Polish DocPlanner competes to win the global 'doctor bookings' market

DocPlanner's CEO, Mariusz Gralewski discusses the future of healthcare and being the biggest Polish-based recipients of VC funding in history

With the tagline “We let patients find doctors online… around the world”, DocPlanner is one of a slew of new companies emerging, which are looking to consumerise the healthcare space. We catch-up with CEO, Mariusz Gralewski to learn more about the latest round of VC funding, the recent acquisition of Spanish rival Doctoralia and why there are suddenly so many companies competing in this area.


You’ve raised a fair bit of money recently ($10M in 2015 and $20M this June) how are you spending this?

We have now raised $34M in four rounds in total which, according to some sources, makes us the biggest Polish-based recipients of venture capital funding in history. Our last round (in 2016) was also the largest in the Polish market to date. Most of the money from the 2015 round was used for continued geographic expansion (largely in Italy) and further monetisation in existing markets via marketing and increased sales efforts. We also invested some money in new senior management hires. The 2016 raise was largely spent on the acquisition of Spanish-based Doctoralia, with the remainder now being spent on bolstering positions in key markets (Poland, Turkey and Italy) and commercialising the main Doctoralia countries.


The latest round of VC funding and your recent acquisition of Spanish rival Doctoralia appear to play an integral part of what one VentureBeat journalist termed, “doctor-booking wars” – why is this heating up so much at the moment?

The healthcare market is still largely undisrupted - it is huge and it is very local so we’ve been seeing a lot of new players enter and create specific niches in various countries.

Similarly, in the healthcare booking segment, until recently all the players were present in a single market with no regional or global leaders visible as in other, more developed sectors (e.g. Delivery Hero in food delivery, Uber in transport). This has changed in the last two years as geographic expansion has led to the emergence of three to four regional leaders (DocPlanner in eastern and southern Europe and now Latin America; French Doctolib entering Germany; Bangalore-based Practo moving across southeast Asia). Due to our recent merger with Doctoralia we have become the global leader in traffic in the space (with 17 million unique users visiting our websites monthly). In Brazil, we are now competing head-on for the first time ever with these “big boys”. 

Investment in the space has also heated up, with all of these big players closing double digit financing rounds over the past year or so. It will be exciting to see how we divide up the global market over the next few years and who emerges as the winner (or winners).

All of this is a sign that the sector is maturing and the “booking wars” will continue to heat up.


What does all this signify about the future of healthcare?

Healthcare is 10 or 15 years behind other, less regulated and more homogeneous sectors, such as restaurants and hotels. In Europe, for example, less than 1% of healthcare bookings are currently being done online, while for hotels this number is closer to 30%. This means that the market is in its infancy and we have so much room to grow. The digital revolution in healthcare is only beginning. Aside from online booking I believe that innovations which will improve patient-doctor communication (e.g. pre- and post-visit chat, second opinions) and accessibility (e.g. video/ phone consultations) will be the future. On the doctor side, tools which digitise and improve the functioning of the clinic are becoming more and more standard.


What challenges have you faced scaling out to multiple diverse geographies?

Healthcare is a very local market which means that going beyond your home borders is not as easy as in less regulated and more homogeneous sectors, such as restaurants and hotels. It therefore requires a lot of research, analysis and patience to select the next market to enter and monetise. However, once you’ve cracked a new geography it can be super rewarding and the barriers to entry for competitors is significant.

Culture is really important to us, so we face the challenge of finding the right talent – people who share our mindset and set of values. We also need to consider how to adjust our management style to theirs, taking into account the cultural differences. Finally, we are transitioning the company to an all-English environment to overcome any language barriers.


On your platform, what is the split between traditional doctors and other health-related professionals like dieticians and psychologists?

We have about 5M doctor profiles on the various DocPlanner websites.  An overwhelming majority of them (93%) are traditional doctors while the remainder (7%) are other health-related professionals such as psychologists, dieticians or veterinarians. If we look at specific countries the split is similar.


Have you made any inroads with working with government health providers like the UK’s NHS?

Up until now, we have made the conscious decision not to enter markets which require us to work with the public sector at the outset. The dominance of the NHS and complications that come out of this (having to integrate, etc.) makes the UK a particularly challenging market. However, in our more developed markets, such as Poland, where we have a dominant position and a more recognisable brand, we have begun a dialogue with the ministries responsible for healthcare delivery and digitisation. It’s a long process but there is significant value we can provide to the public sector on the back of our existing private sector experience.


Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It’s a busy and exciting time for us here at DocPlanner. Over the upcoming year we will largely be focused on integrating the Doctoralia team and merging our products into one, so further M&A will take a backseat. However, we will likely come back to the VC market in the near-term to secure further financing for some of our newly acquired geographies.