Hub:Link is an initiative to showcase a new product, program or initiative that can have a positive impact on longevity.
Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs and business leaders building products that can have a positive impact on ageing, and prepare us for a longevity future. Some of these solutions do not reach a wider audience, and moreover, people that could potentially benefit, often never hear about them.
The first product featured is Samvedna’s recently launched MAP tool.
Neeraj Sagar is the founder and CEO of WisdomCircle. Launched in January 2022, WisdomCircle.com is building a technology enabled marketplace for people to find meaningful things to do post-retirement. Although currently focused on India, Neeraj aims to build WisdomCircle into a global company, and has assembled a team of 16 people to join this mission. Conceptualized during the pandemic, Neeraj attracted lots of early supporters to join this journey including anearly stage venture capital firm, and got the ball rolling on WisdomCircle early this year.
Neeraj is a seasoned executive and has worked with some of the most sought after firms in the world. Until recently, Neeraj was senior partner at Egon Zehnder, a reputed global executive search firm. He has also worked with McKinsey and BCG prior to that. An alum of Stanford University and University of Chicago, Neeraj is also the co-president of Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs in India, and has been working closely with the startup ecosystem for many years.
This interview has two stories – one of Neeraj’s personal transition from a corporate leader to first-time entrepreneur, and WisdomCircle’s mission to build a platform for retirees to stay engaged and contribute their skills to business and society, at the pace they want.
Neeraj, one of the things I remember from our first conversation was funny personal anecdotes about early greying. Can you take us through your journey from the first grey hairs to WisdomCircle?
Mahesh, I greyed very early and used to colour my hair for many years. I decided to stop colouring about 8 years ago, and when I stopped, I realized ALL of my hair had gone white. Suddenly I started getting treated very differently. I would always get discounts at pharmacies before my even asking, a seat on the bus at the airport, and special lines for seniors that I would be ushered into. I had mixed feelings as this was happening: I was feeling good about the respect I was getting but started feeling that I was nearing the end of my professional line in the way people looked at me. I remember one of my colleagues, who was five years older than I was, asking me how many years I had to retirement.
In a way, I started getting a sense of what it feels like to be looked at and treated as old. While this was happening, a lot of people who were retiring would come to me for advice on what they should do once they retired.
You turned 50 last year, were a senior executive in a reputed firm, and had a lot going on professionally, and quite likely, financially. Yet, you chose to turn entrepreneurial fulltime. What was the decision-making process like? When did transition begin for you?
The pandemic got me thinking quite seriously about my purpose. Having seen what happened during the pandemic also got me to realize how short life can be, and this idea that I will do something entrepreneurial ‘one-day’ was getting pushed out. A lot of my close friends had seen my lifestyle of continuous travel, always ‘on’, and started edging me to try and do something bigger and more purposeful. This coupled with a 100% support from my family to do what I want to do – and them telling me that they have got my back – well that pretty much got me to make up my mind that I had to do this and do it now.
I have also been studying the subject of aging and longevity for the last 4 years and I must have read about 25 books on the subject, interacted with many people in the space around the world, taken courses on things such as Cognitive Brain Health, Epigenetics, AgeTech, etc and I just knew this is the ecosystem I need to be a part of for the rest of my life, and do my bit.
I must say I had many many more people cheering me to do this, than the cautionary tales that were coming my way.
Neeraj’s decision making process
Urge to do something bigger and more purposeful
Decide to pursue entrepreneurship as the vehicle
Engage with family openly and plan ahead
Invest time in understanding the ecosystem and subject
Exit current role with mutual respect and support
Find early supporters to write a check
Get cracking on the challenge – learn, unlearn, learn…
Entrepreneurship is tied to risks, and comes with the possibility of failure. For somebody that was embedded deeply in the professional world until recently, how did this transition play out? How did you prepare yourself?
You know the first thing me and my wife did was that we sat down and did our financial calculations, looked at our debt, and spoke to our children.
Then I spoke to my younger brother, who is a doctor, and essentially told me ‘go ahead bhaiya and do what you have to do, and don’t worry, I make enough and if something doesn’t go as planned, I am there’.
On top of this, my firm where I was – Egon Zehnder – also told me that I could come back anytime I wanted to. And then all my friends started reaching out saying they want to invest in my company. When I thought of all of this as a collective, I just felt blessed and I told myself – if not now, when?
You are attempting something very interesting, to bring the wisdom of retirees to the workforce, and you even have a name for them – WisGen (aka the Wisdom Generation). Where does WisdomCircle fit in their lives? Are we talking full-time and part-time jobs? Or is it much more than that?
Mahesh, we use the term #RetiringRetirement sometimes in our posts on Linkedin. What we are trying to solve for is – people working for as long as they want to work, at the pace they want to.
Our mascot is a Turtle. Remember the story of the Hare and the Tortoise that most of us read when we were young? I tell people, we are solving for the Tortoise and not the Hare. The Tortoise lives longer, is wiser, and operates at the pace it wants.
Our purpose is much more than that. What we stand for, and where we fit in the world is – doing our bit to reduce the rate of cognitive decline in the world, so we can help reduce the rates of Depression, Dementia, Alzheimer’s etc.
When we started the first thing we did was we spoke to hundreds of people who had retired or were thinking of retirement to really understand the problem.
Quotes that stood out..
"There is a general feeling that retirees are expendable resources that have run their course"
"You slowly become invisible as you age"
"How do I fill the empty space"
"A source of income makes all the difference on how a retiree is treated"
"I am retired but I am not old"
"If I work, nobody should put pressure on me"
"I won’t work for anyone now, I work for myself"
"I do not want to be a liability to anyone"
"Out of sight, out of mind"
"I do not want to look at the clock and run anymore"
"In India we like permanency, in our jobs, in our marriage, in our house.. But retirement disrupts that."
We are talking primarily of part-time gigs that range from a few months to say a year or two, that accommodate people wanting to work say 2 hours/day or 2-3 days/week, ie at a pace that suits them.
