Monday, August 8, 2016
Interview with William Ahlering, Mimicare
It's one of those dreaded moments that happens all too often in families: grandma, or grandpa, or mom, or dad, just can't care for themselves anymore, and needs to go to assisted living. How do you figure out what to do, and how to you find help? Today's startup interview is with William Ahlering, co-founder of Mimicare, a Denver-based company which helps families connect with assisted living facilities. We chatted with William, as the company graduates out of the Boomtown Boulder startup accelerator.
What is Mimicare?
William Ahlering: Simply put, we're a web site that helps families find assisted living homes. The solutions that exist today are pretty outdated. We've taken a more modern, innovative approach to being a real solution. What you'll find with existing solutions, is there are online directories, references, and guides, but there isn't really a service which can quickly identify what your needs are, what the location options are, based on exactly what you are looking for an your preferences. We work exclusively with smaller assisted living homes. The industry refers to them as care homes, and they have six to eight residents. They are found in residential neighborhoods, all are state licensed, and they offer a different atmosphere than corporate community. They're often more affordable, and have a higher caregiver to resident ratio.
What's your background and why your interest in this area?
William Ahlering: Mimi was the nickname of my grandmother. She had Alzheimer's for as long as I could remember, when I was growing up. She lived in assisted living in Southern California. We lived nearby, and visited her several times a week after my grandfather passed away, with my mom and two other siblings. For my mother, it made sense to keep Mimi in assisted living, so she could still have the freedom and ability to continue on with daily life, but still have her nearby. I went to school, and then ended up working for a large engineering company. Typical story, I was not learning enough, and I was on a slow moving ship, so I decided to apply elsewhere. I had this personal experience growing up, and I was researching the industry, I discovered that the way people fine care today, particularly online, was outdated. It seems like you can find anything online these days, even groceries—why can't you quickly find options for your aging loved ones?
You seem pretty young to have interest in this area?
William Ahlering: I would say, I am 25, though my co-founders are 40 and 45. The reception has been pretty positive. I think what you are seeing, and the trend is, younger folks are getting interested in this space. It's an area that has been out of sight and out of mind, and hasn't seen a lot of innovation. Everyone we've worked with has been more than receptive to outsiders, and to the age discrepancy, as well.
So, we understand you are rolling out here initially in Denver?
William Ahlering: That's correct. It made sense for us to start there to build a marketplace, which I am told can be quite difficult, because you are building an experience for two sides, and two customers. We wanted to fix as many variables as possible, and keep things as simple as possible. We're starting in the Denver metro area, because we're based out of Denver and it's in our own backyard. It's the perfect palce, because it's big enough, but not too big. There are roughly 150 care homes in the metro and surrounding area, and that will give us enough scale to prove out the concept we are working on, and make sure we are doing something that really works, before replicating it in other geographic areas.
What are the biggest barriers to expansion for you?
William Ahlering: One of the biggest barriers is lack of education and awareness. There are an overwhelming number of people retiring every day, and over time, they ultimately need care. The problem is, families only have to deal with this a couple of times in their life, so they don't know about what the options are. So the largest barrier is getting the message out to the right people. For families that are trying to find a place, educating them on the serviec that we provide, and the homes provide is the most important thing. That's the biggest challenge we face, and which we have to make sure we have ironed out, before we go anywhere else. We need to make sure we can explain our value proposition to customers, and explain it in a succinct and concise way.
What's the biggest thing you have learned about the industry so far?
William Ahlering I would double back on the last point. The biggest thing, working at this for almost three years now, is that people don't plan for this, and are often caught off guard. Their loved one, grandma or mother, falls, and the family is thrown into this situation. They go into panic mode. One of the surprising things, particularly in assisted living, is not all the places are exactly alike. There are different place s for differen tpeople, for people on the spectrum of most dependent to the most independent. It's really about understanding your needs first, your loved ones' needs, and identifying the places that can accommodate them. It's a little bit of a two way street. We don't call it search, we call it matching people to a home, because certain homes specialize and are better able to accommodate individuals. For example, those with extreme cases of dementia. Most people don't know that. I wasn't aware of that at first. So, one of the most interesting things I learned was really understanding all of the options and what is best, based on needs.
How was the experience at Boomtown for you?
William Ahlering: I would say, the most valuable thing I got away from Boomtown, is that many people—and I'm guilty of this—who think they can create a better solution for something, and they start building a product, without talking to customers. Boomtown really teaches you to test your assumptions. You don't just build it, and assume because you think it's a good product, and a handful of other people do. You have to leave your comfort zone, and push yourself to be vulnerable, and you have to talk to potential customers, even before the prototype. You have to get feedback as soon as possible. You need to talk to potential users, to make sure it's something they will want to use, and ultimately, are willing to pay for. It was an eye opening experience, and we had to go back to the drawing room and test areas where we felt confident, but needed to do our due diligence. The entire methodology was the most valuable lesson we took away from the experience.
Finally, what's the next big thing for you?
William Ahlering Participating in the Summer Health Tech Accelerator at Boomtown as a phenomenal experience. We learned things inside and out from successful entrepreneurs, from the ground up. We're looking forward to graduating, and we have our demo day on the 12th. The biggest thing on our horizon, is raising our seed round. There are lots of things happening, and more exciting things to come. The most immediate thing, is finishing here, leaving the program strong, and headed in the right direction. All indicators are that that's where we're at, and we'll see where we go.