“Nothing will be easy. Along the journey, you will learn a lot more than you think. Don't worry about mistakes because they are meant to be made. We're human. The most important thing is how we can learn from them.” - Vireak Chea
“Do something that you really love, not something people tell you to do. Once you do, everything will start falling into place.” - Vireak Chea
“We help digitalize the pharmacy SMEs in Cambodia. When you start to become more digitalized, you have less work in the back end and you have more busy work in the front end, which is exactly what you want. Ultimately, that provides better care for the patients.” - Vireak Chea
Jeremy Au interviewed Vireak Chea, a pharmacist and the founder of PillTech, a startup in Cambodia discussing his motivations, experiences, and hopes for the future. Vireak expressed his desire to be closer to his family, which influenced his decision to return to Cambodia and build his business. He acknowledged the challenges of maintaining a work-life balance while pursuing ambitious ideas and emphasized the importance of finding harmony between work and family.
Vireak's primary goal is to provide access to affordable and legitimate medications in Cambodia, aiming to revolutionize the pharmacy industry and improve patient care through technology. He envisions expanding his venture to other countries with similar pain points in the pharmacy sector. He shared his insights on the journey of building a pharmacy business, including the need to understand customer journeys, educate customers, and adapt strategies based on learnings.
Throughout the discussion, Vireak's strong family orientation emerged as a driving force behind his decisions and his commitment to improving healthcare for other families. He encouraged listeners to pursue their passions and emphasized that mistakes are opportunities for growth. Lastly, the importance of maintaining a work-life balance was highlighted, with the reminder that work will always be there, but family needs care and attention.
Overall, this interview provided valuable insights into the motivations, challenges, and aspirations of a pharmacist-turned-entrepreneur aiming to make a positive impact on healthcare in Cambodia.
Supported by Pollen
Pollen is a private B2B liquidation marketplace. The startup connects sellers carrying excess inventory with bulk buyers across the world. The platform incorporates pricing, algorithms, dashboard analytics and sustainability metrics to find great liquidation outcomes. Hundreds of tons of usable products that would've been incinerated or gone to landfill are now used by happy consumers instead. Manufacturers get more revenue, buyers get cheaper, and the world benefits Learn more at www.pollen.tech.
Jeremy Au: (01:41)
Hey, Vireak. Good to see you.
Vireak Chea: (01:43)
Hey, good morning Jeremy. How are you?
Jeremy Au: (01:46)
Well, I'm excited to share your story because you are the first Cambodian entrepreneur ever on the show. I think Cambodia is an important story. We had a wonderful time at the conference, you know, talking and speaking as panelists, and I just thought that you had such a cool story, I just wanted to, um, I don't know, hear more from you personally, even, right?
Vireak Chea: (02:03)
Thank you for having me today and, um, look forward to, um, contributing.
Jeremy Au: (02:07)
So, Vireak, could you share a little bit more about yourself and who you are real quick?
Vireak Chea: (02:12)
Sure. So I'm a pharmacist by trade. I graduated from the US with a Doctor's degree in Pharmacy. I worked for the largest chain pharmacy in the US for many years, over 10 years, and I've been back in Cambodia now, my home country for over 10 years. And that's sort of when things are looking to, you know, I wasn't sure where I wanted to be, but I know that retail pharmacies are something that I really love to do.
So yeah, we started retail pharmacy here and the biggest pain point of starting a retail pharmacy here was, unlike in the US when you buy from one supplier, and they have everything that you need from A to Z, here, you have to buy from hundreds of suppliers and they don't have everything that you need for your pharmacy.
So I think that was the largest, the biggest pain point. But not only that, but if you look at Southeast Asia in general, you know, patients would go to the pharmacist first when they get sick, and as you know, in Southeast Asia, there's a lot of counterfeits. There are a lot of substandard medications. So if you really want to make sure that the pharmacists are taking good care of the patients, we got to make sure they buy from legal channels, and that's exactly what we started in Cambodia about three years ago.
