Voices: Nate O’Keefe, CEO and Founder, Roobrik

This article is sponsored by Roobrik. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Roobrik CEO and Founder Nate O’Keefe to learn how Roobrik helps senior living sales and marketing teams tap into the 90% of potential customers who explore a senior living website but don’t reach out — along with the realization through their data that COVID-19 is increasing consumer interest in senior housing.

Senior Housing News: You come from an academic background. You made the move into health and medical apps in 2006, and you founded Roobrik in 2013. Tell us about your professional journey. How did your work prior to Roobrik lead you to start your company?

Nate O’Keefe: I was raised with a pretty strong service ethic. I started delivering papers when I was nine years old, back when that was still a job that a kid could get. From there I worked in food service as a teenager before working at some pretty large research institutions. In all those early jobs, I learned the special satisfaction and pride that comes with helping someone one-on-one.

As I learned more about technology, I wanted to find ways to achieve that at scale. In particular I wanted to explore how to use tech to help people with very personal high-stakes challenges, especially health and care decisions. My first step down this path was co-founding a medical app company focused on providing critical clinical information to health care providers at the point of care, when they’re working directly with patients.


Then when we started Roobrik, we combined these two ideas: helping people with big, intensely personal decisions by providing authentic, trusted information. That’s threaded through everything we’ve built at Roobrik.

You have run Roobrik for seven years. Describe the company’s mission. What needs and opportunities did you see that led you to found it?

We believe that the single most impactful way to improve the experience of aging is to help families make informed decisions, earlier. The business case for this in senior living is so compelling. Our work suggests that if even a fraction of the people who are researching senior living decided to move in, we’d have an inventory problem and not an occupancy problem. We’ve proven that when older adults and families go through an informed decision-making process, they act more quickly.


I think we can all relate to this. If you think about a big decision you’ve been waiting on — a house remodel, elective surgery, a job change — often, it’s just a single moment of validation that tips you over the edge. For many families, going through a Roobrik assessment is that moment of validation that reinforces what they already know — that maybe Mom or Dad needs to be a little less isolated, have caring people around them, and live in a safer and more secure environment.

When you reach that audience, then, and help them move past that uncertainty, how do you know it’s working?

We do it with decision science-based assessments. They are friendly, conversational, and trust-building; they inform while they assess, and then provide very detailed results that are customized to each family’s specific situation.

We know it’s working when we see a very predictable set of outcomes. Typically, it’s eight to 10 more minutes of time on our providers’ websites, and a full 20-40% more qualified leads than they were getting before. Another way to look at that is: 20-40% of site visitors are slipping away without a tool like Roobrik. These are very repeatable numbers that make it simple for us to measure results and tell, in just a couple of weeks, that it’s working as it should.

Another piece of evidence we’re very proud of is the number of clients who started small with just a few communities, saw really positive results, and quickly expanded across their portfolios. Just like a senior living decision, it’s natural to be unsure about a new tool like Roobrik. So when you try it and have an immediate positive experience, it tells us we’re on to something.

You talk about earning that trust as being mission-critical for a senior living operator. How does Roobrik specifically help that happen and help to reach those numbers — the 20-40% more qualified leads, for example?

We find that no family or future resident wants to feel like they’re being sold a senior living option. A remarkable way that Roobrik works is that it objectively helps people self-discover the right senior living answer. It never tries to sell anything — it actually sells by never selling. I think within the industry, great sales advisors know how to do this well, but they can only do it when they get the chance, when they can actually talk or meet with someone one-on-one.

Our focus is on taking that informing and trust-building experience several steps earlier, to the 90% of people who are on community websites but not reaching out. Roobrik is an objective assessment, provided by us, a trusted third party. It’s not, “Hey, we’re marketing to you.” Instead the message is: “We know this is a hard decision, and we’ve partnered with Roobrik to bring you this trusted resource.”

What we find is that families respect and trust services that objectively help them through their learning process while also building that confidence in those personal decisions.

