Feeling lonely and forlorn? Companionship is a step away!

Industrialist and philanthropist Ratan Tata has announced investment in ‘Goodfellows,’ India’s first companionship start-up for senior citizens which appoints young graduates who provide companionship ‘similar to what a grandkid would do’. A report by Narvir Rooprai

Industrialist Ratan Tata has launched India’s companionship start-up for senior citizens, Goodfellows, in a bid to encourage intergenerational friendships. Commenting on the investment, Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, said, “The bonds between the two generations created by Goodfellows are very meaningful and are helping to address an important social issue in India. I hope the investment helps the young team at Goodfellows grow.”  Speaking at the launch, Ratan Tata said no one cares about getting old until they actually get old. Getting a good-natured companionship is a challenge.

Since stepping down as CEO of the salt-to-software Tata Group, the 84-year-old industrialist has been an enthusiastic supporter of startups. To date, he has invested in more than 50 businesses. Ratan Tata provided funds or backed nearly 50 start-ups such as Airbnb, Bombay Hemp Company, Bluestone, Goquii, Ikure, Nestaway, Paytm and Ola Electric among others. He had also exited from two ventures — Lenskart and Urban ladder – while a couple of them became Unicorns, a term for a start-up valued at $1 billion and more. Ratan Tata is a philanthropist and continues to head the group’s charitable trusts. In his capacity, he has been investing or supporting firms with philanthropic causes ranging from electric vehicles to healthcare and mobility.

Shantanu Naidu, an MBA from Cornell University, founded the Goodfellows startup. The 28-year-old is a General Manager at Tata’s office and is the fifth generation of his family to work in the Tata Group. Shantanu Naidu shares Ratan Tata’s love for dogs and strays. He has previously started a venture around pets as well.  “Intergenerational friendships are a kind, meaningful and authentic way to help the elderly living alone with companionship and warmth in the way that GoodFellows is offering. I am keen to see how GoodFellows progresses and wish Shantanu and his young team all the very best,” an emailed statement said.

“Several non-profit models in this space have failed since volunteering happens as per the availability of volunteers and no one invests enough time with one senior to form an authentic bond. Once the desire is over, volunteers move away which impacts seniors gravely,” the start-up said in a statement. The start-up, in its beta phase, is trying to discover how organically the Grandpals bonded with the Goodfellows.

What does Goodfellows do?

Goodfellows hires youngsters who have the skills of empathy and emotional intelligence to work as the companions of senior citizens. They are also required to ease their day or help them with any task. The experience has been that the tasks may include playing carrom, reading the newspaper for them or even taking naps together.

Goodfellows has been conducting its beta phase in Mumbai with 20 seniors for the past six months. In the upcoming phase, it intends to provide services in Pune, Chennai, and Bengaluru. The services will be expanded throughout the nation, according to Shantanu Naidu.

The companions should perform a variety of duties with the customers, such as playing carrom, reading the newspaper to them, or even taking naps together, according to Naidu’s experience up to this point. It is challenging to create the link between a grandparent and a grandchild, according to Naidu, but the company will make sure that real bonds can develop.

The graduates, called “Goodfellows”, would provide a friendship to the elderly and go along for walks, help them with grocery shopping, accompany them to doctors and teach them technology among others. In the near future, Goodfellows will offer travel companions for seniors holding back from making trips due to lack of security or company, and also plans to extend its services to the handicapped community facing similar or more challenges. Efforts are on to raise more funds to sustain and expand this service.

The near-term goal is to hire 100 goodfellows who could touch the lives of 300 senior citizens. Company officials said that talks are on with two large corporates who have shown interest to onboard this service for their retiring employees.

The startup works on a subscription model which guarantees that when the senior citizens bond with their companions, they do not keep rotating the graduate visiting them since that does not allow enough time or emotional attention to form a real bond. “When we make a friend, we want to see the same friend often. A new person every time will prevent this from happening,” the company explained.

The business model of Goodfellows is a freemium subscription model. The first month is free with the goal of having the senior citizen experience the service since it’s hard to understand the concept without actually going through it. From the second month onward, a small subscription fee has been decided based on the limited affordability of pensioners.

With 15 million elderlies in India living alone, either due to the loss of a partner, or families moving away for unavoidable work reasons, many of them have caregivers but the issue of loneliness or lack of company has been the primary reason for deteriorating mental and physical health. The for-profit start-up will begin commercial operations soon and GoodFellows will charge a monthly subscription. Senior citizens can avail the services by signing-up on thegoodfellows.in or can give a missed call at  +91 8779524307 or  check out their Instagram handle.

In the near future, Goodfellows plans to offer travel companions for seniors holding back from making trips due to lack of security or company, and also plans to extend its services to people with a disability facing similar or more challenges. The wonderful feeling is that a group of young intelligent people who could do many other things for themselves have preferred to do this. Young graduates are employed by Goodfellows to provide older folks with companionship as a service. These graduates have the sensitivity and emotional intelligence necessary to serve as the senior clients’ companions, making their days easier by helping them with any duties or simply spending time with them.