Liz [00:00:08] Hey, today I’m here with Robert Blat, CEO and co-founder at Envoy at Home, and we’re here to talk a little bit about your company and your experience of launch lane and just life in general right now during this pandemic. Can you tell me a little bit more about Envoy at home and why you started the company?
Robert [00:00:32] Sure, I’d be happy to. Let me just first start by thanking you for the opportunity to be here. This is great. We’re in crazy times with this pandemic, and this is a great forum just to tell our story. The impetus actually for Envoy at home started a few years ago when I lost my dad. A lot of these technology stories have a personal connection, a personal story. And what motivated me was the loss of my dad a few years back. My parents were living in Florida about a thousand miles away from here, and I’m in fairly short order. I found myself as a remote caregiver with a mom who is a little over 80 years old at the time with bad knees. Now she finds herself living alone here in New Jersey. I have a sister in Chicago when we find ourselves as caregivers. And so what do you do? You still want to be able to support your loved one. But there are the challenges, of course, being so remote and as any good son would do and any good engineer would do. I started looking for solutions that I could use that would fit into our lifestyle. And at the time there was really nothing available. So, you know, necessity, being the mother of all invention motivated me to start this idea of a [00:01:57]digital caregiving concept that would allow us to be there when we really can’t be there in a way that provides what we didn’t really know. What the time was, was a remote and touchless experience for caregiving [14.1s] and. It’s been an incredible journey since we started this, and it has evolved into something much larger. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the need was far greater than we ever anticipated. And so we created this product, which evolved into [00:02:33]Envoy at home to provide digital caregiving, remote, touchless solution for family caregivers and service providers for seniors who live alone. [11.0s] What we discovered. That as big as the problem was, it was actually. A lot greater and what we learned was that the cost of aging in the United States is actually a crisis and hiding in plain sight. You know, I don’t know if you have an older mom, but you’re supporting. But as a nation, we’re running out of caregivers. The demographics of the population are such that there are now 40 million seniors living alone. And interestingly enough, twenty out of twenty-four hours a day, even pre covid seniors generally spend their day in isolation and post covid or now in a covid world. That problem is only exacerbated with even longer periods of social isolation from a financial perspective. This is really a challenging issue for our country by twenty twenty-nine, which is not that far off. Fifty-four percent of seniors won’t even be able to afford senior housing. And so the idea for new solutions, [00:03:54]how can we enable seniors and their families to live more independently at a much lower cost? [5.3s] Is is what really drives us at Envoy at home is what really was the impetus of starting the company and is what is helping us move forward.
Liz [00:04:11] Yeah, and I think the first time the first time that we met in person, I had mentioned my mom having lupus and my grandmother having Alzheimer’s, and my mom and my grandmother both spend a lot of time in isolation already. And I’m always wondering what’s going on, especially with my grandmother. I actually just recently looked on Google Maps and to see just to look at the state of the house that I grew up in where which is the house that my grandmother’s in. And she was in the window in the Google map, in the Google Earth picture, because that’s all she does for most of the day. She’s standing in that window and I am assuming much of the day, but I really don’t know because we don’t have any way to see inside of where she’s living right now. If you go in, you see her, you’re there. If you’re taking care of her that day. My family’s on a rotation to make sure she’s always got somebody around. But really, we don’t know what’s what she’s doing when no one’s there. I just happened to capture her and Google Earth. And now I’m just thinking, what is she really doing all day? And when I think about my grandmother, it makes me think more about my parents and their aging. And it’s you know, it’s companies like Envoy for Home that are really making a difference for people who have loved ones to care about. And it’s just scary to me to think about. So think about not knowing most of the time, I just ignore it, but it would be really nice to be able to track these things. And so thank you for doing the work that you’re doing. I think it is really, really important. And I’m looking forward to seeing what we all continue to do with this project. And speaking of what you’re doing with this project right now, you’re part of Launch lane when you applied for Launch lane. What were your hopes and what were you looking to get out of it?
