Nadia Neytcheva is the CEO and Co-Founder of Doctors In Italy, the digital marketplace that makes it easy for everyone to find a local English-speaking doctor while travelling or living in Italy.
Nico Valenti Gatto is the Operating Director of B4i – Bocconi for Innovation, the pre-acceleration, acceleration and corporate entrepreneurship platform of Bocconi University.
Doctors In Italy is one of the first startups accelerated by B4i in 2020. Since then, Doctors In Italy has reached € 1 million in revenues and 20,000 users.
Nadia, you started your career as Researcher on Innovation Projects. Then, in 2020, you founded Doctors In Italy, a digital marketplace for finding a local English-speaking doctor while travelling or living in Italy. Can you tell us how it all started?
Nadia: In 2020, we created the digital platform of Doctors In Italy, which went live right before we started our B4i acceleration program – batch 1.
The idea was to provide instant access to healthcare services for foreign travellers in Italy through a digital platform. We started by working in the physical world, where we got to spend a lot of time with our users and learn about their problems, and then we turned to develop a digital solution that is fit to scale and grow.
Our goals were slightly limited when we started the B4i acceleration program in 2020. We later realised throughout the acceleration program that we should have aimed much higher and broader since the start. We should have expanded our targets from the very beginning.
Then, in 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, and our business, which is tightly linked to the travel industry was hit hard.
We took the time to rebuild the system and transform it into something even more digital, which ended up being the right path. We launched the telehealth platform, which we tested and refined with Italian patients. Then, as soon as travel was back, we went back to focus on foreign patients as was in our DNA.
The next step is expanding beyond Italy. That’s why we will rebrand Doctors in Italy as Doctorsa soon so that we can grow beyond Italy.
So, Doctors in Italy (Doctorsa) is a network of English-speaking Doctors with an open mind and an international background. Can you tell us more about the business model of the company?
Nadia: Doctors In Italy, soon to be Doctorsa, is a digital marketplace that solves the issue of falling sick when you are away from home.
Imagine a person travelling either for work or fun, studying abroad, or just a digital nomad who falls ill and doesn’t have access to local healthcare, doesn’t know how it works, and doesn’t speak the language. This person is having a very stressful experience even today.
Doctors in Italy (Doctorsa) makes the experience super easy, fast, and inexpensive. We allow travellers to connect with doctors instantly, day and night, 24/7, within a few minutes at a very reasonable and transparent cost so that they can get the best possible experience in healthcare when they are away from their doctor.
It was built as a marketplace, so our role is to integrate the two sides of this marketplace and to make sure that doctors and patients match, find each other, make a transaction, and communicate effectively.
Nico, Doctors In Italy is one of the first five startups accelerated by B4i in 2020. So what prompted B4i to select Doctors In Italy back then?
Nico: As Nadia mentioned, it was a historical moment when we ended up working with Doctors In Italy for the first time.
In early 2020, we launched the very first batch of B4i. We were very positively surprised that we received around 200 applications. So we chose 5 teams for the acceleration program, and Doctors In Italy was one of them.
We liked Nadia and Francesco a lot when we interviewed them. The way they presented the project and their vision were very enticing. We also liked their clear initial focus on the value proposition and the clear go-to-market strategy. The team’s experience was relevant, and they answered our questions very clearly. So we thought there was a lot of trust that we could build with the team. And I am delighted to say that we were right on that impression.
The Doctors In Italy platform that we liked was very attractive pre-pandemic. We selected the team for the first batch in late February. It was before the pandemic broke out, borders were closed, and travel was killed. So when there was no tourism anymore in Italy, which was the heart of the initial model Nadia was working on, we had a bit of a problem!
But because the team was very solid and the vision was valuable, there was a way to build something valid that we could work on together.
The focus the team had in this initial vision was expandable. I think this is also one of the reasons the company has not only survived but also grown despite the fact it was going through tough years. And now it is clearly expanding.
What support does the B4i acceleration programme give to startups? In the case of Doctors In Italy, what kind of support was provided to the team?
Nico: I think that any investor or any acceleration program that had to work with founders during that particular historical period acted at least as a sounding board to bounce ideas and hypotheses back and forth, trying to stay as focused as possible without losing faith and trust in what the company had already built.
What we did with Doctors In Italy was understand if we needed to build a new model or if we could build on the existing one despite the fact the situation was different. There were going to be quite a few changes over the next foreseeable future.
Then we had to understand how to build a new model, how to create value around this, what metrics we should measure, etc. It had a lot to do with testing the boundaries of where to go and narrowing it down again. Staying calm and providing contacts with relevant people for the new ideas the team was working on.
