ageing-in-place companionship digital adoption innovations intergenerationality interviews technology solutions travel and mobility

Entrepreneur Interview: Rustam Sengupta, Tuktu Care

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 ( 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.

What we noticed was really happening is that we started becoming a platform or a one stop shop that people trusted to ask for help – whatever it maybe. This has shaped our long-term vision and strategy as we now see ourselves more as a technology provider that builds the ecosystem that independent caregivers can use. Tuktu is really taking the friction out of the industry and using technology to bring back a model of community care that we really need now.

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 –

Visit to know more and check out the video below.

companionship intergenerationality

Loneliness, Intergenerational Companionship and Mr Tata

Ratan Tata is one of India’s most respected personalities, a business icon, and needs very little introduction really. Naturally, his recent investment in an intergenerational companionship startup got a lot of attention.

When somebody like Mr Tata speaks about loneliness and how it is a social issue to be addressed, it draws attention from a wider cross section of people.

Shifts in our way of life (migration, nuclearization of families, urbanisation, etc) and ill conceived habitations continue to impact social bonds, even making them toxic sometimes. Our cities and large towns provide density, which is quite important to reduce social isolation, however, they are unable to fully capture the intergenerational benefits of previous generations, and provide a safe and supportive environment overall.

For many elders across India, companionship is social. It comes in the form of family, friends and neighbors. Intergenerational bonds are formed in neighborhoods, and between people from different generations who cross paths on a regular basis, and support each other in times of need or emergency. Much of India still lives this way.

Loneliness and isolation among older adults were heightened during the pandemic, and many initiatives sprung up to create community-level support. Senior citizen welfare organizations, and informal hobby and inclusive interest groups (walking group, book reading group, etc) in the neighborhood are spaces that provide opportunities to build bonds. On the other hand, (silver economy) startups like Silver TalkiesEvergreen ClubEasy Hai and Khyaal are building community based models by engaging mature adults through various activities and programs, and using technology to create digital communities.

Intergenerational companionship can take many forms, and doesn’t need to be limited to support activities of daily living (ADLs). It can be a two-way street where both sides benefit from such friendships and bonds. Individuals can choose to be listening companions, intellectual companions, sparring companions, learning companions, travel companions or creative companions.

Mr Tata’s words have helped gather steam around the issue of loneliness among older adults, and the need to foster intergenerational bonds to reduce isolation.

If you want to break #AgeBias and foster intergenerational diversity, sign up for the GenConnect initiative now!

companionship digital adoption intergenerationality

Archies greeting cards and forever memories

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.

If you want to break #AgeBias and foster intergenerational diversity, sign up for the GenConnect initiative now!

companionship intergenerationality technology solutions

Are we ageist? OK Boomer and WhatsApp Uncle tropes

The Longevity Hub recently launched GenConnect, an initiative to connect strangers across generations and geographies on a 15 to 30 minute call. While there is a lot to be said on why people from different generations should speak to each other, outside their family and professional environments, I will attempt to drive the point home with two popular (and ageist) tropes.

OK Boomer!

This is the headline of an article in the New York Times around how the phrase “OK Boomer” has become the war cry for younger folks (in the US mostly) to reject the point of view of older adults, and attribute all ills in society to one generation. Boomer refers to those born after the WW2 and Gen Z, those born anywhere between mid-90s and early 2000s.

Source: NYT

The article states how these generations have different points of view on everything from jobs, climate change, financial security, and more. This is not new and can be attributed to every generation before us. Moreover, you are likely to find a 25-year-old that has very little understanding of climate change and a 65-year-old who lives his or her life in the most sustainable manner. And vice versa.

Creating such binaries helps sell an idea or a product, and likely why brands, marketers, influencers and advertisers love to jump on the bandwagon to make a few extra bucks from a popular trend.

Here is an unpopular take by Bob Hoffman, an advertising guru, on marketing to generational uniqueness.

“One of the great idiocies of the marketing industry is the belief in the uniqueness of generations — Gen X is this…Millennials are that…Baby Boomers are the other.

It’s all bullshit generated by researchers to sell their “expertise” and maybe a few more research studies along the way.”

Check out Bob Hoffman’s website for more

Whether you agree with Bob’s sentiment or not, it makes you think how ageist mindsets get amplified by social media and brand marketing, potentially leading us down a path of no return. While not the only reason, it does play a significant part in how we perceive the world.

Now let’s look at a common trope in India – WhatsApp Uncle.

WhatsApp Uncle

WhatsApp is ubiquitous among people across generations in India, and there is literally no family gossip, business deal or friendship that is not consummated on this platform. India represents the largest user base for WhatsApp with close to 40 crore (400 Mn) users, and is notorious for spamming.

Google researchers were trying to figure out why one in three smartphone users in India run out of space, and they figured out the culprit – Good Morning messages with “overabundance of sun-dappled flowers, adorable toddlers, birds and sunsets sent along with a cheery message“.

If you haven’t received one in a while, leaving one here so you do not feel left out.

Over time, and with a combination of delicate manouvering and vocal pushback from other members of such groups, we see less of such messages these days. That said, we are a long way from sanity in family and neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, which is a multi-part Netflix series altogether.

WhatsApp Uncle is somebody that is older (or perceived as such) and posts irrelevant, inappropriate or non-factual messages in a private group or a public forum, much to the annoyance of everybody else. Although more women than men use WhatsApp, and that too by almost three times, the meme world decided to honour men, and particularly the quintessential Indian uncle, with this giant honour. Over time, this meme has even graduated to the fictional WhatsApp University.

Source: Times of India

“Ok Boomer” and “WhatsApp Uncle” tropes are meme-worthy material on the internet. It is simplistic, antagonistic, and effective in shutting down conversations. In the process, it also breaks down something that is very fundamental to society – intergenerational communication – and sadly, brings out the ageist in us.

By breaking these artificial barriers, all sides come out winning.

GenConnect is an initiative to foster friendships and spark new bonds among people from different generations, and across geographies. All it takes is 5 minutes to fill out a form, and we will match you for a call with somebody from a different generational cohort.

If you want to break #AgeBias and foster intergenerational diversity, sign up for the GenConnect initiative now!