In today’s episode, we are featuring an experienced startup founder who is on a mission to revolutionize communication and quality of life for families who are engaged with the entire continuum of senior care - Katherine Wells, who is the CEO and founder of Serenity.
Here’s a closer look at the episode:
Katherine LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathwells/
Serenity LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/serenityconnect/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/serenityengage
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/serenityengage
But I'll get to the really important piece of what I have learned is that everything I've done in my life, every little thing moving to California moving home, relationships, I've had jobs that I've taken, they all have brought me to this place where I'm doing what I'm doing today.
This is Found in the Rockies, a podcast about the startup ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain region, featuring the founders, funders and contributors, and most importantly, the stories of what they're building. I'm Les Craig from Next Frontier Capital. And on today's show, we are featuring an experienced startup founder who is on a mission to revolutionize communication and quality of life for families who are engaged with the entire continuum of senior care. Meet Katherine Wells, who is the CEO and founder of Serenity. Hello, Katherine. Welcome to the show.
Hi, I'm super excited to be here.
Well, we're super excited to have you and why don't just start off, why don't you just tell our listeners a little bit about your story who you are, kind of maybe where you grew up? And what brought you to to Colorado?
Oh, my gosh, well, I was born in Colorado. So that makes that easy. I didn't have a choice. And I and I'm glad. I grew up in Colorado Springs born at Penrose Hospital for any of you listening. Who who know colorado springs back in the 60s. It just gave away my age. Loved the 70s and 80s Those are my eras and all about the 70s and 80s music and attire and, and the artists and hear artists on the radio today. And I'm like, I don't know who you are. You don't sound anything like the 80s I'm gonna change the channel now.
You weren't even born in the 80s, you artists of today.
That's right, exactly. That's what I want to say. And I'm a peloton fan. And I'm always looking for the 80s programs, and I cannot find enough of them. So there you go. So yeah, born in Colorado Springs raised there. And you know, it was kind of a small town then for those listening who know Denver and Colorado Springs area. I actually live in Denver now. But I grew up there. I left there after college. And I said, I never want to see another snowflake for the rest of my life. So I moved to LA and I lived there for five years. And as much as I love the warmth, I did not like that. I didn't have four seasons. And I moved back, I missed the mountain. Just the snowflakes still don't. I know it's really rare for a Colorado person to not love the snow but just you know my dad Okay, here's some trivia. My dad taught took us on our first ski lesson on the coldest day of the year on Pikes Peak and Pikes Peak doesn't even have a scary anymore. And that was my first experience and my toes froze, my nose froze and my fingers froze and I just never wanted to do it again.
That's rule number one as a parent like yeah, it has to be the first experience has to be like more more hot chocolate and goodies than skiing. Like, you gotta love it as a kid.
Well, you should have talked to my dad back in 1976. So yeah, that's a kind of fun though, to think about or interesting, I guess, to think about the weather pattern changes. Just you know, Pikes Peak had enough snow to actually have a ski area not anymore. Wow. So yeah, it's fun, but my husband got the epic pass this year. And he is my co founder. So he I told him he has to be careful skiing because he is my co founder and I need him, so watch the trees.
Yeah, Epic is great. I'm a mountain collective. I got the mountain collective from my family last year.
Oh, okay. Okay, there you go. There you go.
Maybe we'll see your husband out there on the slope somewhere you know, you won't you won't be joining him though.
I won't be joining if I'm there at all. I'm in the hut. And I'm nice to see in front of a fireplace.
You're getting that hot chocolate that you didn't get as a kid.
Exactly. That's my mission in life now get that hot chocolate. Now you should never should have asked me about my my growing up years because there's lots of fun stories there. But I'll get to the really important piece of what I have learned is that everything I've done in my life, every little thing moving to California moving home, relationships, I've had jobs that I've taken, they all have brought me to this place where I'm doing what I'm doing today.
