Former Managing Director at Total Specific Solutions
Ben joined TSS in 2015 as a Sales and Marketing Director at PharmaPartners, a TSS portfolio company specialising in EMR software for the Netherlands. He spent 3 years turning around PharmaPartners and pioneered best practices for value-based pricing and organic growth at TSS. Ben then ran Bright Answers, another turnaround within the TSS portfolio, where was reporting to the cofounders of TSS.Read moreView Profile Page
Disclaimer: This interview is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. In Practise is an independent publisher and all opinions expressed by guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of In Practise.
Ben, can you share some context to when you first joined TSS and your role and responsibilities?
I joined TSS in 2015. I joined with PharmaPartners, which was one of TSS’s first companies and, at that time, it was run by Han Knooren, who is one of the group CEOs. A few months before I joined, TSS had been acquired by CSI, so it was going through the first round of actually sharing best practices and I jumped straight into it, directly into all CSI’s courses. I was responsible for the sales and marketing, within PharmaPartners, to start with, for my first few years at TSS.
Can you explain PharmaPartners’ business?
PharmaPartners is a Dutch-based company and is only in the Netherlands. It makes software for GPs and pharmacists. For the pharmacists, they are the biggest in the Netherlands and they make all the healthcare patient records, to ensure you can retrieve your medicines at the pharmacy. It also enables the general practice to understand who you are and what your health looks like. They can do a health check with the software and give you an opinion.
Is it all software as a service?
It’s all software as a service. As a GP, you would pay between €1,000 and €6,000 a year; for the pharmacists it would be between €10,000 and €15,000 a year. The company itself runs on the pharmacist software so they are really into the DNA of their customers.
So it stores the patient record information but also the merchandise or inventory at the pharmacy, as well?
Yes; when you walk into the pharmacist, they first have to open the screen to determine who you are and then your personal information pops up. They will also see the specific medicines and where they are stocked but also what they need to prepare. They will also know what order items you had, what your health looks like and the prescription is run, digitally, to the pharmacist, so they are all connected with each other and that makes it pretty unique.
Who are the competitors in this industry?
Within pharmacies, at the beginning, you had three, including a very small one that just had a few customers. There was CGM, which is a very big one; I think it is a German company. They also do a lot of other stuff but they were the biggest competitor. Then there was a new one, coming up in the market, that we knew of and, I think, that started at some point in 2017. That was pretty unique because there had not been a new competitor for the previous years, in that specific industry. So for the pharmacies, there were three competitors.
With the GPs, there were a few more; I think about four or five. The market was bigger. There were around 2,000 pharmacists in the Netherlands, so you know your market and that’s your main market and that also makes it very specific because you truly understand your customer and it’s very solid. You have a good overview and you know them personally. You also know the employees that are working there. If you look at the market itself, especially within the pharmacists in the Netherlands, out of the 2,000, around 1,200 of those pharmacists belonged to a multi-national. You have got BENU and Alliance Healthcare which is a big one, that is also in the US and England. They had a couple of hundred pharmacists.
They were the buyer of the software?
You had the relationship with the big multi-national and they procured the software for those pharmacists?
Yes, that is correct. Let’s say that is around 60% of the market and then the other 40% of the market were entrepreneurs with one, two or maybe three pharmacies. They could make their own decisions.
Are customers on long-term or short-term contracts?
In the beginning, when I started, everything was on a yearly renewal. Changing that was one of the things that we did and we made sure it went to a longer-term contract to lock the market. This will help if a new competitor comes into the market and, especially in vertical market software and the specific industries, such as healthcare, your customer today does not want to leave you because it’s their core system and they want to make sure that it’s up and running. They will also give you some time to restore confidence if something is not going very well, in terms of the software. At that time, a lot of customers were very, very unhappy and, when I started in 2015, that had already been going on for some time. A lot of them said that they were going to leave but they also knew that the other competitors did not have the software that they were looking for. Out of three others, with less good software, the question is, who are you going to choose and is it worth moving to a different software. That’s what actually bought us some time to improve our services, our customer relationship and our software to bring it up to speed to the needs that our customers had.
What do you think is the biggest risk to TSS’s VMS businesses? Given that they are quite mature software businesses, in the public or healthcare sector, what could be a major competitive risk?
A major competitive risk is that we, as a consumer, always expect the most beautiful software. As a business, you don’t always want that because you want to have a secure software, especially in healthcare. For example, there are some software companies – even PharmaPartners – that were still using COBOL, which is an outdated software language and is not being used anymore. It is difficult to find expertise on that software. So the question is, how can you maintain that software whilst also making sure that you put innovation into it. If the software company has already been around for 40 years, and they had 50 developers working on it, on a day-to-day basis, then you are talking about 2,000 years of software development that you have to replace. That is almost impossible.