Join Now: One Million Teachers and Mentors
A lot of people want to teach and use that as a way of giving back and sharing their wisdom, but do not know how to go about it. Incidentally we recently launched an initiative called ‘One Million Teachers and Mentors’, where we want to create a million teachers of retirees, and then some.
We also have a dedicated team focusing on the retirees from the Armed Forces to help them find meaningful roles that suit their real skills, and not just administration or security as most tend to look at this pool for today. The skill sets of retires from the Armed Forces is barely understood by the civilian world, and we want to change that to help our Faujis.
Let us talk about jobs. You launched early this year, with a 7-minute survey form, to invite folks to sign up for potential opportunities. On the other end, you have been busy building out the demand pipeline. Any insights to share at this point? How do you plan to use tech at enable this process?
Demand creation is one of the biggest challenges why people have not been able to come up with solutions yet. Specially in our country where everyone is thinking primarily about younger people, the retirees have not been given the focus.
Interestingly we are finding that demand absolutely exists but needs to be unearthed. We are working on this and have already had very good successes, if you see the roles on our platform, with many more to come. The one question we ask for creating demand in organizations is: “Tell us about a problem you want to solve for which you either do not have resources (people), or the skills”.
Other than teaching roles which I talked about earlier, we are also approaching demand creation in a structured way in the non-profit sector, which can benefit immensely from this Wisdom pool that exists.
On Technology, well the answer is simple, this is the single most important piece that will allow us to be a product company vs a services company. We want to impact millions of people and there is no way we can do that as a services business, so Technology is absolutely the key. We are further refining our product and we will continue evolving as we go along and learn. We have a rockstar tech-lead and are continuing to invest in building a world-class tech team. The work we are doing in Tech is something we will share with everyone at the right time.
Can you share a bit more about your team, and also, the culture you are attempting to build at WisdomCircle? What are some of these experiments?
When we started the company, we started by hiring interns, and hired 12 interns from Ashoka University. The research interviews were all conducted by them, and the depth of insight we have today is from the work that they diligently and collectively did.
We have an amazing set of individuals who have come together. Every single person in our team has someone in their immediate family who has gone through retirement and therefore understand the problem. Incidentally some of our parents are also helping us test our product to check if it resonates with them, and are deeply involved in helping us craft the solutions.
I am so proud of the team we have been able to build so quickly and every single one of them is special. Every person on our team was known to someone and we just reached out and asked them to join us in our journey, and they agreed, for which I am very grateful. We also have hired retirees in our team, and they are outstanding in terms of their commitment, their advise, and their care – thus reinforcing to us what we are trying to do for others.
We do not have an office, our teams are distributed across cities, but we all meet face-to-face at least once a week in Bangalore in a co-working space, with the others who cannot make it in person joining over Zoom. People can work from wherever they like. The one rule we have is that if there are three or more people working together, food is on the house.
We continue to experiment with different ideas on how to support the WisGen, but our current focus is very clear – we want to play our part in assisting them find meaningful ways to continue contributing to the world. We want to be the largest and most trusted platform for retirees in the world.
If I am WisGen, somebody that has retired, how do I prepare myself to re-enter the workforce? How can WisdomCircle help in this journey?
As of now, please visit our website at www.WisdomCircle.com and sign up for early access, so you can see the roles we have listed which we will continue to add to.
We are also in the process of updating our website, as well as strengthening our tech product. You will hear much more about us over the next few months.
Rustam Sengupta is a serial entrepreneur who is extremely passionate about senior care technology, climate change and renewable energy – and wears multiple hats. He is the founder and CEO of Tuktu Care, an on-demand marketplace that connects aging adults to local providers and companions, in Canada.
Prior to starting Tuktu, Rustam worked as a Director with Canada’s leading clean tech funding organizations (SDTC), and Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia. Before moving to Canada, he was a successful entrepreneur who created one of Asia’s fastest growing solar mini-grid companies (www.boond.net). Rustam is an MBA from INSEAD and started his career in finance with Standard Chartered and Deloitte.
Tuktu brings new tech to an old industry. Started in the Vancouver area, Rustam and his team have established a working model that has the potential to scale across the region, and elsewhere. Apart from generously sharing his experience and thoughts, Rustam believes in the importance of communities as stakeholders in Tuktu’s evolution.
Rustam, so glad we get to connect again a bit more formally. When our paths crossed more than a decade ago, you were setting up micro-grids and solar rooftops in rural India. Fast forward 2021, you founded Tuktu in Canada, to solve challenges faced by older adults. Tell us a bit of the Tuktu backstory and what it does.
Thanks, Mahesh, for reaching out to me. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you.
As you mentioned, my first entrepreneurial venture was Boond – one of India’s first solar mini-grid companies and that experience gave me the chance to make an impact firsthand and understand how we can create business that do good while making money. Today Boond has over 20MW under its belt and employs so many people that I feel proud and satisfied.
I moved to Canada in 2016 as my wife wanted to pursue her PhD at UBC. Being outside India, I think about my parents a lot, and also realized how sending money and planning those occasional trips to India were not enough. As any kid of my generation, I feel the urge to do more. My parents are super independent and have led a very active life, so watching them struggle for small things – like setting up the computer or zoom to talk to their grandkids, going to the hospital or the temple or helping with documents etc. was very painful for me. I realized they didn’t want full time physical care but more companionship – people who they can trust and who can help out on demand – just like family.
Healthcare, on a broader level, has seen amazing innovations (and increased access) and thus my focus was on building a support ecosystem, something than can make their life easy, convenient and joyful. I decided to jump in and explore if I can do anything about it. I looked at many companies and innovations in the west and in India and came up with Tuktu. In a way, it emerged out of trying to solve for something in my personal journey as an adult with aging parents.
Tuktu today is a reality, and I am proud that we are a mission-driven company and solving for a problem that matters today, and more so in the future.
