16 Feb 2013, 12:43pm
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Solve the Problems Your Parents Have

WTF is getting old, our generation wonders. I think ageism runs deep, especially among the tech set who assume older people must be Luddites and by extension lower life forms. I’m not joking, I know people who feel this way – and when was the last time you had a conversation with tech with someone over 50?

When I was recently graduated from High School and working as a barista I did a lot of odd jobs to make extra money, and one of my favorites was helping people set up their computers and Internet and learn to use them. This is in 2004, and all my clients were in their late 40s and older. I was setting up Earthlink and AOL dial-up in 2004!

This is a photo of my parents, but I can totally imagine it being a photo of any 20-something couple I know. Are they really so different from us? What can we learn from them? What problems would they pay to solve?

When did “talk to customers” get substituted for “talk to people who are really similar to you”? Most of the people I know who claim to be talking to customers aren’t getting very far outside of their own demographic circles. Whenever I go home to visit my parents, which is every 2-3 months, I’m reminded that there is an entire world of people out there with problems vastly different from my own. My “first world problems” feel more like “person under 30 problems” when looked at through this lens.

Your Parents Have Money

Even parents of small means accumulate some amount of wealth (or debt) over time, so money management could be a real challenge, hassle, and source of stress for your parents. Combine this with the fact that they didn’t grow up using the computer, and you’ll find that even though there has been a lot of innovation in online banking, investment management, etc. it is very possible that they’re not using those tools.

If your parents have accumulated some wealth, or if like mine they run a family business or consulting practice, then their taxes and estate planning are also complicated. You, 20-something engineer, probably haven’t written a will. But your parents have, and they worry about that alongside things like a mortgage that might be underwater since 2008, mounting repair costs for their home (leaky roof, sagging wall, etc). Your parents probably worry about so many things you aren’t even aware of – sometime you should ask them to write down a list of everything they worry about. You’ll be amazed.

Your Mom is Going Back to Work After 18+ Years

I was very fortunate to be raised by a Mom who choose full-time parenting as her profession, but now that my sister and I are out of the house she’s figuring out what to do next. In her case she’s taken an active role in the family business and gotten more serious about her equestrian hobby. But for many families the full-time Mom either gets bored or wants/needs to contribute financially. How is someone who hasn’t been in the workforce for 20 years going to find a job, build skills, and gain the confidence to put herself out there? What job should they even apply for? There is probably a huge opportunity to 1) employee these people in your company and tap into deep life and professional knowledge 2) create a content/jobs site devoted to the over-50 professional lifestyle, jobs, etc.

Your Parents Have Kids (You)

Most of the people I know don’t live near their parents, so communication is a challenge. My parents have tried using Facetime and Skype with me, but neither of those services really stuck and we reverted to mostly phone calls and occaisonally email (in the past couple years). To be clear, they’re not Luddites, its just not a satisfying way of staying connected. Often I wonder if services for couples like Pair and Avocado would be even cooler for me and my Mom and Dad.

A Lot of Your Parents are Divorced or Widowed

An unfortunate statistic, but many of you have parents who will enter their later years alone. One thing I think is missing in the world are tools to help people over 50 continue to date. I don’t think sites like Match.com or OkCupid are really catering to that demographic.

Another thing I think is missing, or just starting to get addressed, is the need for skilled at-home care for the elderly who wish to avoid retirement homes. TenderTree, a company I mentored in a recent 500 Startups batch, is the beginning of this… and there is a land grab to come in lifestyle management and healthcare. Another great on is Eligible Web Services.

Your Parents Are Approaching Retirement

WTF is retirement, our generation usually asks. But it is very likely your parents have built their lives around the idea that in their mid-60s they’ll trade their full time jobs for a monthly social security check, and begin drawing on whatever retirement funds they’ve been setting aside. Most people grossly underestimate how much they will need to save in order to maintain their quality of living, so at this point there are two options: reduce spending or go back to work. The 60+ DIY community is incredible. Can you imagine what Etsy is going to be like when all the sellers using it right now are in their 60s?!

Your Parents Have Health Conditions

One unfortunate aspect of aging is that health conditions develop, or are exacerbated. From mild allergies to chronic conditions to memory loss, bone density loss, and on and on and on. Young people, with our invincible bodies and racing minds, struggle to grasp the frustration of losing aspects of youth. I think our parents feel old just talking about these things, but it bothers them and secretly worries their kids.

Its not that I want to manage my parents’ lives, but I do wish they could live forever, so it would be great to see technology that changes the parent/child conversation around regular physicals, diet, exercise, etc. For parents with severe or terminal conditions (broken bone, major surgery, cancer) I think there is huge opportunity to improve the experience of treatment, advocacy, ongoing care, and ultimately hospice when the time comes.

Your Parents Are Going to Die Someday

I hate writing that subheader, but it is true. Beyond the logistics of health, travel, care, money, and everything else that goes into operating the day-to-day of life there is the emotional side of living and loving each other. Where do the memories go? How will technology change how we capture and store photographs for grandchildren who never see your parents. All those things they’ve saved over the years have so much meaning, but how will you deal with that when they’re gone. They worry about this long before they should, and Facebook has barely scratched the surface of dealing with death.

