Increase In Start-Ups Targeting Boomers


North American entrepreneurs are increasingly seeing the potential of the baby boomer market. According to The New York Times, many companies are plugging into a wealthy slice of the over-50 demographic called the longevity market, whose annual economic activity currently amounts to US$7.6 trillion as estimated by AARP. With an estimated US$74.9 million baby boomers, according to Pew Research Center, the biggest market opportunity for start-ups is older Americans rather than hip millennials.

The staggering size of the total longevity economy has been attracting more entrepreneurs, deep-pocketed financiers and places to pitch new ideas in the past few years. New business ideas that cater to boomers include chefs, online dating sites and yoga instructors for people with health issues. Evelo, for instance, is an electric bike company in the U.S. which aims at making and marketing such vehicles, including one that folds, for older customers. Other services include companies that offer home downsizing, gyms for the 55-and-older demographic and meal kits for people with diabetes or heart conditions.

The New York Times further reported that AARP now holds yearly pitch events for entrepreneurs and even has its own incubator, The Hatchery. Entrepreneurs are also showing up at other events like the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit and those held by Aging 2.0, a San Francisco innovation accelerator.

Many start-ups are trying new ways to reach their target audiences. Evelo, the bicycle company, uses a network of about 300 so-called brand ambassadors to market to potential customers. They have bought a bike, registered on the site to be ambassadors, and can opt to take prospective buyers on test rides. After a bike purchase, the ambassador gets a cash incentive.

CNBC also reported on the booming trend of baby boomer start-ups. Companies such as Honor, Stitch and even Amazon are trying to tap into the over-50 demographic with innovative technology, but more importantly products that are easy to use and provide a service to an aging population.

Stitch was only started two years ago to address social isolation among older adults. The site, which now has 50,000 members in 50 cities around the world, connects boomers and seniors so they can socialize, travel, make friends and find companions. It is based on a subscription service which costs US$80 per year or US$15 per month.

Another start-up success story in this category is Honor – a caregiving app that’s known as the Uber of home care. The company connects older adults with caregivers for short-term jobs.

Amazon’s Echo voice-recognition device, for example, is especially appealing to someone in the over-50 demographic with its “skills” and unique, hands-free capabilities. AARP believes that Amazon is leading the way for other start-ups to enter this market. According to Jody Holtzman, senior vice president of market innovation at AARP, voice recognition will take the friction out of issues of technology usage. “You add on Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, the connected home, autonomous vehicles… Amazon Echo is a great new entry point to this,” she said. Through AARP’s demonstrations to venture capital companies, American start-ups targeting baby boomers raised well over US$100 million within the last 18 months. The advocacy organization wants to get the venture capital community to recognize the scope and scale of the investment and business opportunities in this space.

In Canada, there is also an increase of start-ups targeting baby boomers but with less support from industry associations. As posted on this blog before, Canadian travel site focuses on helping boomers personalize and travel to their bucket- list destinations in style and appear to be doing well since inception about two years ago. Other budding Canadian entrepreneurial ideas seem to be sprouting up around caregiving for boomers’ elderly parents, taking care of boomers’ pets, and bricks-and-mortars as well as online fitness centres for the age-defying boomers themselves.

But what is lacking in Canada is a consistent industry-wide effort to provide advice and resources for business ventures targeting boomers. Apart from taking a booth at the annual zoomer shows in Toronto and Vancouver organized by Moses Znaimer’s Zoomer Media Group, there are hardly any well-organized initiatives that encourage business incubators in this sector. Perhaps, CARP in Canada should take a few lessons from AARP in the U.S. and provide a platform for start-ups aiming at the baby boomer demographic to pitch to the venture capital community.

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Boomers More Tech Savvy Than Perception

Photo Credit: mobile-commerce-press

Photo Credit: mobile-commerce-press

The furor over Hillary Clinton’s use of emails has subsided but will certainly continue to haunt her during the U.S. general elections, particularly in the upcoming Presidential candidates debates.

But I have to agree with The New York Times which mentioned, on July 24, 2016, that “in all the failings hurled at Mrs. Clinton at the Republic National Convention – venality, murder and reckless disregard for national security – there was no mention of her internet ignorance.” She was far more obsessed with protecting herself from prying reporters and Republicans than enemy hackers. According to the publication’s report, when a State Department deputy chief of staff for operations suggested in a 2010 email that she use the government system to avoid spam, she declined, writing, “I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.”

