How we built the UK’s first Viagra subscription service (part 2)

How we built the UK’s first Viagra subscription service (part 2)

Behind the scenes at Eddie.

In the first post, we looked at why we’d decided to launch Eddie, a new Viagra subscription service just launched by us here at Well Pharmacy.

In this post, we’ll go behind the scenes.

First, do no harm

With any digital service we develop at Well, the starting point is patient safety. We’re delivering medicine, not pizza. We need to get it right.

Pfizer have provided a checklist for pharmacists to help them decide whether Viagra Connect is safe to supply to the customer. Some people may have other health conditions or medications that may mean Viagra Connect is ineffective or unsafe for them to take. In these cases, the pharmacist will refer the customer to see their GP.

The checklist works well in stores, where pharmacists use their expertise to ask customers the right questions in language they understand.

However, online it doesn’t work. First, it’s very long. It’s also written in sometimes confusing language and uses medical terms that many customers don’t understand.

1_jQN2tiwTu1IhCtEu-Wrykw A few questions from the checklist

We couldn’t simply make a digital version of this paper checklist for customers to fill out.

Many of our competitors have done exactly this and the experience isn’t great. In one example, the customer is asked up to 39 separate questions on an online form.

Not only is this a rubbish experience, but it’s also potentially unsafe. After that number of questions, people switch off, stop reading questions and click whichever checkboxes get them the result they want.

Either that, or they give up and put off getting treatment for their condition.

More chat, fewer checkboxes

1_MmQ_3AkiC823eCGk9Lr83w Eddie’s chat interface

Instead, we’ve designed a conversational interface that asks customers a few simple questions. We designed this in close collaboration with our Pharmacy Superintendents team, who are responsible for pharmacy standards and patient safety.

We’re all really happy with what we’ve ended up with: a service that values customer experience and patient safety without compromising on either.

The key design principles for our chat interface were:

Keep it short

By focusing on what matters and thinking about the flow of the questions we’ve managed to keep it to a maximum of 6 questions for most customers.

Use the language our customers use

We avoid jargon and medical language. For example, the checklist asks about Peyronie’s disease.

Don’t try to account for everything

Not everything can or should be automated. We’ve given people a ‘don’t know’ option for most of our questions, which prompts a follow up chat with either a real, human pharmacist or a referral to your GP.


Nothing is ever risk-free or fool proof, but we’ve designed something that gives us the best blend of digital and human. At the end of the chat, one of our expert pharmacists checks the answers before any medicines are supplied.

What’s important is that we’ve built a service that’s capable of change. This is just our first iteration. We’ll be watching how customers and pharmacists use the service and build on their feedback.

Building a new venture in 10 weeks

1_IXcyiOC9hRSep25hIMKQiw One of our illustrations for Eddie

We started work on this at the start of March. Since then, we’ve:

  • Built a new digital service, along with all the underlying technology and design elements that make it work.
  • Designed and launched a new brand. We learned that naming things is still a hard problem.
  • Figured out how to sell medicines online in line with regulations. This is the first time Well Pharmacy has done this.
  • Conducted a privacy assessment and developed a new privacy policy.
  • Set up a fulfilment operation.
  • Launched a marketing campaign.

In short, we’ve been busy. For us, there were a few key ingredients that made this all possible.

Launch early

Eddie is a new venture and we have a lot of unknowns. Will people use our service? Have we designed it in the right way? Is it solving a real problem?

With difficult questions like these, there’s a danger of falling into the discovery trap.

We didn’t have the time, money or inclination to do this.

From the start, we’ve taken a strong view that the best way of finding out the answers to these questions is by getting something to market as quickly as possible. This is the best way to see whether it works and make it better based on how customers react.

So, we launched 10 weeks after we started. As Tom Blomfield, founder of Monzo has written:

Don’t obsess over long-term strategy, or stick dogmatically to a “vision”. Launch sooner than makes you comfortable. Fake as much of the service or product as you can to save time. Talk to your users to make sure you’re solving a burning problem. Once you have 20 or 30 regular users, do everything in your power to absolutely delight them.

Build as little software as possible

We’re strong believers in not knitting our own underpants.

We love software engineering here at Well, but with every line of code we write comes cost and future maintenance headaches.

Also, there’s only so many hours in a day. We don’t have the time to tackle problems others have already solved.

So, we’ve built on top of commodity technology platforms like Amazon Web Services, ShipStation and Chargebee and open source components like Hugo.

This has sped up our development time considerably, without compromising on the user experience or future flexibility.

Work together

1_oRh6MrHSuT1k6EMVGYqBPw The Eddie team celebrating our launch

The team behind Eddie is really small. But we’ve been fortunate to work with some great agencies (hello ToyFight, InfinityWorks and TrueUp) with Jon Grant holding it all together as Product Lead.

What’s made this all work is bringing different disciplines together: pharmacists, engineering, content design, marketing. We’re really thankful to everyone across Well who has helped make this happen.

We’re hiring

This is just the start. We’ve got some big ambitions for Eddie over the coming months.

If you’re interested in building products like Eddie, please get in touch about working at Well Digital.

Head of Well Digital
Head of Well Digital
Dan Sheldon

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