Interview of Agnès Bazin, Head of growth at Doctolib. The #1 online and mobile booking platform and management software provider for doctors in Europe.

Hello Agnès, can you introduce Doctolib in a few words?

Doctolib’s mission is to facilitate the access to health care for the 500 million patients in Europe. How? By allowing them to quickly book appointments online with their doctor.

Doctolib was created in October 2013 by Stanislas Niox-Chateau, Ivan Schneider and Jessy Bernal. They all have an impressive background.

A HEC Graduate, Stanislas co-founded Otium Capital, a French start-up studio that specialized in “online booking” businesses. Among the successes you’d find Balinea, Week-endesk, and they also invested in La Fourchette (later sold to TripAdvisor).

Stanislas had knew perfectly how to build and scale an online booking business.

Ivan and Jessy co-founded a dozen companies, such as Massive Music Quiz (8.5M users), sold to Lov Group. They also worked at Octo & Skillstar, and are French experts of Ruby on Rails.

The original analysis behind Doctolib is pretty simple: the market of online booking for Doctors is the biggest online booking market in the world, and surprisingly enough, it was a totally untapped market. Just to give you an idea, we’re talking about volumes ten times bigger than the hotel booking market, where the leader announced 18 billions in annual revenue.

Today Doctolib employs 240 people and offers 12,000 doctors & 350 health care centers to patients. We register more than 1000 new doctors every month.

Doctolib can also count on solid investors in the likes of Anoitne Freysz (Kerala Ventures) or Nicolas Brusson (Blablacar). Last November we raised €18 million with Accel Partner. Our goal is to become the European leader by 2018.

How many markets is Doctolib operating in?

Doctolib operates in France and Germany, which we’ve recently opened (May 2016).

So we’re now a Franco-German company. I insist on this because it really is important for us to have this double culture.

Why and how did you choose Germany?

It was a ambitious choice at first: it’s the biggest European market for Doctolib.

We built a model based on 4 key criteria for our industry, so that we can evaluate the market size, the required investment and the risk level of a country. Once we did this study, we adopt a field-first approach to meet and get to know all the competitors and key actors.

One of the main parameters to keep in mind is the mix between the level of risk & investment and the expected break-even point.

Once you’ve chosen the country, what does your timeline look like?

We’ve just opened our first market outside of France, so we still have a lot to do and learn. To answer this question, here is how we did it in Germany:

The first step was to find a good Country Manager / Country CEO. It really is a pre-requisite. The end goal is to create the best possible team.

So we started our search in January / February, to finally find the one around mid-April and he started early May.

Doctolib is a people-intensive business. We have a very stable software but we need a strong sales force to cover the market. For this first hire, we used the services of a recruiting agency, and my goal is to build a pool of top talents all over Europe that I could tap into for the next countries.

Following this strategy, we posted online the job offers for the Country Manager roles in Spain & Italy, so that we can get the first candidates. We must be able to open the country as soon as we find the right person.

Along with the recruitments, the other key factor of success is product preparation. Germany was our first international market, so we had to adapt a lot of our processes. Transforming our existing product into a multilingual-ready platform was almost literally done word by word.

Once you’ve got your team and your product ready, the next critical step is to start selling. There’s no magic sauce here, we go door to door from day one, because there’s no battle to be won outside of the field.

Then, as the business grows, we start to recruit, train and structure the local sales team. For instance we welcomed our first German Doctolibers “class” on September 6th.

You mentioned product localization, would you tell us a bit more about it?

We started out with an online translation platform but it didn’t bring the expected results, as we ended up with “old-school” translations and even sometimes out of context.

So we created an internal index with each and every keyword that is used on our platform. We staffed freelancers and Valentin, a university double-degree student. The main advantage of this solution was that Valentin knew our culture and tone, so he delivered much more accurate translations.

Being in several countries also has an impact on all new product features, so we had to take that into account when rethinking our product team’s organisation.

What are the resources that you allocate to your international development?

I’m the first person working full time on our international expansion. But launching in a new country is every department’s business. Everyone dedicates about a third of their time to it.

To go even faster, we’re setting up a growth team with the following people:

  • A French sales team member who will go in the new country for a year, acting as the local CEO’s right hand. His/Her mission is to bridge the gap with Paris, to launch and develop the business and especially to be the ambassador of Doctolib’s culture for the local team.
  • A team based in Paris with natives only, who have a deep understanding of the local startup ecosystems and, ideally, of the health sector in our target markets. This team acts as a link between the local teams and the headquarter on all things administrative & product related. They also do market intelligence, by observing trends and outlooks in local health regulations & laws, gathering best practices…

To structure our international development we ask for advice, a lot. Our inspirations are Blablacar, Uber or La Fourchette, that Stanislas knows well.

But at the end of the day, the learning curve is real and you have to live it if you want to know it.

What were the main challenges you had to tackle?

The hardest thing is to recruit. Hiring a Country Manager is a huge challenge and a pretty big bet. The Germans are really culturally different from us, French, so for every candidate it was really difficult to simply know if there was a fit. Besides Germany is approaching full employment, so it’s all the more important that we build a solid reputation, as fast as possible, to attract the best talents.

On the contrary, what’s really easy?

The good news is that (i) the German market was still untapped and (ii) isn’t fundamentally different from the French market, regarding our activity. Doctors are very receptive, so we quickly found our first early adopters!

Before we leave you, do you have a fun fact you could share with us about your international development?

Our goal for the end of June was to onboard our first 50 German doctors, to whom we offer free lifetime subscriptions. It’s absolutely key as these 50 doctors are our ambassadors and help us to quickly raise awareness around our service.

So to thank them for their trust we organized a coktail party in our Berlin offices and 35 doctors out of 500 showed up! It’s a huge win for us! The local team is very close, we almost live together and we really are tireless in our work, it’s pretty intense. German doctors wants proximity.

We also relied a lot on the French community: the Consul General and the Ambassador of France in Germany even attended our cocktail party.

Finally, what are the next steps for Doctolib’s international development?

We want to launch in 6 new European countries by the end of 2017 and cover the whole continent in 2018.

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