Dibah Jiva is the driving force behind the Medical Students Application Guide (theMSAG). theMSAG is a medical education and training startup organisation with a mission to enable success in UK medical school applications.
Dibah was brought up in France but studied in Canada and graduated in 2007 from the University of McGill with a degree in Nutrition Science. Following this, she studied postgraduate medicine at the University of Nottingham in the UK.
Whilst applying for post-graduate medicine she found there was a significant lack of guidance for international students and postgraduates, an experience which inspired theMSAG. Alongside her business, Dibah is undertaking an MBA at IESE, Barcelona.
What inspired you to set up theMSAG?
There are two big inspirations for me.
- I identified that there was a big gap in the knowledge base that was available – there were no resources available for people like me, namely graduates and internationals.
- The other big thing was that I have always loved education. I think the reason for this is that I was inspired by my parents, who showed me the value of education.
Overall, I wanted to make a difference and ensure more people have access to top education.
How did you build your team?
The initial reason I needed to grow a team was to deliver additional services such as interview training and personal statement reviews etc. I was a Foundation Year 1 junior doctor at the time and used friends and colleagues at first- those who were good at teaching.
I then started advertising for doctors, initially in the medical press and in hospitals.
Later, I recruited medical students who were invaluable because they had recently been through the process. I then began to require different skill sets such as marketing, social media, accounts, networking etc.
The biggest growth came from adverts and emails in medical schools, this was followed by advertising on job sites such as Indeed. I believe that you get better variety from different sources. You don’t want to end up with everyone who has a similar way of thinking.
We now have a team of over 30 people, including the guidebook team, coaches, tutors and so on. We have formalised Human Resources so we can review the motivations and ethics of new team members and their knowledge of the company to ensure that they have the right characteristics.
I believe that you get better variety from different sources. You don’t want to end up with everyone who has a similar way of thinking.
How do you manage to find out all the details of all the medical schools, especially those in far-flung places?
The first steps were a lot of one-to-one contacts initially. I had to create a template, a proforma. I didn’t look to see what was available. Instead, I made a list of what I wished was available. For example, it would be useful to know how many international people applied and how many international people were successful applicants. I tried to fill in as much as I could by myself through the schools website; ranking details from reliable external sources; online research etc. I would then email the school directly; ask the admissions office for the missing details; or call the school and speak with them. I then did a quality check – sent the information to the school for editing, approval and oversight. They would give me the answers for anything that had been left out. The third and final step would be to find out the local student opinion. I would do this either through personal contacts or through social media, for example student groups on Facebook or Twitter.
How are you planning to set yourself apart from the other entrants in the market, for example ‘Medic Portal’, which does something very similar to theMSAG?
We have a few markers of differentiation including the quality of our information/our expertise and the trust from clients.
Firstly, we have a great depth of information and a whole research team that ensure that our content is up-to-date and constantly revised. I believe that this gives us a competitive advantage.
Secondly, we have client personalisation. For example on the mock Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) circuits, the circuits are tailored to the applicant and medical school. We use real world examples from the medical schools that are being applied to and adapt questions according to the student’s personal statement – this ensures our mock is realistic and adds immense value.
Ultimately we are very transparent about who we are and what we do. We pride ourselves on the skills and expertise of our service providers. On our website we highlight the profiles of all the course providers including a breakdown of their experience and their competence. Other courses do not do this. In my opinion, the profiles are bland and anonymous and it is unclear who is going to teach you.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs in healthcare?
On starting my MBA I have met a lot of entrepreneurs and more importantly failed entrepreneurs.
The number one reason I’ve been given as to why they’ve failed is disagreements with partners. This is the biggest single reason. Some people ask me whether you should become partners with a friend. I think that whether they are a friend or a family, it is really an irrelevant factor.
I think that what you really need is to find complementary skills.
For example, theMSAG is run by me and my partner Aly. We have almost completely opposite skill sets. I have expertise in designing and delivering products, marketing etc. Aly is an expert in accountability, in finance, in tech, data analytics.. those areas.
Having complimentary skills is key to building a successful business.
Be careful where you find your partner. Too many doctors find their partners in the hospital where they work and they may be too much like you. They think like you. They have the same skills. You agree all the time. This may seem great to begin with but it is not the best recipe for long-term success.
The number one reason I’ve been given as to why they’ve failed is disagreements with partners. This is the biggest single reason.
Finally, are there any startups that you are particularly excited by?
There are several super interesting medical type startups now. I am excited by Messly, the online Doctors mess – it looks like a good resource.