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Social Impact Tech: Scott Lien of GrandPad On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

Our mission at GrandPad is to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, social isolation for older adults so we can reconnect seniors to family, friends, and caregivers, and to community resources. In the process, we aim to increase digital equity and health equity. From a cultural and community standpoint, we need to put the seniors back at the center of the family and bring that family unit back together. In a small town, when someone is in need, the whole community helps them. GrandPad achieves this for families by creating a secure community and circle of trust that surrounds seniors and pulls families together.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Lien.

Scott is the co-founder and CEO of GrandPad, the purpose-built tablet for people over the age of 75. Scott has served in executive level technology leadership positions for Fortune 100 companies. He started GrandPad just eight years ago with his son Isaac, and the device is now being used to connect more than 1.4 million people — including seniors and their families, friends, and caregivers — in 120 countries.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa, which meant learning how to be a jack of all trades, learning how to work as a team, and the importance of hard work and loving what you do. In addition to supporting the family on the farm, my mom owned her own bookstore in town, so I also got a glimpse of what it takes to run a successful business. Growing up, we earned money by working on the farm, and that’s how I paid my way through college, where I earned a degree in computer science. In fact, I paid for my very first computer by selling one of the pigs that I had raised. The work ethic and spirit of collaboration with which I was raised have been instrumental to establishing GrandPad as a successful business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Since starting GrandPad eight years ago, we’ve met all kinds of interesting people, like Hester Ford, who at the time was the oldest person in the world at 117 years old. Anna was the 17th oldest person in the world and she gave us some incredible insights on the original GrandPad design. We’ve met so many amazingly interesting, inspiring and wise people who have been willing to share their life lessons with us. Our work has taken us around the world and given my son Isaac and I the opportunity to meet some of the world’s tech leaders, political leaders, and more. We even had the opportunity to conduct a video presentation from the top of the World Trade Center. Because GrandPad is used to connect more than 1.4 million people — including seniors, their families, friends, and caregivers — rather than one or two interesting stories, we have literally thousands.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Were it not for my mom, GrandPad would not exist today, because her experience with standard technology is what brought to life the problem that millions of older adults and families experience. My mom was always the one who said, “You can do or be anything you want. Just set your mind to it, work hard, and you can achieve it.” I had a lot of crazy ideas growing up, and she always encouraged my curiosities. I probably started three or four businesses before I was in 6th grade, and my mom supported and encouraged every one of those ideas. She was a teacher, she ran a bookstore, and was a librarian. She believed in helping people, especially the downtrodden. More than 800 people attended her funeral when she died because she was always kind to everyone. My mom made a difference in the lives of everyone she met. This was her mission and that’s what I try to instill in our company.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Youth can walk faster, but the elder knows the road.” African proverb

I’ve always been drawn to elderly people, which is in part why I lived with my grandparents during college. Our elders are warm, smart and wise. In other cultures, people know that the elders are the wise ones and, as a result, elders are revered and consulted for any big decisions. American culture has lost this, and that’s what we’re trying to recapture, because we can all benefit from tapping into the wisdom of elders.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Creativity and innovation — If you give me any problem or question, I can generate 50 ideas on how to solve that problem. I believe that anything is possible — Couple this with my ability to generate ideas, and that becomes very powerful. Persistence — I never give up. I believe that failure is always an orphan and success has a thousand fathers. When I have a big idea, I’m not deterred by haters or detractors.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

Our mission at GrandPad is to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, social isolation for older adults so we can reconnect seniors to family, friends, and caregivers, and to community resources. In the process, we aim to increase digital equity and health equity. From a cultural and community standpoint, we need to put the seniors back at the center of the family and bring that family unit back together. In a small town, when someone is in need, the whole community helps them. GrandPad achieves this for families by creating a secure community and circle of trust that surrounds seniors and pulls families together. Meanwhile, the healthcare system is broken and expensive, and outcomes are lagging for seniors. To address this, we created a GrandPad telehealth platform that aims to improve quality of care and lower costs for patients and the healthcare system. We partner with provider organizations like PACE (Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), home health agencies, long-term care facilities, and hospitals to deliver more effective telehealth and improve quality of life and outcomes for senior patients.

How do you think your technology can address this?

