Making home care more personal
13 February 2017
Laura Palmer, PwC Manager in Tax interviews Daniel Pike COO of SuperCarers, a health tech company on a mission to make elderly care more personal and bring together the disconnected care system.
It was both professional and personal experiences that lead to the genesis of SuperCarers. From a personal perspective, my mum had the same pressures that many of her generation have, caring for us as children, whilst also having responsibility for caring for dependant parents. We witnessed the pressures and difficulties this brought and the quality of care and support she got in the community was not good enough. In the end, she gave up work and looked after her mum herself for many years. What stayed with me even from then was seeing the stress and guilt she felt for the care her mum was receiving and the general lack of information and knowledge available to do something about it and find the best solution for our family.
In the end the only option we saw was for her to go into a care home and like many families’ experiences of institutional care we felt her health and happiness deteriorated rapidly despite being well cared for. She wanted to stay independent at home but we simply didn’t know how we could facilitate that. Now, with the knowledge that I have, things could have been so different. For SuperCarers it’s about the transparency and sharing of information, connecting the care system and helping people make informed choices about social care.
From the professional perspective, my brother worked as a Policy Advisor at the Cabinet office and worked on something called “The Centre for Ageing Better”, which made him realise the government aren’t getting their hands around the problem of an ageing population, and as with most things, the only way to affect change is to try and do it externally.
The care environment is changing with increasing focus on personalisation, empowering people, and giving them choice. With those things in mind we started speaking to people, realising that it was a good idea and that it was potentially a viable business, taking learnings from other marketplace style businesses and disruptive technology. Then we had to test that people would interact with a tech-enabled service for such an emotive purchase, but two years on we’re seeing people are engaged and benefit from this approach.
You mentioned it’s quite an emotive business, has that led to any big challenges you’ve had to face?
One of the main challenges we get from investors is around scalability and the belief that if something’s a pure technology play, it’s more scalable because people can just interact with it in an online environment. We are a tech enabled service and see value in interacting with people. A consumer can absolutely interact entirely online from start to finish; to find, engage and manage their home care, but at the same time, because it’s such an emotive purchase, sometimes people want to call.
We have to build that human element into our tech. Even if someone follows the technology journey, they still want to feel that there is a person on the other end and it’s not all done by algorithms. The value of the carer/customer interaction is so significant, it is not a cost to the business in providing this touch point, it’s a benefit because we can help people understand their needs, find the right day care, night care or live-in care, and engage the right home care professionals for them. As an introductory service, if we get this matching aspect right, all users enjoy a better relationship and service and we become a trusted brand growing the network effect. Both carers and their customers will act as advocates in their community - it’s all about People Power.
How do you recruit the carers?
Before joining the marketplace, where a private self-employed carer can be connected with families to provide their services, they are vetted by SuperCarers to ensure families can achieve a level of assurance specifically around safety to use their services. The approach is in line with the industry standard and recommended by the regulatory body, the CQC. This means carers have an enhanced DBS check, a right to work, identity and reference checks. These ensure the carers possess the skills and experience in care needed, however we also check they have the right values to care: compassion, kindness and treating people with dignity.
Like you, I’ve been through similar things with my grandparents, and as well as the actual choosing of a carer, there’s a whole minefield around what allowances you’re entitled to and how you go about accessing them from the government.
We just hired four new care advisors and I was training them last week on this. The first thing we do is give people information and support. Again, our business principle is about transparency and helping people to make informed choices. Some investors ask, ‘Is that wasting your time?’ as lots of these people are not ready for care, but my answer is ‘No’ because firstly, we want to help people from a social impact perspective and we believe the proposition is so compelling that when they do eventually need to find the services of a domiciliary carer in their community they will find them through us.
The Local Authority have an obligation to provide information and support as well as the services, so we inform people of this and encourage them to let the community support teams know their needs so they can get the right advice. Then they can do an assessment, determine whether your needs are substantial and critical enough to get support and then do the financial assessment which might determine that you’re not eligible for funded support.
