By day, three recent UA College of Pharmacy graduates work in retail pharmacy stores across Arizona. By night, they perfect and market a new smartphone app designed to help PharmD students.
Ankur Shah, Sean Park and Amit Shah, all members of the Class of 2012, are business partners in Shark Drugs LLC and the creators of RxSkills, a test-prep game that runs on iPhones and Androids. In January, they sat down with writer Isaac Cox from the college’s communications team to describe how it all started.
Q: How did you get into the app business?
Amit: It started a couple of years ago during our fourth-year rotations in 2012 when we were getting ready to study for the NAPLEX [NAPLEX is a standard examination by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy that assesses an individual's competency and knowledge of pharmacy and is required to be licensed to practice in a particular state.]
We started looking into the various NAPLEX study materials available and we had a tough time trying to decide what would be the most efficient to study for the exam. With the overload of material found in large, dry test prep books, we tried searching for a mobile application that contained quick facts or questions on must-know exam material. We thought, “Everyone says there’s an app for everything.” But from our research, there really weren't any NAPLEX prep apps that were set up in the type of interactive, user-friendly, and fun way that we were looking for.
We just saw it as an opportunity to create something that could be very helpful and fun for not only students studying for boards, but also for students entering their first year of pharmacy school, and even licensed pharmacists who are well into their careers.
Q: So exactly how does the app work?
Ankur: RxSkills is set up in a gameplay format. A user will login and initiate a challenge with one of their peers via Facebook, email, or username, or even by randomly challenging a user from anywhere in the world. The user will then choose an easy (1 point), medium (2 points), or hard (3 points) question for both the users to attempt, and the first user to 21 points wins.
The app is that the content stretches from brand/generics to pharmacology and therapeutics. This makes it a great tool for all pharmacy students and current pharmacists. There is also a self-challenge feature in which the user can login and access all content without initiating a challenge. The review function allows users to go back and see all the questions they've answered which provides a better learning experience.
Q: What type of user feedback have you received so far?
Sean: Feedback so far has been great. We have received several reviews for both the iPhone and Android versions, and users are having awesome experiences. Pharmacy students have told us that it is a fun and quick way to study and review material for classes and boards, and pharmacists have told us that they enjoy being able to connect with peers they had lost touch with while brushing up on material as well. It's pretty exciting to hear about the user experience.
Q: I can’t imagine it’s easy to make an application for a smartphone. With pharmacy backgrounds, how did you manage to construct an application for iPhones and Androids?
Ankur: There’s a freelancing website by the name of elance.comwhere you can go to find work or to hire people to complete projects. We posted our business proposal for our app idea seeking for skilled Apple and Android developers. Within 24 to 72 hours we had roughly 40 proposals from developers all over the world. We carefully went through the various proposals and checked out the portfolios for the developers to see what kind of apps they had built in the past. After narrowing down our options to just a few proposals, we made personal contact with a particular developer that we trusted and decided to move forward with them.
Sean: We basically instructed the developers on how we wanted the app to look. We provided screenshots and images of how we wanted the flow of the app to be. So they would send us beta versions that we tested for any flaws or problems and came up with detailed feedback that we provided to them. With each beta release, and their were hundreds, the app would inch closer and closer to how we wanted it to function and appear.
Q: How did you develop the content for the app?
Ankur: The three of us went through and wrote questions ourselves using concepts from different sources -- textbooks, board prep books, flashcards, notes, etc. We used concepts and factual material when writing questions in an effort to avoid confusion for our users and we never took any content and/or plagiarized from any other source. We even go through and periodically update the app with new questions to provide up-to-date info and revise any questions, if necessary.
Amit: The content was created after the three of us studied for and passed the NAPLEX. We really focused in on the concepts and information that we found to be the most high yield for exam performance. The app is very interactive and encourages an active learning process for the user. For example, if a user were to incorrectly answer a certain question either due to lack of knowledge or an extended period of time since they learned the concept, then hopefully this would queue the user to review that material.
Q: When did you first launch the app?
