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The company provides products, as well as educational guides and emotional and financial support
My grandmother had dementia, which turned my mother and my uncle into caregivers; the situation was difficult on everyone, financially and emotionally. Sadly, this is an all too common story for people in this country, where there are 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S., equaling over 20 percent of the population. These are people who are not trained for this work, who don't know what they're doing, and are often overwhelmed by the responsibility.
Bianca Padilla watched her own mother take care of her ailing grandmother and that is what led her to found Carewell, a company that provides family caregivers not only with easy to find products, but also educational guides and emotional and financial support.
"It really started with my mom caring for my grandmother. I live in a multi-generational household, and my grandmother began declining in age and in health. She got knee surgery and once we came to bring her home from the rehab center, I witnessed my own mom really struggle to provide this care for her," Padilla told me in an interview.
"We were both really nervous; we live in a multi-level house, and we didn't know how we would take her up and down the stairs and care for her wounds and manage incontinence and all these different things. And that’s where the idea came from and the experience for us really was highlighted."
The company, which has been bootstrapped since its founding in 2016, announced on Wednesday that it raised $5 million in an oversubscribed seed funding from e.ventures, NextView Ventures and Primetime Partners. Other investors included Jason Klinghoffer, former VP of growth marketing at Chewy.com, and Nadia Boujarwah and Lydia Gilbert, founders of Dia&Co.
Along with the funding, it was also announced that e.ventures Founding Partner Mathias Schilling joined Carewell’s Board of Directors, while NextView Partner David Beisel will act as a Board observer.
"We are incredibly grateful to have access to investors who aren't just really smart and successful but are extremely generous with their time and their advice," said Padilla.
"Mathias and David are super hands on, and as young entrepreneurs, my husband and I, we cannot overstate just how much we appreciate being surrounded by people who can share stories of both successes and failures and really recommend the best practices that have worked across a number of verticals, not just ecommerce or not just health care, but they have experience across all different industries."
The Carewell platform
While Carewell began as an incontinent subscription service, it has now grown to provide products for caregivers to buy in categories that include medical supplies, cleaning supplies, kitchen and dining, and meal replacements. Customers are able to call and order products over the phone, or order individually online. The company also recently set up an autoship feature, allowing its customers to set up recurring shipments of products they buy frequently.
"It gives them one less thing to worry about and no fear of running low, especially when it comes to nutritional products or incontinence products. You don't want to run low on these products because then you're having accidents or you're physically going hungry. And so, we were able to reduce some distress that way," said Padilla, who stressed to me that the company is an ecommerce company, not a marketplace.
"There's no third party listings at all. It is purely e-commerce. We really want to control the entire experience. We maintain really healthy relationships with manufacturers of the products, which is actually how we learn a lot about these products is through nurses, as well as the manufacturers."
In addition to selling products, Carwell also provides its customers with educational resources; after a customer places their order, the company maintains regular contact with them, including sending emails about topics such as finding ways to socialize as a caregiver, helping them find caregiver-specific tax breaks or how to ease back into meditation or exercise.
"Any advice that we can share that can help them emotionally, physically, financially, or things that we write about. And I want to highlight that the people who are writing this are staff writers, they're not people with zero experience. They're people who have been there, they’ve done that, and they want to help others avoid the same mistakes that they made as an amateur caregiver."
Customer care agents
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Carewell platform, though, are its customer care agents, which allows customers to call in with questions such as, "What's the best product for this particular use case?" or "This product didn't work out, what's something else that I can use?"
"The human to human contact, that phone call, is one of the most important, if not the most critical, point of differentiation between our company and everyone else's," Padilla explained.
Right now the company has around 13 customer care agents, all of whom have at least a bachelor's degree, and who are screened for certain qualities, such as friendliness, patience and the ability to empathize with another person's situation. These employees are also put through multiple different kinds of training, including on the products that Carewell sells, in partnership with several of the manufacturers, along with a three day empathy training course.
"We're really trying to help our customer care team understand how to communicate effectively by authentically listening, so that we can really aim to understand the problem first, to solve these problems with really compassionate guidance," said Padilla.
"When somebody calls in, they might start by asking very specific product questions, but they'll open up about how isolating and lonely caregiving is. Somebody who builds relationships, and who can really get to the root of the problem and make somebody feel heard and listened to is the most important thing when recruiting and bringing somebody new onto the team."
Redefining home health care
The first thing that Carewell did when it raised the funding was build out its leadership team, including hiring Jeremy Mayes as Head of Marketing; Josh Miller as Director of Engineering; Sarah Serbiak as Director of Merchandising; and Valerie Henderson as Director of Content and Communications.
Going forward, the company now plans to expand its product offerings, while also building out its educational resources, such as how to guides in partnership with health care professionals, while also improving and streamlining the customer experience.
"That leads you to just being able to provide better and more training with subject matter experts like nurses and doctors and dementia specialists and things like that. So, those are kind of the core components of what we'll be focused on," said Padilla.
This funding comes as the home health care space is being upended by the COVID pandemic. Carewell, which has seen nearly 40,000 unique customers since February, also saw its revenue double as more people began shopping online, and they turned to the platform as a resource. .
"The nursing home landscape was already in decline. It's definitely never going to look the same again, because caregiving is going to just continue increasing and not just because of COVID, and the health dangers that are present, but also because so many people are working from home," said Padilla.
"If you think about it, they don't have to spend so much money putting their loved ones into a long term care facility, like they did back pre-COVID. When there was nobody in their house all day, to be able to care for their loved one, and make sure that they were safe."
All of this puts Carewell in the position to redefine the home health care space, by helping to relieve the emotional, physical and financial stresses that come with this type of work.
"Every time a caregiver calls or writes to tell us Carewell made them feel like they weren't alone in their caregiving journey, it just makes them feel like we've achieved this level of success, like we've accomplished what we set out to do. The more people that we can support and educate and bring into the Carewell family, the better," Padilla me.
"The market is just enormous: $470 billion of unpaid services are provided by family caregivers every year. They're really the hidden backbone to America's healthcare system and $88 billion is being spent out of pocket just on caregiving products alone, and it's growing every single year. So, we just want to make sure that we keep growing, year after year, while making a difference. That's why we're waking up every morning excited, it's to get to help people."
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