Jeremy Au: (03:17)
So I have so many questions, right? I think the first one that comes out of course is that there are three interesting decisions you made. I think the first, of course, that you made was that you made a decision to go back to Cambodia, even though you studied and worked in the US right? And you know, obviously, there are many folks that I know are the diaspora that's out there, but you made a decision to come back and build, and, you know, continue that pharmacy practice. So could you share a little bit more about what that decision was?
Vireak Chea: (03:43)
Yeah, I, I think, by far, that was the hardest decision I've ever made. It was a decision, definitely, you know, you get rid of everything from that you have built for 20 years, there are friends, close families over there, house, a really great job, but, you know, I think I wanted to be closer to the family, and second, I see that the healthcare industry here, it's still falling far behind from, surrounding countries. So I wanted to make something a little bit different and also be closer to the aging parents that I left 20 years ago, also. I think that was the decision to come back. Or the reasons why.
Jeremy Au: (04:15)
Yeah. What was that transition like for you? Because I think your story is not uncommon. I think there are so many folks who are part of the diaspora across Southeast Asia, even myself coming back to Southeast Asia, there's a reverse culture shock that happens even though I grew up here. So I'm just kind of curious about what that experience was from your perspective.
Vireak Chea: (04:34)
Yeah, it is definitely, not easy because, you know, you left 20 years and everything sort of changed and you weren't there anymore to sort of understand, the cultural difference, right? You come back every now and then to visit, but moving back here, just dealing with people. I think the first transition that was the hardest was, the first year was very difficult. I didn't really have many friends, and then, Mom and Dad wanted to introduce me to other people. You know, obviously, we didn't really click because of different culture sets, but I think once you start making your own friends that are returnees, I guess in a sense, that really helped, and that's sort of what gets the ball rolling for me. So the transition was very difficult at first, but once you started making the connection, making the friends that have similarities in terms of what we believe in, I think that's a lot easier. Even now, I think there are different cliques and different friendships that we have, but I think the transition was definitely difficult at first.
Jeremy Au: (05:29)
Yeah. You know what's interesting about this is that you not only decided to come back home but eventually decided to build, and become an entrepreneur as well. So what was that decision path from your perspective?
Vireak Chea: (05:41)
You know, honestly, in pharmacy schools, they don't teach you business. They don't teach you entrepreneurship. But I think,
Jeremy Au: (05:47)
I hope not. I mean, you know, I'll be like, I, I need you to know the formula, so,
Vireak Chea: (05:52)
Yeah. So we, we learned everything about science, how the human body works and how the drug works in the body, and that's what kind of drew me in, but, you know, I think one of the reasons why I wanted to become an entrepreneur is I feel that healthcare system could be better and I could do from my part, which is being a pharmacist, being in the pharmacy. And I know that us, opening up retail stores, one or two or three doesn't really make much impact on the patient. So for us to make a really big impact, I think we really need to help digitalize the pharmacy SME here, at least the newer generation, so that they have more time in the front end serving the patients. That's what we want, and so basically, as you probably heard, Southeast Asia pharmacists in general, well, everything's done by hand, especially in Cambodia, so we want to make sure that we digitalize them, you know, procurement online, by using a POS system to help manage their inventory, their daily sales, so that it frees them themselves in the back end, right?
So that they could spend more time in the front end serving the customers, and that's exactly what we're trying to do because as you go further out at the city, the pharmacists play a very critical role in healthcare and that's exactly what we want them to do, is to make sure that they're equipped with enough knowledge in the pharmacy industry and enough knowledge in the business to sustain themselves and at the end, helping the patients, ultimately,
Jeremy Au: (07:12)
Yeah. So what's interesting is that you kind of shed like you didn't teach your business in school, and then now you take on that business language and role, right? What were some of the learnings that you had to do I mean, there's so many learnings you must ha have had, right?
One is business, but two also, as you said, is Cambodia in terms of outside the cities, right? So it's further away. Then thirdly, of course, nobody has really built that pharmacy business before in terms of the whole startup approach. So could you share a little bit more about what were some of the personal learnings that you had?