Ankur: The first launch was back in 2013 and we had the app up during the months of March through June. We put it up free of cost and it had a lot fewer features than our current version has. For instance, there was no self-challenge or in-app chat capability. We gained a lot feedback - a lotof constructive criticism. We gathered all the feedback from the time it was up and worked towards fixes/updates for a new and improved version of the app.
Amit: I remember one particular review saying, “If it had a self-challenge feature where I could go through questions on my own, this would be the perfect pharmacy app for me to study with.” A lot of time was spent implementing these features as well as fixing bugs that were reported by users. The update has a fresh look that is perfect for the new iOS as well as Android devices.
Ankur: RxSkills got close to 600 downloads in the three-month timeframe and that was without any marketing. We took RxSkills down from the end of June until we relaunched it at the start of 2014 for $0.99 in the Apple App Store and Google Play Market.
Q: How did you name your business?
Sean: We had to make a name for the app and the company, and then apply to Apple and Google. For the company name, we chose a combination of both of our last names, Shah and Park--Shark Drugs LLC!
Q: How does it feel having your own brand out in the world?
Sean: I remember one of the coolest things was when we had just released the game on the app store and one of my interns from the UACOP was playing the app. So I told him I actually made the app and he didn’t believe me. It felt crazy. I was like, “I made that app!” and he was like, “I need you to show me proof.” [Laughs] That made me really feel like it was out there.
Amit: People are telling their friends about it and their teachers about it. It’s awesome to see.
Ankur: Definitely really nice to see. It started off as sketches on a Microsoft Paint document and we were literally drawing out the flow of the app like we envisioned it to be. Starting from this and going to where we are now – having conference calls with the Dean of the College of Pharmacy about the app, talking to professors about senior projects using the app, and sitting here telling you about our journey with the app – has all been one amazing experience. It's been a very long process and it's very rewarding to step back and see how far we have come.
Q: How popular is your app now? Are you making money?
Sean: If you include Android downloads, I would say over 1500 downloads and counting.
Ankur: We had ads up on the old version of our app through a company called AdMob. We received user feedback that the ads were disruptive and irritating and so the new version does not contain ads.
Amit: We would rather the user have a better experience than us gaining a few more dollars from it through advertisements. I don’t think any of us are concerned too much about the money behind it. We just really wanted to create something new and unique. We feel that we've done that, and we really believe that this is a great tool for pharmacy students, technicians and even pharmacists.
Q: What does the future look like for RxSkills?
Amit: Last year consisted of a lot of remodeling for the app so we are excited to grow our user base with the new and improved product. In the long-term, we feel that RxSkills provides a good platform for similar games, too. But right now this app is our only focus. Again, we’re just trying to get the word out, market, and look for more ways to make this the best app for pharmacy students.
Ankur: We have been added as preceptors at the College of Pharmacy, and now students’ can do research projects involving our app. Many faculty members at the college have shown a lot of interest and support for RxSkills. There is now the potential for these professors to advise the students on their RxSkills senior projects, with the three of us serving as outside project advisors.
Q: All three of you have full-time pharmacy jobs. How do you find the time to do this on the side?
Amit: It's actually fun to come home and do something like this which is so different from the daily routines of our jobs. But it is hard to make time for RxSkills when you come home from 12-hour days and try to really focus and get those creative ideas out.
Sean: A long-term goal would be, if the app picks up, we could almost have someone who does all the administrative work and things that we don’t have time to do. Right now we can’t afford to hire someone like that, but that would be a long-term expansion idea.
Q: Since two of you are brothers and you are all friends, do you ever have any challenges with the direction you want to take RxSkills?
Amit: It’s actually pretty cool because throughout school the three of us would work together and study together. It worked out very well for us in pharmacy school so it has been great to be able to team up again after graduation. We work very well together.
Ankur: The awesome thing is, it’s common to lose touch with some people after pharmacy school that you’ve met throughout the way. But you can bring them together with this pharmacy interest that you all have in common. RxSkills provides a great platform for people looking to reconnect with their old classmates. The three of us started off making study guides together. Going from that stage to trying to make it in the entrepreneurial world with a pharmacy application is pretty exciting.
Shark Drugs, LLC: email@example.com
Follow them on Twitter @sharkdrugs and find them on Facebook!
Story and photos by Isaac Cox