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At little over a year old, Elder is already taking the private home care sector by storm as a live-in care service provider with a network of 800 professional one-to-one carers in over 65 towns and cities across the UK.
Here, Salience talks to serial entrepreneur, Peter Dowds, Co-Founder at Elder, about his resilience, developing a strong company culture and how not to import Japanese beer.
Salience: Have Elder’s main objectives changed over the past year?
PD: Yes, we initially focused on just providing hourly care visits to customers in London. However, we found that we were able to provide a much better customer experience if we focused on live-in care and building a permanent relationship between the customer and the carer.
Salience: How did you identify the message you wanted to communicate?
PD: This all comes from truly understanding your customer and the specific problems they face. For us, that is the families of people requiring long-term care and the paucity of information that exists for them when they are trying to figure out how to look after their loved ones. This often comes at a time of heightened stress e.g. immediately after their mum or dad has had a fall. We saw the opportunity to serve as an information point first, and then a service provider once trust was built.
Salience: As your second startup, is there anything that you did differently with Elder than with your first?
PD: We’ve avoided making a lot of the same mistakes and instead just made lots of new ones! We were fortunate to raise a seven-figure seed investment round before we launched from an investor, whom we had built a good relationship with during our first business. This helped significantly, from initial hires to marketing the service. Building supply and demand, focusing on the customer, hiring great people and developing a strong company culture are other areas that are helped with prior experience of building a fast growing company.
Salience: What is your vision for Elder in the short and long-term?
PD: Our vision is for Elder to be the credible alternative to care homes and become the biggest provider of long-term care in Europe. That being said, there are many obstacles that we need to overcome to achieve this and there is a long road ahead, but we fundamentally believe that we have the model, team and grit required to do it. In the short-term, we aim to be the biggest provider of live-in care in the UK, within the next 18 months.
Salience: Why is now the time for your company to exist?
PD: The 65m(+) population in the UK is going to grow by 50% in the next 17 years. In that same period, the number of people diagnosed with dementia is going to grow by 500k. The demand for long-term care is vast and that is problematic when you look at the state of the current market. 4,000 care home beds disappeared last year due to care home closures. 12% of care home operators are classified as ‘zombie’ companies with liabilities greater than their net assets. Alongside all of this, 97% of people would rather remain at home than move to a care home. We believe that we can make this happen, wherever they are in the UK.
Salience: What are some of the characteristics of people that have been successful at your startups?
PD: We look for determination and positivity. When you’re part of a fast-growing company, it is never just ‘up and to the right’. People with these character traits typically overcome tough challenges and are not deterred by failure, which means that they tend to excel.
Salience: What are the characteristics that have made you successful as a founder?
PD: Resilience has served Tom and I well from our early (failed!) ideas through to Mopp (our first start-up) and now with Elder. The ability to keep yourself and your team moving forwards even when things go completely wrong is critically important. That’s not to say we don’t pause to reflect on how to improve and where we went wrong, but we don’t like to become paralysed by analysis and inaction. Also, the sustained ability to stay focused on what matters. It is very easy to get distracted by ‘shiny’ things – partnerships, conferences, talks etc., but ignoring that and focusing on our customers and our team, keeps us on the right track.
Salience: Do you find yourself regularly out of your comfort zone and if so, how do you deal with this?
PD: All the time. If you’re going to build a business that makes an impact, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. At least once per week there are those moments when your stomach tightens and you wish you could avoid what you’re about to do. The key is to do it anyway. It’s always worth it.
Salience: What have you most enjoyed about the experience of running your own startups?
PD: Sharing the experience of building businesses with your best friend is pretty special. At university, Tom and I would constantly talk through random business, so doing it for real is great. I will also never tire of customer feedback. It’s fantastic to see people from across the UK become and remain Elder customers and that we are able to play a role in helping them and their family, at an often, very difficult time.
Salience: What advice would you give to aspiring founders?
PD: Don’t just dip your toe in. If you have an idea and believe it can work, give it everything you have. It’s a lot harder to make something a success if you only spend 50% of your time on it. The sooner you can dedicate all your time to it, the better. Even if you ultimately fail, the learnings you will have taken from the experience will put you in fantastic stead for the future. Also, don’t import Japanese beer and sell it at twice the price of other beers. We tried that as our first business venture…