My Paddi, all you need to know with Dr Charles Akhimien on BeInspired Show. Interview by Mercy Omoregie
Today on BeInspired Show, we have with us Dr Charles Akhimien, founder and CEO of My Paddi, a platform that helps instruct and guide young people about sex and sexuality. He is also the Co-founder of Omomi.
* Tell us more about you and My Paddi
My name is Charles Emmanuel Akhimien, I’m a medical doctor and it’s by training. A few years ago I decided to start a tech start-up basically. The name of the startup is called Mobicure, that’s the parent company. Mobicure is a digital health company, that basically help to solve problems related to health care. We are using mobile technology or digital technology to solve healthcare problems.
We have two product, Omomi, which is a maternal and child healthcare app. And My Paddi which is the sexual and reproductive health app.
The company is actually founded by two people, so not just me. Me and my colleague, he is also a doctor, Dr Emmanuel Owobu. We started the company together. Both of us are the cofounders.
However, My Paddi is the one that is more in the front and centre this days, and it’s the recent one. We started Omomi in 2015, My Paddi just launched seven months ago. My Paddi is an app for young people. First thing, My Paddi actually connects young people to medical personal. So if you are a young person and you want to ask a health question, it might not even be about sexual and reproductive health, it might even be a general health question, you can come on My Paddi app and chat with a Doctor in real terms.
But more importantly, My Paddi actually provides young people with accurate, youth friendly, and most of all unbiased sexual and reproductive health information. Basically what that means is; as a young person maybe you have questions on things like contraceptive use, HIV and STD’s prevention and maybe a girl on how to track her menstral circle and all these things related to sexual and reproductive health, My Paddi is the app to go.
And then the best part of the app is that everybody in the app is anonymous, so nobody knows who you are.
The way we build the app, it allows you sign up as a user and create a username. Users are encouraged to not use their real names, so for example, you can use names like ‘Smokee’ or ‘Baba Ijebu’ or whatever as a username. And then, you create the username and create a password. Basically, when you come on the app, you just see a bunch of different users names. There are no profile pictures, it doesn’t show your age, it doesn’t show your location, it doesn’t show where you are from.
As you go along in the app, there is the option where, for people who don’t want to be anonymous, for people who don’t mind putting a profile picture and stuff like that, there is still the option for that. But the default setting is that everybody is totally anonymous. Like four persons in an office can be using the app and you will not even know. I’m on the app right now, you will never know my user’s name.
* How come about the idea of building such a platform. How did it start-up?
OK, well, I think it’s more of how the company started, Then me and my cofounder, we were colleagues in medical school and we’ve always been freely passionate about doing things differently. So we didn’t want to just work in the usual, sit in the hospital, see patient everyday and all of that which is great. But we just wanted to do something different. So, for us coincidentally, of course with the rise of technology in this part of the world, rise of mobile technology, we ask what can we do to create a health solution? At a time Omomi that will help maternal and child health. That’s how the company was born and we started Omomi. Omomi has been very successful. In four years, Omomi already has a little over forty thousand users. It has created a lot of impact, I mean, I can go on and on for days about the success story of Omomi.
But last year, we have always been really passionate about young people because we are young people too so we decided that we are going to create a platform to really focus on an area in healthcare that is really overlooked. Because we believe sexual and reproductive health is something that people don’t really like to talk about. People are really comfortable talking about maternal and child health because it’s mothers and children. But when you talk about sexual and reproductive health, for a lot of reasons, whether, cultural or even sometimes religious or just you know, maybe stupidity, we just feel that sexual and reproductive health is something that everybody should dodge, but it’s not. I mean it is really ridiculous.
63% of people in Nigeria are young people, under 25, so why don’t you do a solution that actually pretty much focuses on them and try to solve their problem. So that’s why we started My Paddi.
* Generally, do you see these health tech taking over the traditional hospitals?
Great question, mobile technology, mobile health can never never take the position of the hospital, that’s a fact. I’m in the tech space but I will not come, seat here and start saying rubbish. No, it can never take the place of a hospital. If a woman wants to give birth, she’s not going to give birth on an app, you want to do surgery, you are not going to do it on an app. Perhaps, technology will be involve later and a lot of things will happen. But I don’t see health care replacing hospital in the nearest future. It’s not even something that can happen.
What is technology exactly? Technology is an enabler. Technology does not come in to wipe out everything else. Hospitals are important and they are important for a reason; people need to see doctors, people need to be able to be examined, talk of screening test and all of those things. People need to go to hospital and that will never change actually.
