Bonnie Roupé is the founder of Bonzun, which produces apps to aid women through IVF treatment and pregnancy. Here she shares her inspirations and her hopes for the future.
Reader's Digest: How did your business begin?
Bonnie Roupé: I was running another company when I got the idea for Bonzun and then when I was pregnant with my second child, I experienced a complication that nearly killed me. I didn't understand that I was sick. I had no idea.
I had searched for my symptoms online but I couldn't find anything. It turned out that what I had—preeclampsia—is very common and I just thought It was so strange that I could have something so very common and still not find any information when I tried to search for it. And the reason I couldn't find anything was that I had searched for the symptoms the way I experienced them and not using the proper medical terms.
I just thought that with the wide use of smartphones and access to the internet everywhere, that it’s so strange that we can't access everything we need when we're pregnant. That's where I got the idea. I could see very clearly what the service would look like. And then I also felt that if I didn't start this, it would take a really long time before anyone else did. I had all the experience and tools that I needed to start Bonzun so if I didn’t do it, then who would?
My experience of being pregnant and being so vulnerable and my experience too as a tech entrepreneur made me certain it would take a woman to get this idea right.
I sold my previous company and I use that money to fund the start of Bonzun.
"My experience of being pregnant and being so vulnerable made me certain it would take a woman to get this idea right"
RD: Tell us more about your previous business ventures
BR: It was a golf magazine for women called Red Tee [which was the first niche sports magazine aimed at women] and I'm very proud of that.
I started it because I saw a big gap in the market. There were a lot of female golfers who had a lot of money to spend and they were big on consuming magazines. Sweden has the highest amount of female golfers per capita in the world, so it was a really good business idea, but it was not scalable outside of Sweden. But Bonzun is scalable, it's something that women everywhere need.
RD: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
BR: I think so. I moved away from home when I was 15, and I was still in school, so I had to be creative with how to support myself during that period.
I worked as a salesperson and I also had a business at school where during the breaks I had a popup café where I sold sodas and sandwiches.
Inside the Bonzun app
RD: When did you first sense that Bozun was going to be a success?
BR: Quite early on. The first sense was before I launched anything, and I was holding focus groups with pregnant Chinese women. I was really trying to understand the differences between Chinese pregnant women and Swedish pregnant women so that I would know how to penetrate that market.
And then when I listened to the focus group, I realised that there was no difference, they had exactly the same issues and the same concerns as women in Sweden. I realised that this is not about culture, or politics, or religion, this is about the human body, this is biology. And the changes that we go through during pregnancy are the same.
RD: What's been the biggest challenge in building your business?
BR: The challenges have been many. I don't think I realised how much was needed when you invent a completely new market. There was nothing to compare myself to.
I also learned that it's not enough to just build a great product, you have to take so much time and energy to explain your vision and prove yourself and the validity of your idea.
"When people heard about the idea and what impact it might have they'd say, “Oh, so it's an NGO,” and I would have to say, no, no, no, this is a business"
One challenge for me was to explain to the health industry how much impact a digital solution could actually have. I think it's difficult for them to grasp how much a virtual midwife could actually support the doctors in their job. And when I started Bonzun, the term "health tech" was unheard of.
Another challenge was explaining how it could offer both profit and purpose. When people heard about the idea and what impact it might have they'd say, “Oh, so it's an NGO,” and I would have to say, no, no, no, this is a business. That was also a challenge, to talk to investors and explain how it could be both a moneymaking company and in the business of saving lives and reducing suffering.
Inside the app
RD: Which business achievement are you most proud of?
BR: We were nominated as the top mobile and internet start-up in China in 2015 and I’m very proud of that because it was very early and we had just launched our first beta version. I felt that as validation from the tech industry and also from China. It was a really big deal for me.
My happiest moments are always with my team. We have offices in Kathmandu, Shanghai, and Stockholm. And I think the first time we were able to all be together in person was my happiest memory of the business. When we met, even though we are from different countries and different backgrounds—a Chinese, atheist, a Swedish person and a Nepalese Buddhist—we think alike. We could’ve have grown up together on the same street.
RD: Do you have any business role models?
BR: One of my role models is Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She not only created a company but built something completely new that no one had seen before. It takes something extra to build a new market.
"Even though we are from different countries and different backgrounds we think alike. We could’ve have grown up on the same street"
RD: What's the best piece of business advice you've received? And what advice would you offer to budding entrepreneurs?
BR: One thing that you need to realise as an entrepreneur is that no one else is going to do the work for you. Actually, you're on your own, and it's a lonely business, so you just have to work hard.
One piece of advice that I got is that it's better to make a decision and realise that it was the wrong decision than to make no decision at all. I think that's good advice.
RD: Has being a woman in a male-dominated industry ever brought on extra challenges?
BR: Maybe I'm [treated as] a bit of an outsider in the tech industry because even though I'm a tech entrepreneur I haven't gotten any media attention for that. However, that's not important. What's important is for me to focus on running my business. And my users, the pregnant women, and the IVF clinics, they don't care about whether I'm a woman or not.
So long as I just do the work, it doesn’t matter if I'm a woman or a man or if I’m young or old. And that I think, is the beauty of being an entrepreneur—it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man. It's all about the work that you do, the hours you put in and what you're able to deliver to the world.
RD: What positive change do you hope Bonzun will make in the world?
BR: I want to completely eradicate and preventable maternal and infant mortality. Three hundred thousand mothers die every year with causes that we can prevent. Eight million babies are born with birth defects. And a lot of them are due to things that are completely preventable.
So I really want to make an impact and make sure that more children are born healthy, and that mothers don't have to suffer or in worst case die from their pregnancies. And one thing that I'm very, very proud of is our IVF software which improves IVF treatment. With that, we can increase the carry home baby rate from IVF clinics, so we can actually help to create more children.
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