This past week, I travelled to the Communitech building in Kitchener-Waterloo to interview co-founders, Jesse Lubin and Andrew Ringer, about one of Communitech’s most promising start-ups, Alaunus, currently headquartered in the Communitech Hub in the heart of the innovation district in downtown Kitchener, Ontario.
Alaunus is a 3 ½ year-old startup, founded by UW computer science grad, Jesse Lubin, and Laurier BBA grad, Andrew Ringer. Alaunus has been formally involved in the Laurier Launchpad, Accelerator Centre, and Communitech’s Rev programs, and is described as an emerging leader in technology-enabled homecare solutions, and is keen to disrupt the $227.5 billion in-home health care industry. Alaunus is a next-generation practice management platform, reimagined for today’s mobile homecare Personal Service Worker (PSW) providers.
Lubin, the Chief Technical Officer, has designed the technology that innovates at every step how mobile healthcare is coordinated, delivered, and managed. The proprietary software offers its (for the most part, Temp) agency client base across Ontario the abilities to operate highly efficiently, differentiate their temporary-tenured homecare PSWs (aka contingent workers), and to grow the respective agency’s customer base. Alaunus’s complete, simple, and revolutionary platform becomes the backbone of the temp agency’s back-office. Alaunus’s technology manages day-to-day client files, scheduling/rostering, and billing for the temp agency. Alaunus accurately tracks time and visit verification at the point of care, automates intelligent invoice generation and payroll, – all in one place. Patient privacy has strict compliance mandates and Alaunus adheres to them all. Alaunus is built from the ground-up with industry best-practice encryption, user management, and privacy. The official Alaunus App is “bring-your-own-device” friendly. Its platform infrastructure boasts state-of-the-art security standards, redundancy, backups, and is 100% PHIPA, HIPAA, and HITECH compliant. PSW customer feedback about its mobile app has been enthusiastic: Andrew G I really like the phone app of Alaunus. It works very well with the desktop software. Highly recommend it.
Ben Fluter Great resource for caregivers and makes work much easier. This app makes it so much easier to get to clients, take notes, and it even states safety precautions.
© Hilary Gauld, Commercial Editorial April 2016. Retrieved from http://hilarygauld.com/editorial-2/ on July 4, 2017
On the surface, the Alaunus story is straight out of the Startups 101 textbook. Chapter 1: Identify a pain point caused by a market trend. Chapter 2: Create a solution that customers are willing to pay for. Chapter 3: Provide that solution in a way that makes money. However, as at this moment in 2017, Chapter 4 has yet to be written: how to use social media to grow the business. That chapter is the one that this case study helps address.
Few enterprises that have taken the first three steps mentioned above have come close to the consistent growth Alaunus has made over its less than four years in business. What sets Alaunus apart is, not only the masterful way in which Lubin and Ringer and their small team have applied the startup formula, but the creative approaches they’ve taken to build an organization that is both exceptionally lean and completely scalable. This was Lubin’s and Ringer’s goal from the start, when all they had was a little bit of their own money, a little bit of financial support from the Laurier LaunchPad program, and a conviction that the niche at-home care market, served by contingent workers, needed a new way of doing things.
The business was founded without a lot of extensive knowledge of the niche sector it serves. Ringer started with a job straight out of a Laurier co-op working for an IT-staffing firm. There, he helped temporary workers comply with the administrative requirements of the companies they were working for. As well as familiarizing Ringer with the bureaucratic failings of the contingent-labour world, the job gave him insight into the support that employers and employees need in such arrangements from a business management point-of-view. The genesis of Alaunus was starting to form in Ringer’s mind. In October, 2013, Lubin, a recent graduate in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo, brought the technical development skills that would be needed to create the company’s proprietary software system. The two Waterloo university grads meshed on a personal level, and Alaunus was a go.
The co-founders were struck by the fact that demand for temporary workers, far from declining, had grown and were still spreading across the economy, even five years post the 2008 Great Recession. Corporate belts were still tightening, and companies looked to divest expensive overhead (read: permanent employees and in-house back-office functions). Concomitant with this shift, growing ranks within the labour pool — especially baby boomers and GenX and Yers — became keener on temporary and part-time work. The contingent work force had literally become a force for Alaunus to capitalize on. Plenty of staffing agencies had emerged to help contract employees find work, but almost none was in the home visit sector manned by PSW’s.
