BlooDoChallenge, a tech for good app aiming to increase the number of donors in Romania

 BlooDoChallenge, a tech for good app aiming to increase the number of donors in Romania

According to the National Institute of Hematology, only 2% of the entire population of Romania are blood donors. Worrisome statistics like this one are the main reason behind the creation of BlooDoChallenge, which is an application that urges people to donate blood. The app allows its founders to provide an innovative solution to the problem and to offer it to the public by encouraging people to contribute through individual involvement.

The idea is based on moral consideration, so the app was developed by volunteers who wanted to see positive changes and improvements regarding blood donation in Romania. Thanks to their time and dedication, the blood donation scene in Oradea and beyond has been positively impacted. 

In an exclusive interview for Transylvania Tech News, two of the challenge’s founding members, Alex and Paula, tell us more about the creation and development of the BlooDoChallenge app.

About BlooDoChallenge

What is BlooDoChallenge and how was the idea born? 

BlooDoChallenge is a mobile application aiming to increase the number of blood donors in Romania. Everything started back in 2018 when we decided to participate in the international Technovation competition hosted in Romania by ADFABER.org. We identified ~10 local problems and from these, the one that caught our attention most, as in, it would make the biggest impact in the community around blood donation. We then looked for support from Centrul de transfuzie sanguină Oradea. We got it and the adventure started!

 

How long did it take to develop the MVP?

It’s worth mentioning that before December 2019 and going back until October 2018 we juggled with a different concept and design of the whole app which won us the national Technovation Challenge on May 19, 2019, and helped us validate the idea even more.

From the moment we started working towards the first release, in December 2019, it took us around 8 months to release the first Beta version during Tech 4 Oradea – Community Launch Event and one month later, on August 26th 2020, we had the official release to the public. Some people have asked us about real numbers, and we have tracked those as well. We have spent around 2000-2500 hours across all volunteers (from Centrul de transfuzie sanguină Oradea included) during these 8 months.

Photo source: Facebook

What helped you the most?

It’s a mixture of everything, as every ingredient (blood transfusion centers, donors, partners, supporters, etc) brings something to the table to make it all work, but bottom line, the partnership with Centrul de transfuzie sanguină Oradea was the most important. We had the technical knowledge and they had the medical knowledge and the willingness to implement such a digital system, tailored for their process and donors.

As we extend to other cities, the center pillar is the blood transfusion center (Zalău, Alba, Cluj, Bistrița, Baia Mare, Satu Mare, Piatra Neamț) and all the others that will join in the future, as they enable the whole system to be set in motion.

Partners have a great stake in this as well. As soon as we open in a city, donors start asking us about the points system and when they will be able to use them, thus making the presence of partners(local and national) in the app is paramount!

 

What was the greatest challenge?

To offer a great experience to everyone using the app! The first thing to understand about this project is that it is being built from 0 to 1 solely with volunteer work. It requires a great level of time management, sheer will and a big heart to invest your remaining time (even weekends) into a project, while keeping standards high. These kinds of people joined us! Now, along the way, NGOs are also joining, and between them we want to mention the great help and support we got from Donează sânge, fii erou! in all cities we’ve opened so far.

We would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to all of them and to everyone else that volunteers in other similar projects.

Besides the sweat poured into working day and night come the perks of friendship and the feeling that you’re actually moving the world forward. Several NGOs are promoting this lifestyle more and more in the community, and to name a few: Edubiz, CoderDojo Oradea, Fundația Comunitară Oradea, Oradea Tech Hub

 

Paula, we know that you came with the idea in the first place: how did you come up with the idea? 

In fact, Cosmina was the first to come up with this idea, so the answer to this question belongs to her.

After we formed the team and decided to participate in the contest, we did some brainstorming sessions in which we tried to identify the problems in our community, we did research on the internet and we debated various issues.

Some things happen when you least expect it so the identification of the problem occurred during a break, at school, when I saw an online call for donation. At that time I searched the internet and found many situations in which people need blood, and digging deeper into this problem I discovered that Romania is among the last places in the top of donors, with only 2% of the country’s population donating blood.

 

What contributed the most to the vision of the app in the first place? (school, a teacher, Edubiz, etc.)

The vision of this app was gradually built from the discussions and debates we had with Centrul de transfuzie sanguină Oradea. All the ideas we had as a result of our research were validated with the medical staff. Then once we had those first features with which we launched the app, the vision was completed by the feedback from the users.

 

We understood that you were still in high school when you had the BlooDoChallenge idea. How did your teachers see your initiative?

Yes, we were still in high school when we started thinking and working on this project. When the teachers heard about our idea they were very excited and impressed, they liked our initiative but they couldn’t imagine that it would become a product that will be used by people. I remember that one day at school the class master stopped us in the hall to congratulate us because he saw an article about us in the newspaper. Until then we haven’t been taken so seriously, the teacher just saw it as a momentary project. On the other hand, we also met teachers who saw potential and jumped to our aid with advice and recommendations.

