LaBobo

LaBobo: the unique portable handwashing device from Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh, VietnamHo Chi Minh, Vietnam
Year Founded:
2014
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Scaling
Budget: 
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The HappyTap is revolutionizing how we tackle infectious disease. It’s not a new antibiotic but a simple portable plastic sink that puts water and soap in one place, enabling routine handwashing - one of the most cost-effective interventions in preventing diarrhea and many other deadly diseases.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we can prevent the diseases that cause the greatest number of child deaths with a simple, low cost product?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Every year 800,000 children die from diarrhea, which is primarily caused by fecal-oral contamination. In Vietnam alone, the transmission of hygiene-related ailments carries an estimated economic cost of $262 million USD. For decades, government and NGOs have developed mass handwashing education campaigns that had little impact. Research shows people know to wash their hands, they simply have no convenient place to do so.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Through an intensive consumer-centric process, we engaged villagers in Vietnam to develop LaBobo - the first and only portable handwashing device in the world that is both attractive and affordable. It is made up of a water container, soap dish and waste water tray all in one. A 15 litres container can serve 40 handwashes. Our goal is to create a competitive business that delivers convenient hygiene solutions for families. Two years of unabated work on the ground gave us a viable sales and distribution model. With intensive direct marketing (door-to-door, village by village) -- our team has learned a lot about families’ preferences and motivations to consistently wash their hands. Now, over 10,000 families are doing so with the LaBobo.

Awards

Top six finalist of ICSID World Design Impact Prize; two-time USAID-Development Innovation Venture prize for 'HappyTap - Scaling Up of Household Handwashing Device Commercialization Project"
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Today, most people know they should wash their hands. The biggest problem is the lack of a fixed place to wash hands conveniently and effectively at critical times. NGOs and governments have tried awareness campaigns, homemade suggestions like jugs, hollowed gourds, and tapped buckets; but none have caught on. We see that most people do not want a do-it-yourself solution; they prefer something purpose-built and aspirational. Unlike makeshift solutions targeting the poor, LaBobo’s modern design, bright green color, and price point attract both people living in rural communities without close water sources and young urban parents without a convenient kid-friendly sink in their home.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2013, HappyTap Co. finalized the design of the LaBobo - the first of its kind in the world. Our sales teams have reached 10 of 20 provinces in south Vietnam, and will reach the whole region by the end of 2015. Roughly 10,000 units have already been purchased. It has directly improved the health of nearly 50,000 people, including kids, who use the LaBobo - not including indirect customers: classmates, neighbours, and co-workers with significantly reduced risk of transmission of infectious disease. Twenty full time jobs have been created for provincial ‘Facilitators’ (sales agents) and 22 part-time jobs for referral agents. In the next year, we are driving to sell 40,000 units, recruiting over 130 independent sales agents, generating positive free cash flow across the value chain, setting the foundation for wider distribution and testing further international export potential.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

With a target market of 7 million households in Vietnam alone, LaBobo is a highly scalable product with business opportunities for rural retailers, plastics manufacturers, and domestic and international consumer goods companies. Our strategy is Push-Pull marketing: ‘pushing’ to encourage intermediaries to carry, promote, and sell the product. At the same time, leveraging existing mass hygiene promotion campaigns and direct communications to kick-start demand and persuade consumers to buy from those intermediaries (‘pulling’).
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have built a multi-channel strategy to penetrate the market, tested and honed since 2013 and primed for scale-up. It generates an average of 50% gross margin through direct sales, indirect sales to distributors with urban & rural retail partners, institutional sales (e.g. schools, health clinics), and export sales. With targeted expanded marketing and further indirect channels, I expect LaBobo to break-even on operations by Q4-2016 or Q1-2017.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Handwashing behavior change campaigns are the closest comparison to the way we sell the LaBobo and promote hygiene, but they are not competitive - rather reinforce our handwashing device marketing. Evaluations consistently show that these awareness and behavior change initiatives have insignificant impact on how well and how often people wash their hands. Launching a purpose-built handwashing device captures that impact. As awareness rises, the remaining barrier to handwashing is no longer a lack of knowledge but the absence of a fixed place for washing hands with soap in rural homes.
Team

Founding Story

In 2010, with the support of USAID, non-profit WaterSHED surveyed rural households in Vietnam on the barriers to handwashing. Research showed knowledge of handwashing with soap at critical times (after using a toilet or before preparing food etc) was high. But people forget to wash their hands if there is no physical reminder (a sink beside a toilet). This research formed the basis for developing the LaBobo. After research and prototype testing, I assembled a team to launch LaBobo in Vietnam as a mass market product, negotiating with local manufacturers and piecing together the new supply chain, and working with WaterSHED as the main investor.

