The Challenges Start-Ups Face

Start-Up Founder Luca Christel about How to Set-Up Your Own Business

There is no trodden path or signpost to show you the way – but there is one thing that is absolutely essential for anyone planning to start their own business – flexibility. Without flexibility, it is impossible to keep a start-up on track and fulfill the needs of its customers. Luca Christel started up the digital pharmacy by the name of Apoly in 2016 as a delivery service for medicines. The service he offers should soon be available across Germany. Although its growth is already healthy, the start-up enterprise is still in the process of finding its feet. 

Luca Christel is convinced that doubt is one of the most important character traits for anyone starting a business. “When you get your business concept underway, it’s essential to be honest to yourself and permanently ask yourself if you are doing things right – that’s the only way to improve the situation,” says the 28-year old. While studying for his bachelors degree, his wish to make a positive contribution to the community with his own enterprise began to mature. Later, during his masters, this idea bore fruit and ripened into the idea that became Apoly. Christel envisaged a digital pharmacy that would simplify the German healthcare system and strengthen the position of patients. Customers should be able to order prescription-free medicines from a local pharmacy and have them delivered to their door. The upshot of this is that Apoly patients would have easy and convenient access to the right treatment for minor illnesses, aches, and pains. At the same time, the start-up would help pharmacies to market their products online.

Curiosity Helps to Fuel Innovation

Before founding Apoly in 2016, Christel critically examined his business concept inside and out, from top to bottom, and from back to front. In the words of Luca Christel, “It’s important to maintain a curious and creative approach when realizing your ideas. It’s the only way to create something really new. But you can’t allow yourself to lose touch with reality.” For him, the evolution of Apoly from an idea to a concrete plan took around two and a half years. Especially in the early phases, Christel presented his idea to all sorts of people and let them try to pick holes in his concept. He spoke with pharmacists and set up pilot projects to test his service concept in the real world.

His next step brought him to take a closer look at the market: In Germany, there are around 20,000 pharmacies, and only very few of them sell their products online. “We recognized that clear demand exists – on the part of both pharmacists and patients. The next question was just how can we get our business model to make a profit,” explains Christel. “If we had chosen a monthly rental model, our partners would have been confronted with enormous costs – that would hardly have been an acceptable proposition for anyone involved. We dropped that idea and decided on a per-transaction model. With this model, our business customers would only pay a fee to us when a customer ordered a product from their pharmacy.”

A Mentoring-Program as an Accelerator

During the development of a suitable business model, the creation of added value for users was not the only concern. Another key factor was to find out how this model could be transformed into a profitable enterprise. In 2015, Christel and Apoly moved into the Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Accelerator. “The mentoring program brought us a giant leap forward in the realization of our plans. OK, we have only just started to realize some of the concepts – but the experience of such intensive collaboration with experts on the analysis of our business concepts is something I can only recommend to anyone starting out as an entrepreneur,” reports Christel. But why did it take so long until the day finally came for the official founding of Apoly? “Founding your own business is simply a rather long and laborious process – in 2016, it was finally time to take the next logical step and register the company. A step that also allows us to realize the next phases of our concept.”

Creative Freedom for the Development of New Approaches to Problems

In our interview, Luca Christel explains why his colleagues are particularly curious, and how he fosters this curiosity.

Would you say that your colleagues are particularly curios?

Definitely. Our enterprise is still in its early days, and we are still in the process of inventing ourselves and finding our feet. Our workflows and procedures are very flexible – this gives us the freedom to work on our concept and product as a creative team. For instance, if we are planning the expansion of our business portfolio, the first thing we do is discuss it from the viewpoint of all our different disciplines. That ensures that everyone has a say in the matter. If we meet up with a problem in the realization process, each of us can work on it in his or her own way and, for example, learn more from online tutorials until we ultimately find the right solution. Working together as a team almost always brings us new approaches. And, at the end of the day, it all benefits our product. 

In your opinion, what structures are necessary for forstering curiosity in workplace?

Creative freedom and trust – for me, those are the decisive factors for fostering curiosity. As our team currently has a pretty manageable size, everyone has their own particular area of expertise. He enjoys absolute confidence in this domain. This means: If a problem arises, every member of the team is responsible for solving it in his or her best way. Everyone is given the creative freedom to realize things in their own special way. We collaborate closely, but we don’t constantly watch over what everyone is doing – we trust each other. A team has to get on well with each other to guarantee that this works. So the human side of things has to work as well. On top of this, I must be able to rely completely on the professional expertise of everyone I work with. The way I see it, both of these aspects are also essential for commercial success and progress.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

As a young start-up, it’s difficult for us to keep up in terms of monetary competitiveness. Fortunately, that is not the key priority of our colleagues. They primarily want to test their limits – they have a passion for learning, identify completely with our product, and contribute their ideas. We have flat hierarchies. This means that everyone can play a role in every process and contribute to the further development of Apoly.

About Luca Christel

Luca Christel began his academic career studying biochemistry in Potsdam, but soon noticed that purely scientific studies were not going to get him where he wanted to be. He therefore decided to drop research in favor of more practical disciplines and studied for a masters degree in business administration. During this period, his personal wish to change things in his own way and shape the world around him began to mature. Led by this motivation, he played around with various business concepts and ideas. Today, the 28-year old entrepreneur is managing director of the digital pharmacy Apoly. His company offers customers a full-service package ranging from advisory services and ordering to doorstep delivery of medicines – currently only prescription-free products, but soon prescription medicines, too. 

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