At a basic level, we connect family and friends interested in supporting the needs of their aging loved ones to their neighbors for lifestyle support needs – like grocery runs, light housekeeping, rides, gardening, kitchen assistance, technology help and companionship. We emphasize security, and ease of use, and employ an intelligent matchmaking algorithm to ensure a smooth, safe, and happy engagement while providing families with a better understanding of our users’ needs and challenges. Our goal is to provide care and peace of mind with a support platform that allows care recipients to live in their own homes and lead a fulfilling life for as long as possible.
Recently Ratan Tata invested in a companionship-focused startup in India, and obviously the news received a lot of attention. I personally find Tuktu quite fascinating and unique as it solves for the care problem in a smart way – a combination of technology, local community participation and personalized services – with a model that can scale. Can you tell us about Tuktu’s services, and how they have evolved since you started?
Given our global and collective experience over the last two years, there are two core human elements that came to the forefront – one, social bonds, be it friends, family or community, are as important as any other; and two, there are some amazing folks willing to go the extra mile to make others’ lives better. Even with travel restrictions and such, there is a shared understanding among people across boundaries, and this reset in our otherwise busy and fast-paced lives, attracted people to Tuktu. While I hope humanity doesn’t go through such a crisis again, we have an opportunity to build new models of care and companionship.
We started with a few essential services that we got from our customer discovery. For example, driving and picking up people from the hospital or being with them during these visits is very high on the list. You can imagine the relief that a person like me or you would get if we knew that someone is present with our parents when they go to the doctor. Technology help was another big one as we realized that most people wanted to connect to their loved ones far away. Similarly, simple things like cooking together or housekeeping also came into the services we started offering. All these are things that you would do with a family member or a trusted companion assembled together bottom up.
We do a very good background check, train people on how to engage empathetically with older adults and take care of the whole process from booking the time to making the payment.
The matching problem is one many technology companies try to solve, be it college admissions, jobs or dating. In the case of Tuktu, how do you ensure you match the right people to provide such services? What are some lessons here?
We realized that the quality of the engagement or companionship was very linked to the match. You can appreciate how diverse we are and hence for older adults, finding someone who speaks the same language or has similar cultural traits or maybe went to the same college is a very big deal.
So at Tuktu, we have prioritized our technology and processes to ensure that the match is as close as possible. We identified 24 parameters that make a perfect match – ranging from demographic things like gender, language, culture, educational background etc. to character traits like preference for punctuality, reticence etc. that we can use.
Right now, we use a smaller subset but we are already seeing results. For example, we had an older gentleman here who worked in the army and spoke a particular language. We gave him a companion for his walks using our matchmaking who had a similar background and spoke the same language and we noticed a strong customer satisfaction. I guess this is quite obvious but for us it was a hypothesis that we proved technically and now have started to have data to support our claim. But its not enough.
Beyond (just) matching
“Since humans are so diverse – we really need a lot of data to make this intelligent or get an AI based model to do it adequately. Also, we realize that while the match can be made by a system, we still need people to get trained on empathy and care so that they can provide the best support. So with safety and familiarity – we need lots of empathy too. All three are necessary.”
Rustam Sengupta, Tuktu Care
Would it be okay to say Tuktu is modeled like Shopify, for Companionship? For example, if I had a small outfit running services for older adults in my locality, could I use your platform to build out a smart way to fulfill those services? What would I need to ensure for that?
Absolutely! That is our goal. To overcome a big challenge like this – we need to think ‘ecosystem’ and not just one’s own company. Our platform is for anyone who wants to improve the care ecosystem of older adults. Wherever you may be, individual or company – you can use the Tuktu platform to bring in those you care for and also your network of companions. We will manage the scheduling, background checks, matchmaking and all the other support services – so that you can concentrate on what is most important – customer service and care.
We want to partner with anyone and just like Shopify, we can have you up and running within no time. For example, in Vancouver, we work with the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church who use the Tuktu platform to connect their parishioners to the community.
The seniorcare industry, if I were to call it, has been in existence for a long time with non-profits, religious institutions, social enterprises and public funded programs. How would you say your team at Tuktu is different from your previous ventures and associations? What part of the business challeges you personally?
The timing for Tuktu and other agetech players is just right. Technology has come to a point when we are really making a difference now. And the problem is also huge – by 2030, nearly a billion people will be over 65 and we don’t have the infrastructure to manage that. Also, the healthcare industry has done miracles so people are living longer – nearly 25-30 years post retirement. So its time.
Tuktu is very different for me since its solving my own problem and everyone associated with us – our customers, investors, advisors, friends – all face the same problem. The value proposition is clear.
The challenge that keeps me up at night is ‘quality’. How do we ensure that as we scale and reach more communities, the quality of the service stays high and continues to be safe. I think this will be where you will see us innovating and working hard over the next few years – building stronger training and smarter safety nets. We want older adults to not just make it through their silver journey but we want them to thrive and enjoy.
You have built a product ground-up, established product-market fit, raised capital to support the early journey, got a great bunch of folks together on the team, and most importantly, serve happy customers. What’s in store for the year ahead?
This is just the tip of the iceberg and we have so much more to do. We need to get to more people and expand our impact. And like every startup with an ambition, we need more capital.
This is an unconventional field so it may not be for the everyday investor and better suited to those who see the big picture and play the long game. We have a lot more building to do on the product side, for example, creating capabilities to support inter-city or inter-country networks. This will allow for people siting in one country to support their older loved ones across the globe without having to worry for safety, quality and convenience.
The current team is exceptional and we need more people…smart and committed people who want to change how we build for care. Its not going to be easy but every customer I serve, inspires me. Those aging right now have done so much for us so its imperative that we create institutions like Tuktu for them.
Quick question. When can we see Tuktu in India?
Next year. We will be launching our partner onboarding programs and an individual or entity, regardless of the size and type, can find in us a safe, simple and efficient platform to build on their care services. Having the building blocks in place to get there is definitely on top of my list.
You mentioned about community funding for your business, and that was quite interesting. What is it? Why is it important to you?
We are creating communities that care so its important that we include the community as co-owners and in strategic decision making as we evolve the company. This is important for me as I want to give back to the community and have decided to earmark 10% of our equity ownership to the crowdfunding campaign underway and allocate one board seat for that.
