What’s That Drone Doing? Delivering Blood. Saving Lives.
Talking with Keenan Wyrobek, Founder of Zipline, I learned that blood has a very short shelf life—and it’s always in limited supply. Here in the U.S. we have complex systems that get blood from donors to testing labs and then back to points of use, where it’s transfused into patients. This is not the case in many countries around the world.
Keenan has a solution. Here’s his elevator pitch for Zipline:
Elevator pitch: “We deliver essential medical products using drones, small robotic aircrafts, in the hardest to reach parts of the world. Our first customer is the government of Rwanda, and we are responsible for all of the outgoing blood supply chain, delivering units of blood to hospitals for the entire western half of the country.” Listen to Keenan Wyrobek give his elevator pitch.
Before Zipline, severe rains could wash out roads and make it impossible for blood deliveries to get through. Keenan told me a story about a man they met in Rwanda: “His wife was giving birth and started to suffer postpartum hemorrhaging, which is basically bleeding as a result of childbirth. It’s a very common thing and it’s one of those conditions where without blood it’s very lethal, and with blood it’s very treatable. And the hospital handed him a cooler and said, look we don’t have your wife’s blood type, we’re out. The guy can’t get the delivery here fast enough. We think her blood type is available at a nearby hospital, hurry back.”
I admire Zipline because it’s literally saving lives, and that’s always worthy of admiration.
But I also think that Zipline is a fascinating startup because it was an innovation “push” rather than a “pull.” When you begin with a clear pain point in the market and look for a way to solve it, that’s a pull, and that’s how must successful startups get going. Sure, now that Zipline is delivering blood via drone, they’re solving a clear pain point. When they started, though, Keenan and his cofounder had some technology with a set of capabilities and they said, ‘hey we’re going to go look for an application’—a classic push.
Pushes are quite perilous. There are a lot of carcasses of companies that have tried to do a push. However, pushes are also the way that major technological changes actually happen. Flight is a great example, as is telephony. Sometimes the technology comes first, and then you have to look around and find a pain point that it can solve—and that’s what Keenan did.
Zipline is an example of where a push really worked, so I love that.