Newcomers Fight to Disrupt Senior Living Leads Landscape

New competition is crowding into the senior living and care referral space, but whether they’ll be able to conquer the existing industry giants—or even get a corner of the market share—is in most cases to be determined.

There’s no denying that A Place for Mom has a firm grasp on “lead generator giant” in the senior living industry. Caring.com is a more distant, but indisputable, number two, and gained financial resources and long-term stability after its acquisition by Bankrate. Others with established senior industry market share include Move, Inc.’s SeniorHousingNet.com, SeniorHomes.com, SeniorLiving.net, and more.

In the biblical tale of David and Goliath, the cheeky upstart unexpectedly conquered the mighty giant thanks to his deep conviction that he was backed by a higher power. Beyond that belief, David was arguably smarter and more nimble than his opponent with the added benefit of an unconventional strategy—a slingshot versus the huge sword that Goliath wielded.

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Cariloop, a Texas-based senior care referral company that bills itself as a mix between Expedia, Yelp, and eHarmony, provides a service free to consumers that helps them figure out what kind of care they need, then pairs them with the best possible match.

In contrast, many other care referral sites only match consumers with senior care providers they’re partnered with, or give higher preference to communities that have paid for enhanced listings, whether or not they’re the best fit. In 2010, Washington state introduced regulatory legislation following an investigation by the Seattle Times that uncovered businesses that would refer seniors to communities with “documented histories of substandard care,” reports the NY Times.

“They’re pay to play, and often the best interest or need of the consumer isn’t in the equation,” says Cariloop CEO Michael Walsh of industry competitors that tend to favor revenue over compatibility.

Silver Living is another newer site that touts itself as “honest expert reviews” for the senior care industry compiled through mystery shoppers, photographers, and researchers. The company is paid when a qualified lead chooses a community, but doesn’t consider itself a referral agency.

Launched in 2012, the review site is getting ready to transition from a pilot to a more widespread launch with the addition of 1,000 new reviews this year.

Co-founder Tal Ziv says his company has nine total investors and is no longer fundraising, having already raised about $1 million. “We’re in a very good position in our capital needs because our costs are down quite a bit [as operations become more streamlined],” he says.

While there is “definitely” a value that industry giants Caring.com and APFM provide, says Leo Friedman, the founder of GoldenReviews.com, he believes it’s a very limited value for families. The way to change that, he says, is to provide insights—and disruption—into the way people search for senior care.

Many of the established referral sources are “basically an offline concept taken online,” says Friedman, noting the older model of local senior care locator services getting paid referral fees and the similarity of online directories to the Yellow Pages. His Chicago-based site’s goal is to bring transparency to the senior care industry through third-party reviews.

“The industry is ripe for disruption, whether it’s [Golden Reviews] or somebody else,” he says. “That disruptor will slowly gain market share, and in my opinion, it’s going to be through transparency and insight.”

For Golden Reviews, one way to achieve that transparency is through its Golden Seal—a sort of certification that can’t be bought, only earned, making it more trustworthy to families.

“There are ways to rig the system,” Friedman acknowledges, “but current certifications about quality of care and staff– you can’t fully trust them, unfortunately. It’s a problem.”

Whoever solves it and becomes the authority on information, transparency, and certification of senior living services, he continues, will be able to disrupt Caring.com and APFM, but “it won’t be easy—that’s for sure.”

Golden Reviews is currently on growth hiatus as Friedman is focusing his energies on another company he runs that has experienced “very, very rapid” growth.

“The project is still live and is still being funded by me, but I don’t want to run it with only 15% or 20% of my time. I want to give the company a fair chance to succeed, because it’s a great cause,” he says. “But it has to be done with laser focus and perseverance. It’s a long-term game.”

The agility that comes with a newer, smaller organization won’t always translate to success, and plenty of challenges stand in the way. The biggest issue for newcomers to the lead gen space seems to be scalability and getting the money to grow.

“There’s lots of competition; it has calmed down a little with new lead generator entrants in the last year and a half, but scaling is not an easy task,” says Silver Living’s Ziv.

“You need the leads, and you need the money to advertise on the Internet to get those leads,” agrees Jayne Sallerson, senior vice president of marketing at Emeritus. “It’s hard for [smaller lead gen companies].”

SeniorsForLiving.com, according to Sallerson, was acquired by RealPage Senior Living in February 2013 aftering learning that Emeritus, Brookdale, Benchmark Senior Living, and Senior Star Management Company were going to name Caring.com as their agency of record in a May agreement that no longer exists.

TenderTree, a marketplace of vetted in-home caregivers for consumers to choose from raised $1.3 million in seed funding from investors that included 500 Startups and Expansion Venture Capital, but closed just one year after beta launch in November 2013.

“What you’re going to see is, a lot of the smaller guys trying to start these companies are going to go out of business. They’re not going to be able to compete against APFM, Caring.com, etc.,” predicts Sallerson. “I believe the smaller guys will go way.”

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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