“Do you have anything specific for the 60+ age group?”
I was consulting this entrepreneur who is venturing into the e-grocery market and I asked him this few minutes into our session.
He looked a little perplexed by the question and then asked, “As in?”
“As in, elderly-specific category or elderly-specific onboarding plan, something.”
He took a pause, head hung, looked a little ashamed.
“Not really. I understand. We should have something for the senior citizens as well – you are asking about the social angle in our venture, right?”
Of course not! It’s not the moral responsibility or your goodwill to take care of the elders that should compel you to design a geriatric product – like all other business models, it is the potential of the market that should be the reason for your decision.
Indian entrepreneurs are yet to completely exploit the huge potential of the geriatric industry. Let me share with you some mind-boggling figures. At present, the senior citizen population in the country is around 135 million and is expected to become 173 million by 2026. By 2050, India will have the largest population of senior citizens in the world.
If this is not lucrative enough, what is?
A Nascent Market
Surprisingly, the country’s geriatrics market is still a very blue ocean. The E-grocery sector is the current heartthrob of the new age entrepreneurs who have kept the elderly sector pretty less-contested. There are a few startups though who have come up with differentiated offerings exclusively for the elderly population but given the huge demand that exists, the supply is quite scarce and highly unorganised.
The trend of coming up with products and services for the geriatric population is more prominent outside India. The senior care industry in the US is already pretty matured. It is pegged at close to 700 billion dollars today and is growing at an exponential rate.
Europe is experiencing a steep upward curve of the aging population for a decade – Germany has the maximum elder crowd among all European countries. By 2023, approximately 22% of European citizens will be in the age bracket of more than 65 years.
Numerous European startups have come up with products and services that help the elders live a dignified and independent life. They are using data and cutting-edge technology to provide such services. In Asia, Japan is experiencing the global trend of aging for quite some time now and has designed policies and products suitable to welcome old age.
What’s Happening In India
The aging population is picking up and showing its impact on India too. The median age of the country which was 24.9 in 2011, is standing at 28 today and is expected to be 34.6 by 2036.
Now that’s some striking numbers to ponder upon! And the impact is very much visible too – things are changing and changing at a faster pace in the Geriatric market of India.
Could you ever imagine a Senior-only travel company until recently? 50 plus voyagers are taking the elderly across the globe giving them the feeling that now is the time to enjoy!
Visit a private bank (Citibank, HDFC, etc.) and you will be amazed to see special services for the elderly. Starting from dedicated counters to home collection services, private banks have started valuing their senior customers highly. The non-banking finance companies have also started tapping the segment in partnership with private banks.
Saregama, the media company, has identified an iPod like business model exclusively for their elderly customers and has successfully launched the Carvaan range of products. You will get to see similar trends in the real estate business too.
Companies like Aashiyana have created elderly exclusive societies with amenities that rightly suit the requirements of people beyond 60.
Where the west concentrates more on the healthcare support, India has started realising that the market should not be looked upon as the ‘Senior Care’ industry but holistically as the industry of Geriatric Needs.
This is the right time for you to jump on the wave of disruption and create big fortune while providing immense value to society. But where should you start?
Understanding The Geriatric Market In India
Let’s look at the geriatric market and try to understand the major segments that it has. We may categorise the market based on the different broad needs of each category.
I take here the help of American psychologist Abraham Maslow and his framework on the Hierarchy of human needs. To understand the Indian elderly market, I mapped the need of the elderly to the framework and segmented the whole sector. There are broadly three different segments with three distinct needs in this market.
Segment A – The elders in this segment are looking for basic physiological and safety needs fulfillment. They are at the bottom of the pyramid trying to lead a life of dignity. Many of them try to earn a living to be able to manage their expenses. They understand that they are not in their prime both health wise and financially and thus look for the support of the society.
Ventures like Manavlok, Helpage India, Abhoy mission have identified challenges to be solved for the elders falling under this category.
As an entrepreneur if you are looking to serve the elders in this segment you can do two things:
- Start an NGO to provide them the basic needs and happiness
- Create a business model where you can hire them and provide them a way to earn and lead life with dignity
Do you have an edge over others in starting a venture for this segment? If you are someone who has worked with a Social Venture, NGO, or worked closely with the CSR department of corporate before, your knowledge and network will help you a lot.
Segment B – The elders in this segment are looking for love and engagement and can be mapped to the middle part of the pyramid. They love to uphold their self-esteem by being independent. These elders mostly stay alone away from their children. Most of them complain of loneliness, boredom, and experience acute mental illness.
