As of May 12, over 130,000 Canadians had used the texting service Find My Vaccine, which allows Canadians to find nearby vaccination sites, as the COVID-19 vaccination effort has ramped up nationwide.
Zain Manji, the co-founder of Find My Vaccine and a U of T alum, spoke to The Varsity about the endeavour.
According to Manji, the service took off quickly. “As soon as we made it, we posted on Twitter and so our direct followers could see it but then a bunch of news stations saw it and started bumping it as well, and so over the first three days it was all over the news,” he told The Varsity. The inspiration for the idea came from Twitter, where Manji and co-founder Ashish Yelekar had found an equivalent app that had been created in the US.
Manji and Yelekar created the service in just a few hours. “It wasn’t too hard to build,” said Manji. “We already knew what kind of technologies were used to build something like this, so it was easy for us to get started and whip something up.”
The texting service is free and doesn’t store data. “We’re fronting the costs all ourselves, and there’s no benefit to us for it in terms of money or anything,” Manji explained. “We also wanna be conscious of people’s privacy, because people are very sensitive to sharing their data or what their data is being used for.”
“Also, the reason we don’t store it is because it’s actually more work for us,” said Manji. “All we care about is giving people vaccine locations and then that’s it, nothing else… Everyone wants to get out of lockdown so as fast as we can do that, that’s the best [outcome].”
Getting started in tech
Manji went to the University of Toronto where he studied computer science and economics and graduated in 2016. “While I was at the University of Toronto, I did internships as an engineer at Google, Yelp, and Instagram… where I first got some experience with engineering, with tech, and [with] products.”
Manji and his co-creator Yelekar met in high school. Yelekar works as a partner at Lazer, a digital project studio that was also co-founded by Manji.
“When you build a lot of stuff with someone, you learn what everyone’s good at and you learn how to work together with each other, so every product that you build afterwards kind of gets easier and easier to build. I’m really happy that we could do something like this together.”
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
For students who want to become successful entrepreneurs, Manji stresses the importance of gaining experience outside of school.
“I used to build a lot of side projects and a lot of apps that I just found interesting. I would just recommend [that] everyone build side projects… [because] they go a long way.”
Manji hopes that the model can be used beyond the COVID-19 vaccine, as communication through texting would make accessing healthcare easier. “It’s just a simple thing like texting, so it could be used across many different industries and for many different use cases.”