Love that. That’s gonna be the takeout we're gonna play that on on LinkedIn. That's like a perfect lead in to the episode. The theme of the episode
Thank you. Yeah, yeah. And it's interesting because when you're doing those things you don't know. And you look back and go, Wow, okay, I had to do that in order to do this. And, and that one is so valuable to this, and we can talk through all of those things. But yeah, it's, that's maybe one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that my life unfolded the way it was supposed to unfold, in order to get where I am. And somehow I always knew I was gonna get here.
It's, you know, Katherine, I really, I really, thank you for sharing that, because it's a simple concept. But it's so important. I mean, it's so important in terms of living a happy life, I think and accepting what life gives you. But also like, for founders, it's so much of the journey of founders, right? It's like, if you can embrace your life story and who you are, and where you've been, and how that has produced, you know, this moment, and this opportunity that you have as a founder, that's like, that's a pretty big idea, big theme to build something around.
It really is. No, you're not wrong at all. And it's a great observation. And interestingly, I spent most of my career in startups. And I was never the founder. But I was always like, close to or number two and part of driving it. But there is a big difference in being the founder, and actually having it be your idea and your blood, sweat and tears, even though other people put in blood, sweat and tears for sure. It's just, there's just a big difference there. And I didn't, I just got close enough to the flame. I think most of my career that I was like, intrigued by it. And then one day I said, Okay, it's time, it's time. I'm gonna do it.
Yeah. Well, I want to go back to that inspiration moment. Because I think that's gonna be really important. But could you bring us up to that point, just career wise, life wise? Like, what are some of these these steps and sort of the the big, big milestones that stones that unfolded in your life that led you up to that spark moment?
Yeah, absolutely. So I moved to LA, I moved back I when I moved back, I was my first startup job. So when I moved to LA, I worked for Hewlett Packard. And it's kind of weird. If you know anything about Colorado Springs, Hewlett Packard was a major employer. So it's weird to leave Colorado Springs and go work at Hewlett Packard in California. That's what I did.
That is shocking to me. Is that because it'll mean is it like the defense industry that's in Colorado Springs, or like the Air Force Academy, like who's the big HP? Okay,
That was a lot of it. And, you know, obviously, HP was a different company back then. So it was that it was like, I don't even know if this will translate for our audience. But it was like, you never get fired for buying IBM, IBM was the great company to go work for it. That was what HP was, it was the great company to go work for. They had an incredible culture. So things I learned from HP, culture matters. And you can keep your culture across a 33,000 employee company, because that that's what HP did. So they did incredible training, they invested in their employees, they believed in people, they wanted people to grow. I learned some really incredible things there. And then, you know, moved back to Colorado, and got my first job in a startup. And I was employee number four in this in a startup in Colorado Springs at that time, and I did not know what I was getting into. And I just fell in love with it. And what I realized is I love I love to be in charge. Sorry, I just gotta say it. I love to be incharge. I mean, as well, right? Right. And I love wearing multiple hats. I love making things happen. And when I when I kind of compare that to the Hewlett Packard experience, corporate world, it's very easy to get lost in a corporate world. You can mail it in, you can show up and do an okay job and everything's fine. And a startup you can't, every single thing you do or do not do impacts the business and impacts the people that you're serving and impacts the people around you who are helping you work this startup. So I learned that, and I I also had the great pleasure of working for a serial entrepreneur. And he was he really brought technology software technology to Colorado Springs. His name is Ron Muns. And he started several companies Help Desk Institute Bendata, which was a help desk software company at the time. That was bought by Gold Mine and, and in the time that I was there, I was with Bendata. And in the time that I was there, we were bought and sold four times. It was like just constantly. Oh, yeah, acquisition and then sold back. It was bought by Ziff Davis sold back to Ron and sold to astea and then sold back and then sold to goldmine. And this is crazy whirlwind. But I learned so much, I just learned so much about how startups work. And I wasn't I didn't know I was looking. But I it happened, right. This is one of those moments where I can look back and go, that was all for me to learn what I needed to learn now. So then I then I had my child and stayed home for a year or so and went back into the workforce started another not started, joined another startup that was on a super fast pace. Again, in Colorado Springs, it was called channel point. And it was funded with Softbank, I think just poured 10s of millions of dollars into it. It was the right idea. It was e-surance. Before e-surance, so it was the first insurance really. And so that was fun to to be in a startup where you had so much capital and your job was to spend it right spend it for growth. So that was a whole nother experience.
