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Electronic Chat with Candice Smith, Founder and CEO, Caregiven

Informal caregivers are unpaid individuals (usually a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor) who assist others with activities of daily living or medical tasks. According to a 2020 AARP report, more than 1 in 5 Americans (21.3%) are unpaid caregivers, providing care to an adult or child with special needs at some time in the past 12 months. This totals an estimated 53.0 million adults in the U.S., up from the estimated 43.5 million caregivers in 2015. Many of these caregivers are involved in end-of-life issues for the person they are caring for.

Caregiven is a Portland, Ore.-based service that provides accessible digital health solutions to family caregivers, guiding them to the support and services they need to spend less time overwhelmed and have more meaningful time with their loved one. Products are designed to decrease caregiver overwhelm, boost confidence in caregiving decisions, and facilitate families having the difficult conversations that, when undiscussed, result in unwanted or unnecessary medical interventions, trust & estate disputes, and long-term depression and complicated grief.

Caregiven’s product focuses on an area that has been considered taboo in the past: end-of-life issues. What was the impetus for you launching the company, and was it something personal?

I founded Caregiven after caring for my dad during his final years, before he died in 2016. Because of the taboo, the fear of talking about dying and death, I found myself isolated and alone, not wanting to burden others as I tried to learn how to be the best informal caregiver I could be for him. Not finding the support I needed -- it was all locked inside the books I didn't have the bandwidth to read or the groups I didn't have the time to participate in -- there wasn't a day that went by that I didn't feel like I was the first daughter to ever be losing her father. I attributed my feeling of being overwhelmed to the absence of a simple digital solution -a maternity/wedding planning/tax preparation experience -- for caregivers.  It didn't exist, so I founded Caregiven.

My hope is that Caregiven decreases the stress and overwhelm of caregiving and offers perspective to normalize the care journey.

Your varied background includes involvement in several portfolio companies ranging from a bioscience incubator to a women’s startup lab. How did this experience influence your work with Caregiven?

The Women's Startup Lab and Oregon Bioscience Incubator are programs that Caregiven has been affiliated with on our path to market. Each entity we've affiliated with has been very purposeful. The Women's Startup Lab, where we were one of five companies in a cohort that included founders from Italy, India, and throughout the U.S., focused on empowering me as a female CEO of a tech startup that might wish to raise capital from Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley investors differ widely, and understanding what they look for in a successful startup has been incredibly helpful.

We've participated in niche, non-dilutive programs like CareFactor and Silver Moonshots. These have been focused on aspects of the longevity and aged care markets which Caregiven is a part of. As baby boomers age and more capital is deployed to address their specific needs, it's been beneficial for us to build a reputation and become thought leaders which these programs have facilitated.

The Oregon Bioscience Incubator invited Caregiven to reside in their Digital Health Annex -- which has provided us with both a physical space and access to other founders, mentors, and entrepreneurs-in-residence, and provides considerable perks and resources that we otherwise wouldn't have had access to.

Finally, our participation in the Global Insurance Accelerator was a game-changer for Caregiven. This was our first external capital and the validation that our solution was an innovation that the insurance sector desired. 

Caregiven’s services center on a mobile app that connects care partners. Please explain how it works and the technology behind it.

Caring for an aging or ailing loved one can be a long, meandering, and emotional journey.  The average caregiver experience in the U.S. is two years.  This time is fraught with events that families react to (like a diagnosis or a fall), fears that individuals need to face (the loss of a loved one), and complicated and expensive systems to navigate (healthcare, insurance, financial, legal).  Not one of these experiences is singular-- they are all interconnected and tied to one another.  Caregiven detangles this to show the connections and to enable proactive, educated care.

I think of Caregiven as a step-by-step experience, like a wedding planning app or tax-preparation software, in which our platform solicits and obtains input from all member of the care circle (those informal caregivers, friends, family, professional caregivers and service providers and the care recipient) into a digital repository so that everyone is on the same "page" and has access to the same information and opportunities to participate.

The technology and magic behind Caregiven is that we leverage technology to help humans be more human.  Our chatbot asks questions and uses responses to lead users to the information they seek, without overwhelm.  Our platform serves as a hub for communication, sending reminders and storing important information in one vault.

How did you design the specifics of the app, and did you seek input from caregivers to develop it?

When I founded Caregiven I didn't have a solution in mind; I had a pain that needed to be resolved. The beautiful thing about our product is that every aspect of it, from the features in our MVP to the tone of the content, has been determined by caregivers -- those who've participated in our human-centered, user-design processes. This has been led by the amazing team at Particle Design. 

Recently I was asked where I want to see my development team in five years. My answer was that every member of Caregiven solves real problems for real caregivers. We don't create features; we develop simple steps to make less complicated the most difficult time in anyone's lives.

Our product roadmap continues to be driven by what our users need and want. We pay close attention to how they are using the app: how they navigate through to get the answers they need. Before we write any code, we create wireframes and conduct feedback sessions. And then we listen, learn, and iterate. It's fascinating to see how a feature is used, beyond its original intention. That enables us to solve real needs.

Caregiven’s staff has deep experience in caregiving in their own personal lives. How is that leveraged to improve the product?

Every member of Caregiven's team has a personal experience with personal caregiving and loss. We talk about content, features, solutions from our lived experience and have developed a product that would have met our individual needs. And we are a very diverse group of individuals who share a common mission: to change the caregiver experience. We use our personal experiences so those who come after us don't have to struggle as we did over the simple things -- like care coordination or completing Medicare forms -- so they can focus on what matters most, the time with their loved one.

As a company, every member of our team has contributed their time and energy without compensation to get our product launched and funding secured. Caregiven has become their life's work. 

In the end, we are also a team of humans who sit in shared silence when the overwhelm of our own personal loss surfaces in feedback on our product from a user, or the realization of how our work has manifested in truly helping one another. There have been many times, including the day we launched, that our team sat together and talked about how proud we are of the milestone we achieved, and how we wish we had our loved one with us instead.

How did COVID impact the company?

Prior to COVID, I had to make the case for the importance of supporting informal caregivers; I had to speak about caregivers in market size and dollars spent. I don't need to do that anymore. Loss, grief, and the fear of not being able to care for a loved one when they most need it are part of the national conversation.

What are your plans for the company for the next year? For the next five years?

When I founded Caregiven, I set out to prove a few things. One, that the best way to support informal caregivers is to guide them on a care journey that honors the emotional stage they are in and aligns activity and resources to meet them where they are at. Second, that Gen-X and millennials are more likely to accept and action guidance received via an app or non-human interaction than they are from being told what they should do. And third, that to truly help all humans, we need to deliver culturally safe guidance that goes beyond translating into another language but honors the specific cultures and dynamics present. We will be launching our product in Australia later this year as a next step in accomplishing this.

We are well on our way to proving these things and will continue to do so over the next year. We also intend to prove that the best way to reach informal caregivers is through their existing trusted relationships. By that I mean caregivers ask for help from their lawyer, doctor, accountant, insurance broker, faith leader. And while these individuals can help with a specific aspect, they have a unique opportunity to offer Caregiven, under their brand name, to support the entirety of their client's experience. 

For the next five years, our goal is to get Caregiven into the hands of those who need it, when they need it, without friction. We plan to exit by acquisition to a partner who can help us achieve that on a global scale. 

 


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