STOP, LOOK, LISTEN before your senior-focused prototype drawing dries

Entering a tech market to help seniors.  You want to help seniors -- you have a personal story about your grandmother. You are trying to decide whether your product for older adults warrants your time and devotion. This is not an easy decision, as you watch every thingamabob, it seems, launch into the market of tech for young folks either in website (Pinterist?) or gadget form (LunaTik Nano Watchband?). You wonder what you’re doing in the senior space; you’re not sure, but this seems NOT to be a gadget market. If someone were to ask you why that is the case, can you answer?
 
Learn about competitors, failures and channels of distribution.  I am taken aback when inventors-to-be do not know what other tech is already in their space. Blinded by prior success in other markets or by the brilliance of their idea, they don’t know who else makes a product even remotely similar. Are those vendors out of business now or did they take their product from a senior focus to young consumers because they couldn’t get the sales in the senior market that investors expected? Is the founding CEO still around or have the investors run out of patience?  Has the company shrunk into a fraction of its size? How are they doing today and finally, who funded them?  If this inventor sounds like you, can you answer?
 
Find knowledgeable funding sources.  How do those funders of other products feel about their investment?  Do you go to events that feature these products to learn who else may have succeeded or who are the right funders? A startup founder told me recently of attempting to explain to an angel investor (who are mostly men, somewhat ironically) about a new product already prototyped and intended to help seniors. This particular investor knew nothing whatsoever about that market. So the inventor must be ready to explain why it is important – how big is it, the rate of adoption, the money to be made (by you, by investor)?  Can you answer?
 
Recognize the difference between a feature and a product.  An example: with advancements in GPS and fall detection technologies, it doesn’t take much of a leap (pun intended) to envision a fall detection or GPS product for seniors. This is where engineering can trump market common sense. Will seniors or their children buy these products as described? Is there a willing integrator that works with this product category or are there channels that have experience working with seniors? Before the drawing has left the table, have others tried to produce these devices as products and either failed -- or failed to ship? Is whatever-the-product-is really a feature that is appropriately incorporated into an existing product versus becoming its own NEW product? Can you answer?
 
If your response to any of the above is 'No, I haven't heard, don't know, can't say, or am not sure' -- then this blog post is for you.

Change is hard

I would say the most commonly underestimated aspect for any start-up, but especially those targeting the senior demographic, is the lack of willingness to change. You may have the greatest new invention or re-invention and may hear plenty of feedback saying how wonderful it is. However, when the rubber hits the road people will be much less likely to actually purchase. It's very unfortunate, sometimes doesn't make any rational sense at all, but is completely true. This is only multiplied in the senior housing market where the demographic doesn't include a lot of the typical 'early adopters'. This makes change even slower to occur, on the institutions and the residents. In light of this, make sure your runway is 3-5x longer than you think you need it to be.

Quiet Progress

Despite the notion that these technologies are having a tough time of it, for every company waving their arms and jumping up and down about the funding they have raised, there are an equal number of companies slowly and quietly making progress. Market traction points are identified, partnerships are solidified and long-term pilot programs move in the direction of positive outcomes. Big money provides Big market presence and therefore a high cost of customer acquisition, and a look back to the year 2000 reminds us of what happens with that toxic combination. We may all be surprised who breaks out with a successful solution and my guess is we will never see it coming.

Wise advice for "Dear Developer"

Dear Developer: Now that you have Laurie's sound advice, will you be 1) ruthless about asking yourself and your team each and every one of these questions--at every stage of development? 2) will you demand answers--and honestly work through how you will respond--instead of denying their validity and 3) will you ACT upon what you find? Not following this advice will more than likely lead to bad consequences, fiscally and emotionally. It is hard--no, heartbreaking--when you live through this. And I thought the Four Big Questions* were demanding--but at the core they are simple questions about the business model that shockingly, many developers and inventors never answer. *Who will pay, how much, who looks at the data generated, who takes action on the data? Donna Cusano Editor, North America--Telecare Aware

great article

Laurie,
I keep returning to your blog to find useful insights and valuable information. As someone who's spent the last 18 months developing a new distribution channel into this market I find what you say in this article to be very accurate. In this short time I've seen promising products and companies vanish. The demographics and costs of care suggest that we can use many of these technologies. The opinion leaders working with seniors recognize this need, yet are still reluctant to actively refer. This is and always will be a market that requires close human interaction and high touch, elder care is very intimate. When applied practically to meet people's needs technology can be great for the seniors, their families and care providers. Reaching them is one of the big challenges we've experienced.

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