What technology does is; technology aids the healthcare process. For example, you feel unwell, you don’t have the resources to probably get to the hospital all the time, on the app, you can actually chat with a doctor and perhaps, even ascertain whether this thing you are feeling is serious enough to warrant going to the hospital. Because everybody is getting increasingly busy and of course, people don’t have as much money as it use to. So technology is an enabler. Even for doctors, technology can help hospitals to keep better records, keep more organized health records, not having paper records, but actually have electronics record. That’s encouraging. So technology will never take the place of hospitals and it should never take the place of hospitals. Hospitals are important, and the doctors who work in the hospital are very important.
* Do you have any plan of running a hospital later in the future?
I have no plans of running a hospital because that’s not my calling. I don’t think that is my calling. People who are meant to work in the hospital, they do a fantastic job. I enjoy what I do with mobile technology, it’s what makes me wake up in the morning, so I will continue doing what I’m meant to do.
* What are some of the challenges you face been an entrepreneur and in the tech space, and how do you overcome?
I think for every entrepreneur, the challenge is, whether you are in Benin City or Silicon Valley or Puerto Rico where ever, challenges will be pretty much broadly the same. First one is always money. Every entrepreneur is looking for money because for every business, you want to keep expanding, you want to scale, you want to increase your staff, you want to expand your marketing, you want to enter new market, you want to hire the best people, you want to put more product to sell, everybody always needs money. That’s one of the key challenges.
Anybody that tells you money is not important, what’s important is the idea, that’s a whole lot of Bourgogne. Money is very important, very important for the entrepreneur. Whether or not you feel that the entrepreneur is wasting fund or not wasting founds. The point is funding gives an entrepreneur room to experiment. Room to make mistake, that’s what funding does. But when you don’t have funding, you can not do all those things, so you will never grow. I think that’s the basic issue.
So, what the entrepreneur has to do is getting funding. It’s your job to find funding because no body will just come and give you money sitting in your house, so you have to go out and find fund.
Some people like to brash things like grant funding, but even the grant funding, you work for it. You have to do competitive applications, pitch competitions, grant reporting. That’s a lot of hard work. So anyway you can get funding, like they say; never run out of cash, get funding and try things. And as you go around, if you are a serious entrepreneur, you will do well eventually.
* What is the most amazing thing about you?
Well, the most amazing thing about me, I think is my confidence. So I believe in myself more than anything else. I don’t believe that anybody is better than me. I also don’t believe I am better than anyone else. That might be a bit confusing; I don’t go around saying I’m better than everybody else, but I never get intimidated. I can walk in anywhere in the world and this has happened many times; you might have longer CVs, you might be older, you might have more degrees, more experience, but I believe that I belong there. So I don’t go about asking “why I’m I been her”e, no. I believe that for me to get there, for me to be invited, for me to earn a right to be there, I belong.
So I never get intimidated by anybody. Never! And I think that’s something young entrepreneurs should emulate. Don’t fear. I always tell my people at the office, using words like ‘no level’ All these people you are thinking are big deals are just regular people, they are not special. No body is really that special, everybody is really just improving. So as long as you believe in yourself and are improving, you are not static. As long as you are improving, you shouldn’t be intimidated by anybody. So I think that’s the one thing that is amazing or maybe special about me. I believe in myself.
* What’s the weird thing? Lol
There is no wield thing o.. Laughs.. Well, I noticed for some people of course in Nigeria and Africa very well. People can’t stand confident people. You know here, we like to be very humble. “Humble” in quote because there is this self replicating attitude where, you know, they are pretending to be humble, everybody is trying to talk themselves down. So that they can get an advantage. You go somewhere and the person will tell you “I don’t know anything o, you know everything na…” I don’t say stuffs like that. I have never said stuffs like that.
If you ask me I will say ‘I know it’ ‘Yes I know it’ because I know it. In my life time, I have heard some people say “oh Charles is arrogant” or “Charles is prideful”, but I don’t bother because I know I’m not arrogant, I know I’m not prideful. Like I said, I don’t believe I’m better than anyone else. So that’s it. And I think also as an entrepreneur and as a person you shouldn’t really care about what people say, because people are people. They can be silly at times. And it is your job, as long as what you are doing is good for mankind, and it’s good with God then you continue doing what you are doing.
* What will be one thing you will give to a young and promising Startup/Entrepreneur?
I feel that if a young startup is promising, what they need is money. People would want to say, they need training, they need capacity building, all of that good stuff. If that entrepreneur is really promising, I can bet you he is already improving himself, they already have premium packet fit. They already know their market, they are already trying to scale. For an entrepreneur or a start-up to be promising, I’m pretty sure they are already doing all of these things. And sometimes, especially in this part of the world, you can do all of these and funding will still not come because funding is tough for us here in Nigeria and in this part of the world than if we were in the US or the UK or somewhere else. So, if I had something, it will be to give funding because if the startup is promising and they know what they are doing, I am sure they will give me result.