A tech for good app!

BlooDoChallenge is an app that from the beginning was developed as a nonprofit/tech for good initiative, and this is a very unusual model for a tech product. Alex, how hard was it to buy people in?

We are building a great product! This was a good selling point. Another one was around using the latest technologies and having full control of how we’re doing things technically and functionally. This is very important because the majority of companies in Romania are doing outsourcing, meaning you don’t have direct contact with the people that are actually using your system.

Being on the front line and having the ability to discuss directly with the people that are using what you have built gives you a certain edge. I’m not a father yet, but it might just be that that’s the same feeling.

Quality of what you offer is very important, otherwise bad shit will happen. A great product sells itself!

Some bought in willing to build something great, others are blood donors and are now using the features they have implemented themselves.

 

How was it to work with a team of volunteers? What challenges did you have?

I think it was very inspiring and thankful! Around challenges, people have limited time. There are only 24 hours in one day. The first waking hours of the day are planned mostly for a full time job. The remaining hours are planned differently by each member from the team. And here the clash starts. It’s a bit difficult to get everyone together at the same time, so one way to fix this was to split the work in such a way that they would not work in the same area nor on the same feature. This approach made the release of each functionality slower, but it increased the chances of it being done in the correct manner and at high standards, as only one or two people would work on it. Each task is planned in such a way that it accounts for the schedule of each team member and their experience, as not everyone that is joining knows all the technologies. But everyone that joins is willing to learn them!

Photo source: bloodochallenge.com

How difficult was it to find volunteers? How did you recruit them?

Not an easy task to ask people to work for nothing, but it gets easier if you present them the vision behind what they will do and the impact of their work. Talking to more people increases your chances of finding someone that will join, so I did just that. There were times when I would get a straight NO as they were already busy with some other projects, and this is great!

We’re always looking for volunteers to join our cause, especially in the following areas: development, marketing, sales, business analysis, operations, funding.

 

Why do you think it is important to do tech for good?

I believe it makes you more humble as a person and gives you the opportunity of understanding other areas which are not in your field of work.

At the beginning it seemed like a good idea, and turned out to be quite a joyful ride!

Volunteer-work balance!​

Alex, you also have a full-time job at Qubiz. How did this project affect your schedule?

It didn’t affect the time I spent at Qubiz. I’m usually home at 18:00 and I focus on the project for the next 4-6 hours. I then usually sleep for 6 hours and around 6-7 in the morning I get up, read for an hour then go to the office.

It’s worth mentioning about the new things that I’ve learnt in the project I can apply at work and vice versa, so there surely is a volunteer-work balance, they balance each other.

I must admit, lately I’ve been missing out on the morning exercises.

How helpful were your colleagues, managers, etc?

Around 90% of the technical team is from Qubiz. Even Simina, our delivery manager from Oradea, joined back in early 2020 while still developing for Android!

In september 2020, the mobile team wanted to learn Google’s Flutter, so instead of building an internal learning app, we’ve allocated everyone involved, full time, to rewrite the app from scratch, thus hitting ‘two stones with one bird’: on one side learning a new framework for commercial projects and on the other hand delivering a great product to the community.

Did you feel at the edge of a burnout at any time during the project? How did you overcome it?

Not sure if I can call it a burnout, but there were times when I felt a bit down, and this is normal for everyone I believe. The human body can sustain much more than we think it does. I do take some afternoons off from time to time where I would work on a totally different thing which helps the mind process by itself. I find going to the bathroom and showering the most inspiring moments of the day.

How many hours did your team spend on developing each version (Android and iPhone)?

Around 2000-2500 hours for the initial Android release(first 8 months), and then 2224 hours, across 3 months, for the complete rewrite of the entire app, in Google’s Flutter, which was ready for review on both Android and iOS at the beginning of December 2020.

Total amount of work that went in as of April 2021 is around 6500-7000 hours.

Paula, how did this project affect your life: school, personal life, friendships, etc.? 

It’s a project that I have to admit takes up a lot of time, but I try as well as I can to keep a balance in everything I do.

I’m very happy that I’m surrounded by people who support me and who believe in this project. This gives me strength and helps me to overcome the difficult moments in which I feel that I don’t  have enough time for everything I do.

Being a computer science student, this project greatly broadened my horizons in this direction. Basically, I see with my own eyes what this whole process really means: from building a product to launching it on the market and maintaining it as well as possible.

I’m lucky to have friends who help me when needed and who understand me when I can’t go out, so I can finish what I have to work on. Overall, this project teaches me how to better organize my time and tasks, what I have to do, how to overcome certain stressful situations.

How did your parents see this project? 

I am very lucky and grateful to have open-minded parents, who support me in everything I do. My parents see this project as an opportunity through which I develop and always learn something new, which makes me get out of my comfort zone and force me to face various situations. They are happy to see that I love what I do and I’m so dedicated.

Who helped you the most in pursuing this project? (beside Alex :D)

Among the people from whom I learned many things and who always believed in my ambition is Teodora Chifor, founder of Edubiz.

