In December 2007 Mitesh Soma set up Chemist Direct, an online pharmacy offering more than 30,000 products with up to 90% savings on the high street, with his wife Krishna, a qualified chemist. Today, it is Europe's largest online chemist, with more than 100,000 hits a week.
I lead and manage Chemist Direct, which is now Europe’s largest online chemist, offering cheaper chemist products to everyone who has access to a PC and delivering them within 48 hours.
We offer a variety of key services including pharmacy and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and health supplements, family planning and sexual well-being products, perfumes and beauty products, toiletries, baby care, photographic services and electrical goods, as well as an online doctor service.
Chemist Direct also has an Ask the Pharmacist section where customers can use the chat tool to get immediate advice and further product information from a qualified pharmacist.
I’d previously worked as a management consultant, working with Siemens Business Services, Citigroup, Deutsche Investment Bank and Deloitte Consulting which I’d really enjoyed.
But I’d always wanted to set up my own company and be my own boss, and when I came up with the idea for Chemist Direct, I realised it was too good an opportunity to miss.
I was helping out my wife Krishna, a qualified pharmacist, with her small independent chemist in Westminster, when I noticed the huge mark-ups between manufacturing and retail prices. I realised costs could be slashed by cutting out the middlemen and keeping overheads to a minimum by using e-commerce.
Krishna also had the contact details of the main manufacturers readily available and had built up good relationships with them, which helped when I set up Chemist Direct.
I established a clear goal – “to supply cheaper chemist products to everyone who has access to a PC and deliver those products to their door within 48 hours”, and set up an office in the shed at the bottom of my garden in Leicester.
I spent a long time researching my idea and once the website was set up I asked my friends and family to test it in a soft launch before it officially went live. This meant any problems could be identified and quickly rectified.
Hardest thing: Bad recruitment decisions is one setback I’ve experienced, as it’s essential that employees clearly buy into the vision of the company and share our passion and enthusiasm in offering the best possible service to our customers. We now have a thorough recruitment process and offer training opportunities to our staff to ensure that they are clear what our goal is.
Best things: One of the best bits of this is that I now feel that I am able to make change happen, without the red tape involved in corporate life. Although I am working more hours than I ever did at a big international company, it doesn’t feel like work and I feel in control of my future. I plan to keep innovating and offering new services and product ranges to Chemist Direct.
The two best bits of advice I’ve received are – to follow your gut feeling and instinct, and to ensure you never forget your customer – which have been invaluable.
I found a number of websites and books useful for advice, including books from entrepreneurs who share their successes and failures.
I regularly attend entrepreneur events and have a network of experienced entrepreneurs I can bounce ideas off. This is invaluable as it saves reinventing the wheel.
I also have relied on family and friends, who have been very supportive and helpful with getting the business up to this stage and telling me when I am going off track.