Robert [00:06:20] Before I actually answer that question, I want to come back to something you said about being, you know, being a little bit scared about not knowing, and what we are finding is that caregiving. Ends up being a lot of guesswork because you just don’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know and there’s only so much you can be there. And so what? One of the things we like to say is we take the guesswork out of caregiving for that very reason and try to use data to help us understand, help caregivers and families understand how to make some important decisions about improving the lives. And so if you know that mom or grandma is spending so much time in that room, and it could very easily be as simple as a phone call or using other interactive technologies to get a reengaged and socialize. And it’s just knowing, you know, having the data and having your insight takes a lot of the scariness out of it. And we really hope to bring a lot of peace of mind to, you know, all these kinds of situations. But back to your question at hand around launch lane and what we hope to get out of it now we see the University Science Center and launch Lane as an unmatched brand in the region. And we believe that launch lane, breadth and depth of experience, and a relationship combined with our passion for wanting to solve this difficult problem is just an extraordinary opportunity for us. And it was the kind of relationship and partnership that we were seeking in the accelerator. So it’s really we view it as a great partnership. And we view it as a great opportunity to combine forces, if you will, and bring something very important to the market to help families and communities and. Caregivers in general.
Liz [00:08:17] Now that we’re now that we’ve been doing launch lane virtual and everything is pretty much gone virtual, how have your priorities shifted, if at all?
Robert [00:08:30] Well, they have shifted, which is, you know, is probably not a surprise, I think that they’ve shifted for a lot of folks. We’ve had to prioritize and rebuild our entire approach to onboarding home care agencies who are reseller partners to comply with social distancing, as you may know, but not sure everyone here is going to be watching this knows. But our solution is built on inexpensive motion sensors placed in a senior’s living space and our intellectual properties, our software in the cloud that translates movement data into actionable information that family caregivers and professionals can use. So going back to that 20-hour idea that seniors living alone, you know, and you add in social distancing and you realize how elusive peace of mind is, know, we felt it was so important to prioritize and get our resellers on board in a way that they can support social distancing. And we had to make that a low-touch process and a frictionless process. So where we’re operating under a greater sense of urgency to get our solution in the hands of people that can help. And so that was a big change for us. The whole idea of how do you get this into people’s homes in an environment where there’s a pandemic. Pandemic where. Traveling is restricted, there’s a risk of being in the same space, there are social distancing guidelines now across the country, you know, presented a lot of challenges for us. But, you know, it helped us rethink our approach that ultimately will make us stronger for it.
Liz [00:10:14] Yeah, I agree, and I mean, I’m just in knowing how your product works, I imagine that there may be some new opportunities for you coming out of this as well. I mean, maybe some new ways to think about how your products are being used. Have you thought about that at all?
Robert [00:10:34] You know, then yeah, we’re always thinking about ways of how our product can be used, but in I think the consumer is actually rethinking the idea of caregiving and some of the challenges that they’re having and the notion of remote and how it affects their ability to still be connected to their loved one, which in some regards it pays to pave the way. I mean, there have been some challenges along the way. I mean, we’ve you know, we’ve had some ups and downs in the process. We’ve, you know, some of our potential partners who were sitting on the fence are signed contracts with us. They’re excited to move forward, which, you know, couldn’t make us any more excited about it. And it’s really in that regard, it’s been really, really great. There have been some other really good. Aspects of the journey and even through the pandemic journey as well. We have a great team who’s been incredibly agile, especially our product team, which with clinical expertise, led by Joshua Littlejohn. I am just very proud of the team that we have. They’ve really stepped up. You know, on the flip side, there have been some challenges. Our time to market has been a little bit longer than we’ve expected. We’re dealing with human activity and human nature and our customers and our brand is something that has to have an important aspect of trust. And so we took our time, if you will, to make sure that, you know, our algorithms, our technology, our intellectual property, were strong enough to be able to support the needs of our clients. And so, you know, we’ve had some, you know, highs and lows and ups and downs in the process. But all of them make us for a stronger, a stronger entity.
