SlideSafe is a public health innovation that was founded to get more people conscious of their sexual safety without the fear of shame and stigmatization associated with such in the society. The Nigerian health startup aims to increase the use of contraceptives and also to get more people to screen themselves for STI. Innovation Village recently caught up with founder, Florida Uzoaru, who in an interview told us what SlideSafe is all about, it’s unique services, the challenges encountered in the journey so far and many more.
Can we meet you?
My name is Florida Uzoaru, founder, SlideSafe. I have a Master’s degree in Public Health Policy and I have had quite an extensive professional experience initially working with NGOs, most DFID and USAID funded projects.
When did SlideSafe Launch?
Sometimes this is a complex question to answer. Let’s say the company MerDroits Limited was registered in 2016 to provide a similar but not same service that SlideSafe is doing now. What MerDroits was initially focused on, was providing improved contraceptive access and the target audience basically women . So we sort of tried that business model out and when it didn’t seem to work so well, we pivoted and we simplified the solution further whereby we then came up with the product that eventually became Slidesafe. So, we basically rebranded MerDroits Limited as Slide Safe. Slide Safe as a product was launched in 2017, but MerDroits has been around for a little longer.
Can you tell us about SlideSafe and what it has to offer?
SlideSafe is a public health innovation that was founded to help increase the use of contraceptives and also to get more people to screen themselves for STI. Even though we sort of say it is for those who are sexually active, there are other uses of contraceptives not related to sex; STI screenings isn’t limited to only people who are sexually active, this means that even if you are not presently sexually active or you are considering becoming sexually active in future, SlideSafe is the product for you.
We also provide our services in a shame -free and judgement- free environment. So, what we are basically trying to do is to get people to become more conscious of their sexual safety by, having an open and honest conversation about sex and safety and as well as providing them with sexual health products in a way that protects their privacy and doesn’t stigmatize them. That is the major thing we are about, making sure people’s privacy are protected.
Right now the products that we offer are self -testing kits for HIV, Hepatitis B and Syphilis. We also provide condoms, emergency contraceptives and water based lubricants condoms. There are a couple of other things we have to offer in the future. All these products can be gotten from our website, www.slidesafe.ng.
What motivated the setting up of SlideSafe?
Growing up in Nigeria, it is easy to see just how little sex education most of us get. Meanwhile, we have this culture of pretending as if people are not having sex but people are having sex. The problem with this is it creates a stigma and shame around sex in general, and sexual health in particular. As a result, people are not open about coming out if they need sexual health service or product. It is usually something people whisper. It is this set up that made me say something has to be done. Following my work as Market Access Manager with Roche Nigeria, though their focus was on majority cancer, I had some take away lessons from there that I applied to sexual health. What Slide Safe is trying to do is remove as many access barriers as possible, so more people will use the available sexual health products in the market. One of the ways we’re trying to solve this barrier is by emphasizing the respect of people’s privacy and creating an environment that is free from shame and judgement.
What is unique about the services the platform has to offer?
What we do is to get people the product they need at the point they are, i.e. we are on-demand. It’s more like healthcare at your doorstep. Most healthcare providers in Nigeria work in such a way that you’re required to physically come to them when you need their service. What we do is we bring healthcare to you, the service user. For example, we give counseling online so you don’t have to take out time from what you are doing, and there is no transportation hassle. We are focused on bringing service and products to you, and we make ourselves available for any question a user has. What we are trying to build is a consciousness about sexual safety, to foster a lifestyle where ensuring one’s sexual safety is paramount.
How does the SlideSafe work?
Our products are majorly sold over our website, www.slidesafe.ng. User visits, select the Slide Safe pack they want and make an order. This is all anonymous, in the sense that you don’t need to use your real name. Users have the option of delivery or self pick-up, at different charges. We’re partnering with What3Words, for an extra layer of discretion. With What3Words, we don’t need your actual address – just a three-letter word that coincides with the GPS coordinates of the location they want their order delivered to. After making an order, we get in touch with the users on WhatsApp, to confirm their order and find out when they are available to get counselling and product(s).
If you’re a first time user of the Slide Safe pack, we expect you are likely to make mistakes especially with the self-testing kit, which will result in invalid results – and nobody wants that. We want our users to get their money’s worth. So, when we get in touch on WhatsApp, we advise users not to test themselves when they receive their order, until they have spoken with us and we’ve walked them through what to do. We’ve found that when we walk them through what to do, how to do it, there is much lower chances of error, so they can get their result.
After testing, people have the option of having their result emailed to them, so they can have physical evidence of it in case a lover asks for their STI status, they have something to show for it. We do post-testing counseling, to explain the what’s next to do. If you tested negative, we advise you on how to stay negative. If you tested positive, we refer you to treatment and support group, for HIV positive result.
What are the challenges being encountered so far since launch?
Basically, this is an innovation and I was trying to do something different. This means we are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Finding a better way to get customers, selling the value to them, figuring out the communication method that will work and yield the highest sale, because at the end of the day we are a business and we need to make money. We are trying to make impact and at the same time sales.
Sex is a controversial topic in NIGERIA, with people having different notions and wrong assumptions on what having a business like Slide Safe that is about sex, what it entails. Therefore, communicating the value of the business has been very challenging.
What are the positives so far since launch?
Well, we haven’t broken even yet, but we have hopes of it happening soon. The great thing is that people have been buying. Since we launch, we’ve consistently had sales. There is no month we haven’t sold. Like I said, we haven’t broken even yet but we are really pushing for it. Another plus was successfully referring someone who tested positive to HIV with SlideSafe to further medical care, for treatment and getting him connected to a support group. I call it a plus, because until that user, all of those who used Slide Safe that shared their result with us tested negative. So, we were worried for a bit if we’d be able to rise to the occasion if someone actually tests positive. So, we were excited to be able to render good services to the person who tested positive.
What advice do you have for prospective entrepreneurs out there?
Be conservative with your expectation. I think most entrepreneurs get wild by stories of Facebook, Amazon, and all the billionaire entrepreneurs. But basically, we hear their stories after years of struggle, and then success came. But we mostly encounter their stories at the point of success, and so we assume we can go into business and we get success immediately. It probably happens like that for some people, but not everybody, for most, it’d take years. But not even everyone will be successful. For some it’s going to work, for some things won’t work out. For a lot of people, there’d be a period of toiling, trying to figure things out, learning or unlearning, and a lot of that will come at a personal or business cost. And then success! For others, success will remain elusive. That’s just how it is. Success is not guaranteed for everybody regardless of effort, sometimes things don’t work hence try something else. Like I said, the product we initially started with in MerDroits isn’t the same as what SlideSafe is today. We pivoted. We realized this isn’t going to be viable, and were flexible enough to try something new.
What are the future plans for SlideSafe?
We are looking for ways to get Slide Safe into many hands as possible. We are doing everything we can to see this done, trying to have as many partnerships with as many business as possible.