Vireak Chea: (07:42)
Yeah, I mean, gosh, I mean, if we, we talk about learnings, I think there are so many learnings I've done in the last three years than I've ever done in the US, to be honest. Learning and business, I think it's, that's definitely something that you don't really get taught in pharmacy school and you learn on your own as you go. You fall a lot and you learn from it, but you try to learn as fast as you can. So I think there's a lot of learning, and opening up, trying to change Cambodia's healthcare system versus the US, what we have and what we have here is also different.
You have to really make little, slight adjustments here and there to make sure it fits the local market here. So whatever we see in the US, whatever technology we had or we have, in the US, it's definitely, everything has to modify slightly or make changes so that it could fit. Some don't work, and some work in the country, so I think that was another challenge that I've had to really learn. What are the big pain points here in the country from the pharmacist's point of view and how can we create technologies that they will use and not only use it but, you know, keep using it for many, many years? So I think that was a big challenge also, from business to technology, and then getting people to adopt the technology. How do we do that? How do we leverage the stakeholders here, whether it's the Ministry of Health, whether it's the government or other government sectors?
So I think those are some of the things that I had to learn on the fly and I enjoy learning it but definitely, it's something that you weren't taught in pharmacy school.
Jeremy Au: (09:11)
I think you started describing the problem a little bit, which is that pharmacists play a really important role in the healthcare system, especially outside the city and the urban areas. Could you share a little bit more about what are the problems they face and what the role they play is?
Vireak Chea: (09:24)
Yeah, so let's go through the journey, right? So if you are the patient, when you get sick, if you're middle income to low, mid to low income, you don't have enough money to basically see the doctor, right? So if you go see the doctor, they charge your fees, and on top of that, the medication is being charged a lot higher too. So what people usually do is they go to their local pharmacy, good neighbor pharmacies, maybe. And then they start, you know, saying that, hey, look, I have a symptom here. What, what can you give me right? Then the pharmacist would then prescribe some medication, and give it for three, or four days. If they feel better, then they don't come back. If they don't, if they feel worse, then obviously, they'll go to the clinic. So I think this is where a pharmacist has to really play a very critical role in patient care because they have to basically, sort of diagnose the patient properly, and as you know, in reality, the pharmacists play a little bit over their scope of work, which means sometimes, they prescribe things that they shouldn't be prescribing. For example, antibiotics or steroid medications for the patient. So not only providing technology for the patient but also providing technology for the pharmacist, also educating the pharmacist that, you know, what are the things that they could do and they cannot do. I think that the journey is a little bit different compared to the US, but that's what makes it more interesting. So I think it definitely, pharmacists play a critical role in patient care in Southeast Asia.
Jeremy Au: (10:42)
I think what I was kind of thinking about is how does it differ from say, doctors, right? I know that sounds like such an elementary question, I guess, but I feel like you know, what you're implying is that there's a little bit of a difference in how, for example, in the US, a pharmacist and a doctor would traditionally split their roles, right? So how would you say that it works from your perspective?
Vireak Chea: (11:03)
Yeah. So, obviously, in the US, you know, the doctors and the pharmacists play a critical part in the health as a healthcare provider. So we work together with the doctors. The doctor asked questions about, hey, look, I have this diagnosis. The patient is allergic to this medication. What's the first line of the regimen that I should treat the patient with, right? So then, the pharmacist would say, okay, well, that goes out the window, so I think this is probably the best med for the patient. Try this one. So I think that's what, more or less our roles, and then when the doctor provides a prescription, then we would dispense it, and provide patient counseling for the patients.
I think that's more or less what we want the pharmacy and then the healthcare providers to work together like that. So in Cambodia, that separation of dispensing and prescribing is not really clear, which means that pharmacists sometimes, work a little bit above their scope of work, which means they often prescribe as well.
