In January 2016, Temie Giwa-Tubosun founded LifeBank, a blood discovery and delivery app for hospitals. This life saving social enterprise grew out of a non-profit intiative, One Percent Project, that Temie founded in May, 2012. The business organisation has been driven by a mission to tackle the problem of blood shortage in Nigeria.
As a technology and logistics company serving the health sector, LifeBank helps hospitals and doctors find and order blood types needed and make deliveries using WHO-approved equipment and procedures to preserve blood in transit and deliver in good time. The technology and logistics company is based in Lagos, Nigeria. The CEO, Temie Giwa-Tubosun has been described as a “breakthrough female innovator” by the World Economic Forum, and has appeared on many lists of innovators. She shares her start-up and business story with CP-Africa.
Transitioning from being an NGO to a business organization, what informed that decision?
Temie Giwa: It was very personal. It was informed by my need to completely fundamentally solve the problem permanently. I didn’t want the situations where I was just solving the symptoms of the problem. I wanted a chance to get deep into building systems and a complete infrastructural platform to literally solve people dying from shortage of blood, plasma platelets and other essential products at the hospital level. I knew to solve the problem, I needed to transform from being an NGO to an enterprise with a strong business plan and a strong conventional strategy to be able to completely solve the problem.
I thought with the NGO model, you spend a lot of time finding funds, you can’t focus on actually building the future that you want to build which is why you got on the job in the first place, you cared about the world and you want to change the world but a lot of times you put a lot of your time on raising funds and that isn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to really get there, get my hands dirty and actually solve the problems and the best way to do that was to start a company.
How does the business model work? I know that for the NGO, you had to depend on people for blood and funds, so what changed?
Temie Giwa: For us, we charge for our services. So we have a few services that we offer. The first one which everybody knows about is the LifeBank App is basically making the general populace become blood donors. So we sign you up as a blood donor, book appointments for you and you earn cool rewards and it’s pretty interesting. But we don’t make money from that, that’s our CSR project.
And we have another service. We help hospitals find the medical products they need. We have different platforms, we use data, we use smart logistics and we use artificial intelligence basically to help hospitals discover medical products they need and deliver to them in the right conditions. For example, you are at a hospital somewhere and the doctor finds out you need 5 pints of blood now, you can go on our platform and make a request for blood and we will find the blood and move it to the hospital in fifty five minutes so for that we charge a fee to the hospital. We do discoveries, help you find who has the blood and move it. There are private and public blood banks where there are ready blood waiting for someone who needs it. So we do discovery and do the delivery logistics seamlessly.
Are the people interacting with the Apps as expected?
Temie Giwa: With LifeBank App, people have actually adopted that. We have over 5000 donors and that’s doing very well. On the other one, the B2B , unfortunately people in the hospitals are very busy and also are technology not very savvy, we had to find a way round it. A lot of hospitals want to call us, so we built a call centre. Some of them sometimes would want to do SMS, so we have an SMS platform where they can make requests. Some people use Whatsapp to request instead of on the website to order, so we made that available also. We just figured out that the best thing to do is follow what the market wants and we have some people using the app as well.
Presently, we are spending a lot of time educating them on how to use the app and technology, people are converting to the app slowly but we are hoping that would accelerate soon. But in the mean time we have other ways by which hospitals can reach us. We have about 300 hospitals right now and with about 100 of them as active customers right now, meaning they order like every quarter. Yes, we are doing well and we are just about a year old, we are still very young.
I was going to ask as a business, would you say you are making substantial profit but you just said it
Temie Giwa: Yes, we are making profit. We haven’t broken even yet, but the business is profitable.
Being a health entrepreneur without being a health practitioner in this clime where health practitioners are possessive , how do you go about it?
Temie Giwa: For me, A lot of times, I’m in a room and people say are you even a doctor? it doesn’t bother me because I know I don’t need a medical degree to do what I can do and as you can see I’ve been very successful in a short matter of time in doing what I do. We are not a health company, we are a technology company serving the health sector.
