Andrew Parker, founder of Papa, shares his entrepreneurial success story and his tips for how to get started.
I've always wanted to start a company. I had many ideas and wrote most down. For some, I even drew up business plans and purchased URLs. Papa, however, was the one that really clicked.
At the time, my grandfather, whom we called Papa, needed assistance. He wasn't as independent as he had always been, and I knew he could use someone who could help him. A college student – someone my Papa could chat with, but whose presence wouldn't be an everyday reminder of his age – seemed like the perfect fit. I posted something on my personal Facebook page to find our first student.
Our first Papa experience was with a pre-med student who initially spent just a few hours with my Papa. My grandfather really enjoyed it. The student (a future doctor) loved it just as much as he did. She gained relevant experience and earned some extra money while my grandfather was able to share skills and get some assistance to feel real independence.
Then I looked closer at the data. The one that always sticks with me: 10,000 people turn 65 every day. There is a huge shortage of home care providers. People are living longer than ever. After witnessing the concept in real life and understanding the bigger opportunity, it became obvious Papa was something I needed to make a reality. Here's how I did it.
Taking the first step
People have great ideas every day, but the key is acting on it. None of my other ideas got past my notepad. But Papa felt different, and I got to work right away. It just made sense, and it helped solve an issue I experienced firsthand.
The first thing we did was create a crappy mobile app. Looking back, building the app right away was a mistake. We didn't understand our customers' needs. We needed to learn more about them before we could build the perfect product.
We did, however, get one person to use the app. It was my good friend's grandmother. This was our first real customer, and I was going to ensure the experience was amazing every time. On more than one occasion, I visited her myself, because I couldn't find a student who was available. Looking back, I realized how critical these moments were, and still are, for Papa.
We quickly learned what our customers needed. How the technology should adapt to support them. How the service should be provided. The amount of learning you gain from these early days is incredible. With this early knowledge, we were able to build a great solution around our members' needs.
One of the most important lessons I've learned so far is the importance of being scrappy. I only had three members who used the service once a week, every week. I wasn't sure this would work on a large scale, but I knew one thing – our three members absolutely loved it. This gave me enough confidence to quit my full-time job and focus on Papa full time.
Shortly thereafter, I met my co-founder Alfredo, who today serves as our company's chief operating officer. Together, we were determined to get Papa off the ground. We updated the website, grew our network of students and started to market the service.
Learning your value proposition
After officially launching last January, we are off to a great start. In the past year, Papa has grown to support older adults throughout Florida. We have proven this is a necessary solution for the community. We are now partnering with Medicare Advantage.
Through this process, we learned our true value proposition, which is to reduce loneliness and social isolation. We are excited to expand to other markets and continue to learn from our customers and partners. I'm excited about the future of Papa to support older adults and their families throughout the aging journey.