And sometimes the patient expects this as well, that if you go to a pharmacy and they don't give you any medication and just happen to take vitamin C, they may not come back to you. So the pharmacist, sometimes, it sort of culturally falls into that "I have to prescribe something for the patient" and if I prescribe something very light and they feel like they don't feel better, then they won't come back to me. So then, the pharmacist has to prescribe something more. So it's a lot of education involved in this case. You know, the pharmacist has to do their part, and the patient has to know what are the things that the pharmacist can and cannot do, but you don't expect the patients here to understand that part. And then you as a pharmacist have to make that critical judgment of, should I do this? Should I do that in the best interest of the patient, right? So I think a little bit of explanation from the pharmacist in this case would go a long way, to really help the patient understand that, look, these are the things that I can do for you today or tomorrow. If you don't feel better, we could refer you to the closest GP or the closest specialist in town, and you could speak to them. So if we could go a little bit extra mile rather than just make that sale, or try to make that sale on the first transaction, then I think that you build more trust in the relationship with the patient as well.
And that's what we try to do also. So with PillTech, we have a PillTech academy where we provide training to the pharmacist on the business side, on the technology side, and product knowledge side as well, so I think these are some things that we tried to put in our training as well.
Jeremy Au: (13:15)
You've done a lot of work in making that happen. With PillTech. How does PillTech go about making that happen in terms of supporting pharmacists through this problem and also helping the experience for the customers who, as you said, want that prescription who want that experience? So how are you going about doing that?
Vireak Chea: (13:32)
Yeah, so just a little bit of background about PillTech. So, PillTech, we're basically a B2B marketplace for the pharmaceutical industry. So the pharmacist would go onto our platform. They could buy anything that they need for their stores, for example. So that's exactly what we want to do, but the more we go into this, we notice that PillTech cannot be just a B2B marketplace. It has to be more than that because then, if there's any, there's no unique value proposition in this case, right? So we thought that providing the academy which is also a partnership with the Ministry of Health, to provide continued education hours to the pharmacist so that they could renew their license.
I think that was a really good move for us to increase awareness of the brand, and also at the same time, really help the pharmacist understand what exactly they need to do. So I think just to give you a little bit of background on what we do at PillTech.
Jeremy Au: (14:20)
How does PillTech help the pharmacists, and the consumers from their perspective?
Vireak Chea: (14:25)
Okay, so how we help the pharmacist is basically making it easier, and accessible to purchase products on a platform at a very low cost as well. So that's in return, what basically then helps the patient in the long run because then all the products that they purchase on our platforms are legal, are registered.
So then it really helped the patient, in this case. Imagine if you, as a pharmacist, would you go buy from any distributor suppliers, and then they end up buying illegal or counterfeit products. So that would harm the patient also. So that's one problem that we're solving. The second part is, pharmacists, everything is done by hand. They would memorize every product. They would memorize everything, and you have a whole warehouse right behind you. You know, they don't know what the expiration dates are. They don't know what's fast-moving. They don't know whether the products running out of stock or not.
So these are some of the issues when you're not leveraging technology. So, a big part of it is we create our own in-house PO system that's very user-friendly. We really paid attention, big attention to the pain point that they have. So then, we try to solve their problem also by addressing, you know what, now that you're using our system, it will help you manage your inventory better. It will help you manage the expiry dates better. It will help you understand what your business is doing or how is it doing for the past few months. So I think those two things, it really helped digitalize the pharmacy SMEs here in Cambodia, and ultimately when you start doing more, when you start to become more digitalized, you actually have less work in the back end, and then you have more busy work in the front end with the patient, which is exactly what you want, and that provides better care for the patients in the end.
Jeremy Au: (16:06)
From your perspective, what have been some surprising learnings? Because at some level, it feels straightforward, which is like, okay, you know, they, they want to do this, you got to help provide less counterfeit, more genuine, more support. So that feels straightforward, but I'm sure it was not straightforward in the actual practice execution. So I'm just kind of curious, what were some of the learnings you had along the way?
Vireak Chea: (16:28)
Yeah, I think I'm learning along the way that people are, they're really, very price-sensitive to pharmacists. So we need to understand that, okay, who's our, like target audience? When we first started, our target audience is like younger pharmacists that sort of understands technology, and then from there, we have to break it down. Okay, so that's good. So maybe younger pharmacists understand technology, plus they are business builders. They want to build their businesses from the ground up. So, we break it down even deeper because at the end of the day, if you don't have a unique value proposition other than just the marketplace, then it's like they could go to your competitor versus you today because the pricing is better, but if you have other stickiness to it, then they'll end up coming back to you more, leveraging your technology, talking to you more. That's what we want to build. But yeah, along the way, I wish it was that straightforward, but along the way, we found out little things that we think that are going to make ourselves stand out a little bit more compared to other competitors.