We are a technology, data and logistics company, that’s what we consider ourselves, that’s what we want to be. I do need someone who has hematology experience or degree, I can just hire them. I don’t think only doctors and health workers should be innovative in the health sector. I think anyone that sees a chance to add values to hospital systems should go ahead and do it. Nigeria needs a lot of tools to solve the problems we have, we just can’t wait for teachers, lawyers, doctors to be the only ones to solve them. If anyone has an interesting idea, I think one should just go on and implement.
Asides the general challenges of the Nigeria Business terrain, what are your peculiar business challenges?
Temie Giwa: When we launched, we taught we would just be a technology company to just build tools that would transform the system. We realized that for you to build just a technology platform, there needs to be infrastructure already there . We just wanted to build a platform where hospitals can discover blood, plasma, platelets. We weren’t thinking of services but then we realized there was no way for them to go get these products, the logistic infrastructure that was available was not sufficient. So hospitals would send ambulance to go and pick up blood, or would send a nurse in a bus or on a bike to go and pick up blood or the patient’s relative to go and find the blood. We realized that was also a major problem; we couldn’t just do discovery but had to do delivery as well.
When I launched LifeBank we had no plans for delivery whatsoever, all our plans were discovery. So now, we are just figuring out how to go about building a delivery system that is efficient. More so, that’s not cheap at all. So a lot of resources had been put into building that and that is very hard. Lack of delivery infrastructure has been our biggest challenge. We realized we would have to improve on infrastructure. On demand delivery doesn’t exist; we have to build it. There’s a lot of delivery system, but it’s always scheduled. The idea that ‘I need to get this package to the hospital in the next 30 minutes” doesn’t exist in Lagos or Nigeria right now so we have to step in. It’s challenging but it’s something we think can be done and we have started on it.
I once read your tweet about the aim of making so much money from the health sector, so what are you working on presently?
Temie Giwa: For us, we think that there’s so much gap in the health technology. I have so many beliefs, one is that there should be no dichotomy between making money and driving impact, saving lives, educating them and doing all sort of things that can make the lives of people better. In the past, in Nigeria especially, we have a weird way of looking at people who make money from things like these. I think that’s a wrong mentality to have. I think that the business model is one of the way to ensure quality and longevity.
What happens is that we want good services and want the government to provide it, we want blood but we want the government to provide it. People say that all the time. But government doesn’t have the capacity to do that for a long time, to do that efficiently and effectively. Basically, all over the world, you have private systems with dual bottom lines; social enterprise and impact making. You have social enterprises who do these works . These works have so much investment in them, so much focus on quality assurance that it is so important not to put a division between making money and saving people’s lives.
Also, I read Africa has 1 doctor to 5000 Africans. I think that’s so problematic because how can you build a good health system without doctors? But we don’t have money as I also read that we need One million Dollars to bring our health sector to the barest mark of efficiency. I think that we are going to need Technology Tools that will help us bridge the gap between having so little resources and making good health services available. That’s where I’m going to build my career and make a lot of money.
I don’t see anything wrong in making tons of money as long as I’m driving impact in people’s lives. Those are the things that matter to me; help someone somewhere and making money while doing that. There are so many things we are working on, you’ll be hearing about them very soon.
Am I correct to assume you have no competition?
Temie Giwa: We have competitions doing different things, we have people working with something like our donor app. For our core business however, we don not have anybody currently competing with us, we have people who can but they are not It’s always good to be the first in the market. For us we are obsessed with innovating.
We built Lifebank Plus, the platform for our core business and have had it for a year but we are already building its replacement, which is the predictive, analysis, artificial intelligence platform that can tell you even before you get to the hospital that you are going to need particular things. For me my personal belief is that the best way to deal with your competition is to ignore it, focus on your business and focus on building what is going to replace you. That way, you are your own competition. We are building our competition already.
And what has been Temie Giwa’s greatest business lesson so far?
Temie Giwa: Just go with the Market Flow. It was not painful for me to learn because I’m very flexible. The lesson is go with the market flow. Most times, entrepreneurs have this ideas and they want to implement the idea how they have thought about it. the market may not want that exactly, just tweak it a little and the market will want it. Give the market what they want. medical workers want medical products fast and without hassles. It is left to me to figure out how to get it to them. Have the smartness and intelligence to create what they want in a way they didn’t know you could deliver it, in a seamless, smart, productive and profitable way.