Teodora is a special person for me, a real mentor, who through Edubiz program, she created the favorable environment in which I developed skills and competencies such as: leadership, communication, teamwork, public speaking, critical thinking, creativity that were very useful for me in BlooDoChallenge.

How to build an app/project?

From your experience what do you consider that would have helped you the most when you started this project?

Fortunately there is no silver bullet! Most important aspect though would be to know where you’re heading, everything else will just follow, provided you “work your ass off” towards achieving it. Mostly a fan of Nikola Tesla, but Thomas Edison did nail it this time with the following saying: 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

 

What was the most important lesson you learned?

Alex: From all the ones we learnt and are still learning, one arises on the top everytime, and that is: If you want to do something, you need to fully commit yourself to the cause!

Paula: Every day I feel like I’m learning something, but the most important lesson I learned is to enjoy the process, not give up and keep trying.

What was the biggest mistake you made? / If you could go back and change something in this process, what would that be?

This is hard, as we kinda lost count 😅Jokes aside, developing only for Android might have been the greatest lesson. And as every coin has two sides, this was a two sided lesson.

From a strategy point, we decided to go only with Android at the beginning simply because we already had something implemented from the competition and we thought it would require little tweaks to release a first version. It turned out to be exactly the opposite. We changed the concept and UX a few times while keeping the old system. And this happened because we didn’t have a clear understanding of what the finished product would look like.

From a technical point, we had to fully rewrite everything from scratch and while doing it we faced another hard decision as we were currently implementing the Partner module into Android. We weren’t sure how much it would take to rewrite it all again, but we did make the right call and switched everyone towards the new implementation, pushing in parallel on all fronts, thus after ~3 months, with a whole new technology that we had to learn, the app was ready for both Android and iOS, with a cleaner UI, a new user experience and a relieve that the most important piece of the puzzle was ready to be released.

 

Would you start this project/another project considering the challenges and benefits that come with it?

With no hesitation. What’s important is not about starting a new project just for the sake of doing something, but rather, and everyone will surely agree, whatever project you’re doing, it needs to be something that you enjoy a lot, otherwise it’s just bad pain. Because things will go wrong and in these times you need to find the joy to move forward.

Future plans​

What’s the app’s latest update?

Hopefully I’m not making any spoilers, but many donors have asked us for the ability to enter donations manually. Since one of the functions of the app is to digitalize the donor’s card, we have done exactly that. As soon as you join the app, you will be able to add your past donations manually. They act similarly with registered donations with two slight differences: you don’t get points, and they don’t get validated.

There is still a bad update to be made, we’re not happy about it but we believe it’s worth mentioning the stuff that is not working so people are aware. iOS notifications are still problematic as they don’t work as expected if the app is closed or in the background. As soon as we get some breathing time we will start looking into this issue once more. For this we apologize to all iOS users!

Photo source: Facebook

What plans do you have in order to improve BlooDoChallenge in the future?

Keep a startup mindset going! While today we’re releasing new features, we already work in the background towards improving them. For example, we already tried four ways of gathering feedback from our users. The first three combined have generated around 15-20 reactions with good suggestions. The fourth, being the last one, generated over 900 reactions and more than 100 suggestions in around 1 month since it’s active.

We are actively writing to users about their suggestions and we go ahead and implement them. We’re one week away from releasing a big update asked by several donors for a few months.

Staying in touch with the transfusion centers, partners and donors is paramount. The system did not crash since it was launched, but new requirements arise every week or two. These need to be addressed if we want to offer a great experience.

 

What is your biggest challenge right now?

Paula checked the number of WhatsApp groups. The final value is 31. It is a bit difficult to pay attention to all the communication that goes on in there and then still focus on developing new functionality, but these two drive themselves in a way: if there is interest, we need to know about it and then we go do something about it.

If you have some spare time and feel that you would like to help this project, let us know! 😊

 

Where do you see this project in 5 years?

One entity can’t and should not manage everything around this topic, thus we’ve made plans for including other important actors from this space in the platform. Plan is that in 1-2 years this will become a trend, to have specific numbers (metrics) that can prove that this is actually helping and the goal described below to be achieved.

 

What is your ultimate goal with this project?

Increase and maintain the number of blood donors and with a future possibility of having it integrated with the national health system. Other EU (UK as well) countries already have this implemented, hence we need to catch up. This is doable!

So the launch and constant improvement of the BlooDoChallenge application were possible with the involvement of enthusiastic people who worked optimistically without considering the option to give up in the most difficult times. On the other hand, the support of the medical staff represented a source of encouragement and a confirmation of the fact that Romania needs such a tech solution. 

This project was also a good thing for the volunteers involved, as they enriched their knowledge in a practical way, learned how to organize their time more efficiently and managed to get out of their comfort zone.

It’s your turn to do good, and through the BlooDoChallenge application, it becomes easier than you think. Download the BlooDoChallenge app for free and save a life!

 

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