Six steps before launching a tech product for boomers or seniors

Don’t quit your day job just yet – do the homework first.   Starting a new company? I hear fairly regularly from those who have this intent.  Maybe they have a prototype they have created. When I don’t hear first, sometimes I catch who they are through the modern-day miracle of Google Alerts. So maybe we chat, maybe I take a look at a website, learn how they are going about getting their funding, and I ask if they know about products that may be similar to what they are doing.  Or have they browsed online catalogs, or spoken to non-profits (if that is one of the target audiences).  Have they studied market sizings and surveys from Nielsen to Pew to MetLife? And so on.  So here’s a recap of advice for the pre-early stage – more another day:

Read research.  Boomer/seniors are regularly surveyed about their propensity for any activity and every potential purchase. Why is it important to include boomers? Simple. They are the adult children of seniors, they have all the money ($230 billion of consumer product goods), they want to buy useful products for their parents – and soon for themselves.  Rather ironically, according to Nielsen, the consumer products companies still don’t focus on them. Duh.

Review catalogs.  Did you know about ElderLuxe, FirstStreetOnline, and Senior Care Products?  These sites extend well beyond incontinence supplies – and frankly, shouldn’t be intermingled in the same catalog as a computer, hearing assist, or cell phone anyway. Can your product be considered by them for future editions or updates? Is your product an 'assistive technology' appropriate for a site like AbleData?

Understand stats. What percentage of older baby boomers still have living parents – a key factoid that tells you the size of today’s prospective purchaser market?  What are the latest numbers on life expectancy – by education level? Specific chronic conditions – hearing limitations, high blood pressure, vision loss, mobility limitations due to arthritis, Parkinson’s?  What percentage live alone? What percentage are family caregivers? What percentage of families need and/or hire in home caregiving aides (if you’re considering home care as a business)?

Know leading products in category.  So you want to make a computer, a tablet app, a smart phone app.  My favorite among these is the smart phone app – for some reason, only 11% of the 65+ population has a smart phone – perhaps they would prefer not to spend their life savings using up their data plan watching YouTube videos on their phone. Yet, here they come: smart phone apps for seniors, one after another.

Buy competitor’s product.  How important is quality (job 1) service (job 1) and marketing (also job 1) for the competition? What are their vulnerabilities?  If products sell through retailers, have you seen one in the store? Do store salespeople have a clue about its use?  If you think yours is better, show yours at an event where the competitor is exhibiting, even if it is a 1-1 demo in a room offsite.

Consider channels carefully. How will channel partners put ‘skin’ in the game of selling your product?  What’s their sell-through track record with a competitor?   The idea of dealers sounds great! They do the work, you get the money.  Nope.  You do the work, train them, track them -- train them again. Go with them to endless shows, stand in their booths. Train them. If your product isn’t selling really well, this is wasted effort. You will have to find other channels or sell direct.

Note to the "Hype-meisters"

Laurie, this is a must-read list for all those with health app startups. I was struck by the young (very young!) tech-savvy types attending Stanford University's Medicine X conference last month who seemed to have no clue about the very people (patients! sick, older patients!) who were the target market for The Next Big Thing they were developing for this demographic. For many with chronic debilitating illnesses (who tend to be seniors, often trying to manage multiple chronic diagnoses) gaining mastery over yet another tech tool may indeed feel like just one more overwhelming task on an already overwhelming To Do list.

Or, in the wise words of David Whelan of Forbes: the "hype-meisters of health care tech startups overpromote into a stratospheric hype zone of self-importance”. Their technology, warns Whelan, “will not help fix the health care system” – despite the claims of those paid to promote it. He adds:

“It’s true that you can point a finger at health care and say it lacks technology. But it’s not because the tech doesn’t exist. It may be that technology doesn’t really fit.”

Great Article

This is a really well thought out and helpful article, thanks for compiling all these tips.

I agree most strongly with the advice to actually buy other leading products. Most people overlook this step but it's crucially important to know what you're up against!

seniorproducts.com

Laurie;

Love your blog. However, your link to seniorproducts.com leads to a domain name that is for sale. Just wanted you to know.

John

Fixed

Steps bdefore launching a baby boomer product...

Solid advice, Laurie. Startups, take heed.

Thanks!

Laurie,

Thanks for your very informative article about launching new tech products for boomers or seniors. A future article might include information about how to interview, arrange for focus groups, etc., with the target population to evaluate what products they want. This follows the admonition to start where the client is.

Dolores

Response to Dolores' comment

Thank you for your comment Dolores. The above referenced access to and research with this demographic is all within the scope of work that our company, Link·age Connect can provide. Link·age Connect is a unique research consultancy that connects clients to the right respondents and offers a core expertise regarding the aging population. Our network of hundreds of senior living service providers let us quickly and accurately reach the normally hard to access group of seniors and those who care for them. We provide actionable insights, design and strategy input, program enhancements and an understanding of the business implications of each of these findings. So in your words Dolores, we certainly do start where the client is. It is SO refreshing for an increase in people who believe and understand that the older population IS a consumer group that should be marketed to for ALL sorts of products to inspire healthy and active aging. We MUST stop assuming what this group wants and needs and start asking them.

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