Epoch Elder Care www.epocheldercare.com
The founder and CEO of Epoch Elder Care, Kabir Chadha, 26, grew up in Delhi, studied economics at Stanford University, California, worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Co., New York—and then wanted to do something different, like many of his colleagues. “It was easier for me to do the job,” he says. “But I decided to quit and start my own business from home.”
“My nani (maternal grandmother) was my inspiration,” says Chadha. When he moved back to India in April 2011, he decided to live with her in Gurgaon. “Having an 83-year-old flatmate helped me realize the many needs of an elderly person and how ill-equipped we are to deal with them here,” he remembers. “Older people, I observed, were sometimes bored and lonely, and I thought they needed proper companionship.”
At home with ‘nani’: Eldercare specialists with Epoch customer S.M. Khanduri and Epoch founder Kabir Chadha (foreground). Photo by Priyanka Parashar/Mint.
For, he explains, small, high-end flats in places like Gurgaon, which accommodate not more than four-five people, mean nuclear families now often prevail. “I could see that it was now natural for older people to be living on their own,” he says. “Their children were either living in the same city but not nearby, in another Indian city, or abroad.” Time had become scarce for these working children, now with families of their own; not always on hand for a simple task such as showing their elderly relative how to operate a new DVD player.
Epoch was born out of an attempt to meet a gap Chadha perceived: between a need for a fuller appreciation of older people’s requirements and a lifestyle where there is not always enough time to provide personalized care.
“There is a feeling that retirement communities do not usually provide a caring atmosphere for the Indian elderly; there’s a stigma attached to living in a retirement home,” Chadha explains. “It is perceived that your children cannot take care of you, if you are in one.” Medical care workers, he adds, are often trained and treated as little more than maids, and cannot always provide more sophisticated care.
This is where Epoch comes in: “We are friends, surrogate grandchildren.”
When Chadha returned to the US for a few months in June 2011, he attended elder-care conferences, spoke to doctors and his target demographic, and followed up with an elder-care conference in Hong Kong before applying his knowledge locally.
He launched a pilot last October, then began operations in January. Business was generated through word of mouth, and Epoch now has 20 clients, a management team of three and six elder-care specialists (ECS), each handling three-four customers.
Services range from 3 hours per week to 3 hours daily, and charges can range from $200 (around Rs 11,200) per month for three visits to $400 for six visits per week, over a three-month term. This includes a one-time consultation, one organized social event, two outings (including doctor visits) a month, help with fall-proofing, medication management, purchase of elder-care products, placement of full-time nurses and maids, doctor and specialist referrals, and the scheduling of social interactions. On each visit, the ECS spends a few hours with the elderly person to meet their personal needs. Customized packages are also available.
Employees are recruited through online job sites, interviewed by elder-care specialists and a psychologist on Epoch’s expert panel and vetted by a session with an elderly person. “For every ECS we hire, we review 50 candidates,” says Chadha. “Our employees have studied pharmacy, hospital management and social work, most with field or personal experience, and one with an elder-care focus.”
Clients are usually 50-year-olds worried about the well-being of their parents, in their 70s and 80s—the customers. An ECS calls his/her customer almost daily and prepares a report every time s/he makes a site visit, relayed on email to many an anxious non-resident Indian (NRI)—or just on the other side of Delhi. Sometimes, a client lives with the elderly parents but needs help.
The spectrum of services offered is broad. ECS Neha Sinha helps a customer maintain a food blog. “We organize events like fashion shows and makeover parties —some participants had never been to a beauty parlour before. And we teach them how to use Facebook so they can spy on their grandkids!” says Chadha.
The craziest thing they’ve had to do? Manage to get a lonely client in a no-pets-allowed retirement home a pet fish.
Often people would meet Epoch specialists, Chadha says, and decide they were already spending on medical care and other expenses; what did they need an ECS for? “Or they would say, right now nana (maternal grandfather) is too sick, come back in a few months.”
Chadha doesn’t foresee a return to finance. “I project around 200 clients by next year, perhaps expanding to Mumbai and other cities.”
“We approach care management through the idea of companionship,” says Chadha. “We manage needs from a base, and we are whistle-blowers.”