In today’s Female Role Interview, we are pleased to welcome the founder of the healthtech start-up FIRST A, Antonie Jo Nissen.
1. dear Antonie, the question that burns most under the nails of our community is often: How did you come to start your business?
This literally happened out of necessity. A year ago, when I had to cancel my date for the evening with my brother Leif and our co-founder Florian, stricken with a cold, they offered, “If you need anything, let me know.” So the two rode their bikes to the emergency pharmacy. An hour and a half later, I – finally – had my medication. Then I asked myself the question: How can it be that it is still so difficult to get medication? Especially when you can have almost anything delivered within a very short time these days. And that’s how the initial idea for FIRST A came about!
2. I myself founded my company with my life partner, so we also know the skeptical look and the raised eyebrows. Accordingly, I would like to ask you the following exemplary question: How was it to found together (in this case) with your brother?
As siblings, you see each other crystal clear and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We complement each other very well in our personalities and skills. Especially when starting a business, the relationship of trust and loyalty is extremely important – this is on a high level with us as siblings! With Florian we also have a friend and experienced co-founder on board, who can also bring in other perspectives. Apart from that, it is also associated with quite a lot of fun and humor. That’s why I would go on this roller coaster ride with Leif and Florian every time again.
3. your company is based on a quick commerce business model for medicines. How exactly can we imagine your service?
FIRST A is the first instant delivery service for pharmaceuticals in Germany. We bring pharmacy-only drugs and drugstore products to your door within 30 minutes by bicycle courier from our local partner pharmacies. This will greatly simplify access to medicines for many people. Especially when you are sick in bed, going to the pharmacy is a burden. But the delivery service is also a great time saver for relatives, for example, when you can have medication for your relatives in need of care delivered to your desired address within a very short time. The fast delivery of our bicycle couriers thus closes a supply gap.
4. you are now a team of almost 30 employees. What challenges did you face during the growth phase of your business?
Leif and I founded FIRST A together with our good friend Florian Swoboda. When you start up, everything is equally important, and it’s best to do everything yesterday: the recruitment, the marketing, the identification of suitable cooperation partners. The most important thing in the growth phase is to set priorities. Especially with a young company, you can’t master everything 100% perfectly. But with proper prioritization, the 80/20 rule is usually sufficient. In addition, we are very complementary as a founding team and can distribute the tasks well.
5. our magazine is dedicated to the topic of “Female Empowerment”. In this context, we also report on the so-called “female investment gap”, which makes it more difficult for women in the start-up scene to obtain angel investments or venture capital. As a young, female founder, were there ever challenges you faced because of your age or gender?
I grew up with an older brother – so I learned to assert myself early on. My studies at WHU and my time at J.P. Morgan in healthcare M&A were also a good school for me, but not always an easy one. I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself, to strengthen your self-confidence and trust in your own abilities. When you are aware of it, you radiate it and are less likely to be doubted. Nevertheless: There are definitely moments when I was doubted and where I later had to hear that I only got the jobs because I was a woman. But I always smile something like that away, because it’s really not a constructive comment. I focus on myself and my career!
6 As is so often the case when someone takes the first innovative steps, the competition is not long in coming. In your case, this takes the form of mail-order pharmacies, such as DocMorris or the providers Mayd and Kurando. How do you manage to stay one step ahead of the others?
We were the first on the German market. FIRST A has a team with very strong expertise, both in healthcare and quick commerce. This not only ensures that we have an excellent understanding of the market, but also that we can grow very quickly. We managed to expand to four more cities just four weeks after our launch in Berlin, including Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf.
It is very exciting to see how the market has developed. Five more players have now been launched after us. We consider this a real compliment for our business idea and look forward to driving the topic of digital health forward together in Germany.
We see our strategic approach to improving the supply of medicines as our strong differentiating factor. With our app and our delivery service, we are closing an existing gap between end consumers and pharmacies. We see another strength in our direct partnership and cooperation with local pharmacies. At the same time, we help them enter the digital age and gain more customers. We save the end consumer time, stress and travel.
Overall: Our overall strategy relies on partnerships, whether with SHOP APOTHEKE EUROPE or local pharmacies. We focus on creating win-win situations and think that’s what sets us apart from the competition in the long run.