Liz [00:12:41] Yeah, I definitely think going through going through anything will anything troubling will make you stronger. But definitely this pandemic, I think I think a lot of companies that do make it through are going to come out of this with a lot of new ways of thinking, a lot of new ideas and knowledge and strengths just because that’s what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Right.
Robert [00:13:09] Yeah, it’s you know, the day never starts off the way you expect it, you know, I don’t know if that’s true for every business, but certainly, it’s very true when you’re starting a new business.
Liz [00:13:19] Yeah, definitely. And have you at all? Have you applied for any of the pandemic-related grants or loans for Envoy at Home?
Robert [00:13:35] right. Thank you. Yes, we are. We haven’t you know, we didn’t meet the criteria for the PPP. However, we continue to stay abreast of grant opportunities, and we would certainly consider applying for a grant if it was the right opportunity. But, you know, the covid-19 related economic grants, the helicopter money, so to speak, you know, wasn’t really a fit for where we are as a business at this point time.
Liz [00:14:10] Yeah, it’s been really challenging and in a lot of the conversations that I’ve been having, a lot of the startups haven’t really been able to take advantage of these opportunities. I think, if anything, the new pandemic unemployment is one thing that some people have been able to take advantage of. But besides that, it’s just very difficult. And the money is gone just as quickly as it’s posted online as an opportunity. So I wish everybody luck in that for people who are looking. But it’s difficult because we need to have more money available for earlier-stage startups. It would just be it would be great to know that we’re supporting the future of the startup community because essentially that’s where eventually that will be. There’s the potential for those companies to really impact our economy in a very positive way. So that’s what I’m hoping for at least.
Robert [00:15:15] We can’t stop innovating. Innovating is not going to be stopped by a pandemic. And in fact, this weekend I will be participating as a mentor, MIT post COVID challenge. So there’s tons of activity and new ideas being explored all the time and. The pandemic only provides for those who are creative and entrepreneurial, a fresh round of discovery, a fresh round of opportunity, a fresh ground for value proposition, there will be a new normal. The pandemic, I believe, anyway, will change a lot for many of us. And I think those who are quick to understand it and figure it out will have great opportunities ahead of them.
Liz [00:16:10] What would you say, if anything, you’ve learned from this experience?
Robert [00:16:17] So, you know, I think I’ve come to learn that senior care is a basic human need. You know, senior care doesn’t stop during a pandemic. And I think what’s very interesting about senior care is that covid, in particular, is really a paradox. This crisis is really a paradox in that in most crises, you know, families tend to come together. But with covid and the social distancing, it prevents families from coming together, particularly families with, you know, older, older loved ones. And so it’s really what I’ve learned is that there’s never been more urgent time to bring solutions forward that have to deal with [00:17:11]connecting people together in a remote, less touchless world. [2.8s] And we think at some point home, it breaks down the wall, you know, to help families with peace of mind, certainly during a pandemic. So, you know, that is my first big takeaway learning that, you know, senior care. We talk about health care as being a basic human need. You know senior care is a little bit different than that. I mean, we talked about it earlier about social isolation. And there are so many issues that are very unique to seniors.
Liz [00:17:42] And we’re all aging and we’re all waiting for some reason, don’t think about that, you know?
Robert [00:17:48] That’s right. And I didn’t think about it until I started on this journey. And it was an eye-opening experience. And it really wasn’t even until the pandemic, actually, when it became more clear or clearer that there are some you know, there’s a lot of important issues that families and seniors and providers for seniors that have been unmet, a lot of important needs have been unmet. And I don’t know if it’s because of innovation or if people just didn’t understand the market need or what have you. But the pandemic is really sort of clear this up for me. I mean, it’s never been more obvious. I will also say that the entire telehealth concept, which you know, I think everybody is now reading about, has dramatically accelerated and transformed how consumers are viewing not just health care, but all service delivery. You know the idea and the benefits that come along with being remote and touchless are, in my view anyway, are going to continue to transform what this new normal is. I mean, you know, you watch TV and there’s a commercial for pizza delivery and they’re using ideas around remote and touchless and contactless. And many retail businesses now are remote and touchless and contactless. Well, the idea is now becoming ingrained in our society. And I think there’s a great opportunity for new categories of businesses such as an envoy at home who’s delivering a digital caregiving experience. So, you know, that’s what I’ve learned. And perhaps there’s been a that’s a bit of a silver lining, but there are great opportunities to help people. We really are driven by what we think is our ability to help families and seniors who are living independently to continue with their lives in a world where social distancing is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.
