I want to get into the habit of writing my progress in a biweekly format, so here it begins. This letter might be a bit longer than the future ones because I have some catching up to do but I promise these will all be pretty condensed. This will not only be a good way to keep others informed on my progress but will also hopefully give others the opportunity to identify ways in which they can help or be involved.
I want to rewind for a moment to explain how I ended up thinking about seniors. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve invested myself in smart cities, smart buildings, smart homes and basically anything related to innovation for the built environment. I’ve done so by volunteering for Smart Cities NY, becoming an alumni representative of Stanford Professionals in Real Estate, and doing contract work for construction tech startup Avvir and large conglomerate United Technologies Corporation. So, for some, it’s been a bit of a surprise on how I suddenly ended up so fixated on helping seniors rather than the path I was headed.
What I’ve come to realize after nearly a year of pouring myself into everything related to “smart” buildings, is that thinking about the future of spaces primarily through the lens of modern technology is a waste of time. One, it limits us to the state of technology as it is now. Trying to piece together bits of technology (such as sensors or cameras) to solve a problem inherently limits you from imagining new technology and becomes futile when new technology advances.
Two, it leads to solutions with no real value proposition. In the age of Big Data, I’ve seen newfound excitement over the capability to monitor people’s actions within a space but the question beckons, what will we do with all of that data? Who will buy it? We also see companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook rushing to create smart display devices for the home, but the question remains, who’s going to buy it other than the early adopters? What problem are these products really addressing?
It astonishes me that in the movement to create spaces that are responsive to human needs, we don’t focus more on the complexity and uniqueness of the human being. In a time when our country’s demographics are changing so rapidly (both in age and race), when more Americans are conscious about their health than ever before, when political polarization has threatened our democracy, we have more human needs to look for inspiration than ever before. So, why do smart building solutions frequently seem so myopic?
So, after a year of working on smart buildings from a misguided direction, I decided to go the opposite way and focus on people first. And what better group of people to focus on than a group of people that is not only massively growing in size, but also has a ton of unmet needs?
There’s one statistic that sticks in my head and it’s this: 87% of seniors want to live in their own home as they age, according to a study by AARP. A true smart home solution would allow them to do that.
So, for the past few months, I’ve been bouncing around several different solutions to address this and I’ve come to a fork in the road, one approach which is consumer-facing and the other which is business-facing. Here are those two different paths:
Solution #1: An e-commerce website that helps seniors shop for assistive devices and other products for their independence. Discover products based on video demonstrations, talk to live customer service and give product reviews as a form of peer-to-peer social engagement.
Solution #2: A software solution for home renovation companies that specialize in helping seniors age-in-place. The software will allow these companies to do things like source deals on products (i.e. grab bars), manage financing solutions for their customers, track their fleet of subcontractors, and more.
I know I’m getting ahead of myself with solutions but at least I know the assumptions that I’m making that I now need to test. I acknowledge that there’s only one clear thing for me to do right now and that’s to talk to as many people as possible. I started volunteering at SAGE and DOROT, two of the finest NYC organizations for senior needs. Just today, I had the opportunity to deliver a meal to a senior and talk to her about all sorts of topics, some of which included how she shops online and how she learns how to use devices she buys from there. (She also talked a lot about how the media persecutes Trump but I mostly tuned that out.) I have also started aggressively reaching out to companies that specialize in home renovations for seniors and expect to have many fruitful conversations with them within the upcoming weeks.
If any of you know any seniors, child caregivers, architects (preferably who do aging-in-place renovations), case management workers or social workers who may want to chat, please put me in touch. I’m also happy to talk to any other entrepreneurs in this space.
I’m not excited about “doing a startup”, “breaking things”, and “disrupting the senior space”. I’m excited about redefining what it means to age, fixing what is already so broken, and growing a business that could potentially span the next decade of my life (or more). While I certainly don’t want to move too slowly, I also don’t want to rush in and make the same mistakes of startups before me. For me, it’s not about technology. It’s about people.
Until next time,