Berlin-based Mayd has spied an opportunity to build out a medicine delivery platform in Europe which partners with the small-scale pharmacies that tend to be the norm on the continent, capitalizing on how the pandemic has generally accelerated demand for on-demand delivery.
The startup, which was only founded at the beginning of this year, has bagged €13 million ($15 million) in seed funding from 468 Capital, Earlybird and Target Global to build out its vision of delivering meds to Europeans' doors fast -- within 30 minutes if they're ordered before midnight (or the next day, at a selected slot starting from 8 a.m.).
Regulatory restrictions and fragmentation across Europe, with a patchwork of per-country rules around prescriptions, may explain why this use case hasn't already been sewn up by a handful of pharmacy or platform giants.
The picture for medicine delivery in Europe is very different versus the U.S., per Mayd co-founder Lukas Pieczonka, who notes that a patchwork of rules can apply in different countries in Europe -- including (still) some limitations on e-prescriptions.
"Most of the U.S. companies … they are pharmacies. So they have a pharmacy licence for every state or for a selected number of states and they are operating as a pharmacy. For us it's not true -- we are a platform for pharmacies and for consumers," he says. "We won't be a pharmacy. We will heavily work in a very tight way with our partners but we are not a pharmacy. I think this is the biggest difference."
In Germany, where Mayd is starting out, the country is in the process of gearing up for an e-prescription system that's due to go live in January -- as part of wider moves to digitize healthcare services (such as by bringing in electronic patient records).
Such per country regulations likely (partly) explains the meaty size of Mayd's seed raise, along with the usual tech and recruitment challenges of scaling an urban logistics app business.
"In Germany there is a different situation who can deliver medicine. At the end the pharmacist needs control of the delivery process which is slightly different from the typical delivery model," notes Pieczonka. "We set up an infrastructure where [the pharmacist] can really control what kind of rider is now delivering what to whom … If the pharmacist, for example, puts the wrong medicine in the bag or something you should always be able to stop the delivery.
"Secondly there's a lot of regulatory stuff you need to also implement in your marketplace … so it's not like you can just add it if you're a food delivery or whatever delivery. You really need to focus on the specific segment in order to also have the credibility for the pharmacies."
From next year, Germans will be able to get a digital prescription from their doctor which they can send to a pharmacy to fulfill -- with reimbursement of the associated health insurance claim tied in.
Doing e-prescription delivery also means integrating with specific pharmacy infrastructure -- which in Germany will involve the use of QR codes.
So again it's not just another product that can be slung in the backpack of a gigging food delivery rider.
That said, European regulations haven't been a complete blocker to launching such a model earlier, per Pieczonka. But he argues the timing is right now -- with growing digitization of healthcare services and people in the region far more open to app-based delivery and convenience than they may have been pre-pandemic.
"In general we could have done this model two years ago. Actually this was also the first thing we were wondering why there's no one doing it in Germany -- or probably in France or in different other big European countries. And actually we didn't really find an answer. But what we found on our way there is that there are some regulatory tweaks for every country that you need to first crack until you can manage to really operate," he suggests.
"When we went through different topics -- groceries, food delivery, beverages -- you see almost everything gets delivered instantly. But something that you really need if you are sick and you really don't want to go out is medicine -- so this is something where we said hey this really makes sense."
It's worth noting there are a number of telehealth platforms operating private services in Europe that can deliver prescription medicine directly and speedily following a virtual consultation with a doctor -- such as Sweden's Kry.
But -- again -- Mayd argues there's room for multiple models to get meds to Europeans' doors.
"You will see different approaches -- one solution is just sending your prescription to a pharmacy so you can pick it up, the other tells you which pharmacy probably has it in stock, the other one tells you where you probably get the cheapest price for you product. But these are all single solutions and we think you need to integrate," says Pieczonka.
Mayd is gearing up for Germany switching on reimbursement for e-prescriptions next year by launching a service now, ahead of that change -- meaning initially it's limited to delivering only non-prescription items from pharmacy partners.
So, from today, Berlin residents can kick the tyres of its delivery service to get non-prescription products like bandaids or baby formula delivered to their door.
And while on-demand delivery platforms do exist in some European markets that could speedily deliver the same sort of (non-prescription) stuff you could buy in a pharmacy -- Spain's Glovo, for example, touts itself as a "deliver anything" app -- Mayd argues there's room for a specialist platform for pharmacies given complex and variable requirements around delivering prescriptions.
From January, Mayd will be able to take orders for prescription items -- linking patients to pharmacies that will process their prescriptions; pack their medicines for delivery (fulfilled by its e-bike or scooter riding delivery staff who are not gig workers but full-time employees); and provide advice to the patient, either via a phone call or in text form through its app based on the patient's preference.
No prescription will be delivered prior to the patient receiving advice from the pharmacists about how to take the medication and potential side effects, per Pieczonka.
Mayd's delivery service is starting in the German capital -- where he says it has most of the city covered by pharmacy partners (it has around 30 so far) but needs to add more to reach the outskirts of Berlin.
Pieczonka also says Mayd will also be expanding the service to other cities in Germany this year -- touting an addressable market of €60 billion across the country as a whole.
Its ambitions don't stop there, though, as it's eyeing wider European expansion. No decisions have been made on which other regional markets to target yet -- but Pieczonka sounds confident the model can scale.
"Our first focus is on Germany because it's the biggest market in Europe and if we crack this we can also go to other countries. At the end you also see a bigger trend that everyone gets delivered their stuff -- so there's no reason why people in Spain or Italy or France or wherever shouldn't get [medicines] delivered," he adds.
Mayd's business model in Germany is to take a commission from pharmacies on sales of any non-prescription items it routes to them -- and a delivery fee (or listing platform fee) for fulfilling e-prescription deliveries.
This report was updated with a correction after we were initially told delivery runs from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. (noon) -- actually it runs from 8 a.m. to midnight (12 a.m.).