Liz [00:20:00] Yeah, it is really scary to think that. There’s no real. There’s no real timeline to when I’ll be able to safely go visit my parents and I tried, that really bothers me. That bothers me so much. My, I believe my brother drove my know my brother, sister. None of us live in our hometown where our parents are. The closest is my sister. She’s about an hour away. And my brother drove up, drove up a couple of hours just to talk to them from the backyard, socially distanced. And even that’s scary because no one really knows what’s going on right now. And it’s I think it’s it’s just very frustrating. And I do hope that I do hope some really creative solutions come out of this experience. And I hope that we can find a way to safely social distance like get a little bit closer somehow. I don’t know. I don’t know what that looks like yet. But hopefully, there is something
Robert [00:21:13] I think it’s called a vaccine, and I think it’s going to take some time. And, you know, that’ll hopefully provide the opportunity for us to not have to be wearing masks and to be a little bit more comfortable. But, you know, we don’t know what the future lies, of course. And there could be other strains and flu seasons that we’ve we’ve known in the past may not look like flu seasons going forward. And so there’ll be new precautions and a lot of things are going to change.
Liz [00:21:44] Would you say there? What would you say are the pros and cons of building a company in a virtual world?
Robert [00:21:52] Yeah. You know, there there are definitely pros and cons. I mean, you know, clearly, you know, travel times and commutes now work on. So, you know, that’s nice. If this is the most risk I’ve been in a while, I’ll be honest, you know, to do your show. And it was actually a nice change. But travel times of commuter now been reduced to zero. And I think people are now comfortable working remotely and virtually. And those folks who weren’t comfortable with how to step up. And I think that’s a good thing. I mean, it’s great for me. I came from a world from high tech and so forth. And so the idea of working remotely and virtually I’ve been doing this forever, so I’m glad that the rest of the world has caught up. I think it’s incredibly cool that my eighty-nine year old father in law will ask me to send him the zoom link or, you know, and my mom will ask to face time. And so it’s now in our vocabulary and it has gone all the way up to nearly 90 year old folks. I think that’s really great from a downside. I think, you know, face time and you are very is very important that and I’m not talking about screen time. I’m talking about one on one time in the same room, you know, sitting across from each other. I think that that that’s lacking. I think that there are a lot of opportunities that don’t or relationships that don’t cultivate because of the screen that’s between us. We’ve also had to postpone some important conferences. Well, and while the online. The switchover, you know, is good, you know, clearly, the personal connections are just irreplaceable. So, you know, as you were saying earlier about social distancing, I mean, you know, there are some benefits, but there are still a lot of disadvantages to it as well. I think we’re you know, we’re social people and, you know, there needs to be a way for us to get back to that. And that’s been… we’ve had to overcome some limitations, but I’m confident. You know, we’ll get through it, but, you know, those were some of the cards that we’ve had to deal with.
Liz [00:24:19] Yeah, I’m confident we’ll get through it. I think it’s interesting. I tried to use I tried to lean into virtual reality within the first few weeks of this to kind of just let myself feel like I was going somewhere else. But I had actually I’m trying to remember the name of this guy, but I had back in September, I had heard someone speak at a conference about the chemical reaction that that is exchanged between one person and another when they meet and just how that they’re learning through research, how how much that actually does impact a person to be able to be face to face with another person off, defined it and shared some time. But it’s it was really interesting. And they were talking about it being more important than what most people have thought had thought in the past and since now. Things in general. Yeah, things, in general, were already going in the direction of leaning, leaning towards virtual and remote work. And I like working from home too. But then there’s just something about there’s something about even the small exchanges that we have with each other when we’re out in the world that I really miss more than I thought I would miss.
