#TakeFiveWith Alistair Cohen
Could you tell us about yourself and your job role? And one hobby/fun fact?
I’m Alistair Cohen, I’m the CEO of OnCare and a fun fact about me is that I once had a job commentating on remote control car races.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day is keeping all the plates spinning and working on whatever requires the most attention at the time. It’s a mixture of Product Management because I’m still the Project Manager as well as the CEO of OnCare. When I put my CEO hat on I’m fundraising, hiring, pitching to potential investors, and team management while arranging 1:1s with the team. Whatever plate looks like it’s about to just drop suddenly, it’s the one I’ll be focusing on day-to-day.
The business started with just me and then my CTO was my first hire. I have done all the roles that exist within the business concurrently and now as we raise money we have an opportunity to hand over those roles to people who will focus on certain areas of the business and do the job better than I was doing it when I was on my own - that’s my hiring policy. I want to hire people who can do the jobs that I was already doing and do it much better.
Could you tell us how you got into your role?
My background is in Product Management, so I used to work at MOO, the print and design company. I also worked in other roles in a Products capacity, for example I joined a place called Founders Factory as a Product Manager, which is where the idea for OnCare came from.
Founders Factory is a corporate backed accelerator and incubator, I joined the incubator side where they were trying to create new startups. My job was to do product research and understand what customers might need in a given sector, and then create the beginnings of a business that could become a professional and independent organisation.
Founders Factory gave me a brief to ‘go and fix elderly care’ and told me I had six months to make a company that somehow achieves this goal. Now my job was not supposed to be to leave Founders Factory with the company, it was supposed to be to build something up that would gain traction and to hand it off to an external team that would turn it into a company. But in the case of OnCare, when I looked into it I fell in love with the Problem Space.
I spoke to a lot of friends, family, colleagues, and anyone I could think of that had a position related to elderly care and realised there was some good things happening but also a lot of horror stories – which made me feel personally committed to OnCare. As a Product Manager I really enjoy being given a problem stage where there’s a lot of meaty problems to solve that don’t require particularly complex technology to fix, so that’s why I liked the project. I also really enjoyed the spaces from the amazing people I got to spend time with when I was still in the early research phase, including care-workers, agencies, families.
Seeing all these people doing all this amazing work I just felt like I had to take OnCare forward myself and I always wanted to start my own company. I’ve worked for a few big companies and a former startups, and I think I was just going place to place looking at how some of were run and taking note of the good bits and thinking: you know what, I could do better in some of these other areas.
It all came to a head when we were hosting interviews for a CEO position with OnCare. When I was interviewing the fourth or fifth candidate, they stopped answering my questions midway through and then started asking me questions about the care sector, the business, the model of the future and the roadmap – and then he stopped and said: “Look, I’m going to be talking myself out of a job but I don’t think I need to be here, you should run the business and be the CEO because you already know the answers to all these questions.”
It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me where so I spoke to Founders Factory and said I would like to move OnCare forward, they asked me all these questions and then agreed that with a bit of coaching I was the right person to turn it into a business. This was about two and half years ago and now my life has changed pretty dramatically since making that decision.
During the research stage where we looked to solve a problem in the elderly care, we uncovered a few things that customers needed to make care better for people. One was that the family members needed clarity or a clear picture of what was going on with the care their relative was receiving because they didn’t have any visual platforms developed on care yet. The care workers wanted something to help them with the administrative side of their job so they could get on with delivering care and the agencies they work for wanted to try and save money and make sure they were delivering the best service for their clients.
I had an epiphany during the early stages of OnCare that the cause of all the above problems was paper, so the main technology I could say that most carers use to deliver care is writing lots of things down on pieces of paper and collecting and storing them in filing cabinets. Obviously this is not particularly useful for keeping data safe or saving money, so that’s where we started.
We started working on creating software that would solve all those problems, we created the OnCare app that would let care workers report on their visits which they have to do on every single visit, but our app makes that process a lot easier. With the app they can make notes to record actions taken by typing them into the app or recording their voice, create reports, see what information other carers have shared, check into the app which will let the family know when they have arrived for visits, and get everything done a lot more quickly. But it also means that the data created by the carer is shareable because it’s stored on a digital platform, so the family will get text messages to tell them when the care worker has arrived and the agency gets to see all that information on a secure platform, which will help them manage the service better.
Our aim is to make care easier and to digitise the elderly care sector, so that it improves everyone’s quality of care. The main thing we’re doing is building software tools that aid care workers to make sure they know about their clients, to make sure the data is perfected and ensure that they are delivering the best care they can. Eventually we hope to move into creating a software where families can search for the right kind of care in their area.
What motivates you to do a good job?
I have a number of motivations. Usually my personal standards motivate me to succeed, it’s the main thing that challenges me with my learning, improving and doing the best job that I can.
My team also motivates me, I always like to feel like a part of a team where everyone is pulling their weight and make sure that I’m removing blockers for people to allow them to do their job, but I also like to make sure I’m contributing something to the team so I can feel that I’m doing right by them and the business.
The sector itself is also a key motivator for me, it’s an important one that needs a lot of attention, so the fact that everything we do is to help people who really need the support as opposed to making as much profit as they possibly can by selling products, that wouldn’t motivate me as much as the sector we’re helping and the people who are trying to do a difficult job.
When and if I’m not around anymore, I also want to make sure I leave a legacy of things that I have done while I was here and so delivering and creating a successful company is something that motivates me because in many years to come, when I’m not here, I would like the company to still exist and make a positive impact on the care sector.
How do you learn at work?
Basically just by doing every day because I have never run a company before, there will be something that springs up like how do you create an options scheme for people, how do you launch a pensions plan, how do you raise money and how do you create a revenue funnel to forecast the future. All of these things I had never done before, but I have spent everyday learning to do. I would describe the process as unstructured learning but of the more structured kind, we have recently implemented a skills matrix programme that we adapt to our needs.
Our CTO acts as my springboard in meetings and we talk about things I want to develop and we both go over the ways I can do that. We talk about books I could read or events I could attend to try and improve my skills for the most important aspects of our work.
I also enjoy learning by consulting other people’s opinions. Sometimes I also speak with colleagues to get a sense of how they get on with issues or what I should be thinking about, sometimes I also get challenged by investors.
What are your aims for the next year? For example, if you work in accessibility do you have any plans to help make workplaces more inclusive? If you work in Learning and Development how are you going to promote workplace learning?
I think that for OnCare that the next year is going to be very focused on fundraising because that has a big impact on our plans, but the big change for us in the next year or so will be related to hiring additional members of staff and changing our business model slightly so that we include a base for care where families can search for the care that they need, and care agencies can promote themselves better than they do today.
I want to continue to grow the company and personally, I would like to learn how to switch off when I’m not working. I realised that when I go on holiday I shouldn’t reply to emails and give myself time to relax and do non-work related activities, otherwise I could make myself ill and not be able to work. It also helps me foster a sense of identity outside of the company and allows the team to figure things out without my assistance.
YOU CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT ONCARE ON THE FOLLOWING PLATFORMS:
OnCare website: www.weareoncare.com
OnCare Twitter Account: @WeAreOnCare
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