Most agencies manage contract workers on a one-off basis; they had no high-level view of how many such workers they were hiring, whether they were paying fair market rates and — since contract workers don’t pay CPP or EI premiums — whether they were risking raising a red flag with the government. Some organizations may have a person in-house that has that knowledge, but certainly not all, and the ones that did, have heavy back-office labour costs doing the book-keeping manually.
This knowledge gap was increasing the likelihood of regulatory non-compliance and decreasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of hiring contingent workers in the first place. Ringer realized there was a need, at the enterprise level, for services that manage clients’ entire contract workforces. As he had some expertise in that space, and Lubin had the technical coding and programming skills, they thought, “With our skill sets, focused on a small market niche operating under the radar of big competitors, Alaunus’s client base could be the beta testing we needed to confirm our software worked”.
With almost no external financing, living on a shoe string, and working around the clock, Lubin and Ringer staffed the small development team with computer co-op students from the University of Waterloo’s co-op program to enter data and code to craft the company’s own vendor-management system software. Ringer kept his finger on the clients’ pulse, developed his enterprise PR skills, sought mentorship from Communitech’s leadership, and looked for outside partners to grow the business. Lubin coded, encouraged the co-op students, coded some more, encouraged a new batch of co-op students, kept coding… .
The Alaunus startup model is relatively simple: Ringer advises clients what they must do to streamline their management of their contingent workers and comply with regulations. Lubin codes the software which automates everything from time-sheet management to tax compliance, all while giving clients a real-time view of their spending on contract workers. Their early adopters, a few SME’s, have been an excellent beta test platform. Ringer does very little hand-holding with clients; the software is intuitive enough that, after the installation period, customers can use it with minimal input. Its streamlined process and automation has been crucial to Alaunus’s scalability. The software has been successful enough that Lubin and Ringer are considering spinning it off into a separate operating unit as its beta-testing efficacy has attracted the Ontario Health Technologies Fund (HTF), via a $100,000 award to Alaunus, to grow the business to the next level. The first priority area for the HTF is Better Care Closer to Home, enabling Health Innovation Teams from across Ontario to work on projects related to home and community care through virtual, digital and mobile health-care technologies.
On April 10, 2017, Alaunus unveiled Bloom, a new platform that puts Ontario patients and families in “the driver’s seat when accessing home healthcare services.” Bloom will be piloted in partnership with Brain Injury Services of Hamilton and the Waterloo Wellington LHIN/CCAC. “We have the ability with Bloom to leverage technology to transform the traditional home health care delivery model,” says Laurie Graham, Director, Residential Services, Brain Injury Services. “Patients and their families are provided with greater control over their health care decisions and more expedited care. This drives better outcomes. Care workers as well, are provided with better support to succeed in their roles. Across the board, quality goes up.”
“The Waterloo Wellington LHIN was pleased to support Alaunus’s application for funding from the Ontario Health Technologies Fund, given its potential to facilitate a better connection between patients and caregivers, while reducing costs and increasing transparency and accountability. This is directly aligned with Ontario’s Patients First Action Plan,” says Bruce Lauckner, CEO, WWLHIN.” The Hamilton pilot kicks off in June 2017.
Bloom is a new technology platform to directly connect the 1.46 million Ontario patients and families, mostly seniors, with caregivers, accelerating access to high quality home-based care, including meals, transportation and caregiver services in their homes. Bloom gives patients and family members more choice, using modern technology to connect and match patients to high quality, fully vetted caregivers. The platform streamlines the existing home health care delivery system, empowers full patient-choice, enhances accountability, and elevates the quality of accessible caregivers, all while strengthening the voices of patients and families in their own healthcare planning.
In Ontario today, 93% of eligible home care patients receive their first nursing visit within five days of being approved and 84% of home care patients with complex needs receive a visit from a personal support worker (PSW) within the five day target. The ultimate goal of the Bloom platform is to narrow that time window even further.
