In 2008, Ifeoluwa Dare-Johnson, founder and CEO of at-home testing company Healthtracka, realised she didn’t want to pursue a career in medical biochemistry. That year, she was an intern at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Nigeria. Her calling, she felt, was the business side of health. But it would take another 11 years—after careers in data analysis and marketing—for her to embrace her passion and found Healthtracka, following her father’s passing from undiagnosed and untreated hypertension. In 2019, she wrote an article on LinkedIn, drawing attention to the absence of a marketing ethos in Nigeria’s healthcare industry. That article sits today as a building block of Healthtracka’s service and business model. 

On this episode of My Life in Tech, Dare-Johnson shares her journey building her young company, her experience at Techstars 2021, and the company’s goals for its recent seed raise of $1.5 million.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

During your internship at UCH, you realised you didn’t want to work in a medical lab but on the business end of healthcare. What do you mean by that?

One of the things I learnt about myself during my internship was I have empathy for people going through health issues; and one of the things I felt was helplessness. I wanted to be on the other side of making decisions that would make their lives better, as opposed to being the clinical person giving drugs.

You’ve mentioned that your dad suffering a stroke and eventually passing led you to found Healthtracka. Can you share with me what happened with your dad?

When I got the call that my dad had slumped and was in hospital, almost unconscious, it was unbelievable. My dad was the most optimistic person on earth; there was nothing wrong with him. And then I spoke to the doctor who said my dad had untreated hypertension and diabetes. That was news to me. And that’s why, today, one of the things that we do is proactive, preventive healthcare. Just because you feel and look all right doesn’t mean all is well inside your body. 

We watched my dad become a shadow of himself. He needed help, and I think it broke his heart knowing that this wasn’t who he wasthat because of his illness he had to depend on other people. 

After he passed, I realised we cannot make the same mistakes: we cannot watch and allow ourselves to get to this point where you’ve worked hard, it’s time for you to enjoy, chill and relax, and then your body says, “Nah, you’ve not paid attention to me; I’m not going to show up for you.”

At-home testing is Healthtracka’s service model. Why is the business designed that way, as opposed to being a diagnostic lab with at-home testing being one of a few options for clients? 

It’s about identifying the one thing that changes the game, and that was what we did. What is that one thing we will do that will make it convenient for people to get their tests done and be in control of their health? There are labs in different places and people have access to these things, but at the end of the day, when was the last time you went to the hospital for a checkup? Apart from affordability, the second common reason [people don’t go in for checkup] is convenience. It’s just not convenient to leave work, spend hours in traffic, go sit down and queue just to see a doctor for 10 minutes. It’s such a long process, and you’d rather keep it on the backburner, unless you are ill and urgently need to see someone. And that’s the behaviour behind the non- and late diagnosis of health issues. So we basically said we’re going to choose at-home lab testing and make it seamless, so that anyone who goes on our platform will realise they don’t need to go through the stress of testing at a hospital. 

In your article about healthcare marketing, you said that the space in Nigeria was underdeveloped at the time. Has that changed? Are you doing any health marketing at Healthtracka?

Thankfully, my background in marketing has been helpful. I understand customer acquisition and how to design experiences that make customers want to come back for our products. What we’ve done from day one is to clearly communicate our offerings. Even from the flow of landing on our website, that’s all marketing—how we make people feel when they come; how genuine our messages to them are; how helpful our customer experience team is. So, it is everything I wrote in that article. What of SEO? What are people looking for concerning their health that we can provide information about, so that they can then see that we care about these topics and have solutions for them. 

Congrats on raising $1.5 million in seed and getting selected for Techstars. How was your Techstars experience? 

[My co-founder Victor Amusan and I] were just about five months into launching Healthtracka when we got into Techstars, in May 2021. We did our accelerator programme online [rather than live in Toronto], because it was during COVID. In hindsight, it was perfect for us because we couldn’t have spent two months outside the country at that time. We were only five months into the business and had to be on the ground; our team was small and we were doing everything by ourselves. It was a lot of work—meetings at odd hours because we were in different time zones, combining our day-to-day activities at a five-month-old company with being present to attend the global accelerator for four hours each day.

But that was one of the best decisions we ever made; it helped us to quickly focus on what was important. We were learning from people who had built businesses—the mentorship, the networking, and of course, the money, because it costs money to run a company, especially at the early stages. Techstars accelerated our business in ways that might have taken two to three years to get to. 

What was your most significant learning at Techstars?

That fundraising takes longer than most people think. You see people announce raises all the time and might be tempted to think, “Oh it must be easy! They are throwing money at you people at this point!” You hear about the raise but don’t actually know all that has gone down for it to happen.

What are your goals for the $1.5 million seed?

Our number one goal is to penetrate the Nigerian market and get our services to the hands of everyone. Number two is, of course, expansion to other countries. We have our eyes set on Ghana and Kenya.

What’s the most difficult thing about being a founder? 

You never truly shut down. Even when you’re sleeping, you’re not sleeping deeply. I wake up at 3 AM, and I bring out my notes and I’m writing. Sometimes I’m leaving notes for my team members, and going, “No, no, no, you don’t need to respond, right now. Just dropping this so I don’t forget.” It is hard sometimes to rest, and if you’re not careful, all your validation comes from how well or not your business is doing. I think it’s difficult for most founders, not just me, to shut down.

My Life in Tech (MLIT) is a biweekly column that profiles innovators, leaders, and shapers in the African tech ecosystem, with the intention of putting a human face to the startups and innovations they build. A new episode drops every other Wednesday at 3 PM (WAT). If you think your story will interest MLIT readers, please fill out this form.

Kelechi Njoku Senior Editor

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