There was speculation that one of the personal secrets she was hiding was possibly her discomfort with the digital revolution. There were also tons of evidence if you buy this argument. On July 24, 2010, Hillary Clinton had trouble using her iPad. She wrote an email to a close aide, “I don’t know if I have WIFI. How do I find out?” On October 7, 2012, she again emailed that aide, “Do you know what channel on the TV in DC is the program listing? And specifically, what channel is Showtime?” She added that she wanted to watch Homeland. In fact, Clinton acknowledged her own weakness with what she wrote in the subject line of the Showtime email, “stupid question.”

There were also signs that Clinton acknowledged her weakness in technology and wanted to improve. She asked her former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, to lend her a book called “Send: Why People Email So Badly and How To Do It Better.” But would her admission of her technological ignorance lead to even more Republican attacks or mitigate the distrust in her by a huge number of Americans? I am not sure.

It is important to bear in mind that not every baby boomer or senior citizen is a Hillary Clinton. There is still a huge misconception out there that baby boomers are technologically challenged. But this is a myth that needs to be debunked. Contrary to popular belief, mature adults are incredibly active on social networks and more tech savvy than most younger people realize. A Forbes article on January 29, 2013 pointed out that while baby boomers are not always the first adopters of new technology, it’s more out of a sense of being thoughtful about purchases than about being unwilling to engage with the latest devices.

Also, boomers are interacting and shopping online at a rate that definitely outstrips most marketers’ conception of what they are doing. A Nielsen study of baby boomers in 2012, for example, found that baby boomers make up a third of all internet users, and that a third of those boomers describe themselves as “heavy internet users.”

According to Tech.Co, a media company focusing on tech and startups, while many people complain today about being tied to their phones, baby boomers have a different attitude about their smartphones. Eight-two percent of boomers and seniors who own a smartphone described their phones as representing freedom rather than a leash! Because boomers use their smartphones for tasks such as actually speaking to fellow human beings and sending some text messages, they are not on their phones as often as younger generations. Nowadays, God forbid that the Millennials will ever be caught talking on the phone! Constant texting and use of social media are the rigueur du jour for the younger generations.

Although the inventor of email, Ray Tomlinson, passed away in March 2016, emails will never die! According to another Nielsen study, while 38 percent of people aged 15 to 20 annoy their parents by staring at their phones while dining, 45 percent of GenXers and a whopping 52 percent of baby boomers engage in this behaviour as well. Different generations just use technology differently. For baby boomers, email may still be the way to go although most of my boomer friends text and What’sApp as often as I do (which is quite frequently)!

Coming back to Hillary Clinton’s traits of technological ignorance, at least she had admitted in private that she was having problems and was willing to learn. My advice to marketers targeting baby boomers is never to mock or talk down to them about their technological knowledge and savvy. Focus on customer service and quality content and treat them with respect. As older generations are more used to having one-on-one interaction with the people they are making purchases from, consider having a live chat on your website or encourage older customers to get in touch with you on Facebook with questions and concerns.

To my fellow baby boomers, I would encourage you to constantly learn how to better use technology. When would-be retirees ask me how they should spend their time after retirement, my first advice would be to encourage them to enroll in technology classes to upgrade their knowledge of the Internet and social media. People who have kids risk losing touch with the younger generation if they are ignorant in technology and become irrelevant to society. We will never be technologically savvier than the younger generations, but a better understanding of the use of technology will not only draw us closer to the rest of the world, but will, above all, help enrich our own lives.

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We Are Women, Hear Us Roar!

hillary clinton

Whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, June 7, 2016 was a significant day in North American history when she became the presumptive U.S. Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party and will become the first woman in the 240-year history of the U.S. to lead the presidential ticket of a major political party. Bernie Sanders’s supporters seem to think that her victory was a vast conspiracy perpetrated by the establishment and Wall Street, but ever since Hillary won the Californian primary, both Sanders and his followers have been very quiet. In fact, nobody talked about her win or his loss in California – I literally had to google it to find out what the final score was.

Even Hillary’s former critics, such as Senator Elisabeth Warren, finally came out and endorsed her. Obama also officially announced his own endorsement for his former Secretary of State and embarked on his national tour to campaign for her. Most white American men continue to intensely dislike Hillary. Many young men and women, particularly the millennials, support Sanders and see Hillary as “Killary,” “Shillary,” or “the witch.”

