With a knack for spotting open market opportunities and a long entrepreneurial track record, Robbie Toan speaks to BQ about his business, Assured Pharmacy.
What is it the company does?
Assured Pharmacy is one of the leading online pharmacies in the UK, specialising in erectile dysfunction (ED) and baldness treatment.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I’m the managing director of Assured Pharmacy. I oversee the holistic strategy of the business, thereby linking all the key areas of the company together (marketing, operations, customer services and logistics).
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
After leaving school at 16, I started my first business as a market and street trader in Belfast, selling electrical goods - wheeler-dealer style! Once I hit my early 20s, I took on a role selling insurance door-to-door before running a mortgage advisory firm.
Like many after the financial crash, I decided to change careers and look into profitable industries that I could take advantage of.
I spotted a gap in the Northern Irish car dealer market and helped start the only subprime car dealership in Northern Ireland at the time. Over the course of five years I grew the business to £3m, before exiting the industry in 2014.
Similarly, I found there was a lack of companies offering prescription men’s health treatments for ‘embarrassing’ conditions. Now we have an annual profit of £1.8m and are one of the leading sellers in ED and baldness treatment.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
In my eyes, a great leader has the ability to relate to people. Being able to connect with someone on their level and find out what motivates them, should bring the best results out of your staff. In addition to being personable, I think being a problem solver and decision maker are arguably the most important qualities for a great leader.
When you’re in the highest position of authority in your company, you need to be the person that people can turn to and look for guidance no matter how small or big the situation. Inherently tied in with this point, is the need to be confident with the decision that you make. I think confidence is infectious, and if you don’t have full faith in your own choices, your employees won’t fully back them also.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Quite simply, operating in a highly regulated market. I can’t stress how crucial it is that we keep up with the regulations in place, but simultaneously grow and prosper within a market that contains these tight restrictions.
In terms of other challenges, when we first started as a business, the whole online consultation process was relatively fresh, therefore there wasn’t any software in place that built the bridge between patient and doctor. As a result, we’ve had to overcome operational hurdles, as well as building a reputation in an unexplored industry.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
As our business is open 24/7, 365 days a year, any obstacle can arise at any time. Moreover, due to my position in the company, the need to know everything that's going on can also result in stress most weeks. Consequently, I try and meditate if I feel stressed throughout the day.
The beauty of meditation is that it can be done sporadically and in the majority of locations. I’ve learnt some really useful breathing techniques that alleviate the stress and generally speaking, I feel much better after it. I’d recommend it to anyone who feels like they can’t take much of a break at work, as all you need is the odd 5-10 minutes of a day to undertake it.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Call me driven by money, but I wanted to be rich when I grew up, by whatever means necessary. It’s the classic situation of when I was kid at school and the teacher would ask the rest of the class and they’d come out with answers like fireman, actress and footballer, and I would say a businessman, or a boss and those dreams carried on through my adolescence when I started street trading after leaving school.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Yes, I particularly dislike disorganisation in the workplace. I’m not the most organised person in the world, but I like it when people can stay on top of the tasks at hand and not continually get sidetracked. Due to the fact I’m not a micro-manager, self-organisation is incredibly important to our success as a company.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
By 2023, I see us trading internationally and breaking into new markets around the world. As well as that, I’d love to see us floating on the stock market, but most of all being the biggest prescription ED treatment and hair loss company in the UK, with over 500,000 patients.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Understand your numbers and get a good accountant from the start with a tax planning background. Don’t listen to naysayers, negativity has no place in the business world for me. Ambition is what drives us and motivates us, so if you choose to listen to them it will most likely stifle that ambition you have to grow and succeed.
It’s essential to be flexible in the early stages of your business. Particularly at the start, I remember constantly analysing pieces of data and reacting dependent on the differential results - some of which were extremely unexpected.
All in all, I believe being active is the most important character for any business leader. I think the universe rewards action, therefore to be a successful business leader I think it’s important you’re constantly looking to evolve, rather than plateauing and being dormant.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I’d say don’t let other people influence your long-term goals when starting out. Unless it’s someone who you admire and aspire to be like, don’t pay too much attention of them and believe in your own decision making.
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