We advise families to get in contact with their local authority or GP so the multi-disciplinary teams around them know what’s going on, and so they don’t wait for a crisis point or an event. By joining up the care system earlier and getting the right advice/support and small interventions these moments can be avoided and ultimately I believe can reduce things like hospital admissions.
It’s obviously well documented that the UK’s got an ageing population. Do you think the government’s doing enough to encourage start-ups like yourself, or do you think they’re relying on the status quo of current care providers?
From a general business stand point I think the government is doing the right thing with the likes of the Enterprise Investment Scheme which encourages investments in start-ups like ours. Also, we are in the unique position to have a real social impact and there is growing support and recognition of this, with organisations funded by the likes of Big Lottery who can work with us and support our vision.
From the care viewpoint, it’s like many other industries that have been disrupted. There are 6,500 micro providers of care in the UK and the industry has not innovated or changed at the same rate as other sectors. As it is a regulated space there is a higher level of resistance generally in this sector from the top down and the speed of adoption of new approaches is slow. I think a community-led approach is what’s needed, and programmes like “Transform Ageing” are showing a recognition of the need to look at other models and think differently. The government can do more, we can all do more, but I feel positive about the conversations we’re having and the opportunity to drive change.
For example, we’re starting to try and create self-organising community care teams which is incredibly powerful. These teams of care professionals working with families directly in a Buurtzogg Style, supported by the multi-disciplinary teams from social workers to GPs, has the opportunity to transform the way we think about community care and is an example of everyone taking responsibility and working collaboratively.
What’s your vision for the business in ten years’ time?
We want to create a movement which transforms care in the UK. We will do this by empowering people, giving them choice and the right tools and knowledge to make the best decisions. If you talk about how we’re going to grow, we can move by diversifying services that users can provide through the platform or by diversifying geography. My focus for the next year is on London, to build this community before looking beyond. At the moment we’re focussed on the private sector and most SuperCarers clients are private paying customers, but we don’t want only people who can afford to purchase care in this way to be able to access these services, so care which is funded by the local authority and the NHS is part of the long-term vision.
How have you found attracting and recruiting talent?
Despite there being so many fantastic people out there, it’s incredibly hard to find really good people with the skills you need at the time you need them. Now I start to look three months in advance of when I think I might need someone. It has been hard to find good people but because of the nature of the business, it’s easier to engage them once we’ve found them because of the vision for the business and the fact it is not another largely pointless app but has the capacity to change peoples’ lives. It is very important to us that new hires joining SuperCarers fit into our culture and believe in what we’re trying to do.
Have you had any learning experiences about how you get people bought into the culture?
I joined a COO network a while ago and it revealed there are different managerial methodologies, thinking about unlimited holiday and the transparency of information to all levels through the organisation. Our management methodology is open door, it’s not completely transparent as you can give people too much information which I think is unhelpful. Broadly people buy into the culture because we get the balance right of giving people visibility and the opportunity to input into all different aspects of the business at the same time as setting realistic objectives about what their team needs to contribute towards that overall vision.
Funding is a difficult journey for all tech businesses. For me the biggest challenge was that it is an all-consuming process and at the same time we need to continue to run and grow the business. I think in the beginning convincing people of the vision was easy because the need for what we do is so clear and the pathway has been paved by other sharing economy and marketplace style business successes. We are very lucky because not only do we have the financial backing of our investors, but it is a diverse group with different skills and expertise. We have some investors with marketing and brand expertise who have built their own nationwide brands that people love, and we want to build the first care business that people love. Others have the specific healthcare sector expertise that you need to navigate this space. All of them share our vision.
Have you got any advice for someone starting out?
Be open minded; your business will not be what you think it is now in 2 years’ time. And build a winning team as quickly as possible. Everyone we have hired is smarter than us and that has turned out to be a good hiring policy.
Laura Palmer | Fast Growth Companies, Manager
| +44 (0)20 7212 3077