7 In retrospect, I myself smile about one or the other stumbling block, which I’m sure the three of you also experienced as founders. What advice would you give to (aspiring) female entrepreneurs who are in the start-up phase of their business? Which stumbling blocks should they avoid and which opportunities should they definitely take advantage of?
Exchange ideas! Get opinions and experience and still “do your own thing”. The great thing about founding a start-up in a team is that you always have a corrective, especially if you have experienced partners on board. I see stumbling blocks above all in the indecisiveness of many new entrepreneurs. This is also absolutely understandable, but sometimes you have to make decisions and implement them quickly.
8. I am very pleased to share with the FemalExperts community the incredible news of the acquisition of First A by SHOP APOTHEKE EUROPE, one of the leading online pharmacies in Europe. You have successfully achieved the famous “exit” with this step. You will remain with the company as the founding team and management team. What is the next step for you?
Thank you, we are very happy about this development. We are delighted to have joined forces with SHOP APOTHEKE EUROPE, a strategically strong partner. With this team behind us, we can reach the European market exponentially fast. With SHOP APOTHEKE, greater leverage is possible and that spurs us all on incredibly. For our partner pharmacies, we want to be a reliable partner and provide them with a vehicle for their own online business. We want to drive the digitization of the healthcare market and are here to play a role in the long term. SHOP APOTHEKE EUROPE is the ideal partner for this. We are already planning rollouts to other German and European cities. We are now also embarking on an exciting new journey together with Wellster Healthtech as a cooperation partner on the topic of Female Health. Here, we are celebrating a first for telemedicine, as we have jointly launched an e-prescription delivery service combination for the first time. We are excited to be part of the mySummer launch, Germany’s first fully integrated FemTech platform.
9. an “exit” is often mentioned as THE goal of many a start-up. Was it similar for you or did you not even think that it could develop in this direction?
When you start a business, you naturally think about any scenarios. We grew so fast and it became clear: We are here “for the long run” and want to build a sustainable company. Obviously, the combination of a strategic player with concentrated market knowledge and excellent financing not only gets us there much faster, but also supports us in sustainable growth.
This means that SHOP APOTHEKE EUROPE is active in Europe with two brands, and we are right at the forefront. This is an insane feeling and we are proud that now the model of getting medications delivered quickly is taking root and all over Europe with FIRST A!
10. for those among the FemalExperts readers who do not know exactly how such an exit takes shape. Can you give us a little insight into what exactly goes into such an important step?
In essence, an exit changes the ownership of the company. Often, an:e investor:in buys out the majority of the founding team’s company shares. However, this does not mean that the founders no longer have the right of co-determination or that the company is run by a different management team. On the contrary, founders often stay with the company long after a change of ownership and continue to lead the company through the next growth phases.
Selling your own company is, of course, a step that you should consider very carefully. Because regardless of whether you sell or invest, you sell company shares and someone else now sits at the decision-making table. Therefore, it was extremely important to us that we have the same understanding and that FIRST A continues to be managed and independently driven by us in the future. For us, two questions have always dominated since the start: What kind of company do we want to build and what does the investor:in bring to the table? For both questions it quickly became obvious: A strategic investor is the favored solution for us. Why? We see that market expertise, long-term financing and alignment of interests are critical for us.
Finally, a personal question: Do you have any personal or entrepreneurial goals that you would like to achieve in the coming years, even far away from First A?
In any case – now it’s just getting started! On the one hand, I am very much looking forward to passing on my knowledge and learnings from the past time. On the other hand, I am now also in the fortunate position of being able to support young companies from the investor side. I would like to focus especially on companies in the health sector, as there is still a lot to do there! So it definitely won’t be boring – I’m really looking forward to it!
Dear Antonie, thank you for your time and your willingness to introduce yourself to our FemalExperts community. Your startup story is an inspiration for all (aspiring) female entrepreneurs in the startup and especially the healthtech scene.
About the author
Kinga Bartczak berät, coacht und schreibt zu Female Empowerment, neuer Arbeitskultur, Organisationsentwicklung systemischen Coaching, und Personal Branding.
Zudem ist sie Geschäftsführerin der UnternehmerRebellen GmbH und Herausgeberin des FemalExperts Magazins.