Jeremy Au: (17:23)
Yeah. I think what's interesting is that you've made a certain set of decisions about building it. Could you share about some of the decisions that you think are different because you're building Cambodia or that is different because it's the reality of the ground versus, for example, I don't know, the advice that you read on substack or you know, out there?
Vireak Chea: (17:43) V
Yeah, so, when we first started, we thought that it's going to be just an online marketplace, and then in reality, yeah, in reality, you got a hundred percent of the pie, and the online marketplace is people are ordering this amount through the online platform and then you have a larger amount that's not ordering on the platform.
So then, we have to shift our business a little bit to do more traditional also, and look, you know what? You're okay. If you want to order, you could order through us manually, whether it's Telegram or WhatsApp, or Messenger, or you could go back to our online platform, so we try to educate people to go along that way. It's not a hundred percent technology-driven, which we want it to be, but at least not this time.
Jeremy Au: (18:21)
Wow. That sounds like painful learning to have along the way because you're like building a straightforward digital business and now you got to do online and offline.
Vireak Chea: (18:29)
Yeah. And, on top of that, the POS system, right? So we thought that, oh, it's a no-brainer. You don't have a system in place. You have medications expiring like crazy. You don't know. You don't know when your good products are running out of stock or you don't want Jeremy to come into the store and say, hey, I want a vitamin C. I'm like, oh shoot. You know what? We're out of stock, because these are fast-moving, right? So we thought that the POS system would be, it's going to go like hot cakes, because it offers so much value and at the end it's like, I really don't need it. I could just use paper, a pen.
Vireak Chea: (18:58)
What they don't understand is that, because the pharmacist, again, we've never been taught about business. We've only been taught how to be a pharmacist. So when they become a business owner, it takes some time to learn, and one of the things that we didn't know was it's going to be that difficult to get them to use our POS system.
And then we start getting a lot of feedback from them, and at the end of the day they said that look, I want a system that's going to make me work less, not work more, because POS is, as you know, they have to do an inventory count, they have to make sure their products are not, cause you to know, you have to put in effort, right? But at the end of the day, it's how can you make a shortcut for that journey for them. For example, in our POS system now, we developed an app where they could just use their phone, scan the product using their camera, and that's how you update stock. So I think, there's a traditional way of doing the POS system, but in order to leverage, to sort of change that mindset of the local users here, you have to make really new features that make it easier for them to use, cause sometimes you have three, four people in your team, right? You only have one computer, for example, and when you have to do stock count, then everybody has to need a computer and a scanner. So that incurred more cost. So then, if it's on a smartphone, everybody has a smartphone nowadays in Cambodia.
So then they could just download the app, and then, and do the inventory account. So now we're starting to say, okay, you know, we cannot just go and build a traditional system that everyone has. We have to build a little bit more than just a POS system, so we have to think about what the pain points are. What's the user experience like, and how can we get there quicker? I think that's the challenge that we've been facing, but I think our team's doing quite well in terms of addressing those problems.
Jeremy Au: (20:34)
Yeah, I think what's interesting is that you've made all these decisions, and I think they're obviously quite familiar in the sense that there are many countries around the world in emerging markets where there's a lot of custom medication. You had to go mobile first in order to make that happen from their perspective. How do you handle customer education from your perspective?
Vireak Chea: (20:53)
Customer education as in the pharmacy education?
Jeremy Au: (20:55)
Yeah, because you know, I think what you described is very much like you're coaching, you're helping them, you know, what's the word? Evolve their way of work. Right? And that's not easy, right? Because you know, as you said, they hadn't done it before. You felt like it was a no-brainer, but it wasn't a no-brainer. So you had to adapt and evolve.
Vireak Chea: (21:11)
Yeah, that, that's a very good question. So we said that look, we have to offer a unique value proposition other than just the marketplace, other than just a POS system because anyone with the money would just come in and then do the same thing or anyone has the know-how from other countries could come in and with a little bit of money raised, they could do the same thing, right?
