Seniors Need Support More Than Ever. One Startup Shows They Can Also Provide It.

Mar 31, 2020

Retirement usually marks the end of one’s career. But life goes on—and for most people, it’s not simply coasting the rest of the way. Retirees may not want to labor as hard, but they still want to be productive, support others and otherwise contribute to society. Boredom also kicks in.

“Lifelong learning” is an ideal often celebrated in education circles, and a new company is setting out to prove that the pursuit of new skills and knowledge doesn’t stop at age 55, 62 or whenever Social Security retirement benefits kick in in the future.

Based in San Francisco, Getsetup connects seniors with their peers for private, online lessons about frequently used online tools. Among the 50 classes it offers are courses on running an e-commerce marketplace (using tools like Etsy and Shopify), marketing oneself (with LinkedIn and MailChimp), and building websites (on Squarespace and Wix).

Society created this assumption that by 60 or 65, you retire and you’re done with learning. But I don’t think they think of themselves that way.
Neil D’Souza, founder and CEO of Getsetup

For both personal and professional reasons, many seniors want to stay abreast with what’s happening around them, says Neil D’Souza, founder and CEO of Getsetup. Often that entails keeping up with the latest tools to stay connected with friends and family, or to build their own businesses and consulting gigs, he adds.

“There’s a misconception that older people are averse to technology. It’s what a lot of people say when I pitch them this tool,” says D’Souza. Another common refrain he hears: nobody likes teaching old people technology.

Yet he would argue that the early traction his company has seen suggests otherwise. Since launching in August 2019, more than 1,500 students have taken to the platform. “If you provide a safe space to learn technology, they want to learn, and they are willing to put in the work,” he adds.

Case in point: a Japanese octogenarian who in 2017 taught herself how to code in Swift, Apple’s programming language, and published an app in the online store.

Key to making Getsetup’s classes hum are the instructors, called guides, who are all retired teachers or professionals with teaching backgrounds. Some are members of the National Education Association, the largest union in the U.S. Others are former teachers on VIPKid, a company that connects North American teachers to Chinese students for English lessons. “These teachers not only are patient, but they are also empathetic and very good at explaining things step by step,” says D’Souza.

Courses run one hour and take place over Zoom. Each guide follows a scaffolded lesson plan developed by the company, which walks students through a progression of skills related to the tool. As part of every session, guides will ask students to share their screen and perform the tasks that are taught.

Each course costs $60 to $150, and guides make $25 an hour teaching on the platform. Getsetup also charges companies that build or resell tools, such as Copper CRM, Healthcare.com, Ripple Health and Zendesk, to onboard their customers.

The company also has venture capital backing. In February, it raised $1.2 million in an angel round from Rethink Education and individuals including John Danner, managing director of Dunce Capital and founder of charter network Rocketship Education, and David Ko, former CEO of Rally Health.

A Change of Plans, in Response to Covid-19

Getsetup is the second education venture for D’Souza, and one that serves learners on the other end of the age spectrum. In 2012, he founded Zaya Learning Labs, which developed portable devices preloaded with digital instructional materials for children that can be beamed to local computing devices, in areas across Asia and Africa that lack widespread internet connection.

After leaving the company in 2017, D’Souza says he hung out with friends who had retired and didn’t know what to do next. He attended events about how to lead productive lives after turning 50, where he realized that seniors are overlooked, untapped assets who have much to contribute.

“I think seniors are sometimes made to feel invisible,” says D’Souza. “Society created this assumption that by 60 or 65, you retire and you’re done with learning. But I don’t think they think of themselves that way.”

Through his networks, he connected with Stanford University’s Distinguished Careers Institute, which runs a yearlong adult-education program. He studied up on research about the impact of adult education and purposeful social engagement on wellbeing and longevity. And he tested the idea out with retired educators in his network and from teachers’ unions. What D’Souza heard is that as much as seniors have to learn about new technologies, “they also have a lot to offer.”

In August 2019, he incorporated Getsetup. He and his team, which now numbers eight full-time staff, started by personally training senior teachers in technology skills that they would teach others—a “train the trainer” model, in his words. Many of its early students were in the 50 to 65 age range, who were interested in tools to help them set up their own businesses.

Then the coronavirus hit. Like many other education technology providers, D’Souza offered free services in the form of group classes on topics that have become most pressing for his audience. The most popular have been about navigating Medicare enrollment, staying fit and exercising at home, using meal and medicine delivery services, and connecting with others through Facetime and other video chat apps.

His user demographic has shifted as well. Currently, the majority of its users are between the ages of 65 to 80, many of whom are learning for the first time about online services like Amazon that can be a lifesaver, as many have been ordered to stay home. He’s heard from guides who are getting the word out through their church communities. “Their focus is now primarily about survival,” he says.

The crisis has also spurred ideas for reaching other demographics. D’Souza says that some of the guides on his platform, once classroom teachers themselves, have offered to help fellow educators who are now transitioning to remote instruction.

It’s something that he’s taking seriously. In partnership with The Learning Accelerator, an education technology nonprofit, Getsetup instructors will offer to teach classes on specific tools that many school officials and teachers may be trying for the first time. On that list are Google Classroom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.


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