“With the home health care market expected to grow internationally to reach $400 billion by 2021, our healthcare system can expect to see more cost constraints, more hospital admissions and more “aging in place” preferences. Bloom is a much-needed platform for the time,” says Ringer. “It puts flexibility, real-time communications and on-demand service directly in the hands of patients and their families, while leveraging proven evidence-based practices for increased client satisfaction and care outcomes. At this time of growing demand, we want to provide fast, safe, secure, and affordable home care for everyone.”
- Full alignment with Patients First Act and Better Care Closer to Home
- Patient choice of personal support worker (PSW) or health care provider (HCP) on-demand, with real time notifications
- Easily search PSW or HCP by geography, skill-set, experience, & ratings/reviews – ideally matched based on Bloom’s matching algorithm
- On-demand service capability, easily scheduled by patient, family, or care team
- Geo-location time and attendance verification to increase caregiver accountability, alleviate over-billing & reduce administrative burden.
- 15-20% reduction on home care services spend
- Provides more care and control to more patients
- Encourages faster, more accountable and efficient care
- Increases at-home quality of care, motivating caregivers to do better work
- Adds value to the community, and
- Supports an increased number of caregiver jobs in order to provide better care closer to home
Going forward for the remainder of 2017, the Alaunus/Bloom enterprise has almost outgrown its startup status, and as such, has to consider how it is going to use social media marketing to reach its customers. My first question to the co-founders was to have them define their customer. It turns out to be multi-fold: 1) there is the private agency sending out contingent workers to the patient in their home; 2) there is the private clinic needing contingent workers inside the clinic; 3) there is the contingent workers themselves needing to be able to stay in mobile contact with the agency; and 4) there is the patient, or next of kin of the patient, looking for a fast solution to unexpected homecare needs for an undetermined amount of time.
On top of that, with rapid in-office staff increases on the horizon in Alaunus/Bloom itself (up to 12 new software developers will be needed), the question of intra-enterprise communication and task sharing and monitoring is key, especially in the intimate and open space in the Communitech building. Lubin seems to have a good handle on this inside social media matter. They use Atlassian products almost entirely: HipChat for chat; JIRA for task management and issue tracking; and Confluence for wiki. Google Docs is used for document editing and management.
But how to choose the external social media platforms for marketing to customers as well as keeping external stakeholders like Communitech and the Ontario government satisfied with the Alaunus/Bloom message?
Using the Whole Enterprise Social Media Canvas as a guide, here is a synopsis of Alaunus/Bloom as it fits into the template:
Organization Vision: to design and implement professional and high performing web applications in the mobile healthcare space; to optimize business operations for our clients and their employees.
Customer Desires: 1. Agencies//private clinics: to automate back-office work functions for accounting, vetting contingent workers’ profiles, and payroll as a means to reduce overhead. 2. Contingent workers: to connect quickly with job opportunities in a geo-preferred area; to have a comprehensive mobile app to communicate quickly with the agency or patient or family member of patient; and to forward reports back to the agency via mobile. 3. Patient or family member of patient: to find a quality-care agency within the community that can staff the family member’s needs quickly; have a vetting system available for choosing the optimal PSW; have a mobile capability that allows us to reach the agency or PSW should the need arise; have an integrated payments system for ease of and repeatable use.
Environmental factors: dedicated to the niche home care agency market employing about 200 – 2,000 contingent workers; under the radar of large staffing companies.
Demographics: a growing need for homecare for boomers and the growth of GenY and Xers to find homecare for their babyboomer parents if such parents are too compromised to search out homecare assistance themselves.
Alaunus/Bloom In-house functions:
HR: n/a at this time; Product sourcing: n/a at this time; Product development: enterprise social media – see below under “Senior management – employee engagement”; Store operations: n/a at this time; Supply chain: n/a at this time; Marketing: social media strategy pending;
Senior management responsibilities: 1. Employee engagement – up to 12 developers needed – use Atlassian products – HipChat, JIRA, Confluence, and Google Docs, SMS, email; 2. Customer engagement – email, phone, social media strategy, mobile strategy; 3. Corporate growth – social media strategy, PR; 4. Stakeholders’ PR – government, investors, Communitech – social media strategy, PR; 5. HR; Senior management structure: CEO, CMO, CIO – roles amongst Andrew Ringer and 2 new private investor//active partners undefined as of yet; CTO – Jesse Lubin.