So I think another aspect of it is how can we provide that uniqueness to the pharmacy owners so that they could come back to us. So I think one of the strategies that we did was, we created PillTech Academy, which provides training solely, mainly focusing on technology and mainly focusing on business education.
So once a month, we have in-person, and online, we have different speakers that deal with finance, for example, inventory management, or lever or a pharmacist and working in an industry where they use technology to help them better. So I think having lessons like these really helps these younger, pharmacists, pharmacy SMEs, that now they're owners and they don't really know what they'd do.
For example, I went for a visit, a tour of this, the pharmacist in the provinces. The guy graduated, he took over his dad's pharmacy and he's complaining. He's like, I cannot beat mom-and-pop that's been here for 30 years. I just started four or five years ago and I don't know what my unique value proposition is. I don't know how to beat the pharmacy next door, and then that's when we start to realize that, you know what, they need better education in the business side because that's something that we've never been taught. So if imagine if we, PillTech could come in and say, look, Jeremy Pharmacy, for you to come and open up a new pharmacy next to someone that's been there for 30 years, really great pricing, every product is available, but they don't have anything in the system. They're going to be retiring, who knows in five, ten years. What are the unique value propositions? What do you need to do in order to be better and so that you could impede, right? So then, some of the things that we do in the academy side are really deep dive into it and say, okay, so what are some of the things that they can do and they cannot do?
So really, drive their unique value proposition. You can't go and compete against the mom-and-pop pharmacies that have been there for 30 years. They serve hundreds of customers every day really quickly. So for you, you don't have those many customers, but can you, for example, take really good care of like 10 patients or 30 patients a day or something like that? And then really follow up with them leveraging our technology. So I think these are some of the things that we train and some pharmacists are doing that and they try to figure out their unique value proposition and then they end up arising above just the price war, right?
They rose above, and just like now, people come to them because the mom-and-pop don't have time to consult, whereas, I'm a new pharmacist. I'm educated on the product. I have more product knowledge and I have more time to consult with you, and I have more time to build a relationship with you, Jeremy, as a patient. And then Jeremy would not go back to the mom-and-pop. They would come back to me because I spend the time, and effort, even though my pricing may be a little bit higher, maybe 50 cents or a dollar more, than the value that I provide for you, you see that value and you come back to me. So I think those are some of the things that we train the new pharmacy generation to understand.
Jeremy Au: (24:10)
Right. It is interesting because you're building in Cambodia, right? And I think Cambodia, frankly from a regional perspective, isn't necessarily known for strong technology talent, and experience. So how have you been going about, say, hiring or looking for people? Do you feel like it's not a problem or do you have to do something different from your perspective? Because you've worked in both in the US and in Cambodia now, so I'm just kind of curious about, is there like anything you notice?
Vireak Chea: (24:35)
A lot of people when they came back, or a lot of foreign investors when they come in, obviously to a developing country, HR is definitely one of the hardest things. So you could, you could go about and complaining all about it, for however long you want, but I think, try to do it differently, but maybe like, because these are very receptive people. They're young. They learn quickly. They just haven't had the experience or haven't seen the world from the technology side, for us, for example. So I think be a bit more understanding, provide more coaching, and provide more time and effort with your team.
I think definitely, that makes a big difference. We do have problems with, you know, having the right this and the right that but I think there's no such thing as the right person for this startup industry in general because this is something new that people are not exposed to.
So left alone, the industry itself, and the second is, how do you build a team that, that's sort of ready for this kind of industry. So I think for us, we usually focus more on the younger generations because I think they learn a lot faster. They're more technology savvy. They're, if you hire someone, let's say, maybe older, more senior and has a lot of experience, say from a corporate world, they may not do well in a startup scene anyways, although they have a lot of experience, but not that we don't value them. Long story short, you got to put in a lot of effort and a lot of training, a lot of times, to really push this baby, to make it grow up a lot faster than normal, right? So I think our team, we, you know, every, every week, every month, we do have training sessions on how to better themselves. So I think that's something that we see and some people, they say that, oh, well, when you train them, they will just go to another company, get a higher salary. But I think that's, regardless. They'll do that if you don't train them, then what's, what's going to happen is you, you're stuck with people that don't really understand what, what you, you wanted to do.