Robert [00:25:47] Yeah, she’ll be a better person on that. It just doesn’t quite happen through the screen. That really seems to happen in person. And I think that perhaps gets to that chemical reaction that the researcher discovered. And I think that they’re exactly right.
Liz [00:26:05] Yeah, I can’t wait to be able to be in the same space with other human beings again and not have my face covered. What what are you most looking forward to doing when we can reemerge from our homes again?
Robert [00:26:21] You know, I think there are a couple of things. One, I really need a haircut, so I am looking forward to that simple thing in life. I have a haircut and you think I’m really looking forward to. You talked about this earlier. I like to get on a plane and visit my mom. I know that sounds a bit corny, but it’s been quite some time. You know, we don’t live forever and time is marching on. And the ability to freely travel the way we used to is something that, you know, I’m really you know, I really miss I’m looking forward to. And I think from a launch lane perspective, kind of coming back to that a little bit. You know, we’ve had a great and we are having a great experience online, and do not necessarily have to come into Downton every week is, from my standpoint, is not a bad thing. However, it would be great to have more one-on-one in person time in the same room time with a cohort. I think, you know, when we have an opportunity, get back to that. It’s going to be great. I know I’m missing that. I suspect others are, too, for the reasons that you just said, there was some dynamic that happens maybe at the cellular level when people are in the same room and the dynamic is great online, but it’s certainly, you know, to be in person and together would be even better.
Liz [00:27:53] Yeah, something magical happens. And speaking of magical things happening, I also want to ask you, Rob, what’s your superpower
Robert [00:28:03] like a superpower? You know, I would say my superpower is to make technology more approachable and accessible. And that, you know, that’s from a couple of different levels. It’s not just from the user interface and the user experience perspective, but. And that solves a real need, it fits into the lifestyle of the person using it, it is simple to understand. It provides real benefits and. That’s really been what we’ve been trying to achieve with envoy at home is to how do we just make this approachable and accessible, I mean, for our technology. There’s no on or off switch, which I think is kind of cool. It just kind of blends in the background of everyday life. But that’s been that’s where I used my where I think I’ve had a lot of success over my career and use the superpower for good. I haven’t thankfully used it for evil. I don’t even know what that would look like. But the ability of the idea around how do you make it understandable, easy, simple for people across generations, across experiences, across communities with different expectations and understanding and, you know, to make technology simple. Is not an easy thing because it means you have to break the complexity into the engineering and the design, and if you do your job right and you do a good job with it, people don’t notice that it’s simple and they just seem to think it’s you know, they just appreciate the frictionless experience that comes along with it. So I that’s how I see is my superpower. And I’ve had an opportunity to. Now, use that throughout my career and now I’m just excited to be able to bring that to Eduardo.
Liz [00:30:12] Yeah, and as a design, I guess as an experienced designer and being somebody really being on design, thinking it’s it’s so true when it’s nice when people don’t have to think about things because they were so well thought through that. By the time it gets to the consumer, it’s just it just is it’s just simple. You don’t have to think about it. You just let it happen. I think those are definitely some of the best technologies out there operate in those kinds of ways. And, you know, I know I know you’re working through some pros and cons and things going through this pandemic. But what in what ways can other people learn more about what you’re working on? Are you looking for partnership opportunities? Are you looking for additional funding? Tell us a little bit more about that so we can put that out to the world too.