As Elisabeth Renzetti of The Globe and Mail said, female politicians must walk a narrow path between forcefulness and likeability. Hillary is distinctly qualified, decisive, smart, strong and tough. But these attributes do not make her likeable. In her endorsement of Hillary, Elisabeth Warren said that “for 25 years, Hillary’s been taking the incomings. The right wing has thrown everything they possibly can at her. Other people would have given up, but Hillary gets back up and she gets back in the fight.” Above all, she cares. And for many of us boomer women, her win represents all our hard work to get equal rights, equal pay and to express a strong opinion at the same table as powerful men in the board room.

I was bitterly disappointed eight years ago when Hillary had to cede the race to Barack Obama. In her concession speech, she lamented about her failure to crack “the highest, hardest glass ceiling.” But she got up, came back and keeps fighting. That’s what women should always do in a men’s world. Hillary is always among the smartest in any room, back in those Arkansas days when she became the first woman director on the board of Walmart – a position she held for six years. She is by no means perfect, but she has always inspired other women by the years of service she has devoted to her fellow Americans and her tenacity in spite of the many criticisms that came her way over the years.

I was relieved and gratified to see Hillary clinch the Democratic nomination. While watching her joyous victory speech on TV that historic night on June 7, I marveled at the numerous text messages I’ve received from other fellow boomer women, sharing their pride and excitement. But I’m waiting for the glorious moment on November 9 when we can truly celebrate this feminist icon’s victory as the first female President in the most powerful nation of the world. Only then can we tell our daughters and granddaughters that nothing is out of reach for women.

This has been, indeed, a good month for female politicians. In Europe, Rome has elected its first female mayor – 37-year-old lawyer Virginia Raggi of the 5-Star Movement – who won 67 percent of the vote in the second round. Her rival, Democrat Roberto Giachetti, who was backed by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, conceded defeat less than an hour after polls closed. Another 5-Star candidate, Chiara Appendino, also won the mayoral race in Turin with 55 percent of the vote. In a male-dominated, chauvinistic political environment in Italy, these two female leaders are trailblazers facing daunting tasks of trying to solve corruption, traffic and mafia problems.

The road ahead will be undeniably rocky for all these women politicians. The battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the general elections will be bloody, brutal and ugly. In Rome, cynics are already snubbing the newly elected Raggi, predicting her not-too-distant failure. But having worked my way up to become the first double-minority (female and visible minority) partner of Canada’s largest communications firm, I believe this is just the beginning of a new chapter for all women and am confident that the future can only be bright for us all.

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Importance Of End-Of-Life Care

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

While everybody has been debating about the pros and cons of the proposed Bill C-14 on the right to die in Canada, another important topic is being sidelined – the access to and the quality of palliative care.

Specialists believe that there is too much fear surrounding discussions about end-of-life care. They said it is not about what happens when all treatments have failed, but a team of people – such as doctors, nurses, social workers and others – helping make sure Canadians have what they need to continue fighting while relieving the severity of symptoms and improving quality of life. According to palliative care experts, part of the challenge is that there will be legislation around the right to assisted death but there is neither legislation nor enough clinicians to adequately provide end-of-life care across Canada.

Dr. Jeff Myers, the head of Palliative Care at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, believes end-of-life care should be provided by family doctors, specialists and many other health care professionals who are already treating people for disease. This includes basic symptom management, emotional and mental health support, and the ability to discuss advance care planning and goals of care. He said then we can be certain that people are making assisted dying requests having had access to the full spectrum of care, regardless of how long they have left to live and regardless of what challenging conditions they are living with.

Another end-of-life care expert, Harvey Max Chochinov, who is Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care and Director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit, wrote in The Toronto Star last year that despite the impressive strides that palliative care has taken, physicians have been taught less about pain management than those graduating from veterinary medicine. Once in practice, most physicians have knowledge deficiencies that can significantly impair their ability to manage cancer pain. Doctors are also not generally well-trained to engage in end-of-life conversations, meaning that goals of care often remain unclear; and patients may not receive the care they want or the opportunity to live out their final days in the place they would want to die.

According to Professor Chochinov, it is unfortunate that for 70 to 80 percent of Canadians, palliative care is not available and, therefore, not a real choice. It is concerning that we might become a country that extends patients the right to a hastened death, but offers no legislative guarantees or assurances that they will be well looked after until they die.