So I, for our side, we provide training and, if they move on to another company, at least we train one person to be better. But if they stay with us, then obviously, we have this person who's going to be here for the long term and they know exactly what we wanted to do. So I think that's the upside And the downside also.
Jeremy Au: (26:36)
Yeah. Could you share about a time that you personally have been brave?
Vireak Chea: (26:40)
You know, not a lot of people know this, but I think back in the days when, before my dad, so about 15 or maybe 13 years ago, my dad had a major stroke in Cambodia, and that was really the turning point for me. For me, the journey would've been to work as a pharmacist. At the time, I was working for a mom-and-pop store. He has one store. I opened up a second store with him. Eventually, when he retires, I take over everything, right? So that was the journey that I had in mind. I had a house, dogs, and cars, and whatever. And then, you know, when that happened, that really made that change, made the chain that, look, you know, I was raised for 13 years, and then I moved out of the country, moved away from my parents for 20 years, and I really want to be closest to them.
So I think. To answer your question, I think that was a very difficult decision that I had to make, but do I regret making that decision? I don't think so, because I've learned so much more in the last 10 years than I've ever learned. And also, I love being closer to my parents because, you know, they're aging and I'm the only one in healthcare that really can help them, you know, with medications, whatever, doctor's visits, and so on.
So I think that was, by far, the hardest decision, but I think it's the best decision for me in general, one is closer to the parents, second, is doing something that I really love in healthcare and trying to make some changes. So I think those are probably the hardest or the bravest decision that I made.
Jeremy Au: (28:03)
I think a lot of folks really struggle with that, which is like, parents getting old. It's the future of time, I guess. We'll get old eventually as well, one day, and it, it's a hard trade-off, because it's like you have this life, this career that you've built, and then, as you said, there's, there's an element of sacrifice there. How did you go about making that decision? Did you talk to people? How did you go about centering yourself too? Cause that's not an easy decision to make.
Vireak Chea: (28:29)
I think, I spoke to my boss back then and I said, hey, look, this is what I want to do. I know we have our own ways. He doesn't want to sell his pharmacy to just any corporate chain store. He knows that he wants to give it out to someone that's really passionate about pharmacy, really passionate about patient care. So I think that was the move that we were about to take, but yeah, definitely it wasn't an easy one. I spoke to a lot of people, but I think, I have one intention, which kind of outweighs everything, which was I want to be closer to my parents, and that was the main driving force. And I know parents are aging and I am in the healthcare industry. If I go talk to a doctor at the hospital, I understand it more than my other siblings. So I think that was the key decision-maker for me, and I love it. I mean, I go see them now. When I first moved back, I lived with them, but now I live with my wife, but I still go visit them three, four times a week. I call them, obviously, you can call from America too, but I get to see them better and just to see them laugh, just to see them smile, that makes a big difference for me because I guess I'm more a family-oriented kind of guy, so I think it's, that's, that makes it easier for me to make that decision. It's definitely easier in the sense that I could be closer, but not easy from another standpoint. You have friends growing up over there in the US, you have a really great job or business that's going to be yours one day.
So, yeah, definitely. I think there's no right or wrong answer. It's just what you want, and I think what I want was, I want to be closer to my mom and dad. That was, that was it.
Jeremy Au: (30:03)
I mean, it's, it's wholesome, it's real. I think I felt the same when I moved back to Singapore. I wanted to be close parents. You said something, right? It is about being family oriented. How else does it show up in your life? I'm so curious because you know, it shows.
Vireak Chea: (30:15)
You're, you're so good at asking questions. Being family-oriented is definitely something that I am, and then when I started this startup, this new entrepreneurship, it put me so far from my family because I ended up spending so much time and effort at the office and working every day.
Sometimes, on weekends too for the first two, or three years. So, my wife, she's not very happy at the moment, for the past two, three years, but, you know, I try, I try to be better. I try to keep that work-life balance. It's hard when you have some crazy ideas that you really want to try and that idea is coming through, you're just sitting down for like an hour, just trying to jot away those brainstorming ideas.
