If You Can’t Help Everybody — Start with Somebody

About Jun 18, 2020

Neil and Lawrence brave the snow for a trail run in the winter.

People regularly ask me how do you help seniors who are often intimidated by technology?

These are folks who may not have a Smartphone, an iPad, a tablet, or even a computer with a mic or a camera. In reality, some or all of these factors can make it a real challenge to get a 50+-year-old online — but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!

For me, my “aha” moment came when I asked my Dad what he wanted for his 90th birthday and he replied, “I’d like an Apple Watch.” I was equally impressed and panicked by his answer. I have an Apple Watch — I’m 52 — and I am often perplexed by its seemingly unending list of features and functionality. In fact, I’m on Google and YouTube almost daily researching and watching the “how-to” videos to learn something new about the watch.

But a 90-year-old? Did this mean I was going to have to be the remote “Geek Squad” for my dad?

It took me some time to process but in the end, I thought why shouldn’t he get the Apple watch? Millions of other people have it. And to be honest, it bothered me that his request bothered me.

Some Background

My good friend and trail running partner, Neil and I regularly share our crazy startup ideas on our longer runs. Neil has an ed-tech background and me, a consumer internet and enterprise software background. Both of us are serial entrepreneurs. About a year ago and on one of many long trail runs, Neil started telling me about an idea he had to re-skill retired educators and then have them teach other older adults software and apps. It was one of the coolest — yet seemingly hardest ideas I had ever heard. I was intrigued. I thought we need to figure out how to do this!

Neil and Lawrence train for trail running events together and then go on to do events together — to challenge their physical limits.

So what next?

Well, you guessed it, I quit my job and joined Neil at GetSetup as his co-founder. It seemed like the crazy, high risk, entrepreneurial — yet right thing to do! We set out to build and scale an online platform where older adults would train older adults on software and services they could use to lead more productive, happy, and healthy lives.

Neil and I are both passionate about solving this problem and were amazed that this older demographic was projected to be 25% of the overall US population in the next 20+ years. Yet almost every business we studied was failing to recognize the uniqueness of this large and important demographic. These older users were not DIY (do it yourself) or self-onboarding themselves by simply watching videos on YouTube, yet many companies simply expected them to do so. We were going to solve this problem, but we knew it would require a whole different approach than the training and onboarding of younger folks like millennials. Thus the solution seemed obvious to let older adults train older adults!

50+ Learn And Use Tech Differently!

So how were we going to do this? There was no easy answer, part of the reason nobody had done anything like this at scale before. We researched by questioning friends, family, and colleagues. We did surveys and interviews and in the end, we decided to launch with Zoom as our initial video product to provide our live group sessions and one-on-one sessions for our initial ideas on the popular curriculum.

We started a few months prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus so our initial curriculum was around empowering the 50+ segment to learn new tools to stay active, productive, and even start their own small businesses. But then came coronavirus. Overnight, almost everybody was quarantined at home and needed different kinds of technical help; learning basic online communication tools (Zoom, Gmail, Facebook), how to order groceries (Instacart), get household items (Amazon Prime), deliver medications (GoodRX, CVS), understand changes to Medicare (help to navigate Medicare.gov), Social Security (help to sign up for myssa.gov), and even how to find exercise classes online.

All of this sounded great, we thought we had something for everyone. But wait — they had to be able to get online and install Zoom just to access our classes — many seemingly couldn’t.

Can’t Help Everybody — Start With Somebody

We made countless videos to help those that were signing up for our classes to learn how to download Zoom. We exchanged hundreds of emails to help with this, spent late-night sessions on our site’s chatbot answering tech questions, even hopping on the phone or Facetime to help people update their browsers in order to download Zoom. We realized that if we really, really tried — we could get most of them online and into a video class via their computer, maybe an iPad and sometimes a Smartphone.

Each time we did this, we felt like we were making a difference, not because we could help everybody but because we helped one more person feel more productive and more connected — we helped somebody! We are honing our skills at getting everyone online one learner at a time. We hope you come and check out our classes which we are always updating to meet the needs of our community. Join us!

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