The industry that technology forgot

My English grandmother lived to be 95 and my Australian grandmother just passed away at the ripe old age of 101 (and even got a letter from the Queen on her 100th birthday). In their final years they were unable to see, hear or walk without assistance. However, they could engage with their iPad. Apple has found a way to appeal to both the young and old, creating iPad for seniors and iPad tools to compliment their vision, hearing and motor skills. It’s time for the rest of technology to follow Apple in their focus on this rapidly growing demographic.

We have more seniors today than ever before. One in five Americans are expected to be in retirement in the next 10 years. The senior space is large, growing and yet has been forgotten about by the technology industry, until now. We are starting to see some of the smartest entrepreneurial minds turn their focus to the senior space as they see the changes afoot that are driving this opportunity.

We are now in a time where seniors are able to use technology and are increasingly becoming tech savvy. Many products and services are still purchased by the senior’s children, who use technology for everything in their life, apart from purchases for their parents. They want a tech solution for their parents too. We need to think about the population in a more nuanced way in regards to products and services for seniors and ask questions, such as:

Who is making the purchasing decision? How do they purchase differently?
Who is using the product? How do they live and consume products differently?

Other geographies, such as Japan, have seen a significant demographic imbalance with their increasing retiree population. There are not enough young workers to care for the seniors so they have turned to robots for care givers. In the US, we face a similar problem / opportunity given the baby boomer generation now entering the senior age group. There are several large areas within “senior tech” where we are looking and we address a few here.

Senior Tech

The loneliness economy: Loneliness is growing, especially for seniors. Over half of seniors living by themselves report being lonely (22m U.S. seniors reported) and nearly 40% say they see only one other person a week. As a result there are networks emerging where members can find friends, give each other advice, share skills and enjoy common interests.

Robots: There are robots such as ElliQ emerging who promise companionship for seniors. It reads the news, sends alerts for doctors appointments or when to take medication, spontaneously suggests activities to break up the loneliness and displays photos of loved ones. Other robots offering help to the elderly are: Care-o-bot, Buddy, Yumii and Robear. Robear is a cybernetic nursing aid becoming increasingly popular in Japan and can pick up and carry people weighing nearly 200 pounds.

Smart homes for seniors: Outside robots, there are many other opportunities to have a smart home that for most people are a “nice to have” but for seniors are a “need to have”. Companies such as Setter, Puls and K4Connect have developed software platforms to integrate smart home devices, often used for senior living. Google Home and Alexa also help in some of these more basic use cases for the elderly in helping them feel more connected to the wider world. At Lightspeed we remain bullish on voice as one of the next platforms and this rings true for seniors also.

Fall prevention: This category deserves a point of it’s own given it’s significance for elders. It is an area Lightspeed is particularly excited by and believe is an opportunity for disruption. Totemic Labs (a Lightspeed portfolio company) are addressing the gap left in the market by existing wearable solutions by making a consumer product that can detect falls and provide health telemetry without any wearable component.

1-on-1 senior care: A few years ago we saw an emergence of senior care companies focused on 1:1 in-home care (e.g. Honor, Hometeam). We’re continuing to see an uptick of interest in this area, with greater focus on leveraging non-traditional caregivers on the supply-side (e.g. college students). These caregivers are focused on providing companionship and help with daily tasks, rather than medical care. The appeal for this links back to the loneliness economy above.

Group caring: We have seen an explosion in children’s activity marketplaces and group pre-schools emerging in people’s homes. WonderSchool, Winnie, MyVyllage, Sawyer, RooVillage have had much attention in recent years and offer an attractive option for where your children can be cared for in small groups. In this same way, we believe there is an opportunity for this to exist for senior care.

eCommerce: Many new eCommerce companies and CPG products are emerging for people over 50 as they shop in a different way and often want / need different products. There are also new D2C physical products for older people and Retail companies with a different offering. In The Groove, started by Susan Feldman, the founder of One Kings Lane, is tapping into exactly that by offering products specific to middle aged to older women.

Healthcare (both physical and mental): I recently met an ex-Peloton employee telling me about the need to have a Peloton for seniors. Given we now have a Peloton for weight training (Tonal) and a Peloton for aerobics and yoga (Mirror), I could see a need for a Peloton type machine for seniors. There are a few entrepreneurs trying to break into this space. We look for the products that can both appeal to the masses and then scale with high retention rates.

Death care: Funeral and cremation technology is already here but remains in its nascent stages with changes afoot. When a loved one dies, it is one of the most painful experiences of our lives, yet during these tragic periods we have to focus on organizing a funeral and asking other loved ones who to use (likely reminding them of the loved one they lost when they used this same funeral service). There is an opportunity for a marketplace to emerge focusing on funerals.

FinTech and real estate tech: In these huge industries, there needs to be a different approach used for seniors as their wants and needs are unique. Silvernest is a great example of this which provides a room-matching service pairing aging homeowners with roommates and tools for long term home sharing.

My partner Ashley Brasier has coined the term “Middlers” to describe older adults who are 60+ but do not want to be referred to as “Senior Citizens”. These are the people in the middle — no longer working adults, yet not ready for caregiving or assisted living. To learn more about the Middlers and how startups can best serve their needs, check out her post “Meet The Middlers”.

If you are building a business in any of these senior spaces, please do let us know by emailing me on nquinn@lsvp.com.

☞ To hear more of my thoughts in the future, follow me on Twitter

☞ If you liked this post, Please “clap” to help to promote this piece to others or let me know your thoughts in the comments