A few years ago, the young entrepreneur Kyle Hill’s nonagenarian grandmother was requiring a lot of in-home care, and he and his father were struggling to manage the caregiving process from a distance.
So in 2013, Hill and his business partner, Mike Townsend, geared up and founded HomeHero, a design-driven startup that uses software to streamline the finding, hiring and managing of independent in-home caregivers. With a smartphone app, a mobile-friendly website and some algorithmic wizardry, HomeHero simplifies the hiring process for both families and caregivers. After a family hires a caregiver — or “hero,” in the company’s parlance — they can use the app and website to manage scheduling, daily reports and other aspects of the relationship.
Mike Townsend, HomeHero’s chief operating officer, spoke to Disrupt Aging from Santa Monica, Calif., where the company is based.
Tell us about HomeHero.
From the beginning, the mission for HomeHero has been to make finding and hiring caregivers for seniors a much, much better experience. We asked ourselves: How can we use technology to make the experience drastically better than what currently exists? If you can pool all the high-quality caregivers in a city, and you know their schedules and skills and backgrounds, you can use smartphones and a website to distribute jobs and connect people to each other with absolute efficiency, in a way that totally transforms the experience — both for the caregivers and for the families and patients they serve.
Caregivers can use the smartphone app to accept or reject job offers, and families can watch high-definition videos of people they might want to hire. Caregivers can see all the details about each job offer, including locations. Caregivers are free to accept the jobs they want and turn down the ones they don’t.
So far we’ve grown into four markets: Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area. The ultimate goal is to provide our service everywhere in the world — or in as many markets as we can get to.
As you’ve developed the product, what have you learned about the actual day-to-day needs of families that must hire caregiving services for their loved ones?
At first, when we were experimenting with different value propositions, we assumed that people wanted fast care. In other words, we thought a common problem was that a family doesn’t have a caregiver, and they need someone to come to their home very quickly.
We learned that that’s not actually the reality. Ninety-nine percent of the time when a family hires a caregiver, it’s at least a two- or three-week process: researching different companies, talking to different people, becoming confident, organizing the funds to put toward hiring someone. It’s a longer-term process.
We learned from that mistake.
How is technology enabling new ways to address this market?
We assumed at the beginning that the caregivers generally wouldn’t have smartphones because a lot of them are in the lower-income demographic. We thought those folks would have flip phones — they wouldn’t have iPhones or Android phones.
But what we learned was that nearly 95 percent of the applicants already had smartphones. They splurged for the smartphone because it was their primary source of communication at work. So they all had email and apps. And that was an important discovery for us because it meant that we could require caregivers to use our smartphone app, and we could focus the caregiver experience around that. We knew that virtually the entire potential user base had smartphones.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are thinking about developing aging-related products and services?
Rather than imagine a new solution for something that exists in the health care world, look at the existing solutions that dominate the industry — medical systems, hospital systems, billing systems. There’s so much out there, and a lot of the stuff is 20-plus years old. It’s antiquated and really junky, and it’s extremely expensive.
If you can build an experience that’s much, much better, and you can present that to, say, a hospital group or anything in a health care network, and you can explain how it reduces costs for those institutions ... it’s not hard to convince people of the value. There’s just so much opportunity right now.