Scott Birnbaum, the Founder of Red Sea Ventures, recently shared an important insight with me about small teams punching their weight.
Scott’s advice stayed with me – It’s the latest quote taped on my mirror – and is the perfect description of the enormous impact Watsi’s eight person team is making to fund universal healthcare.
I had the pleasure of spending time with Grace Garey, Watsi’s co-founder, last week when she enlightened me on the non-profit’s work enabling donors everywhere to crowdfund healthcare.
Giving back is in Grace’s blood. Whether she was raising money for UNICEF while trick-or-treating or living in a hospital in India, the responsibility to positively contribute to the world was ingrained in her from a young age.
Since launching in 2012, and being the first non-profit to participate in Y Combinator, Watsi’s enabled 13, 291 donors to fund healthcare for 4, 717 patients across 21 countries. Most importantly, 100 % of the donations go directly to patients.
They’ve also created the Universal Fund, an outlet for donors to set a recurring monthly donation that supports a new Watsi patient each month. 1,417 donors are currently active on the platform.
Shaping the team’s life-changing impact is a special founding story and the decision to run their organization like a startup rather than a traditional non-profit.
Between joining Y Combinator, raising capital and iterating extremely fast Watsi’s motto is “Watch and listen.”
The team is maniacal about cultivating a deep understanding of the way donors, doctors and patients use the platform.
“You have to find out what people are doing and then tap into it. There are things that you would never consider. Once you learn them, you can make quick fixes,” Grace explained.
The decision to publish and promote a donor’s number contributing to The Universal Fund is a great example. After launching the fund, the team quickly recognized the value of an individual’s place in line as they proudly posted their number on Twitter. Today, it’s a defining feature of their product.
Personalization is perhaps the most transformative component of Watsi’s success.
Whether it’s sending detailed emails to celebrate the impact of a donor’s contribution or gifting each Universal Fund donor a unique photo book, making individuals feel valued is a core part of the team’s work.
“It’s about human connection,” Grace shared. “We want to answer ‘Who is this person outside of their medical condition?’…It’s equally as important as funding healthcare.”
To achieve that, donors receive thank you messages from Watsi including photos and descriptions of the patient they funded as well as the treatment they’re receiving. Once the treatment is complete, Watsi sends follow-on emails with messages from the doctors and the patient’s family.
Grace shares actionable advice about the importance of personalization in “What Startups Can Learn from Watsi’s Wildly Successful Email Campaign”, an excellent piece by Camille Ricketts in The First Round Review.
When it came to their time at YC, Grace cites mentorship and relationships with their peers as the defining part of the experience.
Paul Graham, YC’s founder, is heavily committed to Watsi. After discovering them on Hacker News he invited them to be the first non-profit the accelerator’s ever worked with.
“Paul has a magical ability to strip problems down to their vertebrae and figure out what things you need to focus on,” Grace explained.
Paul is also on Watsi’s board, it’s the first board he’s ever served on, and is a dedicated advocate for the brand.
“After about 30 seconds of looking at the site, I realized I was looking at one of the more revolutionary things I’d seen the internet used for…I’ve never been so excited about anything we’ve funded,” he shared on his personal blog.
The future is exceptionally bright for Watsi. While funding healthcare will always remain their primary goal, they’re equally excited about the impact their data can make on the industry as a whole.
A telling example is two neighboring hospitals in Nairobi that are performing the same procedure for drastically different prices. Despite sharing a support staff and cafeteria, the treatment is $550 at one hospital and $950 at the other.
Fixing these inefficiencies will make a life-changing impact; Even down to the number of patients Watsi can fund for the hydrocephalus treatment.
Deeply rooted in transparency, Watsi’s ultimate goal is to give donors faith that 100% of their donation is supporting a patient, and to do so in realtime.
Here’s a glimpse of what we discuss:
- The magnitude of scaling personalization
- The birth of the Universal Fund
- The decision to run Watsi like a startup
- The team’s core learnings from Y Combinator Founder Paul Graham
- Why pragmatism is the core trait Watsi seeks in new team members
- The importance of finding hobbies you can measure progress in