You see crowdfunding is for guys like us – our customers, our employees, friends, well wishers and those who are passionate to make the lives of our older adults better. We want everyone to have a part in this movement and as we grow, we want them to feel that they made a difference too, irrespective of how much they can invest.
I am lucky that I get to do this full time but for those who can’t – they can join our crowdfunding and become co-owners and guide me.
Tuktu Crowdfunding Campaign
The crowdfunding site link will be up in mid-September. However, if you would like more details, you can reach out to Rustam on his email – email@example.com.
Visit www.tuktu.ca to know more and check out the video below.
Anil Moolchandani may not be a popular person although the company he started – Archies – is a household name across India. The greeting cards revolution is one of the many untold stories, and if you dig into the odd pile of stuff in your house, you are very likely to find a few of them lying around. Cards are artefacts of days gone by, of friendships lost or those that continue till day, of seminal and silly events in life, and so much more. They pause time and humble us.
Over time, greeting cards morphed into e-greetings in the convenience of the digital world, and are now just a few clicks away. For even more convenience, there is of course WhatsApp. An e-greeting can be wrapped with an online order, of flowers, cakes and all those lovely things, and paid for with ease. Digital greetings travel faster, are instantaneous and yet, some may say, lacks the charm of a written card, letter or greeting. Cards are hard work – take time to browse in a gift shop or post office, select the right one, ponder over words that cannot be erased, stamped and posted. It doesn’t fit into our busy lives anymore, and with last minute gestures, there are quicker ways to say you care.
Not what Mr Moolchandani imagined when he started his first concept store in Delhi.
Why am I talking about greeting cards?
Well, yesterday was World Friendship Day, and here is a reminder to pick up that piece of paper, write down a few thoughts and post it to a dear one, or an old friend. And if you feel a bit more generous and can offer 15-30 mins of your time, do join the GenConnect program, an initiative to foster intergenerational friendships and spark new bonds.
Aamod Wagh is Pune-based founder of Tigertech Labs and Rhemos Health, with a career spanning 25 years in IT Consulting across Australasia, Europe, and USA. Tigertech Labs was setup in 2016 upon his return to India to develop remote health and safety monitoring devices for senior and dementia care. TigerTech also transitioned to Telehealth in 2019 with RHEMOS – an acronym for Remote Health Monitoring System – to deliver hospital grade care at home using affordable & easy to use medical devices.
Today, Aamod and his team serve over two lakh customers every month and their products are available through their website and also on e-commerce portals like Seniority. RHEMOS also works directly with 100+ hospitals, seniorcare companies, rural care foundations & telemedicine companies to further the mission of providing digital and remote health solutions to all, across the country.
Aamod, it was pleasure speaking with you earlier. Tell us a little bit about how you ended up creating Tigertech Labs. What triggered your decision?
I was based in the US for an extended period of time and would travel to India once a month for business. During every trip, I couldn’t help notice that a significant number of seniors in India lived alone, as their children were in another city or country and had little or no family support locally. It was also apparent that – while western countries had significant number of products and solutions available for assisted living & senior care, the same was missing in India. That was the spark that ignited the fire and the genesis of TigerTech.
You started with smart living solutions. How has this journey evolved and what are your core solutions today?
For us “smart living” encompasses personal safety, security & health and all our technology solutions resonate around this thought.
We launched India’s first senior care wearable devices called TigerTRACK & TigerFIT Pro. These were loaded with features & designed to provide 24X7 location tracking, automatic alerts on fall detection, SoS button, built-in cell phone, anti-wander sensors, monitors for heart rate & blood pressure and also instantly send alerts if an emergency is detected or if the user exits their home. The devices are designed to work independently and without any user interaction and can be monitored and controlled remotely by family and/or caregivers through an App.
Our products were welcomed with open arms by customers & we work with some of India’s largest senior care & home care companies, who use our devices to provide emergency support and care services to seniors across the country.
While our wearable products continue to do well, we also found that 70% of our seniors suffer from NCD’s like diabetes & hypertension and need to receive quality care at home. This got us exploring the possibility of providing high quality healthcare in the comfort of people’s homes and adding the benefit of remote health monitoring by doctors. This was the genesis of our RHEMOS Health product.
Today RHEMOS Health enables patients to receive “hospital grade” care at any location – in their homes and also in remote villages – without the presence of doctors or medical professionals. RHEMOS devices can measure 8 to 16 critical vitals within minutes using touch sensors. The smart technology also transmits the results instantly to an App & Cloud for remote access by doctors so that they can provide an accurate diagnosis & prescribe appropriate medications. RHEMOS also analyses all the vitals and generates a “health score” for each user to ensure that any preventive health indicators are provided well in time.
RHEMOS’s mission is to provide easy and affordable access to high quality healthcare at any location, for all and we are proud to have met and exceeded our mission.
You develop medical-grade devices for remote and digital health, including wearables. The overall awareness among consumers is still not as high and there is a lot of false advertising too. If I were purchasing a wearable device for an older family member, what should I look out for?
For wearable devices – especially for seniors – the most critical points to consider are (a) the size/weight & “wearability” of the device, (b) the ability of the device to do its job as an independent and stand-alone device. i.e. it should have zero dependency on the user carrying a cell phone, etc. and (c) ease of use including having little or no interaction with the device or technology – except pushing a button in case of emergency. All these factors determine whether seniors will use the device regularly.
For medical devices, the most critical point to consider when getting any medical device is that it should have at least 1 international certification – viz. CE-MED and/or FDA. These are mandatory for selling the devices in any EU country and in N. America. The rigor, dependability & accuracy of their certification processes ensures that the CE-MED certification is also acceptable across almost all other countries.
Other important points to consider for medical devices include (a) the ease of use, (b) whether the device is internet connected and automatically shares test results with your Doctor or your family, and (c) whether it can handle multi-functions to measure 7 to 8 vitals rather than having to buy 7 to 8 separate devices to do the same tests and finally (d) does the device provide any value added information after testing your vitals, that assists you in keeping a track of your daily health and provides you with any early warning information for preventive care.