Team

Advisory board: WaterSHED (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Enterprise Development). Operations team: one general director, one sales and marketing director, one marketing lead, one accountant, one admin, four area sales manager, and 23 sales representatives. General Director: Ms Ai Huynh (me) is a young dynamic entrepreneur. She started the leading social enterprise in Vietnam focused on hygiene products. Before co-founding the current HappyTap Co, she worked as the manager for Coach for College, an education NGO founded by Duke University, to teach academics through sports for rural secondary schools in the Lower Mekong Delta region. She served as a research officer for several research collaborations in resource management and value chains, conducted by the Danish Institute for International Studies and the United Nations University, with Can Tho University - where she completed a bachelor in Economics. Through these experiences, she has gained a strong understanding of the economic and cultural setting of the Mekong Delta Region -- a major market for HappyTap Co. Marketing and Sales Director: Mr. Quang Nguyen started his first business, Viet Care Massage Pillows, more than 10 years ago. Since then, Quang has worked in marketing management for more than nine years with both local Vietnamese enterprises, such as Le Phan and Dat Xanh Binh Duong, and international companies including CPAC Monier and Niro Ceramics. Quang has received numerous awards including “The Excellent Employee Award” for two consecutive years (2007 – 2008) at Le Phan and “The Excellent Manager Award” in 2011 at Dat Xanh Binh Duong. As the Sales and Marketing Director for HappyTap Co, Quang is responsible for building LaBobo’s brand awareness and sales performance across Vietnam.
Background
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

from social media messages

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Founder, General Director

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Gender Equality, Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Leading and growing Labobo is my first entrepreneurial experience. I had registered my company in Can Tho City, in the middle of Lower Mekong Delta region, where I believed I could save cost and time delivering products across the Mekong Delta. After 1.5 years in operation, I had to shut down the company and reform it in Ho Chi Minh City in order to be closer to a concentration of manufacturers (in Ho Chi Minh City), and to increase economic options in distribution methods across and out of Vietnam (as Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city). The change was hard. But it is necessary for a start-up to have the best cost-effective operation to enhance the chance to soar. Also, in overcoming this cost challenge, I did find a new enthusiastic urban customer segment in Ho Chi Minh - a group we did not reach before. I learned that in an entrepreneur’s journey, it is ok to let go of approaches that no longer fit. If you do not quit, keep your head up and work hard - you will find better opportunities for your business objective.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

WaterSHED has been my great investor. I received a loan and also mentorship in developing the business. I have been provided management calibration lessons, leadership skills and the great encouragement of gender equality in high level management. And I believe a grant from Unilever is an effective investment in leveraging the foundation that WaterSHED has supported.

As our advisors, leading academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in hygiene have helped me and my team understand HappyTap’s impacts on handwashing behaviour, and how to maximize the Labobo's role in improving people’s health.

We have also partnered with Unilever Vietnam on multiple occasions to promote a bundled LaBobo and Lifebuoy soap package. Our consumer testing shows that providing a bar of soap with the LaBobo increases sales by nearly 75 percent. Our LaBobo was also featured in Unilever’s Global Handwashing Day events in Hanoi in 2013 and 2015 where 4,000 students joined to wash their hands with LaBobo and Lifebuoy soap. Unilever Vietnam has since committed to purchasing 1,000 LaBobos to be placed in schools without proper handwashing facilities.

Most importantly, our most valued partners include our manufacturers, distributors and dozens of retailers across southern Vietnam. We work closely with them to ensure we manufacture a quality product with the best materials at a low cost and make it accessible to consumers anywhere in the country. We provide sales and marketing support to our partner retailers to ensure the product not only sells but provides a significant profit-margin for small businesses in the country.