Social media tactics: B2B – mobile and desktop capabilities; B2C – a) PSW; b) Patient or close family member: mobile and desktop capabilities;
Social media tools proposed: LinkedIn; Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; Pinterest; YouTube; senior management join industry blogs; Mobile SMS; Mobile chatbots: KIK for local support and younger PSWs; Facebook Messenger for GenXer’s and GenYer’s PSWs.
Some fundamental steps to formulate the Alaunus/Bloom social media strategy were discussed. As entrepreneurs, Lubin and Ringer value strategizing and planning. The first step suggested was for them to figure out what type of brand Alaunus should be portrayed as, for both brand transparency and authenticity. It would be valuable to align their social media approach with their company culture. Does it lend itself towards a straightforward classic approach, or does it have more of an easygoing, relaxed feel? Perhaps it is a bit of both: for the government, institutional stakeholders, and traditional agency/private clinic customers, the former. For the contingent worker and next of kin seeker for homecare for their elderly family member, and being used to mobile apps (and introducing chatbots) perhaps the latter. Regardless, consistency of content and user engagement tactics are key.
Next, determine the company’s primary goals. It’s more likely a startup will want to focus on lead generation, customer acquisition, and stakeholder PR.
Last, it’s important to think about ways to measure results of their social media efforts. If measuring the number of followers is not enough, think about measuring growth of engagement on posts. How many comments, likes, and shares do you get? What type of posts are of most interest to your audience? How frequently do you need to post to get more engagement or “reach” (defined as the number of people in your audience that actually see your posts). Now, drum roll: Lubin//Ringer – it’s time to choose your social media platforms!
Depending on their strategy, approach, and goals, Lubin and Ringer should be able to determine which social media platforms are right for the company and there are many current and useful references for B2B and B2C platforms, each tabling the pros and cons of each.
I wish them the best of luck and continued success. Perhaps another UofW SMBP student will check-in next year to see how Alaunus/Bloom is doing with their social media campaign. I would look forward to reading how their Chapter 4 turned out.
Lessons for Others
© Bruce Lauckner, Lead Together Waterloo Wellington on May 8, 2017. Retrieved from https://brucelauckner.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/from-innovation-to-action-collaboration-is-key/ on July 4, 2017
It’s never too soon to start thinking about a business’s social media strategy. Perhaps 3 ½ years later is a little tardy for Alaunus, but the founders are true believers now that a well-thought out social media strategy is a business growth necessity. There is an enormous amount of very useful information on the ‘net for any business to investigate the best use cases for social media platforms. Also, there are some excellent businesses specializing in helping B2B and B2C businesses get started properly – it’s just a matter of the size of Alaunus’s marketing budget.
The following is just a personal observation: I’ve noticed that in all the personal interviews I’ve conducted throughout the University of Waterloo SMBP program, all contacts use social media at a minimum for personal use, including these two very hip young men at Alaunus. I was surprised that Lubin and Ringer were unsure as to which social media platforms were best-suited to market their business, especially given their prowess with developing a mobile app, and being socially aware enough to recognize the business opportunity in the niche market they’ve gone after.
I wonder if the limited personal use of senior management social media is twofold: as technology software developers, the nature of their work is proprietary; hence, little can be said of it publically; and second, they worked virtually 24/7 with clients that served as beta sites for several years, and they had to be sure the software was market-ready, in Alaunus’s case, 3+ years later, before anything could be said in a public forum.
The startup has grown up and now it’s time to launch Alaunus/Bloom on social media. It’s for the enterprise’s growth, not the co-founders. It would be of interest to measure the co-founders’ level of personal social media usage after the launch of the company’s social media marketing strategy. Creating and blogging unique content for their customers on a regular basis may force that upon them.
Industry: Software Development
Name of Organization Contact: Jesse Lubin, Co-founder
Authored by: Katie Lubin
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.
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