What is Rhemos? How does it work? What parameters does it help measure? How can this information be used?
RHEMOS is an acronym for Remote Health Monitoring System. Its mission is “Healthcare. Anywhere” and its vision is to enable easy access to affordable & personalized care to all Indians at any location.
RHEMOS Health Ecosystem combines portable hand-held medical devices with an App/Cloud & health analytics to provide a comprehensive telehealth solution. The devices can be taken to any location to measure 8 to 16 vitals with hospital grade accuracy & transmits them instantly to All/Cloud for remote access by Doctors to conduct an accurate diagnosis.
The health monitor is a single pocket-size device that measures 8 vitals in 2.5 seconds. These include BP, Heart rate, ECG, Heart rate variability, Respiratory rate, Blood oxygen, Body temperature & blood glucose. Rhemos also provides small blood analyzers to conduct blood tests for Haemoglobin, HbA1c & Lipids at home in minutes and our digital stethoscope measures heart & lung sounds. All readings are instantly transmitted to remote doctors with alerts in case readings are abnormal. This allows people with chronic conditions like Diabetes, Hypertension or Cardiovascular disease to test & monitor themselves at home – while being monitored remotely by family & by their physicians.
I understand you work with the rural health system. Can you tell us how your solutions impact rural health?
RHEMOS identified some of the biggest issues faced by care providers in delivering healthcare to rural India. Some included availability of qualified doctors, nurses, medical infrastructure, power, wifi, vitals testing capabilities, etc. Also many rural hospitals face high traffic of 500-1000 patients a day which is difficult to manage. Finally, the biggest health issues in rural India are inability to detect comorbidities & NCD’s like diabetes & hypertension and women’s & children health issues like anaemia, pre/post-natal care. The RHEMOS solution was then designed to directly address each one of these issues.
RHEMOS does not need power or wifi and can be used by ASHA workers to check vitals for each patient – including blood tests & chest sounds. This ensures that hospital grade care can now be delivered to the deepest parts of the country even without presence of local doctors & nurses as remote doctors can now take care of patients & prescribe medications. A single RHEMOS device can handle 150-170 patients/day to handle high traffic. And, the multiplicity of tests conducted by RHEMOS also ensures easy identification of most comorbidities to enable personalized care & also conducts detection camps for diabetes, hypertension, anaemia, etc.
You mentioned that you partner with seniorcare organizations. How do these partnerships impact the quality of life of the end customer?
Many senior care organizations leverage our technology to provide their customers with additional services based on our devices. E.g. they run emergency response services that are connected to our devices and monitor all location alerts, fall alerts, health condition alerts and provide timely response services. The end customers and their families can now live with complete peace of mind that their lives are secure and that – if required – help is literally a click away.
It has been 8 years in this journey for you. How has the landscape changed? What are the trends that you observe today?
When we launched our products 6 years ago in 2016, the senior care & eldercare sector was just about starting to gather steam, and senior care products were limited to grab bars & wheelchairs. We were the pioneers in leveraging wearable technology to bring safety & health to our seniors in India. Also when it came to healthcare, telemedicine was a just glorified video call & most doctors & patients insisted on physical examinations as the only way of good treatment.
Today – especially post pandemic – the home care, senior care & telehealth sector has mushroomed and is now being accepted as mainstream by doctors & patients both. Also the awareness about using technology & the availability of products like ours has increased multi-fold.
People have started to recognize that products like RHEMOS plug the gaps that exist in telemedicine today and can ensure that telemedicine can actually provide comprehensive care remotely.
The newsletter brings you news, stories and trends from the silver economy in India, in a short, easy-to-read format. Businesses, brands, investors, startups, researchers and analysts following this space are likely to find it interesting.
Nidhi Chawla is co-founder of Silver Talkies, India’s leading active ageing company focused on 55+ adults. Individuals can opt in for subscriptions to access curated content, a community of like-minded individuals, events, and a host of other community activities for healthy and happy ageing. Silver Talkies has engaged with over 20000 older adults, both digitally and in physical formats across India. The Silver Talkies magazine, with a subscriber base of 8000 adults, is one of India’s leading active ageing publications focused on older adults. Based in Bangalore, Nidhi previously worked with McKinsey & Company and is a pioneer in the active ageing space.
An active proponent of healthy and happy ageing, Nidhi is co-authoring a book for Penguin Random House on how the landscape of ageing is shifting in India. Nidhi has been the recipient of leadership awards for her work in the eldercare space and is currently a member of the CII Seniorcare committee. In this interview, I chat with Nidhi to understand active ageing, why it is more relevant than before, and how Silver Talkies is shaping those conversations.
Nidhi, we first met in early 2020 and I recall you speaking passionately about the eldercare ecosystem and particularly about active and happy ageing. What do you mean by active ageing? Why is it important, particularly for older adults and seniors?
As per International Council of Active Ageing, active ageing rests on 7 pillars – physical, intellectual, emotional, social, vocational, spiritual and environmental well-being and if you were to ponder over these aspects deeply with regards to the elders in your own life you would find that each and every pillar is vital for an older adult’s well-being. We discovered this through our own experience with our ageing parents at home. Their intrinsic well-being needs to be complemented with extrinsic factors, including how our system, society and infrastructure supports them with their ageing needs.
With age comes natural physical changes which are often accompanied by decline in mental, social and emotional well-being due to various reasons like empty nests, nuclear families, shrinking social circles due to death and disabilities, lack of engagement opportunities etc. Early retirement age, increased longevity, progress of technology leaving seniors behind have only added to this mix, thereby making it increasingly important that we address these issues exclusively for our seniors.
We must give them opportunities for social and intellectual engagement, looking beyond their physical health and catering to their holistic well-being. We must empower them with the necessary skills, information and opportunities so they continue to stay included in our society and age gracefully, happily and with dignity. It’s time to redefine ageing and make it a lively experience despite the inevitable downgrade in health and abilities.
You have seen the evolution of the eldercare space in India over the past decade. What has changed over the past few years, and what hasn’t?
