The story of how a start-up from India influenced Facebook & Twitter to launch a product that helped save millions of lives!

Beginnings

The story of Socialblood started when I heard a story about an young girl from rural Karnataka (India) who was suffering from a chronic blood disease called Thalassemia. This is a condition where she requires regular blood transfusions, almost 30 units of blood every month to survive and lead a normal life like everyone else. This story pushed me to find solutions to ease her suffering.

In 2011, Facebook has around 43 million users in India and everyone I knew are already on the social network. On the contrary, the blood need in India is 12 million units each year, these statistics got me thinking!

The idea of marrying the network with the need felt like a great start. After playing with few hacks and coming across realtime blood requests on Facebook, I felt starting fb groups for each blood type for each city will be effective, so I got started. I quickly created 8 Facebook groups for 8 blood types (O-, O+, A-, A+,B-, B+, AB-, AB+) and invited my friends to join!

I enlisted a friend of mine to help me with the upkeep of the groups. I bought a website ‘FacebookBloodGroups.com’ (later renamed Socialblood.org) and built a simple webpage for individuals to find their fb group based on their location.

Socialblood’s Website

Slowly but steadily the idea went viral, from my shared office in Bangalore to people in Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand — it became more like a local community project — people requested for blood groups in their countries and a bunch of volunteers agreed to join hands in up keeping the momentum.

After spending a considerable time on the project and understanding the whole blood donation sector, we realized we are dealing with a humongous problem.

The reality set in gradually, the whole process and experience of donating blood hasn’t changed all that much since the1950’s!

The blood banks across the globe were operating pretty old-school despite the technological leaps all around, and sadly there was little they had done to change the donor experience. In short, the sector was badly in need of innovation.

That turned out to be the Eureka! moment for our team. We envisaged, that when a billion people can log onto Facebook, why can’t some good Samaritans among them donate blood utilizing the same platform while putting an end to the global blood crisis?

Story of Socialblood

Investment

We had a casual chat that evening and I mentioned to him about the project we are working on and he liked the way we approached the problem and offered to help. Vijay is one of the warmest people I’ve ever met in my life, he is someone who has a great listening ability combined with empathy and a purpose to make this world a better place.

Couple of emails/phone conversations later he agreed to give us a grant of $20,000 towards building the very first version of Socialblood outside of Facebook platform.

This gave us a huge boost and I jumped into Socialblood full time and hired a team out of Czech Republic to build a platform that uses Facebook’s Open graph as the underlying technology and also connecting hospitals and blood banks.

On November 17th, 2012, I got an email which was forwarded by a tech blogger and it read…

hey I saw this site(socialblood.org)on pluggd..tell the founder the idea below is a not a good one..very poor user exp.

When I enquired more about who sent this to the blogger, he said…

Yes — he is head of Google India.

He emailed me because he is an active angel and wants to just share his feedback with the startups. I am hopeful that you will take it in the right spirit!!

I later connected with Rajan Anandan over an email and somehow got him to believe in our vision/mission. He agreed to fund us and got Ravi Gururaj & Ramesh Shah of Harvard Angles and Karthik Reddy of Blume Ventures involved and gave us our first investment.

In 2014, An incubator in Princeton, New Jersey know as Tiger Labs got excited with our mission and invested in our team, provided us with guidance and resources.

Beyond Facebook Groups

Socialblood can help you, your friends, family and neighbors when in need of blood.

Early on we’ve decided to build a very social platform lets you know about the blood group of your friends along with their locations, all neatly integrated onto a map, so that you know whom to call first during an emergency.

After our initial successful run with FB groups, we’ve decided to build a platform that is designed to not just keep you connected with your friends, but also with your community as a whole so that if someone two blocks away needs blood, you’ll get a notification and a call for action. You can enlist yourself for donation with a click, whereas if you are not available for some reason, you can actually discover that who else in your friends circle has the same blood type and you can ask them to donate instead.

I would like to share a classic example of a man from Hyderabad who posted a request on socialblood looking for blood donors for his daughter who was suffering from a heart disease. Within 24 hours he got 70 calls from perfect strangers who are willing to help. That’s the power of Facebook and human connections at large.

Facebook Partnership

At the event and later at their HQ I got to interact with multiple executives and pitched the idea of how Facebook can launch a feature that could potentially solve the issue of finding blood donors across the globe.

Internet.org & Blood.is

After couple phone conversations, Ime asked us to look into launching Socialblood on Internet.org’s platform in India and connected me to Bryan Hurren, who was leading I.org content partnerships at that time. We got excited and quickly built a Socialblood lite version(blood.is) for the I.org platform with the help of Bryan and his amazing team.

Within the next 6 months we grew into a global partner on Internet.org and translated our product into 10 different languages and launched in multiple countries.

Facebook embraced our mission

In 2015, I got a chance to ask Mark about Facebook getting involved in the blood donation space and solving the problem for masses

At F8 in 2015, Ime Archibong spoke about our mission and how a startup from India is trying to solve a global problem.

Blood Donation Feature on Facebook & Twitter

facebook.com/donateblood

In April of 2017, Ime introduced me to the social good team at Facebook. Later that month, I visited the Facebook campus in Menlo Park and met with bunch of Facebook employees who were really interested in productizing Socialblood as a feature on Facebook.

This is something I wanted Facebook to do for a long long time, I was really excited to see the issue of blood donations getting highlighted on a massive platform like Facebook. I agreed to cooperate and shared all the learning we’ve had over the past 6 years.

I met the team frequently over the next 6 months to brainstorm, share the roadmap of Socialblood and helped them navigate connections in India for a successful launch. This is one of the most rewarding experiences in my life, to see our product getting embraced by Facebook and more importantly it will help save millions of lives across the globe.

Today the network is 4 million strong in India alone and we are hoping to see it grow both in numbers and impact.

After the successful launch with Facebook, I reached out to Biz Stone of Twitter and persuaded him to implement blood donations feature on twitter starting with India.

He then connected me to the head of social good at twitter, Tom Tarantino and it took off from there. I was then introduced to his India counterpart Mahima Kaul, who runs the public policy arm of Twitter in India.

Three months of conversations and brainstorming later, Twitter announced its launch of the feature.

The Future

And now, we are even more excited to pass on the baton to Facebook & Twitter and to let them adopt our mission for a brighter future.

I am thankful to all the investors who believed in our mission and stood by us, even though we didn’t give them ROI (Return on Investment), we are proud to say we gave them IOI (Impact on Investment).

We will continue to innovate until the last blood need is met…

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