to problem-solving.
“First of all, I need to understand whether a setback is fixable or unfixable. If it is fixable, what is the solution and what are the steps needed to get to it? If it is unfixable, how can I mitigate the problem?” she said.
“New setbacks can come an hour after the first setback. It’s this constant fire-fighting and problem-solving while at the same time keeping the end goal in mind.”