Back when we started out there were hardly any players in the eldercare space, many of them being in the unorganized sector. Over time we saw many companies with interesting concepts come and go, either because the market was not ready for the idea or there was no funding available to scale up.
The focus continued to be on physical health and senior living. Concepts like companionship, second careers and engagement continued to be unheard of. Over the years the landscape has been evolving and hopefully shifting for the better. Even the healthcare and senior living sector is seeing more depth in terms of the kinds of offering that are coming up in the market. Home healthcare, transition and palliative care are emerging; assisted living and ageing in place concepts are being introduced and are better understood. However, there still remains a large unexplored territory that can lend heavily into an older adult’s overall well-being. Focus on physical health continues and active ageing centers are far and few.
Pandemic has put a spotlight on the needs of seniors like never before, prompting organizations, government as well as investors to take a serious look at the sector as a potential opportunity. However, success will still be hard to come by unless a mindset shift happens where there is an increased awareness about the positive impact that all these services can have on the lives of older adults. With the next generation used to a different lifestyle, have better financial freedom and a stronger desire to stay well and independent, we are likely to see adoption of these services much more quickly.
Silver Talkies has gone through different phases of evolution. What are the core activities you undertake, and who is your target audience?
Silver Talkies has three main verticals.
Our digital magazine covers topics across four main categories – health & wellness, money matters, living and people & stories. Our magazine features original and well researched content generated either in-house or through our contributing experts and members, across topics that would be of relevance to seniors and their caregivers. We also shine light on awe-inspiring seniors and focus on positive ageing stories.
Our community invites older adults to join Silver Talkies Club – a safe space for seniors to discover themselves as well as find new friendships across geographies. Our club members enjoy exclusive events, learning opportunities, meet-ups, buddy support, expert help, partner offers and vocational opportunities. They also contribute to our magazine and share their skills and knowledge with other members.
Our workshops and weekly classes are open to both club members and non-members and cater to different interests and needs. Our awareness sessions are also open to all.
Our target audience is anyone who is 55+ residing anywhere on the globe. Our current offerings are available only in English language. In the near future we plan to introduce programs in at least a couple of Indian languages as well.
With longer lifespans, older adults prefer assisted living arrangements or ageing-at-home services to support activities of daily living (ADLs), nursing and attendant care needs, mostly in urban areas. Do you work with such partners to support healthy ageing?
Yes indeed, these are practical needs of any older adult. We are working at meeting all needs of seniors under one roof by having strategic tie-ups with carefully selected and leading players across different segments of eldercare. We already have tie-ups in the healthcare, tech assistive devices and lifestyle segments and in the due course will be buffering up this strategic pool of partners. We also facilitate connecting our members to right experts and service providers in the senior living sector as and when requested.
Can you expand on the general customer profile of Silver Talkies members? How do they benefit from your membership services? Any anecdotes would be much appreciated.
Silver Talkies members come from varied backgrounds and consist of homemakers to lawmakers; introverts and extroverts. Diverse personalities have found home at Silver Talkies Club. They are well-educated and cosmopolitan in their attitude. They may be 55+ but they are young at heart with great zeal towards life. They are adventurers and lifelong learners, willing to experiment and explore new horizons.
With Silver Talkies’ engagement opportunities our members have been able to fulfil their dormant desires and also acquire new skills. They have found multi-city friendships and managed to banish the loneliness blues. They have been able to get and give advice, share their own skills while also learning from others in the group. They have learned to dance, sing, act and walk the ramp! They have discovered the writer in them and have become digitally literate. With the common interest groups like gardening, quiz, literary, wellness they have found shared interests with other members and actively interact with them on these topics.
Anecdotes are plenty, sharing a couple of them.
Sunita Thakker a member from Mumbai who was experiencing the empty nest syndrome after her only daughter’s marriage is now an active and exuberant member of Silver Talkies community. She has not only found multi-city friends who are ever ready to host her when she is in their town, she has also found a new passion for painting and music. Thakker has also been taking care of her physical health through online fitness classes. She is a regular at monthly quiz and storytelling sessions and makes it a point to attend as many activities as possible, as the virtual format allows her to fit them into her schedule easily. She is just one shining example of a senior who has found a new zeal of life after joining a community like ours.
Col. Tavamani who served the nation all his active years, now lives alone while his married daughter lives some distance away. Col. Tavamani was dependent on his wife to take care of him and the household. He didn’t even know how to make a cup of tea. So, when she passed away, he found himself spiraling into depression. In his words becoming part of Silver Talkies rescued him and he is now an active learner and member. Col. Tavamani has benefitted from the tech classes and now proudly considers himself tech literate.
How big is your team and what is next in the journey for Silver Talkies?
We are currently a ten-member team including the core operations and the tech team. The year 2020 was a silver lining for us amidst the dark clouds. The pandemic pushed us to pivot our model from being a Bangalore only community to becoming a pan-India virtual community. Currently we have members from 12 different cities. With the help of our technology partner, we are working at offering our services through both web and mobile channels, making our services easily accessible through preferred channels. We would continue to simplify accessibility while leveraging technology to scale up and positively impact lives of seniors across the globe.
Our vision is to be a global platform with city chapters, offering our engagement modules virtually while holding city meet-ups quarterly. Currently, we are working at enhancing our value proposition and introducing the missing building blocks of the active ageing framework. We envision an empowered society of older adults who have learnt to take care of themselves and are able to age with grace and dignity.
Silver Talkies invites non-members to experience the benefit of the club membership via a 30-day preview offer where they can attend member exclusive events and learning modules and participate in all member activities. All details are available at www.silvertalkies.com
The newsletter brings you news, stories and trends from the silver economy in India, in a short, easy-to-read format. Businesses, brands, investors, startups, researchers and analysts following this space are likely to find it interesting.
Shreya Bajaj Shah is co-founder at Easy Hai, a social learning company focused on the 50 plus adult population. Shreya and her sister Surabhi started Easy Hai in mid-2020 and what started as simple smartphone familiarization sessions on Zoom is today a vibrant community that has touched ~10000 adults in 1.5 years.