Yeah, you're getting you're like checking all the boxes here.
All the boxes, right? And watching management watching the culture watching, you know how people interacted, it was a it was an interesting culture where there were insurance brokers working alongside software people. And they didn't mix very well, the leaves like two different languages very, very hard to blend that culture. So then I went to another startup in Colorado Springs, called TeamShare, and ended up being there for 10 years at even as it was acquired five years in, is acquired by a Bay Area company.
Very cool. Around what time timeframe? Did you join TeamShare?
Team share would have been 1999. So right before the.com Bust? Yeah, yeah.
What an interesting time to be in a startup as well, like during the.com bust, right? I mean, yeah, exactly. Anything to share about that, that ride or that roller coaster?
That's a great question. I, you know, I'm not sure I knew what was happening when it was happening. I just knew that we had to keep doing what we were doing, and that we had a super valuable product that people were still buying, even though the rest of the world was kind of falling apart around us. So I guess we were lucky because we really were serving an industry and team share was very much issue tracking software, so sold to developers, and then we were bought by Serena software in 94. So you know, we made it through the.com Bust.
Well, you know, this is a really an interesting observation point for right now. Because I think a lot of founders in the present are kind of struggling, you know, maybe what do we compare this to? Is it do we compare this to the subprime mortgage crisis? Do we compare this to the.com bust, like, what is it? And but but I think if you boil it down to the fundamentals, it sounds like with Teamshare, you had a clear and measurable kind of value proposition and you just kept kept on mission kept focus kept on target, ignore the the busyness and the noise around of the outside world. And you you muscled on through,
Yeah, you're exactly right. Yeah, we did have to. That's actually the first company that I was involved in actually having to lay people off. And we went through two layoffs, two rounds of layoffs. We did you know, we, we had investments. So we were growing, and we grew faster than we should have. And then it happened. Well, we didn't grow faster than we should have, had things had the bubble not bust, right. But because it busted, we had to let go of some people and sort of restructure. And that was hard. First time I ever let somebody go, I went home and cried all night, because I did it's just awful to impact somebody's life that way. And and you sometimes will have survivor's guilt. Why am I why do I still have a job and security and benefits and all the things and they don't, that's really hard. Especially if you're, you know, mid 30s, you've never done it before. So really impacted me
any advice from that? I mean, thank you for sharing that, first of all, but any any advice that you would have, because this is this is, I think, a problem or a challenge I should say. It's wonderful. problem but a challenge that I think a lot of founders and leaders in companies are facing now. And any specific advice you'd give them on how they can navigate those feelings and those emotions.
Acknowledge them, I would say, acknowledge that, that that's what makes you human. And if you didn't care, that that would tell you something else about your character. Right? And, and what I learned through my mentors and through experience was that if you don't let them go, it's not serving them. It's not serving you. It's not serving anybody. And so, you know, I hate cliches, but the hire slow fire fast. Best thing you can do when you're letting someone go is just say it right up front, and then give them space to have their feelings. And believe me, I've had people call me names. I had a guy literally pick me up and push me against the wall. Like, you know, people can get very emotional when their livelihood is at stake, and they didn't see it coming. And that's the other thing is try not to make it a surprise for people. Sound Advice? Yeah, yeah.
So 2004 going back to 2004. Now, you said team share got acquired that was around the year when they got acquired. And what, what next, what,
five years? Another five years with Serena software headquartered out of the Bay Area, San Mateo. You know, started I took on prior to that I was really head of product and marketing. And this is you know, pre agile time. So product often fell under marketing, because more product management. I don't know if you remember the product project Product Management Institute. And, you know, it was just a whole different ballgame. And so I then took over as key product manager in that organization in Serenity. And so overnight, we went from 50 people at Teamshare to 450 at Serena. Oh, I think I said Serenity. I meant Serena. It just slips out. Yes, yep. And was in charge. The product that they purchased from US team track was their flagship product. So it just married right in with change management. And they also had a mainframe change management tool. We really became the glue that held their other products together. And so that was a lot of fun. And I just had a blast with that.
