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A buzzy startup raised $60 million to give hundreds of independent pharmacies a new weapon in their fight against CVS and Amazon

A buzzy startup raised $60 million to give hundreds of independent pharmacies a new weapon in their fight against CVS and Amazon

NimbleRx is joining the growing list of startups that are trying to find a competitive edge in the pharmacy world by partnering with independent drugstores.

The company, which has raised $60 million from investors, wants to help independent pharmacies compete with giants like CVS, Walgreens, and Amazon's PillPack by helping them deliver prescriptions to their customers.

Drug delivery is a hot market for startups. Capsule, which offers free same-day delivery, and ZipDrug, which has created its own network of independent pharmacies in the US to deliver cheaper drugs faster to US seniors, are two examples of pharmacy startups in the drug delivery space.

Read more: A startup working with 200 pharmacies is trying to break into the hypercompetitive drug-delivery business and give elderly Americans cheaper medications

In 2015, NimbleRx founder and CEO Talha Sattar, 35, decided he wanted to create a better pharmacy experience. Having previously worked at consulting firm McKinsey, Sattar said he worked extensively in healthcare, gaining a deep understanding of the complexities in the US healthcare system.

Nimble works with 600 pharmacies in 13 states

"I knew a lot about the stakeholders and how pharma works in the US," Sattar told Business Insider. "I wanted to solve the problem of drug delivery from an industry and consumer perspective."

To use Nimble, customers are sent a link via text from their local pharmacy to download the app, then use that to order their prescriptions. Then, the order is sent to a pharmacy, which fills the prescription and the pharmacy delivers it to the customer. Same-day delivery is available in some cases.

There is no monthly cost for the pharmacy to use the service. Patients pay the same price for their medicines that they would if they picked up the prescription at the pharmacy. Pharmacies can choose how much to charge for delivery, and some provide it for free.

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Right now Nimble works with 600 pharmacies in 13 states, and has raised funding from investors like Sequoia Capital, Y Combinator, First Round Capital, DAG Ventures and Khosla Ventures.

A customer using the Nimble app.

Photo courtesy of NimbleRx.

A change in Nimble's business strategy

NimbleRx started out as a direct-to-consumer pharmacy. Patients could submit prescriptions online, and NimbleRx itself would fill and deliver them.

Sattar said the company was doing reasonably well profitability-wise, but wanted to change tactics when he saw a gap in the healthcare market. Earlier this year, the company decided to make a strategic shift: partner with independent pharmacies.

The move was in part a reaction to Amazon buying the online pharmacy PillPack in 2018, CNBC reported earlier this year. Nimble closed its six pharmacy locations in the Bay Area and cut 40 people as part of the shift, according to CNBC.

Read more: Amazon is threatening the future of independent pharmacies. Here's how they're fighting back.

Sattar said he wanted to help independent pharmacies quickly enter the mobile economy, without having to build their own technology.

"If pharmacies don't have delivery and don't have the software to support it, they'll slowly die," Sattar said.

The startup projects that it's on track to hit $150 million in annual revenue over the next year. Before switching to the new strategy, Sattar said the company was making 20% to 30% of this revenue figure.

Nimble is making it easier for pharmacies to deliver and for customers to receive their prescriptions

Nimble's new business strategy is fairly easy to use for the customer and pharmacy.

For the customer, a link is sent from their pharmacy to order their prescriptions through Nimble's app or website. The link takes them to the Nimble app, where a patient places the order and inputs where they would like their prescription delivered.

The pharmacy is integrated into Nimble's software. The pharmacy receives messages from the company on what prescriptions need to be filled for their customers. All the pharmacies must offer delivery. Though the pharmacies themselves can decide how much to charge for delivery and how quickly to do it.

Five years ago, Raj Jhala founded Saint Peters Community Pharmacy in Missouri. Before partnering with Nimble, he almost hired a programming team to create an app, but realized the cost made it unattainable. Now, he charges customers $1 per prescription to use NimbleRx instead.

"They find it worth it, because it saves them from having to come to the pharmacy," Jhala told Business Insider. "It's a lot easier for the customer."

Raj Jhala, president of Saint Peters Community Pharmacy.

Courtesy of Saint Peters Community Pharmacy.

Since using NimbleRx in the spring of 2019, Jhala said 76% of his customers now use Nimble to get their prescriptions and it didn't take long for customers to adopt the new system. The pharmacy has also had a higher fill rate with the autofill program through Nimble. The startup automatically refills prescriptions for customers who need medication long term and sends texts automatically to remind the customer and the pharmacy.

While the adoption rate varies from pharmacy to pharmacy, Sattar said on average the adoption rate is above 20% for most of the pharmacies.

How the pharmacy startup is facing big competition from CVS and Walgreens

While Sattar sees a profitable market with independent and local pharmacies, chains like CVS and Walgreens offer stiff competition. In the US, CVS pharmacy has nearly 10,000 pharmacy locations and Walgreens has 9,560 locations.

The chains also offer delivery. CVS offers the CarePass program, where members can get 1-2 day shipping of their medication, with additional benefits to buy other items in CVS stores. In 2018, Walgreens partnered with FedEx to do national prescription delivery with the cost depending on the speed of shipping.

But for Sattar, the competition isn't a deterrent.

"There are over 30,000 pharmacies that don't have those chain names on their door," Sattar said. "Those pharmacies don't have the resources or means to compete. There's a latent demand in the market which is driving us. These pharmacies want a solution."