Reliefwatch is a new start up company based out of Chicago founded by Daniel Yu.
Reliefwatch seeks to provide a better way for people around the world to access
needed medicine. Au’loni Magazine got a chance to speak with founder and CEO,
Daniel Yu, to discuss the direction of the company, and what life has been like for
him over the past few years during his entrepreneurial venture.
Tell us a little bit about the inception of the company and the inspiration
The idea behind Reliefwatch actually came from my experience living in rural Egypt,
which happened as an extension of a study abroad program while I was a student as
University of Chicago. While I was there I happened to go to the local pharmacy one
day and that’s when I saw all of the stocked out and expired medications. I realized
there wasn’t a system in place to keep track of what these clinics had in stock. I also
noticed that mostly everyone over there had a cell phone. I have a background in
technology and programming and figured I needed to come up with a way to use the
devices we already have to track supply levels and prevent these stock outs.
What happened next, how did the idea take off?
It was good timing when I got back to the U.S. That fall of 2012 there was an
entrepreneurship competition through my school that I entered and formed a team through that
From that point in the beginning of Reliefwatch to where you are now, what
has the ride been like? What were some highlights?
Definitely our first customer. By no means was it easy starting off. It took us a while
to get in touch with the right organizations and learn from them what we needed to
be operational and ready. It wasn’t until the following year in 2014 that we started
talking more seriously with our first customer and not until a few months later that
we got the program up and running. But when we finally did it was a very big
moment for us in terms of validating all the work we had put in. We have just
expanded from there. We are now in five countries. We work with all different types
of organizations from NGOS to government and health organizations.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
Finding the best team. I ultimately dropped out of school to focus more on the
company full time and when I did that no one else on the team was willing to come
with me. It was this awkward situation where the other people on the team did not
have the same level of commitment that I had and I had to make a tough choice of
letting people go who were on the initial team to find people who were more
dedicated and could devote more of their time.
What is the team like now three years later?
We currently have seven people full time. It’s definitely a different composition than
it was at first. Funny enough I’m actually the youngest person on the team. There
are people who quit their jobs to come out to work for us. It’s definitely a different
level than being a student who just has an idea.
Walk me through a typical day as CEO.
(Laughs) There really is no typical day. But really I spend 40% of my time traveling.
I’m actually heading off to San Francisco later tonight for an investors meeting. Then
on Sunday I’ll be flying to Philadelphia for the Forbes 30 under 30 Summit where
ReliefWatch is competing. Other than that I spend my time talking to customers,
investors, planning presentations and competitions, talking to lawyers, accountants
and all those fun people. Other than that I would say I tend to be very involved in
product development. I do a lot of thinking about the types of features that we need
to develop and how to make our system better. As the CEO, the buck stops here,
anything that doesn’t get done that needs to get done I end up doing. Ultimately as
the founder I’ve done every job in the company and worn a lot of hats.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Fake it ‘til you make it.” So much of this business is selling people on a vision. It’s
not just about having an idea and sitting in your dorm room disheartened by the fact
that you don’t have resources available to you. You have to able to inspire people
with the grand idea of how this is going to change the world. A lot of that comes
down to being perhaps a little more confident and overselling what you actually
have. For example, with our first customer we actually sold them a product that
technically did not exist yet. We told them what we could do and what problems we
could solve for them and then actually had to go back and build it in three weeks.
What’s next for Reliefwatch?
The vision for the company is to become the go‐to technology for data tracking in
low resource areas in the developing world regardless of what sector it’s in whether
it be health, consumer goods, agriculture or anything else. For the next year we are
focusing on growing and expanding so we’re hoping to expand to four new
countries, more than double our current sales, and be ready to raise another round of investors
To find out more about Reliefwatch, check out their website and social media.