Palliative care doctors are urging the Canadian government to improve and standardize end-of-life care across the country. According to Dr. David Henderson, President of the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, there is a lack of palliative care service and it is unevenly distributed. In Canada, the federal government provides guidelines on health services and funding, but the provinces and territories manage them. Palliative care doctors would like to see one body set up to decide what are best practices in end-of-life care, how to mobilize them and set standards, and to collect data. Dr. Henderson said there needs to be palliative care training for new doctors and other health care workers as well as upgrading of skills for those already practicing. Fewer Canadians might opt for doctor-assisted death if palliative care services were improved.

Dr. Henderson also recently co-wrote in a Globe and Mail op-ed article with Dr. Susan MacDonald, Past President of the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, that while Bill C-14 is in the process of becoming law, palliative care units in Ontario are closing due to funding cuts, and there is no law on the table about the right to end-of-life care. Tragically, many people die at home, with no access to palliative care supports such as home care nursing or visits from a family doctor or, when needed, a palliative care team.

The two doctors strongly advocated that now is the time for a national palliative-care program. “Dying is a part of life,” they said. “We should not let our incomes, our postal codes or our family support networks determine how well or how poorly we die. We need to think about this, discuss it – and fix it. The time is right to insist that our health ministers address this issue in Canada’s new health accord.”

Too much focus has been placed on the June 6 deadline for passing Bill C-14, but not enough discussions have been made on understanding the urgency of universal access to quality palliative care in Canada. As the nation debates its response to the court’s decision, it is, perhaps, equally important for federal and provincial governments to make sizable investments in hospice and palliative care in order to offer patients and families choices that are fair, compassionate and real.


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Toronto Wins With Legalization Of Uber

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

As a staunch supporter of Uber, I was overjoyed to hear that Toronto finally joined Edmonton and Ottawa in legalizing Uber. Kudos to both Mayor John Tory and Uber’s own tireless efforts to rally all loyal supporters, riders and drivers. After months of protests, turmoil and, at times, violence, Toronto city council approved new rules in a marathon meeting last week that finally allowed a legal, regulated UberX to continue operating in Canada’s largest city.

Mayor Tory convinced council to vote 27-15 in favour of the following new rules:

  • Allow private transportation companies like Uber to operate in Toronto, booked only through a smartphone app, with a $3.25 minimum fare (Uber will pay $0.30 per trip as a “city fee”) and “surge” peak-time pricing.
  • Allow taxis to adopt a “surge” peak-time pricing for rides booked via smartphone app.
  • Uber cars are not allowed to be hailed on the street. Taxi rides that are hailed on the street, at a taxi stand or ordered over the phone, still face regulated rates set by the city with no “surge” pricing.
  • Taxis will continue to be required to have cameras, and flashing emergency lights, but not for Uber. Have city staff report back next year on whether private transportation companies like Uber need cameras.
  • Ensure Uber and taxis have insurance of at least $2 million on all drivers for bodily injury, death and damages to people or property.
  • Undo 2014 reforms that would have phased out ownership of “standard” plates as a commodity and ensure all cabs be accessible for disabled by 2014.
  • The city will eliminate its requirements for drivers to take training programs in order to get a licence; and taxi and limousine drivers will no longer have to take CPR and first-aid training.

As a consumer who frequently relies on taxi and Uber rides, I believe the city has struck a right balance. We continue to have value-for-money ride-sharing services and with the new rules, passengers’ safety is safeguarded with the stipulation of insurance for Uber. While most passengers do not like “surge pricing,” we still maintain the option of calling a cab by phone or hailing one on the street.

Of course, the new legislation is not perfect and grey areas continue to exist. I would prefer Uber vehicles to be mandated to install cameras in order to ensure safety for passengers. There does not seem to be tightened legislation on criminal background checks on Uber drivers and this still puts thousands of ride-sharing passengers in some sort of danger.

Taxi drivers are obviously not happy because they now officially face stiff competition. While Uber’s spokesperson in Canada said they can live with the new rules, they also expressed concern that higher expenses would discourage part-time drivers to join Uber as it would be challenging to maintain a sound livelihood with the new system.

But, all in all, this is a good, solid confirmation of democracy and a freedom of choice for the fourth largest city in North America. Mayor Tory and city council should be lauded for listening to consumers and embracing new technology; striking a reasonable balance between taxi companies and ride-sharing services; paving the road for the advent of more ride-hailing companies such as Lyft; and making a commitment to review and adapt the rules and legislation pertaining to ride-sharing in a year’s time.

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