I sometimes wonder that there aren’t more family legacy website (they do exist) storing all these keepsakes for future generations, providing private logins and access. I also wonder about the physical storage of keepsakes like an ancient wedding dress, photo of my great great grandfather shaking Henry Ford’s hand as he received the 9th Model T off the line, a gold watch (also a gift from Henry Ford) with a sweet engraving, my Grandfather’s partially written World War 2 memoir found on his Mac after his death, everything that smells like my Mom… and on and on and on.

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Someday You Will Be Like Your Parents

Selfishly, I hope we can start solving these problems now so that by the time I’m in my 60s I’ll benefit not only from a ton of technology geared towards an older generation (which will probably happen anyway since all the people who are in their 20s building tech will age right along with me). But what I really want is for my own parents and their friends to benefit even more from the web and other tech in their own lifetimes. I might get more years with them and their years spent on Earth will be more enjoyable. That’s just good business.

Being the “tech support guy/gal” in your family is actually a huge opportunity to observe all things that are broken, confusing, poorly marketed, and generally hinder adoption among our parents’ generation.

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16 Feb 2013, 1:19pm
by Mia Lilien

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Very insightful and I love being 47 1/2 :)

Well, perhaps.

I’d rather that we just solve problems for everyone. By and large, age has nothing to do with it.

Dude?
Is it alright for an old man to start out his comment with dude?
Anyway, you write like 50 is the new 90. Nevertheless, thanks for the ideas.

I thought a bit about that too, but I noticed with my parents that they started worrying about getting older when they were around 50 and that’s also when I started doing startups — so that’s when I picked it. They’re going to live a long time, but I think they already face challenges that I’m disconnected from because of my age and lack of experiences.

Greetings from Mars.
Guess you didn’t expect me hacking into your internet?

Insightful article, though I’m amused that 50 year olds are considered luddites. It’s often forgotten that Bill Gates, the Woz, John Dvorak and the rest of that generation, my generation, are over 50 and are the very ones who created the platforms you kids take for granted. My father, now in his 70s, worked as a programmer for GE at Cape Canaveral on Apollo flights 8-14. I remember comparing green & white dot matrix print outs to the punch cards to make sure they were in the proper order in the early 70s, those were FORTRAN days. I’d be lost on a Windows or Apple machine, as I run Linux on my machines. The last Windows machine I used was Win2k, about the same time I started putting the penguin on my laptop. It must be remembered that we ALL stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before us. I love the fact that you are astute enough to see this. Perhaps you will be the one to open the new frontiers for solving the problems you have so intelligently observed. Good luck!

Ageism, i think you just need to find a different crowd of oldsters, or maybe rethink your definition of tech. I was just speaking with my 80 year old dad about how programming has changed since the 1960s.

But what your dad considers programming and what is considered programming by today’s standards are so drastically different that your point is moot.

And that’s one such example of the very disparity that being discussed.

16 Feb 2013, 6:38pm
by mark raintree

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first thing I see (and am starting to have a hard time seeing myself) is reissuing _everything_ physical with bigger fonts. It seems current companies are in a race to the lowest possible numbered type face.

possible product opportunity, just by relabeling.

Great post!

First article like this I have read. Nice work.

I’m a bit shocked at the lack of respect younger people show “older people”. And yes I have seen it in hiring, but I’m ok with that.

In the tech world I get the sense that they can’t be bothered by what has come before them. “Its different for us…” They don’t want to hear it. They want to reinvent the wheel and so did I. Eventually after being told many times I realized they were right.

One explanation is that respect for elders is learned and is taught to children by their parents. Perhaps in broken homes there is less opportunity, and the fad of single parents trying to be best friends with their children rather then parents add to this.

Its scares me as I age.

[...] Solve the Problems Your Parents Have [...]

Deep observation Danielle. It extends further down to people in their 40′s as well. My wife and I had a daughter in our late 30′s. We have to plan in case of our deaths as well as plan for our daughter coming to college age when we are approaching our “retirement” age. (I think retirement is going to be redefined drastically before we get there, but that’s another post.) All this while we participate in PTA, run our daughter to a gamut of activities, and have our own demanding careers. We need tools to help us manage it all.

Oh yes, house “underwater” as well.

The problem for us is not the mechanics of getting around a computer or the internet. There really do not seem to be well-integrated solutions that help with coordination and automation. We do not need more social sites that improve on Facebook or Flickr.

I think there are other populations not being well-served as well. They are large sub-groups that have niche needs. Aspiring entrepreneurs should keep their eyes open.

Great post.

[...] Solve the Problems Your Parents Have, daniellemorrill.com [...]

[...] Danielle Morill on idea generation: solve the problems your parents have. [...]

[...] Here is a great article to just set your perspective on thinking about your parents. As many young people never stop to think that their parents were once young (and fun!), this article is a good eye-opener – Danielle Morrill: Solve the Problem Your Parents Have [...]

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