A Progressive Business Model

Hayden Hamilton, a graduate of Oxford's Saïd Business School, discusses his startup, ProgressiveRx, which offers low-cost prescription drugs

Originally from Portland, Ore., I was in Nepal trekking in the Annapurna range on a Freeman Fellowship when I learned I had been awarded a Rotary Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford. Given my political as well as entrepreneurial interests, I briefly debated doing a masters in international relations or philosophy before being won over by the entrepreneurial slant and compact 12-month time frame of the MBA program at Saïd Business School.

After earning the MBA in 2001, I spent 18 months at Ford (F ) of Europe in new business development and then co-leading the creation of an innovation department before I resigned to pursue entrepreneurial projects. I finally stumbled on the ideal venture while back in Asia visiting friends. Over 40 million Americans, including a number of my family and friends, are without prescription-drug coverage, and because of this many cannot afford their medications.


  Unbeknownst to most Americans, India now has more U.S. FDA-approved pharmaceutical manufacturing units than any country aside from the U.S. The quality of top Indian drug manufacturers' products rivals those of any U.S. producer, but the prices are a tenth to a hundredth that of U.S. retail prices. I saw the opportunity to provide an inexpensive alternative to Americans without prescription-drug benefits as an ideal blend of my entrepreneurial and public-policy goals.

After two months of research and due diligence, ProgressiveRx was born. I established an operations office in Bangalore but incorporated the company in Oregon. The first few months provided unabated challenges that many thought would be insurmountable. But after a month of 18-hour days and sleepless nights, ProgressiveRx.com was launched on May 14, 2004.

Because of our tight budget and desire to keep prices as low as possible, we had to rely entirely on word of mouth and guerilla marketing tactics. This led to slow sales at first, but by the end of the summer, things really picked up. In the last six months, we've delivered over 3,000 orders. Some clients are even offering to pay for us to advertise in their local papers.

In January, we launched a nonprofit called Progressive Health Worldwide with the goal of reducing the pharmaceutical costs of medical foundations in Africa and providing donated medical supplies and technology. I'm now overseeing both operations, which means I'm extra busy.


8 a.m. -- Catch up on overnight e-mail. Because Bangalore is 12 hours ahead of the U.S., most operational issues occur in the middle of the night.

9 a.m. -- After trying to resolve any pressing problems in India, I spend 30 to 60 minutes looking through orders, sending personal thanks to repeat customers, and trying to get a sense of new trends in sales.

10 a.m. -- Review the daily financials -- cash flow, bank statements, major upcoming expenses, and any anomalies.

10:30 a.m. -- Spend a half hour or so thinking about my next trip to Bangalore and planning the itinerary. I try to spend three or four weeks every few months working out of our operations office in India to help resolve issues that can't be fixed via e-mail, getting to know our Indian staff better, and meeting with suppliers.

11 a.m. -- Discuss the modification of our logos and possible graphic enhancement of our Web site with a friend at a graphic design house in San Francisco.

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