Has that equation changed because of COVID-19, and do you think it will change again if there’s a second wave in the fall?

Yes and no. The biggest obstacles will always be fear of change and fear of the unknown. Our data shows, and we did some specific research around this over the past couple of months, that even with COVID, people primarily want confidence that they’re making the right choice at the right time. What COVID has added is a new unknown in that list of unknowns. “Will I be more safe or less safe?” “Will I be more engaged or less engaged?” “Will my life be easier or harder?”

What we’re also seeing though is that people are asking those same questions about their current home. COVID has forced the question of, “Is home the best place for me?” We’re finding more families are re-evaluating this in a new light. For the industry, we see this as a great big opportunity to have the conversation from a fresh and honest perspective.

How is Roobrik evolving its platform with regards to COVID? What outcomes have you seen that are most promising?

We know that 20-40% of this audience wants to have that conversation, but needs to start it in a platform like Roobrik that builds trust. We become that first opportunity for dialogue that a prospect or a family member has, before they pick up the phone. We’re adding questions and content to do a couple of things: tactically, to inform about COVID, but also to gauge potential concerns among families. Starting this month, our provider clients have the option to include some new questions in Roobrik that are specific to potential COVID concerns, which will give them immediate insights for specific families.

We’re already optimistic. Our research shows that in May, COVID was in the bottom half of obstacles to making senior living decisions among the folks that we have interacted with. The obstacles at the top are still just these perennial concerns about, “I’m not sure if it’s the right time.” “I’m not sure if it’s the best option for me.” “I want to know more about what senior living is like.” What we see is that there’s a wide range of responses in how they’re thinking about and prioritizing these concerns.

How will your clients be able to measure your success, in terms of that earning of trust?

I think the big yardsticks will be the same as before COVID. “Am I getting 20-40% more leads?” “Are my sales advisors having more productive, authentic conversations?” “Are prospects becoming residents at a higher rate?” The ultimate sign of trust is that willingness to talk, then that willingness to come visit. Then of course, finally to decide to make a senior living community their home.

The smaller signs will be in how they’re interacting, and how it’s different. Are they asking about COVID? Are they staying on the phone longer? What are they sharing? What content are they consuming? We’ve teased out some of these insights on our platform. For instance, in April, we saw that prospects were actually matching to a higher level of care than we normally see. This suggested that we’ve got this audience out there that might be realizing that home isn’t as safe, or as comfortable, or as wise a choice as they thought. We see that there’s this real opportunity now to start that conversation and work to earn trust among people that might be new to the decision, or new to this research. I think that’s pretty interesting and exciting.

It sounds like Roobrik is looking ahead to the future and making adjustments to help its customers successfully navigate this new normal. What are one or two steps that sales and marketing teams can take in the near term as well?

Well you’ll notice that, like our products, we also try to sell by not selling. I’ll make an exception here because the entire industry has to rebuild three months of lost pipeline, and that means they have to try new things. If, as an operator, you are paying to fill your funnel and bring people to your site, and 20-40% of those leads are leaking right back out of that funnel, you want to patch that as quickly as you can. Roobrik is the fastest, best patch there is, with tons of ancillary benefit, and super simple pricing.

Beyond that, I think it’s two things: first be prepared to talk about COVID and how your community has fared. Some prospects will need utter transparency on this concern to build trust. Second, be prepared to understand and explore their experiences over the past three months. This has been a time like no other in our history. The fact that they want to talk to you in the midst of it means they truly believe you can help — you are a priority.

I think that leads, finally, to something we’ve been hearing a lot. So many of our partners and their teams are experiencing a little fatigue. They wake up every day, give 110% and don’t always see the results. We really believe these fundamental mantras still apply:

“We are the helpers. People need us. Let us go forth, and serve.”

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Roobrik helps older adults and their families think through care and living options with compassion, insight and personalized recommendations for next steps. If you’d like to see a demo or get a copy of our May 2020 COVID Report, contact [email protected]

The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact [email protected].

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