Peter Bialo, the CFO of the online booking platform for healthcare appointments DocPlanner started his career in more traditional roles within professional services, first in investment banking in Toronto and later strategy consulting in both Warsaw and London. He moved into the start-up space when an opportunity came up to run of Rocket Internet’s new businesses in Poland. After a good experience there, it was a stretch for him to imagine a return to a larger corporate setting. When Mariusz Gralewski, one of Poland’s top entrepreneurs asked Peter to join his co-founder and management team at DocPlanner, it was difficult for him to say no. Here Peter talks to us about trends within the online healthcare sector, DocPlanner’s £20M Series C funding round and acquisition of Spanish healthcare company Doctoralia in June this year and the ins and outs of the CFO role.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you? What are some of the day-to-day challenges of working for the largest European online healthcare platform?
It’s probably a cliché but there is really no typical day for me, which is why I’m so happy about being here. I’d group my work into a couple of buckets – 1) strategic initiatives (e.g. mergers & acquisitions, fundraising); 2) operational actions (process improvements, budgeting, etc.); 3) administration (legal documentation, etc.); and 4) putting out fires (unexpected tasks such as team issues, tough clients, etc.). I tend to spend about half my time in the office where I can meet with the team, job candidates and investors and about half where I can conduct all my conference calls with international partners, advisers and team members and focus more on “thinking” tasks (preparing and reviewing documents, analyses, etc.).
Our biggest challenge is growing successfully internationally. Internally, this includes answering questions such as how to build teams in different geographies with a similar mindset and set of values as ours, and how to adjust our management style to theirs, taking into account the cultural differences. Externally, it means adjusting our business model to the way healthcare is structured and delivered in various countries. Healthcare is a very local market which means that going beyond your home borders is not as easy as in less-regulated and more homogeneous sectors, such as restaurants and hotels. It, therefore, requires a lot of research and patience to select the next market to enter and monetise. However, once you’ve cracked a new geography it can be super rewarding and the barriers to entry for competitors are significant.
What are currently the hottest topics being discussed in the online healthcare sector? What motivates you most about working within this field?
Healthcare is still largely undisrupted. It is huge and it is very local so we’re seeing a lot of new players enter specific niches in various countries. Most players are still small and there are no recognisable regional or global winners as in other, more developed, sectors (e.g. Delivery Hero in food delivery, Uber in transport). One such niche is online video or chat consultations with a doctor, which we are monitoring closely as a natural extension of our product. So much so that we have made a small investment in the leading Polish player in this space, Telemedi.co.
In our segment – healthcare marketplace – we’re beginning to see some consolidation, geographic expansion and the resulting emergence of four to five larger players, each with specific regional strengths. Due to our recent merger with Spanish-based Doctoralia, we have become the global leader in traffic in the space (with 17 million unique users visiting our websites every month). In Brazil, we are starting to compete head-on with one of the big players. It will be exciting to see how we divide up the global market over the next few years and who emerges as the winner (or winners).
What levels of funding and M&A activity has DocPlanner seen over the past 12 months?
We raised a $20 million Series C round in February 2016, bringing the total raised to $34 million. Shortly thereafter, in June 2016, we merged with a Spanish-based competitor, Doctoralia. Over the upcoming year we are largely focused on integrating the Doctoralia team and merging our products into one, so further M&A will take a backseat. However, we will likely come back to the VC market in the near-term to secure further financing for some of our newly acquired geographies.
What goals did you arrive with as a CFO of DocPlanner?
The biggest goal was to take DocPlanner outside of Poland and make it first into a European player, and later into a global contender. Through a combination of acquisitions and organic entries we’ve been able to achieve this to a large extent. We currently have paying clients in 20 markets and a team of nearly 250 across four offices.
In order to achieve those ambitions, it was clear from the start that we would need investors with deep pockets. Fundraising was therefore a second major objective of mine. Through four rounds to date we’ve raised a total of $34 million which is, according to one third-party source, the largest amount ever raised by a Polish company from venture capital funds.
What achievements have you made in your role thus far and how have they contributed to DocPlanner’s performance in the past three years?
Aside from leading the fundraising and inorganic growth efforts mentioned earlier, I’ve also played a major role in developing and implementing an equity incentive plan for our management team, which is now being rolled out to all employees in the company. We see our team members as an essential part of our success and giving them an opportunity to become owners and entrepreneurs is a natural extension of this. More typical for a finance person, I’ve also added some discipline in the company in relation to cash management by implementing more rigorous budgeting, cost control, and cash management tools (FX hedging, cash-based investments, etc.). This means that we are well on our way to profitability as a company.
In your opinion, what might the future of financial directors look like in the upcoming years?
As the Internet disrupts traditional industries, knowledge of technological trends and their implications will become more and more important for management teams. The financial director will need to become more well-versed in technology in order to help foresee the challenges and opportunities arising from these changes. Financial performance will also depend more and more on Internet-based sales and tools (related to process improvements, cost savings, etc.); ignoring digital is no longer an option.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m excited to come to work every day at DocPlanner because we’re actually building something that improves the lives of patients and doctors around the world. It’s also great to be making an impact every day which wasn’t always the case in a bigger corporate setting. Lastly, I’m motivated by the fact that I’m working with an energetic, fun and humble group of experts from various fields – growth hacking, talent acquisition, product development, accounting, content marketing, customer sales and retention – which makes the experience very special.