Everything was rocking back in January 2020. The startup I co-founded with my colleague Steve in September 2019, called Silver Sharers, experienced exponential growth thanks to a feature in the Evening Standard widely shared on social media. Another piece in The Guardian provided us with the rubber stamp of approval announcing us as one possible solution to solving the housing crisis.
A VC I had met years earlier with my startup Frugl initiated a conversation, interested in the business, and signals were positive that we might form part of their portfolio.
Being accepted onto Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV) tech-for-good programme that came with £30k in funding was the icing on the cake. Finally, after many years of working in and for startups, I was a member of the exclusive club of investable businesses.
Two months later, the pandemic struck, the lockdown introduced, and our customers, older homeowners, many of whom classified themselves as vulnerable, went into hibernation. We’re a business that relies on helping those seeking affordable accommodation to co-live with older people with rooms to spare. Overnight, the spare rooms dried up simultaneously as BGV made the swift transition to virtual delivery. The programme was fast and furious and, at times, overwhelming. I recall the first week we spent 18 hours on Zoom over three days; my head was spinning.
It wasn’t ideal timing, participating in an accelerator programme with a stalled business. Still, we decided to spend the time talking to our few remaining customers and understanding them, something I’d done before starting the company but hadn’t done since.
They were eager to talk and have their conversations recorded over Zoom, for which I have the pandemic to thank. There’s no better time to conduct deep-dive interviews with current and prospective customers than when everyone is (mainly) bored senseless and at home. I suspect I learned more about our homeowners and renters — their habits, preferences, and complex lives than I would have done in any other circumstance. And, most importantly, we learned that older people didn’t consider themselves ‘Silver’ or any variation of grey.
Steve created a Miro board with numerous combinations of words, but it was my mother who…