A proud Bangalorean, Shreya is a chartered accountant with an MBA from ISB, actively involved in her family business and part of other ventures in hospitality and sports. In this insightful conversation, Shreya breaks down her fun entrepreneurial journey at Easy Hai.
“Easy Hai today is my full-time business endevour. All my time is spent on building Easy Hai because I genuinely believe in its cause. I feel like it’s such a meaningful business because it really helps me sleep better at night knowing that I actually made a tiny bit of difference in someone’s life. My sister is my co-founder and she handles the complete backend, the operational part of it. I’m the main teacher at Easy Hai and we do have two other teachers as well who take some of our day-to-day classes like Google pay or Google photos, Netflix, Facebook, WhatsApp, so on and so forth.”
Shreya, I had the opportunity to be a silent participant in one of your online sessions where your alumni were presenting social media analytics of their respective Instagram accounts. Let us start here. What was the journey for that cohort?
Good morning, Mahesh. I’m so glad that you were part of our analytics class. Now the journey of this is backdated quite a bit. We usually have a five-week masterclass called Instagram transformation course. This is 10 sessions, which is two sessions a week, and the session is very detailed including study of Instagram for business accounts. If you’re trying to build a personal brand or trying to look at Instagram for monetization reasons, of course it’s recommended. Now, this course includes everything from understanding your account, making your perfect bio, having an aesthetic feed, understanding the difference between stories, post, reels, Instagram guide, Instagram life, so on and so forth.
The Instagram transformation course has a mix of strategy and of course, how to use the tool. It is very step by step and a clear-cut instructions-based course, and it comes in with a bit of a strategy because the audience for this course are people who are already in service. They include doctors, physiotherapists, reiki healers, yoga therapists, and those in business.
Some of them have either started their own business or are part of a family business. Or they want to start a business in the near future, or they’re probably using Instagram very seriously for their personal branding purposes or for getting speaking engagements in the future. Because people have a definite goal, they do this very detailed course. We work on a WhatsApp group a week, come up with different challenges that people kind of take part in as a community.
Once the five weeks course is over, they all get transferred to an alumni group. And in this alumni group, we meet once a month and these sessions are conducted by me for free. We don’t charge the learners and, in these sessions, we just discuss about the new features of Instagram. Alternately, we take any topic, like on the day you attended, we took the topic of understanding Instagram analytics. And from there on, we make smaller groups, you know, groups of three and asked the team to pick one account among the team members and do a deep dive into their account and present their analysis. This way, they come to know what kind of content works, what are the mistakes they’ve been making as well as what should the strategy in the subsequent months. So that’s the journey of that cohort-based learning.
One of the most interesting parts of being part of that session was watching you switch between being a friend, expert and teacher. Many of your students are successful in their own right but come with a shared passion to learn. Can you give us a little insight into the profile of your students? How diverse or mixed is it?
That’s a very interesting observation. I probably do that subconsciously, but I guess you’re right as I think about it. And the reason for that is, I always want to have fun with my learners because I think learning is a lot more enjoyable and also it ends up there’s a, there’s a much deeper penetration if you’re able to enjoy those classes. And I guess just being a friend and being funny helps in all of that, but at the same time, learning has to come with a certain amount of discipline, and hence I do become a strict teacher as well. Yes, most of my learners are successful in their own right. They come with a very, very rich experience, but what amazes me is how humble they are. And they have absolutely no airs about not knowing technology. It overwhelms them, but you know, it’s not like, why do I need to learn this? There is a very deep-rooted curiosity and an interest in learning what’s new and being part of the changing world. And I guess for me, that is, as someone who is growing up, to have that for inspiration is fantastic.
That age is absolutely not a barrier to learning and really learning can happen at any age. And we’ve heard this quote so many times, but to see that in practice is really inspiring at another level. The people that come to my classes are typically quite varied. We have homemakers, people who are retired and want to make better use of their time, then there are people who have so many experiences and want to kind of make a digital archive of the same in the form of a podcast or in the form of a really solid social media profile or you know, like a YouTube channel or just probably write a book and they want to know how technology can ease that process for them.
Then of course, we have people from the business background. Most of them are self-made entrepreneurs or are running their startups now, especially as COVID give birth to home-based entrepreneurs. So that again is another mix of people that are coming to me. And then, people who have been in service. For example, there are lots of lawyers, doctors, you know, service-based backgrounds who want to now dive into the digital space because if the next generation is their target audience, then they feel like having a digital presence is important because that’s how we’re looking for resources in today’s time, right! Like we want to check a Google review or check their Instagram page before we make an appointment with the doctor or look them up somewhere to see how much of an expert they are in their field. And then there are people who are just there for the love of technology. They’re probably taking a sabbatical or they just want to know what Instagram is about, what the changing technology is and just for the love of learning. I have a lot of students even like that in they actually just say it, I just want to know what’s new and what’s happening, technology fascinates me and I want to be part of.
My learners are quite diverse and mixed in terms of demographics. 80% of my students are from India and others are from Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, New York and Bangkok. And we planning to dive into the African market as well.
The first time I came across your Insta profile, I was intrigued with some of the topics you touch upon. Can you tell us what Easy Hai does today? Why the focus on technology?
Easy Hai’s mission is very, very simple. We’re here to teach technology to adults and seniors. Why the focus in technology because, in the first lockdown, when literally our country went into a standstill, the entire dependence was on technology, whether it is to keep ourselves safe using Arogya Setu, or to even learn about the pandemic, all the resources online, whether to believe the news that’s circulated on WhatsApp or to flag it as fake. How to register for a vaccination, using Cowin or how to even, you know, order your groceries and stay at home, getting an e-pass, whether it’s in the city travel or interstate, pretty much everything was digitally done. And there’s a huge startup society that wasn’t equipped to handle that change. And so really, I started teaching a lot of mainly my immediate family on how to use Google pay or how to buy groceries or how to make your electricity bill online without having to really go to the electricity office and slowly it let the word spread and more and more people started reaching out to us, which is when I realized that this problem exists beyond my family.
