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Homage is an online platform that provides on-demand caregiving solutions to the elderly in Singapore.
We sat down with Co-founder and CEO Gillian Tee to ask her about the inspirations behind the company, working in tech in the US vs. Singapore and why she hates the term ‘Silver Tsunami’.
Homage was founded in 2016 by Y-Combinator alumni Tee, Lily Phang, and Tong Duong. The team was motivated to start Homage when they saw a clear and urgent demand for in-home care for the elderly, who currently number more than 450,000 people in Singapore’s ageing population
What does Homage do?
Homage is the care giver and professional that walks through the door and provides a range of care giving services. We combine that with technology to make the process of managing and providing easier.
We have a full suite of mobile apps for both the care giver and the idea is to use technology to access care giving and make it much easier.
Are you a services or a technology company?
We are both. We combine the two aspects to provide that kind of security and peace of mind so families can trust us to take care of their loved ones. There are two aspects- nursing and care giving. From what we have seen, the care giving aspect supersedes the nursing aspect.
In healthcare, there is this term called ADL (Activities Daily Living) and its just activities that you and I do day to day and we don’t even think about it and take it for granted. But, if you can’t do it you can live independently. We help seniors with day to day things from the moment they wake up—personal hygiene, getting dressed etc.
How did this idea come about?
I moved home two years ago—my mum is in her 70s now and I wanted to spend more time with her. I have been away for a very long time on studies and work. I wanted to re-orient my life and focus on family and that was around the time I understood her needs were changing.
I fell so ill equipped and ill prepared and that’s where it started—I realized that the approach to aging hasn’t changed in the last 50 odd years. And that’s not just specific to Singapore, it’s specific to the world.
In Asia where you have full-time helpers, some of whom are nurses, how does this bridge the gap?
More than half of our care giving workforce (500 in total now) are nurses and the other half are care givers.
What that means in an industry of full-time foreign domestic workers , it’s counter-intuitive but it drives our service. A family that has help often engages us during a time when the helper has their hands full or when helpers have a day off.
Are you catering to the “silver tsunami” in Asia?
I hate the terminology silver tsunami. It makes aging sound like a natural disaster and it is absolutely not. It’s like there is no other outcome. It’s like death and complete destruction.
It’s true, it is inevitable. We are trying to be a component to the solution. We do see now that if you are well prepared and you have much more awareness of what’s coming and if you are prepared in advance, you are not scrambling, even from an emotional, family aspect.
You mentioned that all your care givers are Singaporean or PR. Is that because of the dialect and communication?
Connecting with them and using their language especially if they have dementia and other problems communicating in itself and to have someone give them that one on one attention is key and often you underestimate that. Think about a time when you were going through something in your life and you had a friend who was there took the time to be with you.
There is a lot that can be done with a care giver that gives you one on one attention and is not doing multiple things back to back with others.
Was it difficult showcasing an “unsexy” business to investors?
Investors care about strong business fundamentals and market opportunities. Of course, they look at the problem you can solve. If you can communicate the addressable business opportunity in any market- travel or in healthcare. To show how you run your business. The fundamentals should slay their cross in every business. Some of the good investors, they look for counterintuitive models, sunrise industries, underserved markets, particularly for healthcare and heal-tech.”
For us it’s important for us to work with people who know what we are doing. We have to prove our whole business side but if they are in line with our values, the fact that we are really dead serious about this, then we can double bottom line this impact.
Are you a social enterprise? Is there a conflict between the doing good and making money part?
Technically speaking if it’s defined as financially sustainable enterprise, then its good. The reason is in the US there is this new category called B-corp and there are all these responsibilities as one.
I think the [social enterprise]definition can get a bit hairy. I think the more seniors we reach, from a business aspect that’s great. But also from a doing good aspect—growth is important.
What has been your biggest lesson learnt with Homage?
Leading by the heart always works, you have to connect at your core with what you put your time towards because there are many times that people don’t see the hard work behind startups. It can seem like startups is all about going to conferences and looking good with press.
Learning to always go back to the fundamentals – keep your head on your shoulders and feet on the ground. Continue being really humble and focused on the core of what you are doing. The very first reason behind why you are doing this and making the impact you set out to do.