Backed by the likes of Harvard Angels and Google’s Rajan Anandan, Karthik Naralasetty’s Socialblood aims to be a global one-stop platform for blood donation. In his own words, he wants to bring innovation into this space and change the perception that dealing with blood is not cool
Karthik Naralasetty always had an entrepreneurial streak in him. He dropped out of Rutgers University in 2010 and started an Internet business. But what he didn’t anticipate was that one day he would be building a business that would impact millions across the world. “Once, I came across an article in a newspaper about a young girl from Karnataka, who was suffering from a disease called Thalassemia. Picture this. She needed 30 units of blood every month, just to survive and lead a normal life like us,” he says.
This led him to visit several blood banks in Bengaluru to understand how blood banks operate and how the blood donation system works. “These visits made me realise that blood donation is not just a challenge in India, but, across the world. The solution is simple; ask people when in need of blood. But nobody does that,” he opines. Thus, in 2011, he founded Socialblood, and as a first step, he created eight Facebook groups for each blood type and invited his friends to join each group. Within a month, there were 10,000 people using these groups.
By November 2011, he was invited to the U.S. by the Staples and Asoka Foundation, to present the idea to the likes of Sean Parker (founder of Napster). “Parker felt the idea was good but believed that unless I focus completely on developing it, I won’t create a sustainable impact. His words stuck with me,” recalls Naralasetty. As a result, he researched the blood donation segment in the U.S. as well, and spent a few hours every week developing the concept. “The fundamental difference between India and the U.S. is that in the U.S., by law, the hospitals should not ask the patient’s family to identify blood donors. They partner with blood banks, which always have a stock of blood, and through a software process, source it when needed,” he explains. Whereas, in India, when a patient is in need of blood, it is the family’s responsibility to source it. “That’s why we felt there was a strong revenue model in the U.S. and we can capitalise on it,” he adds.
Soon, Socialblood also moved out of Facebook groups and became a single platform where blood donors and blood seekers can transact. “We wanted to create a platform where hospitals and blood banks can come on board too. And, we launched this first in India,” shares Naralasetty. Thus, while in India, it focuses on connecting the blood donors and seekers through its platform, in the U.S., it is developing software tools to connect hospitals and blood banks.
The company raised its first round of funding from Rajan Anandan of Google, who also brought the likes of Karthik Reddy (Blume Ventures), Ravi Gururaj (VP-Citrix) and Ramesh Kumar Shah (Harvard Angels), on board. Then, after shifting base to the U.S., Naralasetty participated in an accelerator programme and raised a second round of angel funding.
Today, Socialblood is in the process of developing Facebook tools to improve connectivity between hospitals, blood banks and donors. For example, it is exploring an opportunity to introduce an icon which allows the user to add their blood type on the profile page. “If this is implemented, anybody can search for anyone’s blood type through graph search,” indicates Naralasetty. With these tools, he also plans to capitalise on the African and Asia-Pacific market where the problem is as prevalent.
“Ultimately, we want to position blood donation as a cool thing among youngsters. For this, we want to present stories instead of facts. With respect to hospitals and blood banks, which have seen no innovation in the last 50 years, we meet them and show them how the technology works. Once a few come on board, the rest will follow suit,” indicates Naralasetty.
In the long run, he aims to build Socialblood as a global one-stop platform to donate and seek blood.Harvard Angels Rajan Anandan Social Impact Startup Socialblood