I then went on to test whether it was only north Indians because maybe English could be a problem. And perhaps south Indians would find it easier. But it wasn’t any of that. Actually, this is quite a global problem because now that I have students from different countries coming to me. I realized that it’s not about whether we speak good English or not, because technology is just another language. Just like you, you can be very fluent in English and you wouldn’t know anything in Tamil or Telugu or Malayalam for that matter. The computer language is treated the same way. You either know it or you have to learn it and that could mean understanding the basics of operating your phone, understand the basics of operating your laptop, understanding what computer terminology means and how to think, how the algorithm is built and that’s really what we teach in our class. So yes, we are super focused and teach only, and only teach technology.
We have over 40 topics, everything from a simple how to use Netflix or how to use YouTube all the way to Google, Instagram for business, how to use Canva for your designing needs and you know, all your aesthetic requirements. So yeah, the, the topics are varied. Basically, any app or software on your phone, iPad or laptop becomes a class for us, as simple as that.
In India, most academic degrees and programs have an age cut-off and hence the concept of continuous learning is more a personal endeavor. Thanks to technology, we can now access content/courses without those restrictions. You have been able to use digital well, bridge the learning gap and build a trusted community. What do you think is working well for you?
I think what’s worked for me is if I have discovered that I am a teacher, which is completely accidental and I guess the complete credit of that goes to my learners because they constantly give me feedback. And this audience, and particularly this age group, is so amazing to work with because they’re so grateful and they give you honest feedback and there is absolutely no superficiality in the whole thing. If they love it, they’re going to tell you that they love it and if they don’t understand it, then they’re also going to be brutally honest and tell you that they do not understand it. In the initial days, I think what worked really for us was honest feedback.
We also accepted that feedback really quickly. I mean, when people told us that this class was very bad, we quickly figured out what wasn’t working in that case, whether the material was too long? Should we have given the recording of the class? Should we have broken this down? Was it too much that we dumped in one session? Should we have broken down that further? Was it the delivery of the class with the teacher? Not exciting enough? We really deep dived when the feedback was bad. And then when it was good, we used to also ask them the part of our class they liked. I guess the more common things that I hear is that your explanations are good because you break down technology concepts into simple mundane day-to-day language.
I also drop examples from real world so they’re able to understand the concepts a little better. That style of very relatable, conversational style of teaching technology, something that appeals to them. And other thing that they see is the energy that I bring to class because online classes otherwise are very boring, and of course our information, right.
And most people, they don’t just sign up for one class. They sign up for many classes because they get so hooked to technology. And because they’ve understood one thing, they want to now learn more things. And in the process, they keep coming to our classes. Say you have attended class one and now you’re in class two, if you have any doubts from class one, we usually come in 15 minutes early and stay back 15 minutes after every session so they can always ask us their doubts.
It’s very rounded. We don’t just say, press this button, press that button go left, go. Right. But we kind of try and get into the brain of the developer. Like, why did he do this? What’s the business model of that company? Functionalities remain same across all apps. For example, the minute you see a magnifying glass, it would probably mean use that to search anywhere on the app. I guess little, little information tips, tricks like this works. And then I guess another point that really works for us is because we are here even after the class is over. It’s not just that you come, you pay and you go to class, but if you have a doubt and we help you. We have a WhatsApp support. If you want additional help, you can take a one-on-one class. They’re always connected with us and it’s not like we’re really going away anywhere.
I guess, in very simple terms, it is that we really want the best for our students, and we put them in the center of our business. If they’ve understood, we’ve done our job. If they’ve not understood that we haven’t done well, and then we go back and rework on it, which is why with masterclasses like Instagram or Canva, they have continuous support in the form of free classes, because we’re really here to give them value to make them stay motivated and in turn, they are our biggest brand ambassadors and marketing heads.
All your programs are digital and you did mention about getting invitations to undertake such workshops in person. Is that part of the trajectory or is the goal to stay the fully digital path?
Actually, all our programs have been digital. And I think that I will continue to keep them digital because it’s not that I have people only from one city. We have people from across the globe that are part of our programs. And I don’t see that getting substituted. However, thoughts do cross my mind, for example, if I have to do a photography workshop, I think that would work better offline than online. And so sometime in the future, I would probably try and offline version of the same, but I think online is extremely comfortable because it’s so cost effective and people can really log in from anywhere, even if on the road, or in their office or at home, or even on vacation. People have attended our classes on vacation because you just have to take that one hour off and continue to learn while doing something else so I think we’re going to stay predominantly digital.
Where do you go from here with Easy Hai?
With Easy Hai, we will continue with our daily classes so you can decide to come and be part of any of our live classes. We also have a very strong masterclass set up and I’m probably going to add in more courses to that. Right now, we have Instagram and Canva but I’d also like to add in Google sheets for business owners as a very specific masterclass. Then there are a few more courses that are in the pipeline and we will be coming up with those as well. At the same time, I’m also going to experiment with on-demand recordings of courses because we’ve also gotten the feedback that our timings don’t work for everybody, especially because we have students from different countries. We are going to try that however; it won’t just be like purchase the course and watch it at your own comfort zone. It’s going to have a mix of a live Q&A every week. If you’ve purchased that course and you watched it at your own time or at your own pace, but you can always come and attend our Q&A sessions. That’s what I’m building on next and hopefully in the next one month, we should see a couple of those courses go live at Easy Hai.
The future of Easy Hai is to first kind of try and cover all strata of the society in terms of our course delivery so it’s going to be masterclasses, daily classes and on-demand videos. And then from there on, I want to start moving towards tier two and tier three cities because this is something that they need just as much as an urban population, probably more right, because technology is such a boon to everyone. So that’s going to be my second phase of marketing and growth.
You can connect with Shreya on LinkedIn, follow Teach Easy Hai on Instagram or just connect on WhatsApp to learn more.
The Silver Angels newsletter brings you news, stories and trends from the silver economy in India, in a short, easy-to-read format. Businesses, brands, investors, startups, researchers and analysts following this space are likely to find it interesting.