About the organisation
Curo is developing a digital employee benefit product with the aim of supporting the five million people in the UK who are juggling work and care for a loved one. We help employers provide much needed support to the one in seven of their workforce by granting them access to healthcare specialists, financial and legal advisors and mental health practitioners. Instead of spending stress and time searching for answers, our web application allows carers to get the help they need at their fingertips.
What challenges were you trying to address?
We started Curo at the start of 2020, just before the country entered lockdown because of COVID-19. Through personal experience, we learnt of the hardships of caring for loved ones and realised that this was a growing issue that affects not only carers, but businesses and wider society. Carers face higher rates of social isolation and mental ill health. Sadly, in the last two years alone, 500,000 people have given up work to care for loved ones, because the pressure of doing both is simply too much.
COVID-19 has forced many people to become carers for the first time, so it is likely that even more people will be caring during this period. That’s why we knew we couldn’t put the development of our product on hold – and we’ve been finding ways to innovate through the pandemic – to provide a service we think could be a lifeline for working carers.
What goals or outcomes did Curo want to achieve?
We plan to launch Version 1 of our final product by the end of this year, which requires investment, technical expertise and partnerships with employers so we can develop our product with them.
Because three quarters of carers also work, we knew that partnering with employers is a great way to support carers whilst creating a financially sustainable and scalable business. Understandably, we’ve found that businesses want us to evidence the impact of our product. Sadly, it becomes a chicken-and-egg scenario as we search for ambitious and forward-thinking employers to bring support to their employees ahead of the curve.
Although investment and technical expertise are always useful, this isn’t a challenge that is new to start-ups. There are lots of opportunities for funding and business support and, although it is by no means easy to secure this vital support, there are at least opportunities there. For B2B businesses like us, finding a development partner would give us access to funding and a test-bed of target users, whilst allowing us to make the impact that drives us and have case studies for prospective clients.
How has coronavirus impacted your start-up?
COVID-19 has been jarring for everyone. Being a start-up worked in our advantage as we have no employees (other than us three co-founders) nor office space. We were also able to be agile and pivot our in-person services like our carer’s coffee meet-ups to provide them online. Although we love a chat whilst having a tea-break, it wasn’t too tricky for us to replicate that on Google Meetups and Slack.
On the other hand, our core goal of finding clients and development partners is even harder. Relationship building is key to our business and we now don’t have the chance to meet interested people at networking events. Although not impossible, cold LinkedIn messages and video presentations make it harder for us to convey the need for our product and charm of our business. Understandably, employers are focusing their attention (and budgets) on more visible issues like adapting to remote working and the return to offices and are less receptive to adopting something new amidst such uncertainty.
In order to keep our business ticking over, we built in some more big picture thinking time to our product development, sought out some divergent but relevant partnerships with other businesses that were supporting vulnerable people during COVID-19 and adapted our solution to support carers who need our help more than ever.
Carers look after friends and family members who are the most vulnerable in society - those who we have been advised not to see for 12 weeks and those who are vulnerable to mild colds, let alone COVID-19. In turn, carers are extremely isolated and stressed and have a lot more healthcare, financial and mental health concerns than before.
We knew we couldn’t put the development of our product on hold – and we’ve been finding ways to innovate through the pandemic – to provide a service we think could be a lifeline for working carers.— Matt Pullen, Co-Founder, Curo
What advice would you give to other start-ups right now, or anyone looking to start a business?
It sounds cliche, but global issues like COVID-19 provide a hot-bed for innovation, if you’re lucky enough to have the mentality and resources to start something during this time. We’ve heard from investors who are still interested in investing in new ideas, albeit useful and timely.
Times are tough and it’s hard to deny that, so as a business it is important to add additional time to how long your goals and objectives will take, especially if they rely on external stakeholders. Everyone has a lot on their plate right now!
What advice would you give to organisations who want to support the carers in their workforce?
If organisations focus on the below five things, they’d be going a long way to making a difference to their employees who care:
- Help carers self-identify: often people do not consider themselves carers. Include a clear definition in your communications and policies so that staff can self-identify and get the help they need
- Review current policies and procedures: being a carer means juggling many different things. Consider providing ‘carers leave’ for carers who might need time to take essential goods to loved ones who are shielding, or others who might need time for essential self-care. For businesses that require staff to come into work, consider allowing time to check mobile phones and perform other check-ups on loved ones during such a troubling time
- Provide flexible and supportive line-management: an approachable line-manager can be a welcome relief for people who are anxious about maintaining their standards at work. Line managers could regularly check in on the health and wellbeing of colleagues and be open to flexible working policies/arrangements
- Carers networks: eight in 10 carers report feeling isolated. Facilitate the setting up and running carers networks virtually within your workplace, or signpost them to already existing virtual networks
- Expert advice and signpost practical support: Just like anybody, carers are confused as to what COVID19 means for them and the person they care for, which is why practical, up-to-date information is.