Robert [00:31:17] The answer is yes and yes, we are definitely looking for additional partnerships, we are our go-to market strategy has initially been through home care agencies, through a reseller partnership. However, there’s clearly your senior independent living is such a big space. And so we’re looking for opportunities with independent living communities in senior living communities and continuing care retirement communities. We think that there’s an opportunity to use the data that we can provide to just help lower costs and improve, eh, an experience that has largely been ignored for quite some time. So we so in that regard, there’s a greenfield of opportunity in other partnerships that we’re looking to grow into. We are looking to grow our business and to fund our business with some venture capital and will be engaging with. The investment community as we go, and we hope that our message will resonate loud and clear with them and that our value proposition has never been more important, has never been more urgent. Quite frankly, in terms of what we’re trying to solve, the families, we’re trying to help the seniors who are trying to live independently. We know this has been a very, very difficult crisis for them. I mean, if you just think about someone in their 80s or 90s and look what they’ve lived through, a couple of world wars, a couple of regional wars. A pandemic or two, I mean, this is not the first. This is not our first rodeo as a pandemic has been a few prior to this. But this is something that has really been so dramatic and drastic in terms of affecting a population at risk that it’s been like nothing else we’ve seen. And, you know, I think what we’re offering, the remote, touchless digital caregiving, I think is it’s just never been more relevant and urgent. So we’re excited about the opportunity to move forward. We think we have a great message. We think it’ll resonate loudly and clearly and strongly with the financial community. And those are the folks we’re looking to connect with, as well as some of the other channel partners who can benefit from what we’re trying to do.
Liz [00:33:52] What’s the best way for someone to find you or information about the company?
Robert [00:33:58] Well, they can certainly go to Envoyathome.com. They can certainly through there. They can get to me. They are widely available. [email protected]. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to give my phone number in this forum, but
Liz [00:34:17] let’s not do that. Let’s you never know who’s going to call you after this, you know,
Robert [00:34:23] not even email me after this too. But I’m easily accessible and I’m really eager to talk to folks who we can help with our products, services, and our technology.
Liz [00:34:39] Awesome, Rob, thank you so much for hopping on here with me today, and I know because I know how difficult it is to get up and get dressed and do and do a video when everybody so relaxed working at home right now. So I do appreciate you taking the time to join me today. And I’m excited to get this up and out into the world so people can learn more about Envoy at home.
Robert [00:35:03] Liz, this is this has been great. I can’t thank you enough for the opportunity I really enjoyed enjoy doing this. You know, it makes us feel like we’re back in the real world again a little bit. And, you know, anything we can do to get our message out is fantastic. So, again, thank you. And, you know, I can’t thank the rest of the team behind everything that’s going on at launch. Lane in behind whoever’s behind your microphone and helping you produce this and set this up. I’d like to thank them as well.
Liz [00:35:37] Yeah, that would be Nestor to the man behind the curtain. Right now he’s monitoring us, but, you know, he’s always behind the scenes somewhere and. All right, everybody on the. Yeah, thanks, Nestor. And I would also like to extend thanks to everybody on the team as well, because everybody has really come together to, you know, to really try to problem solve and get us through this, you know, not just for the cohort, but for each of us on the team. We’re also helping each other get through this as well. So I’m very appreciative of the conversations that we’re having on the back end of things. And I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. So, you know,
Robert [00:36:24] No, as a leader, you know, as leaders through this pandemic and so forth, you know, we have to be very fortunate and lucky to have teams that are very agile. I mean, we’re asking them to prioritize, to rethink how work is done, to reorganize, to still deliver what we do for our constituencies. So for those of us, myself included, who, you know, have teams that are very agile, I can’t be thankful enough because it’s just, you know, it’s so important that we continue the work that we’re doing for many of us and the fact that we can rely on a team of people. We don’t often give them enough credit. And, you know, this is a small thank you that I’m offering my team to credit them for everything they do to help us get on a way to help our clients and so forth.
Liz [00:37:18] Yeah, that’s a that’s always good leadership to remember to thank the people that make things possible for you. And I appreciate you. I appreciate your time. I appreciate the product that you’re working on and can’t wait to see what happens next.
Robert [00:37:35] Me either (laughs)