From day one, we have focused on the needs of seniors. While standard technology devices are designed by 30 years olds for 30 year olds, GrandPad was designed based on the needs and feedback of people over the age of 75. As a result, instead of making seniors feel connected, standard devices can actually make them feel more isolated and damage their self confidence. By adhering to this user centric design principle, we have been able to break down all of the most common points of frustration that older adults face when using standard devices. For example, as we age, our skin becomes dry and thin and standard touch screens don’t respond to the touch as well because the skin lacks the needed moisture. To address this, we designed a specially fabricated touchscreen for the GrandPad that is more responsive to aging skin. That’s just one example — literally every aspect of the GrandPad tablet and customer support model is based on the feedback of seniors. This has allowed GrandPad to create connections and empower seniors from all walks of life and all ability levels.

The design principles that make GrandPad engaging and fun for seniors on a family and social level are also important for healthcare providers. Historically, telehealth interactions have failed for seniors because most people in their 80s, 90s, and 100s do not have home internet, so they can’t participate in virtual care. In addition, the telehealth platforms are often complicated and require a fair amount of technical experience that people of this age don’t have because they didn’t grow up with technology like someone in their 50s and 60s. GrandPad improves telehealth by giving providers a device that their senior patients want to engage with and that they trust. That means they are more likely to answer a video call from their doctor or other care provider and participate in group activities for socialization and education.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Early in my tech career, my job took my wife and son Isaac and I to California. My mom was 80 at the time and had begun experiencing hearing loss and vision loss. She was becoming very frustrated trying to use her small iPhone to stay in touch with us as we would send her videos and photos of Isaac and our lives in California. She told me that this frustration made her feel unintelligent and inadequate — and she was anything BUT these things. It was my mom who actually suggested that I create something better. So, Isaac and I began to work together on what started as a labor of love. And, as we saw how the elders in our family responded to the prototypes, we quickly realized that the GrandPad could help seniors and families around the world.

How do you think this might change the world?

GrandPad is changing the world by bringing families together in a safe, secure way that empowers the elders in the family to interact across generations. This builds intergenerational relationships that benefit everyone. In addition, because GrandPad features a private family photo and video stream, families can share more personal things that might not be appropriate for social media, which can be a magnet for bad actors who want to defraud people — especially seniors. GrandPad also can be used for virtual care healthcare providers, and it supports working family caregivers, which is essential for seniors who want to age in place.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

When designing any product or device, you have to consider the unintended consequences. That is the essence of responsible design. However, at GrandPad, we have gone out of our way to make sure seniors are protected and cannot be defrauded. We remain vigilant about tightening the circle of trust that GrandPad creates, while bringing generations together to create dialogue and build relationships.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

  1. Keep your end-user audience front and center so you clearly understand their needs.
  2. Understand what equity and accessibility means for your users and work to improve this.
  3. Surround yourself with the right team and a culture of collaboration. Be humble and know that it’s about the team winning. You can’t win by yourself.
  4. Constantly work to delight the end user at every turn.
  5. Build your technical knowledge and never stop learning.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Get to know your Grandparents. Call them every week, spend time with them in person or via video call and phone, and think of them as mentors. Your elders have so much “life wisdom” to offer at literally every stage of your life. If you let them, they can be a significant influence on your life. Also, as you are getting to know your elders, find opportunities to help them and those in your community.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

One person who has always been an inspiration to me and whom I would have liked to meet is Katherine Johnson. Katherine’s life was portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures.” She was a famous scientist and mathematician who helped the United States win the space race in the 1960s. A key piece to the puzzle at that time was plotting the trajectory that was needed to safely get the space shuttle to the moon and back. As a woman of color in the 60s, Katherine overcame significant hurdles to not only get this job, but to have her work seen and heard. Ultimately, it was the work of Katherine and her team that enabled the United States to achieve this goal and win the space race. She’s always been an inspiration to me. I learned about Katherine as she became a super senior who lived to be over 100 years old. Katherine Johnson is someone whom I would have loved to have met.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow our work at GrandPad at GrandPad.net or by connecting with us on social media. I am always open to a conversation, as well, so feel free to email me at Scott@GrandPad.net.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to flourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.

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