Tweeting and gaming to save a tech entrepreneur's life

@CNNMoneyTech October 11, 2011: 11:19 AM ET
Amit Gupta used his Tumblr blog to tell friends about his leukemia diagnosis -- and his search for a matching bone-marrow donor.

Amit Gupta used his Tumblr blog to tell friends about his leukemia diagnosis -- and his search for a matching bone-marrow donor.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Two weeks ago, entrepreneur Amit Gupta got a phone call from his doctor. He had acute leukemia and would immediately need treatment.

Gupta, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy, will also need a bone marrow transplant. The entrepreneur, who founded a co-working space in 2006 and later started an e-commerce photo site, Photojojo, blogged about his story on his Tumblr page.

"I was terrified. I packed a backpack full of clothes, went to the hospital as [the doctor] instructed, and had transfusions through the night," he wrote. "I Googled acute leukemia as I lay in my hospital bed, learning that if it hadn't been caught, I'd have died within weeks."

Although Gupta is in the midst of treatment, he's got another challenge ahead of him: finding a match for a bone marrow transplant.

For Gupta, who's of South Asian descent, it's far from an easy feat -- minorities are underrepresented in the bone marrow pool.

In his post, he outlined ways to help. The most direct is to get a free bone marrow test in the mail from the National Marrow Donor Program, rub your cheeks with a cotton swab, and send it back to see if you're a match -- for Gupta or any of the thousands of others on the transplant waiting list.

But Gupta's journey to find a donor hasn't happened alone. As a member of tech communities in both New York and San Francisco, his story quickly began spreading through social media outlets.

Influential bloggers posted to Tumblr, friends launched a Twitter campaign, and word raced through Facebook. Local bone-marrow donor registration drives popped up across the U.S.

Marketing guru Seth Godin upped the ante with an entrepreneurial tactic: gaming.

"The extraordinary thing about marketing is that a million people might see something or hear something or be sold something and only a thousand will actually take action. Even if it's free," he wrote. "How about if we gamify it?"

Godin offered up $10,000 to anyone for themselves or a charity of choice if they are a bone marrow match for Gupta.

Aviary's Michael Galpert -- another entrepreneur and friend of Gupta's -- matched Godin's offer. A third match took the bounty to $30,000.

It's against the law to pay bone-marrow donors, so the entrepreneurs are now offering the prize to the first certified match with the hope that he or she will choose to donate.

Like any campaign run by social media enthusiasts, Gupta's story has a hashtag: #ISwabbedForAmit, a reference to the cheek-swab used to test bone-marrow type. It's accompanied by a full slate of networking events. The New York tech community is hosting a "spirits and swabs" event on Friday featuring test kits, photo booths, booze, and the opportunity to donate to Gupta's cause.

Less than a week after tech legend Steve Jobs passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, the techies he inspired are determined not to lose another member of their community to cancer. They're leveraging all the influence, creativity and marketing tools they have available.

"I think there was emotion in the air that spurred people to want to do things," says Galpert, the co-founder of photo editing software maker Aviary.

As Dylan Schleicher, who previously worked with Gupta, puts it: "The world could really use more men like Amit Gupta -- the world could really use Amit Gupta himself. Please do all you can to help."

Or as Gupta himself sums it up: "Please help get the word out any way you can. My life quite literally depends on it." To top of page

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