#Asia Lifesaving lessons from Reblood CEO: How social businesses balance between impact and sustainability


Starting the company when she was still in university, Leonika Sari reveals how she aim to foster change by a seemingly simple solution

Leonika Sari

Indonesia has a pressing, bloody issue.

“We need up to five million bags of blood every year, and we always struggle to fulfill this demand. We are lacking between 1.3 to .7 million bags every year. Even in 2013, we are lacking 2.4 million bags,” explains Leonika Sari, CEO of Reblood.

“Of all 250 million people living in Indonesia … We only need about five million of them to donate one bag of blood, once a year. Why is this so difficult [to achieve]? Are we inherently lazy, or perhaps we just don’t care? So, we tried to find out,” she adds.

Strangely enough, the main cause of this issue is actually very simple: Accessibility and eligibility. Many potential donors are not even aware that they can donate blood at various places and events, not just at blood banks run by the Indonesian Red Cross.

Even if many people do turn up at blood donor events, only 40 to 60 per cent of them are able to pass the eligibility tests prior to blood collection, which involves blood pressure and hemoglobin rate test. Even in some cases, the success rate was as low as 20 per cent.

“The problem is often pretty simple, they forgot to take breakfast or were not sleeping properly the night before,” she says.

This led Sari to start Reblood, a platform to inform potential donors of upcoming blood donor events in Surabaya, that also serves as a reminder of the preparation they need to take prior to donating their blood (because “many people are not even aware that they are not allowed to take medications, or that they need to eat beforehand”).

Designed with the Millenial audiences in mind, the platform utilises gamification by allowing users to score reward points for every activity, and social media features that allow users to share their blood donor activities.

The startup is currently incubated at Start Surabaya.

“With what we have done, the success rate at the events that we helped increase to 60 to 80 per cent. There are also more participants, three times more, in fact,” she says.

At the recent Google Women Techmakers 2016 event, e27 sat down with Sari to learn more about her inspiration –and what it takes to run a successful social business.

Also Read: Kerjabilitas CTO Tety Sianipar: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a woman”

So how did Reblood begin?

Ever since I was in high school, I have always been passionate about healthcare and biology. I have never scored below 95! It’s definitely my favourite subject of all.

But then, coding happened.

[Earlier in her speech at the event, Sari explained how her parents asked her to study computer science instead of medicine, because it has better prospect and does not take as long to finish]

Reblood ends up becoming a representation of the things that I like, and the things I’m capable of doing. I like healthcare, and I happen to master IT, so it clicks.

Reblood wasn’t even my first startup. Before it I had something to do with blood donor as well, but it’s a different app. It’s more of a back-end system for the Red Cross and hospitals.

You went to MIT for an entrepreneurship bootcamp. How was the experience?

It happened on school holiday between sixth and seventh semester. At first I took part in an online course from MIT, for about two months. Then everyone who participated in the online course were sent an e-mail to enroll in MIT’s bootcamp programme. There were more than 54,000 applicants but only 47 are chosen.

We were there for a week, learning to build a startup. Began at 7am, finish at 11pm. We learned from MIT’s senior lecturers, alumni … By that time I was still working on the old startup. Then at MIT, after we validate the idea, we found out that “Here it is, something just isn’t right!”

The idea didn’t solve a real problem. Because the first startup was an app to make blood booking faster. It only makes the process faster, but the problem here is, we don’t even have the blood! Nobody is donating their blood!

Back then we were just thinking how to get more people donating their blood, through gamification.

That was August 2014. Then early January 2015, we joined Start Surabaya.

Wait, so you were still in university when you began?

Yeah! January 2015 was my final semester. So when we began in Start Surabaya, we didn’t even have the Reblood name with us. We only have “application, blood donor, gamification” in mind. But then we learn about market validation, what is the reason why people don’t donate their blood? Do they wait for rewards? That’s how we came up with the main problems, accessibility and eligibility.

We learned that the main point here is not the gamification. We only began developing the app at the end of February. We launched in September last year, up until now.

Also Read: Who run the world: Meet 2 women entrepreneurs from Forbes 30 under 30 at Echelon Indonesia

What are the elements that one needs to pay attention to, when starting a business with a social mission?

We need to really focus on the impact. There are two things in a startup: impact and sustainability. Both are important but while other startups are being measured by their valuation, social business are being measured by the impact it delivers.

In the case of Reblood, how many lives are being saved? How many liters of blood do we manage to gather? It’s what matters, though we also think of the sustainability aspect.

What is the biggest challenge faced by companies trying to balance impact and sustainability?

It’s important to have great mission, but sometimes founders are too passion-oriented. They don’t think of how to sustain it. Surely we also need to figure out the business model, how to get revenue.

No matter how grand the vision is, startup is a business.

Should think of revenue model, and dig into every opportunity. Like Reblood, “Oh we can collaborate with hospitals!” because we already have a crowd of our own. Perhaps Reblood members can have discounts for health tests, then we can share profit?

But we must be careful not to slip into thinking “Money, money, money.” We need to maintain the impact factor.

Mobile tech opens up wider opportunities to improve the healthcare sector. What are the healthcare-related issues that you think startups should tap into?

Now this is interesting. I just read data from Flurry, a trend analysis by Yahoo! and every year it analyses mobile trends, be it iOS or Android, there are three categories of apps with highest retention and growth rate: News, weather, and healthcare and fitness.

In Indonesia, when people are building a startup, they tend to follow the trends. Right? “Oh, there’s fashion e-commerce, there must be a great opportunity here! Let’s do this!” then everybody is doing e-commerce without really seeing the opportunity.

Meanwhile, in healthcare, there is plenty of opportunity. And the retention rate is really high.

Any advice for aspiring social entrepreneur?

Many people think, “Does running a social business means we’re going to be like an NGO? How can we make money for it?”

First, you need to erase this stigma. But make sure you don’t get carried away with the “We need to make money!!” stigma.

Focus on impact. Just think of how much money you need to run [your project] every year, and where can you get the money.

The post Lifesaving lessons from Reblood CEO: How social businesses balance between impact and sustainability appeared first on e27.

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