Senior living has changed a lot.
“In the senior living market, the old image is nursing home: the new image is active communities for older adults who can simplify their lives and spend their free time really enjoying themselves, their family, their friends,” says Nancy Koenig, CEO of Caremerge, which provides technology solutions for the senior living market.
“You can move in when you’re still active, and then as your needs change, the community is there to help provide the support services you need,” she adds.
Like previous guests Jay Klauminzer and Elizabeth Harz, Nancy’s story is an interesting study in how to lead a company you didn’t start. She became the CEO in October 2017, taking the reigns from co-founder and chairman Asif Khan.
Nancy explains her approach to taking on someone else’s vision (hint: focus on the metrics) and the triumphs that come with creating technology for a demographic that has long been ignored by the tech world.
Turning old age into the golden age
Scott: I’d love you to talk about Caremerge and its mission.
Nancy: Before I joined Caremerge, I’d taken a bit of time off, and I’d decided that in order for me to go back and pour my heart into something, it really had to be something where I felt I could make a mark.
One of the capabilities of Caremerge that attracted me to the company was family engagement: how do we keep family members — whether it’s siblings, nieces and nephews, or children, grandchildren — involved in this aging process, and feeling positive about the aging experience, was something that spoke to me.
What we’re doing in the senior living market is delivering wellness solutions for seniors who are still vibrant and active: how do we help them stay that way, and live out all the dimensions of wellness fully? And then once they start to experience failing in their health, how do we help caregivers serve them appropriately, and bring all of that ecosystem together around that aging adult? Because it does take a village to move through the aging experience.
In the senior living market, operators and providers are working on the new image of senior living. The old image is nursing home: the new image is active communities for older adults who can simplify their lives; move into houses or apartments that have less maintenance; and spend their free time really enjoying their life, their family, their friends.
There’s a category of life plan communities or continuing care retirement communities where you can move in when you’re still active and enjoy life, and then as your needs change, the community is there to help provide the support services you need. And they generally have very active, vibrant and independent living organizations. They have assisted living, if you’re in need of mobility help or are vision impaired, and they also have memory care units if you or your partner has dementia or Alzheimer’s — all within the same campus. And so you may move in because your friends are there — or you may create a new cohort of friends — and then not have to transition as your needs change.
We help those independent residents engage in the community, create new groups of friends, engage in the fitness or mental health requirements, or serve their spiritual and emotional needs. We help them serve all of their dimensions of wellness and maintain that independence as long as possible. We help the staff deliver the programming to the residents so they can maintain their wellness. And then as needs change and there is the need for assistance, we provide a clinical solution that helps staff deliver meds, administer help and support, and share all of that information with family members, and keep the family members involved in the process. This is what our platform does.
Surround yourself with experts
Scott: Often in tech it’s advantageous to come from a different industry than the one you’re entering, because you’re looking at it fresh. Healthcare, not so much! What’s your background that sets you up to step into this role?
Nancy: My background is technology. I started my career at Motorola, and then went to a smarter, smaller company — never turned back: I like the small environment — in B2B eCommerce. I moved into healthcare in 2007, and I have an appreciation for the clinical chops that you need to have in the organization. So like all good leaders, I have to surround myself with people who understand the clinical implications of what we do. That’s how I do it.
A portion of our solutions that we bring to market require knowledge of mobile apps and new outlets like voice-enabled solutions — that’s becoming incredibly popular. It’s taken us a little time to get it right, to be honest. We’ve gone to market in a couple of our communities with voice-enabled technology as a medium to get into our solutions: so asking Alexa what’s on the dining menu, rather than opening up my smartphone, is one of the use cases we see.
But what makes it really special in serving older adults is you have people who may have dexterity challenges, arthritis, or low vision, macular degeneration. One of the strongest adopters was a gentleman who had macular degeneration and low vision, and he has said that this has helped him actually improve his independence, because he can get access to community information through Alexa. So that’s some of the really special use cases that you see in voice-enabled smart speakers and technology in this space.
Everything from UI design to how do you deliver responses and queue up the interaction: voice technology is a whole new design category that’s emerging. It’s going to be a big category.
Discover repeatable wins through metrics
Scott: Bringing in a new CEO, you have to assess things you’re going to kill and things you’re going to invest in, and right the ship but not so fast that people fall over. What was it like for you to come into a business that you didn’t found?
Nancy: I really want to applaud Asif Khan and his co-founder Fahad Aziz for what they did in terms of founding Caremerge. I came into Caremerge when we had found our product areas, and there was a need to operationalize and scale. When I took over the reigns from Asif, we had a great transition — and I can say that because in a former life, I’ve seen a lot of mergers and acquisitions and acquired a lot of companies, and it’s a delicate process for a founder who’s poured their heart and soul into a company to hand over the reigns. It’s difficult, it’s emotional.
So we had a great transition, and when I came into Caremerge, it was really around settling into some operational rigor around everything: the way we develop products, the way we sell our products, the way we market our products, and really driving into a more repeatable process so we get a repeatable outcome. So it wasn’t a dramatic, we’re not going to do this anymore. It was really, we’re going to do this better, and we’re going to execute like hell.
We picked operational lines to start with. We started to become very metrics-driven in our selling process, because we needed to find a process that worked and was repeatable, and which we had known outcomes for. We’re not there yet, but we’re a lot better than we were. And so we started being metrics-driven there: if you can prove metrics-driven processes and sales, then the rest of the organization can come along for the ride.
The way I’ve always led was, I’m not going to ask someone to do something that I’m not willing to do myself. Leadership by example is my go-to. And so that’s how we started at Caremerge.