The need for this segment is more psychological than physical. Recreational events, get-togethers, in-home companionship, entertainment, connectivity with loved ones, etc. should be your focus for designing products or services for this segment.
A lot of startups are exploring this section – Seniority, Portea, Old is gold, and many others have designed some amazing products and services. To be successful in this segment, you need to stay close to them, be highly empathetic and honest. Overcoming the initial barrier is difficult but once you have done that, word of mouth spreads fast in this segment.
Segment C – The elders in this segment, map to the peak of Maslow’s framework. These elders are looking to achieve self-actualization. They look to contribute back to society by spending their time, knowledge, and wisdom.
Some startups like Edtech company, Lido Learning, are realising the need of engaging Senior citizens in building the future of the country. If you are planning to set up a business that requires teaching underprivileged children, empowering blue-collar workers with specific skillset or supporting elderly peer groups, etc., the elders from this segment will be the ones you can count upon to partner with.
But remember, they are looking for self-actualization. So, your business model should have a social angle to it to attract this segment.
Ease Of Starting Up
Well, like many other sectors this sector poses its own challenges.
The first is psychological. Most elderly people find it difficult to trust strangers or get comfortable with them. It is thus difficult for a new brand to get initial approval. Building trust is not an overnight job. You need to be persistent and transparent to win over their trust.
The second important challenge that you may face as an entrepreneur in this sector is the lack of skilled caregivers.
Caregiving in India is a highly undervalued service. It is difficult to find people who are genuinely motivated in taking care of the elderly, are empathetic and at the same time have the necessary skills to take care in times of medical emergency.
The third challenge is providing safety to this very vulnerable sector. Safety is a big concern for senior citizens in India. It requires you to conduct a thorough background check of all your employees and strong control of the operations. This option creates a barrier in scalability for entrepreneurs working in this sector.
So yes, it is not going to be easy but that’s the reason why the ocean is still dark blue.
Disrupt Or Get Disrupted
You now know the opportunity spaces and the challenges you must overcome to design the perfect product that’s incredibly valuable to the geriatric market.
But will you sustain?
How does the future look like?
Can you stay relevant?
Let’s look at a scenario that’s happening today: Elderly population in the country is setting up a new trend of learning and experiencing things that they did not try at a young age. Postretirement the realization of ‘having seen enough’ and the mindset ‘why not try’ is kicking in. This has led to the formation of various ‘elderly only’ driving schools, outdoor gaming institutes.
Now, you can see how this one trend is dictating the service eco-system around the geriatric population.
As an entrepreneur today you cannot be looking at one specific trend and design your business. You have to be a systems thinker. A systems thinker understands that one trend is driven by something even bigger called a megatrend and then looks for the impact of this megatrend to scout the next new trend – much like when you see a small river you go till the source of it and realise that it is just one distributary of an even bigger river.
If you look at what’s happening around through this lens, it will help you as an entrepreneur to stay alert and be part of disruption and not getting disrupted yourself.
Opportunity Window – Healthcare Replacing Sickcare
The future of geriatric products in India will be defined much on the megatrends that are shaping up and the technological disruptions that are happening. What megatrend is driving the various ‘elderly only’ services? It is Human Longevity.
Global life expectancy has increased drastically over the last few decades. If you have a closer look at the graph (below) you will realize that developed countries have seen an increase in life expectancy compared to those who are still developing. And with constant progress (as is expected) the average human being will be living even longer.
This trend is coupled with the progress of Exponential Technologies that have drastically changed the way human beings live.
The health care system will see a huge reform in near future. Today doctors, medicines, hospitals – things that we generally associate with health care are mostly spoken about when one feels sick. So, do you realise that what we called healthcare is essentially sick care?
Traditional Healthcare never took care of our health before we feel unwell – it has always been more reactive than being proactive. The future of Healthcare will see the impact of Exponential Technologies in making it more proactive.
We are going to see IoT embedded clothing for the elderly that monitors the health vitals and ensure that proper medication is provided even before he/she feels unwell. Mitsufuji, a Japanese technology company, has already commercialized conductive fiber made clothing for eldercare.
So, what is the impact of this reformed Healthcare system? Proactive Healthcare will ensure that elderly people are living for a longer period of time and leading a healthy lifestyle. Now imagine if somebody is healthy at the age of 85, what questions should you be asking yourself as an entrepreneur to capitalize on the opportunity that’s in front of you:
How might we entertain them?
How might we keep them active intellectually?
How might we teach them new things?
How might we ensure that they earn enough to live a dignified life till their last day?
And as you start answering at least one of these questions you will realize that truly you are ‘Standing In The Middle Of Your Own Acres Of Diamond’ as Russell H. Conwell once mentioned.