The older we get, the harder it is to get from point A to point B. That poses a real dilemma: keep driving and run the risk that you or the super senior in your life shouldn’t be behind the wheel, or stop driving and give up your mobility and independence. That’s why so many seniors have turned to ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. But there’s a problem for many seniors – they need a smartphone and an app to get to use those services. Now, one entrepreneur has come up with a way to actually avoid using technology, or at least current technology, to get ride-sharing services.
Justin Boogaard had been living with his grandmother and had been her driver. But when he moved out, his grandmother lost her rides. She wasn’t comfortable with a smartphone, so she was pretty much stuck. So Justin and his grandmother came up with the idea for GoGoGrandparent, a service that lets a senior access a ride-sharing service with the touch of a button – on a landline or cell phone. We sat down for a chat with Justin to find out just how GoGoGrandparent works:
Tech50+: Is the main reason for your existence the fact that many seniors aren’t comfortable with smartphones?
Justin Boogaard: We find that about 30% of our callers do use smartphones in addition to GoGoGrandparent, but they rely on GoGoGrandparent because Uber isn’t really designed to work with a caller that doesn’t necessarily have the wherewithal to be able to contact the driver or to walk down the street to meet the driver. They rely more on the passenger to hold up their end of getting to the car, and for 85-year-old folks, sometimes that’s just not really something that works. So GoGoGrandparent is able to get in there and we communicate that to the driver, we oversee the ride, and we make sure that goes off without a hitch successfully every time. So we do have a lot of folks that have smartphones, but just the way that Uber and Lyft are set up there’s more to it than just that I think.
Tech50+: How did you come up with the idea for GoGoGrandparent?
Justin Boogaard: Well it wasn’t my idea, it was my grandma’s. I lived with my grandma for three years and when I was moving out I realized she didn’t do any driving at night, which I had been doing while living with her. I hadn’t even thought that she might be asking me to drive because she was afraid of driving, I thought that she just preferred other people driving. I realized she might not be comfortable going to the movie theater or getting dinner with her friends if I leave. Feeling a little guilty for leaving, I made GoGoGrandparent for her. It wasn’t even really a business, it was just sort of a way for her to be able to get around independently. But then she gave it to her friends and then word got out in her bridge club and then pretty soon it was growing across the United States and then that’s when we turned into a business and that’s really when we learned that there was going to be a higher level of service required than sort of just what was required when it was my grandma using it herself.
Tech50+: When did you get this rolling?
Justin Boogaard: She took her first ride January 4th of 2016 and I would say that it got rolling probably March of 2016 once her bridge club started using it.
Tech50+: Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of how GoGoGrandparent works.
Justin Boogaard: Well there’s the nuts and bolts from the perspective of the older adult, then there’s the nuts and bolts from the perspective of the loved one, the adult child, and then there’s the perspective of what we’re doing on our end.
The simplest one is the older adult. Most of our callers are over the age of 75. We have 75 up to 100. We just got our first 100-year-old two weeks ago. Very excited about having them on board. So then it’s incredibly simple. They can call from a cell phone or a land line. If they’re at their home they press 1 and that tells us that they want a car sent to their home. If they’re at the location where we dropped them off last they press 2 and then that tells us that they want a car sent there. And then if they’re anywhere else they would press 0 and speak with an operator and then we’ll tell them automatically how many minutes until the driver arrives and then the driver just arrives, and they’re on their way. So it’s really simple for them. They just call the number, press a digit, if they need to they can speak to an operator but most of the time they don’t. We’ll also call them when the driver is about 3 minutes away so that they can start heading outside. After the trip, they get an email, or if they don’t have an email they get a phone call, a voicemail on their landline, with how much the total trip came out to be. It’s all just built into the technology that they use and have been using for decades.
Family members get a little bit more. They can come in and set up a GoGoGrandparent account for their older loved one. They can customize the account with instructions based on the needs of their loved one, so if there’s a walker, if they have a foldable wheelchair, if they prefer to get picked up on the side of their home that only has one step instead of two steps. Older adults have this amazing ability to remember with excruciating detail exactly how many steps that they’re going to need to overcome to get from point A to point B in any direction, so a lot of them like to be picked up in places that have fewer steps. So if we have to pick them up on the east side of the house rather than the west side, those are all instructions that a loved one can enter and then those get translated to use and we make sure that happens. The family member or caregiver gets notified as the trip is in progress. We don’t have a smartphone app for them but we do text adult children when a trip has been requested, when it’s in progress, and where it ends. They can communicate with the driver at any time, they get the driver’s name and license plate and that’s kind of how it works for them. We’re going to be building out more services for the adult child but that’s where we are right now.
Tech50+: I’ve used both Uber and Lyft, and sometimes they want you to walk to a particular pickup point that’s not going to be easy for an elderly person to reach. How do you deal with that?
Justin Boogaard: Sometimes Uber and Lyft require their passenger to kind of do extra work and that doesn’t work obviously for GoGoGrandparent, and so that’s what we do on our end. When a request comes in, if it’s an automatic request, we’ll automatically dispatch the driver to the correct location. But then on top of that, we have a list of drivers that we do not work with because for whatever reason they just weren’t comfortable driving an older adult, no problem, there’s thousands of drivers so we’ll just find another one. We communicate with the driver, we ensure that they understand the instruction and then if there are any custom instructions that they get that too. And it does two things – one, the rider knows exactly what’s about to happen, and two if they’re nervous of uncomfortable they can cancel and we’ll find another driver that is better suited. And as long as they know and have agreed to what the ride is about to happen for them then the rides go off without a hitch.
The family member can communicate to the driver to let the driver know the rider is in front of the store, they have groceries, they’re going to need some help with those, are you comfortable with that? So for the older adult, all they did was call, press 1, and magic happens. Well actually in their case press 3 because they’re at another location, magic happens, driver shows up, driver’s happy, gives them a ride back, everything goes off without a hitch.
Tech50+: Which services do you work with?
Justin Boogaard: We’re working with Uber and Lyft and just added See Jane Go, which is an all-women service, so women driving women.
Tech50+: What’s the pricing for the service over and above the Uber or Lyft tariff?
Justin Boogaard: Callers are getting the customized experience overseen by a full-time operator that’s available 24/7 for just 19 cents a minute while they’re in the car. So it usually comes out to be an extra dollar or two more per ride. Our customers automatically get a receipt from us that includes both the car service and our charge but laid out so they can see what each part cost.
Tech50+: Where does your service operate around the country?
Justin Boogaard: We’re available everywhere. We have callers from 47 states and 3 provinces in Canada.
Tech50+: If you could just run through me one more time what the options are when you call in – what’s on #1, what’s on #2, #3, etc.
Justin Boogaard: Yeah. So #1 is “home” and family members can customize “home” to be a specific type of pickup, like give the guard at the gate my mother’s name or pick up dad from the garage, whatever it might be. #2 is “last” location, wherever we dropped the person off last and we save that automatically so that they don’t have to tell us that. #3, #4, and #5 are custom pickups or a custom instruction. So for example, an older adult can press #1 and we’ll send a car out to their home and then they take them to the hospital. So rather than pressing #2 because that may be a little confusing since it’s such a large building, they’ve set up a custom pickup location to be #3 and then that tells us that they’re at the hospital and then specifically they’re outside the southwest entrance outside of the oncology or whatever it might be and then we can convey those instructions to the driver. People can do that for options #3, #4, and #5. And then if they’re anywhere else they can press 0 to speak with a full time 24/7 operator who will be able to order them a ride.