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How Silvernest Is Bringing The Sharing Economy To Seniors

Can the sharing economy--epitomized by services such as Airbnb--help revolutionize how people age? Boulder-based Silvernest (www.silvernest.com) tells us how the startup is helping to harness the power of the sharing economy. CEO Wendi Burkhardt tells us how seniors--who, suprisingly, are among the early adopters of the sharing economy--are the target of her startup, which helps those seniors find roommates, and hopes to offer new options to help address issues in aging.

How does your service work?

Wendi Burkhardt: Silvernest is an online, roommate matching service designed to specifically help empty nesters and baby boomers, people over 50, find good, long-term roommates. That ideally addresses two of the major issues in aging, which is isolation and financial stress. One of the things we recognize, is that so many things are changing right now in the world of aging. Boomers are aging, and like everything they've ever touched before, they are absolutely changing the world of aging. Simultaneously, we are having this intersection of technology which is allowing us to do things different that in the past, including the emergence of the shared economy. This is really designed to leverage the shared economy, and address specific issues in aging. It introduces the option of having a roommate, to allow people to leverage one of their greatest assets in aging, their home. It allows them the option to age in place, and to easily find the right person to share that space with. It's not just someone coming and going for a few days at a time. We've designed a comprehensive experience, a platform which puts people through the process. First, we pair individuals by their compatibility. We put individuals through a five point background check and identity verification test. Once they are effectively paired with the right partners, with a few extra clicks, we help those individuals set up a lease, and even begin collecting rent, all through our platform.

How did you and your co-founders decide to start the company?

Wendi Burkhardt: It was actually a combination of things. My early co-founders had been working in aging for a few years. They had been building alternative homes in the Alzheimer's space. They recognized that developing and designing communities, you have to have connectivity to improve health and well-being. For me, personally, my experience with aging came with my grandparents, and also when I lost my father unexpectedly. My mother was suddenly on her own for the first time in her adult life. It was that combination of that personal experience, and understanding aging and technology, which came together to make this the perfect time for us.

Where is the service now?

Wendi Burkhardt: The service is actually available already everywhere in the country. We have seen early activity in all fifty states. That said, we are concentrating our marketing and growth in our own background, in Colorado. It's our largest market. The second markets are Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul, where we've grown organically in the early phases due to activity in those markets. We're also having great activity in Florida and along the East Coast. Though we're not specifically fostering that activity, we've seen people as far away as Australia sign up for the service.

What is the biggest benefit to using your platform?

Wendi Burkhardt: It's really about the end-to-end experience. When you think about the steps of trying to figure out how well someone will potentially live with you, a number of things have to happen. How do you know this person is safe? We can't guarantee safety, but we put tools in place to reduce that risk, certainly, including background screening. How do I know if someone will live well in my space? I like to joke that it's like dating. You've got to figure out if someone will be a good fit for you. It might sound crazy, but being able to seamlessly move through those steps and architect this for a successful relationship is important. It's not a landlord-tenant arrangement in the conventional sense. Plus, if you have not done this before, you need to figure out things like leases, what terms make sense, what kind of a lease to consider. We're really trying to think through the entire experience and what pieces and parts are really important.

Are the people using this new to this, or have some of them done this before?

Wendi Burkhardt: It's a combination. They're probably equally distributed. There are a percentage of folks who are first time users, and some who have done this before. What we are starting to see, however, is more folks who are considering this as an alternative to other option in aging, and may not have recognized this was an available option for them until now.

How savvy is this age group with online services like this?

Wendi Burkhardt: We have been live wit our beta, and already have had 7,000 users sign up across the country. I think that indiates the interest and willingness people have to consider this as an alternative. It's super exciting. We have been really focused on people from 50 to 80, since most people over 80 are considering other solutions, due to chronic health issues or different needs. But, this generation, between 50 and 80, is really technically savvy. Fifty percent have a smartphone, and 65 percent of them are online using social media daily. They're actually the largest consumers of YouTube, and it's growing. Half of our early adopters are coming in through mobile. What's interseting, is there is an automatic assumption that this demographic is less savvy with technology. But, I see this generation is pretty comfortable getting online and participating.

What's next for the company?

Wendi Burkhardt: We just completed our time at 500 Startups in San Francisco. We've been here for four and a half montsh. We're now focused on our growth strategy, and enhancing our product. We recently launched the upgraded, next generation version of our product last week, which we are super excited about. We really designed this next iteration based on user experience and feedback, and we think we are now in a great position to focus on continued growth and scale. We're in the process of closing out a seed funding, which we'll be announcing in the next two weeks.

What was the biggest lesson you learned at 500 Startups?

Wendi Burkhardt: I will say, that as a 50-year old entrepreneur, I think you automatically assume you know a lot about going through the startup journey. This is my fourth startup, and the second I founded. However, my biggest lesson, is you don't know how much you don't know, and you can continue to learn every single day, especially around growth, and evolving technologies for distribution, and leveraging all of those. I think it's a nice reminder and lesson to everyone-- you have to keep on learning, because it never stops, and you can keep getting stronger.

Thanks, and good luck!