Recognising a gap in the private healthcare market in Singapore and Indonesia when it came to providing a one-stop reliable, ethical and high-quality medical concierge service, Daniel Choo established The Medical Concierge Group (TMCG) in 2013. Daniel candidly shares his entrepreneurship journey, what he’s learnt from starting a business in Singapore and overseas, the less glamorous side of entrepreneurship and what it takes to succeed in Indonesia.
10 March 2021 / By SGN
From Singapore to Indonesia: a Serendipitous Foray into Indonesia
In 2010, a good friend of mine started a cardiology practice, Heart Matters Medical Centre at Mount Elizabeth, a Singaporean hospital. I joined the team as an advisor and Chief Operating Officer. This experience sparked my interest in the private healthcare sector.
My first exposure to Indonesia came from a business trip to Jakarta, when we were invited by one of his patients to give a medical talk to her friends on Heart Matters. This one-off session grew to became a monthly or fortnightly affair; I started flying into Indonesia frequently, spending a few days each month building my network.
I enjoyed the meals and local food I shared with friends and business contacts there, and I often joked that we had six meals a day when we were in Indonesia! Almost every meeting happens over a meal.
Over time, and as my Indonesia network increased, I started to gain a greater understanding of the Indonesian market, falling in love with the food, the people and the culture. I also started to learn and familiarise myself with the Indonesian private healthcare market, recognising challenges patients faced and understanding the gaps of the private healthcare sector in Indonesia.
Founding The Medical Concierge Group (TMCG): Challenging industry practices with a flat fee-for-service model
I founded The Medical Concierge Group (TMCG) in Singapore in 2013. My vision was to set the highest service and ethical benchmarks in the Southeast Asian private healthcare industry, starting with Singapore and Indonesia. With over 80% of Singapore’s medical tourists arriving from Indonesia, I saw an opportunity to plug a gap in the market to address the demand for high-quality private healthcare management services.
With TMCG, I introduced a practice that challenged industry norms. Instead of implementing a business model that charges patients on a percentage basis, which was the industry standard at that point in time, TMCG worked on a fee-for-service model.
I did not agree with the prevailing business model, where a fee is earned by agents upon referring patients to private practice doctors. I strongly believe that patients should not have to pay more than they should, which is why we strictly enforce a no-commissions rule in TMCG. Today, through TMCG, patients who wish to enjoy hassle-free, VIP medical concierge services pay an upfront cost starting from S$78 per service request. There is no request too small or too difficult for us.
Of course, there was a downside to this; when we first started, we were blacklisted by certain doctors for this practice. Regardless, I strongly feel that this is a small price to pay for upholding our beliefs when it comes to delivering quality patient care.
Fast forward to 2017, and we have set up a representative office in Indonesia with the support of my Indonesian network. With this office, we are able to collaborate with local Indonesian healthcare service providers more closely to bring reliable and ethical healthcare closer to home for patients.
I continued to shuttle between Singapore and Indonesia during that time. I often asked myself if moving permanently to Jakarta would be easier and more impactful for the business, but found it extremely difficult to leave the comforts of home in Singapore. However, in 2018, I told myself to decide for good and determined that to make a real difference in this sector, the move was necessary. Thus, to realise my vision of bringing healthcare closer to home for Indonesians, I finally uprooted myself and moved to Jakarta.
Staying by Clients in Jakarta During the Pandemic
When the pandemic hit Indonesia, I flew into Jakarta in March 2020 as I wanted to be with my clients when they needed me most. In the early days of the outbreak, Indonesia was not fully equipped to handle COVID-19.
By being here with my clients in this time of crisis, I showed them that I cared for them and the well-being of their families. I truly believe it makes a difference to them. They often asked, ‘Why are you still in Indonesia when cases are increasing and everyone is returning to Singapore?’ I would reply that I was staying here in Jakarta to take care of all of them. They have come to appreciate me even more. I have since established a presence here, and it’s been almost a year since I’ve returned to Singapore.
One positive outcome of COVID-19 is, I have started to make friends with other Indonesia-based Singaporeans! One of them turned out to be a General Manager at a local shopping mall and asked if I could help with the setting up of a clinic in the mall. I connected him with a local healthcare partner of mine. Discussions are ongoing and one is in the process of being established soon. You never know what opportunities will come by and open up to you here in Indonesia!
Adapting to Life Overseas: The Less Glamorous Side of Entrepreneurship
I had a hard time adapting to life in Indonesia when I first got here. As much as I loved the people, the food and the culture, it was very different from Singapore. The smallest things I took for granted were not a given in Jakarta – the air quality was poor, the traffic incredibly congested and you could not drink water from the tap.
Moving to Jakarta alone also meant that I didn’t have family and friends around me as a support system. Of course, moving to Jakarta as a family poses different challenges as well. My network of friends and clients too in Jakarta helped support me during the transition period, though it’s difficult to meet often owing to traffic congestion – what takes 15 minutes without traffic easily turns into an hour.
The loneliness intensifies when you’re facing problems. You may come to realise that the problems you face are unique to your situation and no one can really help you. However, if you can survive in Indonesia, you can survive anywhere.
Succeeding in Indonesia: Navigating Culture, Adapting to Norms and Staying Humble
Indonesia is a land overflowing with opportunities – but only for those with the right mindset, networks and understanding of the country. I have five tips to offer to those looking to enter the Indonesian market.
- Seek the advice of people who has been here and understands the lay of the land. Indonesia is a land overflowing with opportunities, but you need to understand who are the ones you can collaborate with, and those you should stay away from. Sometimes, the bigger the company is, the more you should stay clear of them. I’ve encountered many who chose not to heed this advice, only to get burned in the end.
- Learn how to read between the lines. In Indonesia, people are very polite. They will avoid rejecting you outright if they can, and would rather communicate their intentions indirectly. This is unlike Singaporeans, who are straightforward. For example, when Indonesians say ‘bisa’, (‘can’ in Bahasa Indonesia), the meaning being conveyed may not be straightforward. Are they being polite, or do they really mean that they can do it? Even if something is beyond their abilities, Indonesians will not say ‘no’ directly. You need to hone your skills to understand these nuances.
- Read up on Indonesia’s history. It is also very important to educate yourself on the history of Indonesia. With over 1,340 recognise ethnic races in Indonesia, deepening your understanding of how history shapes Indonesians from different parts of the country becomes very important in how you frame your interactions with them. When you understand a country’s history and culture, it also becomes a topic of discussions that helps with lubricating conversations, rather than going straight into the business side of things. They also have a rich and complicated religious history that you should be acquainted with.
- Don’t go into every engagement with a transactional mindset. Indonesians are very sensitive and they will see it a mile away. While they may have transactions and business interests in mind, they value relationship building first – and they are great at burying these intentions, so it’s difficult to determine what they want.
- Be adaptable and stay humble. Keep an open mind to everyone, and remember that there is a time for everything. It’s like flying a kite, if you want to soar high, you must learn when to let go, pull back and adjust.
Finally, a word to the wise: if you become the centre of their need – not want – that is the secret to building relationships and attracting people.
About Daniel Choo
As the CEO and Founder of The Medical Concierge Group (TMCG), Daniel is passionate about setting the highest service and ethical benchmarks in the Southeast Asian private healthcare industry. He brings about more than 25 years of operational and strategic marketing experience, with a strong commitment to ensure that the highest levels of corporate governance and innovation is built into the DNA of TMCG.
If you’re interested in the private healthcare industry or making inroads into Indonesia, connect with Daniel here.