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Launching your boomer/senior, health tech product in 2014

Don’t quit your day job just yet – do the homework first.  Starting a new company in the boomer/senior, mHealth/Digital Health tech space? 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 the exuberant Semico Research? And so on.  So here’s an updated set of advice for the pre-early stage:

Read research.  Boomer/seniors are regularly surveyed about their propensity for any activity and every potential purchase, including health tech. 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), and they want to buy useful products for their parents – and health tech for themselves. Rather ironically, according to Nielsen, the consumer products companies focus on the young. Duh.

Review catalogs.  Did you know about ElderLuxe, FirstStreetOnline, and Amazon50+?  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 offering limited to referral by doctors -- and if so, how will you educate them? Does your offering generate interest or discussion in online media? If your product makes you think about large retail stores, don't -- unless your firm has very DEEP investment pockets. 

Understand stats. What percentage of older baby boomers still have living parents – a key factoid that tells you the size of today’s prospective consumer purchaser market?  What are the latest numbers on life expectancy where your product will be sold – by education level, location, income? For tech addressing health-specific chronic conditions – what are the stats about 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 target market or a business)?

Know leading products in category.  So you want to make a computer, a tablet app, a smart phone health app.  My favorite among these is the smart phone app and the abandon rate (which is shrinking). For the older population, while 19% of the 65+ population own a smart phone25% own a tablet.  If you want to reach an older adult with an app -- and hopefully are doing so as part of a solution/service, not a one-off app -- offer it on a tablet. And unless you are already invested in iOS as a platform, at present the multiplicity of Android tablets appear to be overtaking Apple in market share.

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 by some chance their products sell through retailers, have you seen them in the store? Do store salespeople have a clue about its use?  If you think yours is better, can you show yours at an event where the competitor is exhibiting, even if it is a 1-1 demo in a room offsite.

Consider channels and referral sources carefully. How will partners put ‘skin’ in the game of selling or referring your product?  What’s their sell-through track record with a competitor?  The idea of referral channels 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 as a result of these partnerships, this is wasted effort. You will have to find other channels or referral sources -- or spend substantial money branding your offerings for sale online.



Laurie - how will 2014 be any different than 2010? 2000? What has changed NOW?

A broad question, so here is a broad view answer:

Nothing has changed in terms of careful consideration of the listed points prior to launch, regardless of category.

Much has changed in terms of mechanics for getting market attention and validation (see Kickstarter, Indiegogo) prior to seeking investment.

And while interest in some categories has grown (home monitoring of seniors, for example), other categories are relatively stable in terms of target customer and channels (PERS). 

Generally it seems to me that the motivation for being in the senior tech market is still based on passion and personal interest, rather than obvious market scalability.

The digital health (Heath IT) market exceeds the capacity and pace of organizational absorption.

The wearables hype boom has created the likelihood for shakeout almost immediately.

Talk to, meet with, pick the brains of your target audience! Get seniors involved in the process, we've set up focus groups with product developers - seniors have a wealth of information to share and they know what their peers are willing to consider purchasing.