Yeah, I think, for me, I enjoy what I do. I love what I do, but trying to find that balance also with the family and everything else, because I have to remind myself that this is the main reason why I move back. So if I move back just to do this and ignore the family again, then I could've stayed in the US, right? So I think having that balance is definitely very important for me.
Jeremy Au: (31:13)
Right. could you share a little bit more about, as you kind of like built out this business and what are your hopes for this in 10 years' time?
Vireak Chea: (31:22)
Yeah. So for me, personally, I think providing access to affordable medications is definitely one, or obviously no fake medication or substandard medication. That's my main goal, and then hopefully we could change the pharmacy industry, the way it's practiced in Cambodia forever. So in the next 10 years, everyone will start using technology, leveraging our system, whoever's systems in the market because we need to evolve if we want patient care to be better. The caretaker of the healthcare provider in this case needs to also evolve, and the mom-and-pops will eventually retire. As newcomers, you need to also evolve to provide patient care, leveraging technology also. So that's my hope. And for me, I vision that hopefully, 10 years from now, I'm not only in Cambodia, but I'm also in Laos, in Myanmar, where the countries are very similar in terms of pain points, in terms of the pharmacy industry.
So there are really great opportunities. I think just make sure that we really hit the pain point first, understands the customers, the users' journey, and how can we offer solutions for that. And once we sort of take over the market here, then we could slowly expand to other countries. But I think for now, we'll try to, we're trying to stay afloat here in the country and trying to find our unique value proposition, trying to build more stickiness and at the end, make sure that our company is sustainable in the long run. That's mainly most of it.
Jeremy Au: (32:52)
It's a big dream and I'm sure you'll get there. On that note, I would love to summarize the three big themes I got from this. The first, of course, is thank you so much for sharing, I think the real reasons behind why you chose to return to Cambodia, from your good career, your good everything, lifestyle that you had there and I thought it was really interesting to hear about your decision making about what you had to learn. I think coming back home, both in terms of the country, and the culture, but also I think, like you said, also stating that founder journey as well about building business, and having that skillset was I think a really interesting chronology that really resonates with me. The second, of course, is I think there are some technical learnings around what it takes to build a pharmacy and what are the companies that are trying to build. but more importantly, I think what the problem that you're trying to solve and some of the key learnings along the way about how to educate the customer, some of the things that you thought were going to be show wins, but turned out not to be and what you had to do differently. I thought those were really interesting and really relevant for so many founders out there. And lastly, thanks for sharing about how much you are a family-oriented guy. I thought that was a very real moment. I'm also very family-oriented, so it was nice to hear, how it colored your decision to come back home, but also I think how it drives your own day-to-day lifestyle. Also, I think it feels like it really shows why you're also building out this pharmacy, right? Because you care about the healthcare for other families as well. So I thought that was a really fascinating journey and I'm glad I got to hear it.
Vireak Chea: (34:21)
Yeah. Well summed up, I think for me, if there's any message that I could convey to the listeners, in this case, it would be, do something that you really love, not necessarily what people tell you to do. I think once you do something you really love, then everything will start falling into place.
Nothing will be easy. Along the journey, you'll learn a lot more than you think. And don't worry, mistakes are meant to be made. We're human, and the most important thing is how you can learn from it. At the end of the day, when you're in healthcare, how many people can you save? And for me, how many people, how many pharmacists can I turn that turnaround so that they could help then save more people in the long run? So I think that's why we're in healthcare. Another thing too is the work-life balance is definitely a must. Work will always be there the next day, but family is definitely very important to me, so I'm trying to find that balance, trying to say it's okay, we could wait till tomorrow. It's okay too because work's going to always be there, but our family, you really need to take good care of them.
Jeremy Au: (35:19)
Work is always going to be there. I like that.
Vireak Chea: (35:22)
At the end of the day.
Jeremy Au: (35:23)
Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much.
Vireak Chea: (35:25)
Yeah. Thank you, Jeremy, for having me on your show.