I think it’s important to mention it was the first acceleration batch for the B4i team. And I think this impacted the fact that there was a positive attitude anyway.
So at that time, we were not thinking about how to raise money for Doctors in Italy.
Nadia: I absolutely second what Nico just said.
So raising money was not a topic at that time. And it was neither a possibility nor necessary because we could do many other things that made sense at the time.
It was, in a sense, the time for creating options, expanding our mindset and understanding all the ways we could go while choosing which one to pursue.
As an entrepreneur, I really valued – and we never felt this was missing during the acceleration programme but also afterwards – a very well-managed combination of a sort of intellectual challenge of everything we had taken for granted so far. We needed someone to ask us the right questions, leading us to rethink some parts of the business model and approach to growth.
At the same time, unwavering emotional support, connections, options, and the natural ability to keep everyone always positive.
Nadia, what results have you achieved until now? Also, what are the development plans of Doctors In Italy (Doctorsa) for the near future?
Nadia: A common way to evaluate the success of a startup is by looking at the amount of money raised by investors. But this is not the only metric.
In our case, we have grown organically so far and have been self-funded since the beginning.
We reached a relevant milestone last year, exceeding € 1 million in revenues. And we achieved this result by creating excellent products that our users really love. So, in a sense, we didn’t have to compromise on our desire to delight our users with the different products we have created.
We were concerned that in pursuit of fast growth, we would have to sacrifice some of the quality of our products and services. Instead, we were able to create a system that reinforces a positive feedback and builds on the success.
Now we are looking at geographical expansion and vertical expansion. As mentioned before, we are launching a new brand for transforming Doctors In Italy from a marketplace for people who travel in Italy to a marketplace for anyone who travels throughout Europe and potentially in the world, where you can reliably and consistently find doctors who can visit you immediately.
We initially target travellers and people who live an international lifestyle, not necessarily bound to one single country.
At the same time, we have created an educational programme for the providers. This is because we believe we live in a world where borders mean less and less.
Barriers keep falling, and now it is all about the instant fast digital easy experience. And this has not happened yet in healthcare.
We want to see a new generation of doctors prepared to work in this world, who have an international mindset, personal connections, and social capital to thrive in a borderless healthcare.
So we are educating them and creating for them experiential learning occasions in some of the best hospitals throughout Italy.
Nico, what activities do you organise to keep accelerated companies engaged in the B4i community?
Nico: We offer a lot of activities to keep the community of founders engaged even well after the founders complete the acceleration program.
We organise content sessions for the founders of the acceleration program regardless of whether they are still in the program or not. We organise content sessions for founders of companies that are now more mature. We also help the funders structure their rounds and make introductions with investors in later stages. We are always here to help.
What we hope is to become obsolete for accelerated startups. This is good news, meaning it’s normal for a healthy company that grows. What we can provide is a network. But in terms of business support and knowledge, at some point, a new category of investors and advisors will take over.
Nadia, what are the main challenges you experienced in creating Doctors In Italy and are facing now in the growth phase?
Nadia: I think that in all cases and for all startups, the number one challenge in scaling is creating a fantastic team, so finding the right people for every single position, and a lot of positions are needed quickly as you grow.
At the beginning of your path, you have a small team that does everything, you trust them entirely, and they are all fully committed to the project. It’s not easy to find similar types of profiles for all the roles you need as you scale.
You have to balance human qualities, skills, and competencies. At a certain point, you need to find specialists in specific fields. But you also what to keep your own culture and style as a startup. Those people exist in the vast global talent pool, but it’s hard to find them or be found by them.
I suggest starting early on with that, even when you don’t need the people yet. Meaning to start creating relations, contacts, a pipeline of people you like, and at a certain point you may want to involve in your company.
And also doing a bit of PR, which is something that we have not done at all until now. So PR might be helpful to have people understand what you are doing, what you stand for, and how to help.
Nico, from your point of view, what perspectives do you think Doctors In Italy could have in the future?
Nico: I really like the plan for Doctors In Italy right now. It has the potential to become bigger than what we hoped at the beginning, thanks to the significantly interlinked two sides of the business. The > € 1 million revenue was not an obvious milestone that the team managed to reach, and the projections for this year are very encouraging.
The company has grown organically until now. This could probably be the year the team eventually decides to go for a series A round.
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For more info on Doctors In Italy, visit: https://www.doctorsinitaly.com/
For more info on Doctorsa, visit: https://doctorsa.com
For more info on B4i visit: https://www.b4i.unibocconi.it/