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Revolutionary startup harnesses technology to fight loneliness

When Mat Bertrand and Jenna Leo couldn’t find a company to provide non-medical care for their loved ones, they started their own.

Like Family is a Sydney-based startup that uses technology to foster meaningful interactions between carers and people needing support, and tackles the loneliness epidemic head-on.

“Like Family is the only platform specifically focused on providing personalised social care at scale, Mat Bertrand, Co-Founder of Like Family, told Dynamic Business. “This is why we call our workers, Social Carers; we look for reliable, passionate people with great personalities, who care about building meaningful relationships,” Mat explains.

Revolutionary startup harnesses technology to fight loneliness
Mat Bertrand and Jenna Leo. Credits: Like Family

Where it all began

When Mat moved from Montreal to Sydney, he brought his parents along so he could support them. His dad was recovering from lung cancer while his mum was recuperating from the brain virus Encephalitis.

Busy with their day jobs, Mat and Jenna couldn’t be there to give his parents around-the-clock care.  And it wasn’t medical care his parents needed — just assistance with getting around the neighbourhood, some good company, and social activities to help connect with their community. 

“My wife Jenna and I founded Like Family and turned it into an NDIS-approved marketplace in 2016 to reduce social isolation and loneliness for people living with a disability, illness, injury, or ageing,” Mat said.

“We started the business after having problems finding suitable social support services for my parents while they both were recovering from serious illnesses. 

“The current care models did not offer the flexibility, affordability, or simplicity we needed for my parents to be able to live their best lives. 

“They wanted to experience fun activities, stay connected to the community and live their lives to the fullest, and they wanted to choose how that looked for them, not be told the types of activities they should do. 

“Due to illness, they needed support from someone to help them do those things they loved, particularly while my wife and I were working, and that’s where Like Family started.”

Today Like Family has built a community of more than 30,000 users. In 2019, Like Family was named Deloitte’s fourth fastest-growing tech startup in Australia. “We match people with disability, injury or illness and the elderly with trustworthy, vetted, local social carers who provide companionship and non-medical support; locals caring for locals.

“This support comes via having someone to attend events and community activities with, help with cooking and cleaning, transport to appointments, skills building, art and crafts activities, dance, exercise, fun and games and more.” 

“Across the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] industry, those providing support to people in need are called Support Workers. At Like Family, we call them Social Carers because making a difference to people affected by social isolation is at the heart of what our trusted Social Carers do, every day,” Mat added. 

What’s this all about?

Social isolation and loneliness have long plagued Australians of all ages, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the problem, with many people with disabilities feeling the strain more than ever.   

“One in every three Australians has significant times of loneliness and isolation, and we know that minority groups, such as those with a disability or sickness, and the elderly, are particularly vulnerable, Mat explained.

“Social isolation and illness can be harmful to physical and mental health. At Like Family, our Social Carers are 100% focused on connecting people, building relationships, and reducing isolation for happier, healthier lives,” he said.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, surveys conducted since the outbreak of COVID-19 reveal that just over half (54 per cent) of respondents felt more lonely than at the start of the pandemic. Overall loneliness rates have fluctuated with the amount and impact of COVID-19-related restrictions in the various survey waves conducted in 2020 and 2021.

In April 2020, over half (46 per cent) of respondents reported feeling lonely in the previous week, and 40 per cent indicated an increase in the amount of time they felt socially isolated and lonely from March 2020. 

Similarly, in May 2020, the proportion of respondents who felt lonely was just over one-third (36 per cent) and in November 2020, it was 35 per cent. 

More recently in January 2021, the proportion of respondents who reported feeling lonely remained unchanged from previous collection months, at 36 per cent.

Surviving the pandemic 

 According to Mat, the pandemic enabled Like Family to explore and expedite the use of video technology to develop virtual social support. “We believe that for every threat or risk to a business, there is opportunity. Before lockdowns, our services were 100% in-person. 

“Lockdowns enabled us to experiment and accelerate the use of video technology to launch virtual social support, online events and connect people across different communities to ensure continuity of social support, which is something that became even more important for those in high-risk groups throughout the pandemic and as we move out of lockdowns. 

“These virtual support services are now part of our core offering and will also play an important part in our expansion strategy,” Mat said.

Backed by Giant Leap Fund, Yajilarra, Alberts Impact Capital and Pangea impact investments, the company has become an attractive startup for investors. Like Family raised $2 million in a seed round of funding in 2020, led by Giant Leap Fund and supported by Alberts Impact Capital and angel investors. 

Furthermore, the company achieved significant growth, with GMV jumping 29 per cent year on year through COVID-19 and members increasing their service utilisation by 43 per cent in August 2021 and 30 per cent in September 2021.  

Plans for the future 

Like Family has entered a bridge round as it prepares for the next stage of expansion, and the company is widening its reach by expanding into new states in Australia. 

After launching in New South Wales, the platform has moved into Victoria and recently opened in Brisbane, where demand has steadily grown, and revenue has increased by 99.5 per cent. The long-term plan is to operate globally.

“Through our work and research, we’ve gained a deep understanding that the problem of social isolation and loneliness is not just an Australian problem; it’s a global pandemic. 

“We currently operate on the east coast of Australia, and our first strategic horizon is to expand Like Family nationally. We’ll then have our eyes on new markets like the UK and Canada.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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