How big and you were still in Colorado Springs at the time. How big was the team? How was the big was the Colorado Springs team that was that was became a part of Serena.
It did get whittled down. It was probably about 30, 30 people okay. Yeah. But they're definitely got the glue. It's right. I now. And you know, at that time, my child was mid elementary school, maybe early elementary school. So I was flying a lot. So I I was I was in San Mateo every other week for a week. And then a year after that. Serena bought another company in Portland. And we were married into that one as well really well. Again, the glue team track being the glue. And so then I was traveling to Portland and San Mateo. But I got to I got to keep my home in Colorado Springs. I loved it and I had a great co parents at the time. So it was really really a wonderful opportunity for me and didn't you know completely sidetrack my life.
Yeah, wow. I mean, what what a path already and we're not even there yet. We're not even at today.
And then get this. So when Serena but it was called Marant at the time. And when they bought Marant in Portland, we then went from 450 people to 800 900 people overnight. So now it's like, it's like this big growth from this tiny startup to a bigger, you know, good midsize company to a pretty, pretty good size midsize company. And there's a lot that goes with that. So there's politics that change a lot of politics. There's how do you approach things? How do you make things happen? Again, I go back to the the Hewlett Packard experience where I loved what I did. But if I was sick one day, or you know, I mailed it in for a week or a month, nobody would have noticed it wouldn't matter. Right? And I don't love that I need to know that what I do makes a difference. So I put myself out there and really became a spokesperson and got on the speaker circuit. Did, you know went with the sales team to their meetings so that I could learn? Just really tried to dive into their world so that we knew how to position the product better? So, yeah,
Incredible, and what through it all I mean, you mentioned this product and marketing sort of role that you were settled settled into, but just, you know, as your career is developing, as your your leadership skills are developing, like, what how would you characterize the progression of like your superpower? Like, what was it? What was it that kept you? You know, just moving through and growing with these organizations? Like superpowers? What emerged?
Wow, that's so hard for me. I don't know I that question so hard? What's your superpower?
I would say, I try to I try to really meet people kind of where they're at. I think I really, I really tend to pride myself on my just my empathy for trying to understand people, who they are, where they came from, and just, you know, kind of first principles when it comes to developing relationships. I don't know, that's, that's kind of how I would generally characterize it.
I love that. And it's so it's so difficult to, I don't know, I don't know, I actually have someone in the room with me who just said, It's my heart. So thank you for that. And, and I would have to agree with that, I think I think I have a passion for making change in the world. And if that means doing really, really hard things, I will do that. And, you know, everyone would like it to be easy. But I don't subscribe to the idea that if it's easy, it's not worth it. Because some things just are easy, and they are absolutely worth it. But when you're out to make big change, like I am, like, industry wide change that impacts up to 55 million people in the United States alone, it to me, that's a big challenge, and it takes heart. And that's a good thing, and not a good thing. When you have when you have a big heart.
You gotta have a heart. I love it. Well, I mean, it's and and up to this point in the journey. I mean, it's your journey. It's It's incredible to think just the depth of experience that you had, as well as the breadth of like stages of companies that you've worked in, in the tech industry. I mean, you take, you know, one of these decades, and that would be enough for anybody's entire career. But now you have sort of multiple decades that you've strung together. So where are we in the story right now? Around 2009ish?
I know, right? It is about 2009. And the one thing I didn't share is early in at timeshare, I was also getting my MBA. So I went to Regis University and got my MBA during that time. And I thought that was great. It was a little bit like, oh, you know, you're supposed to get a master's degree. So I'll go get a master's degree. And I'll get MBA, because I'm kind of a business person. And it was interesting, it was good that I didn't love it. I didn't have heart for it. So 2009 Serena is I'm kind of done there. I'm kind of played out my role. I'm ready for startup land again, and rolling up my sleeves and just diving in. So did that, you know, just continued with startup companies. Some of them went really well. Some of them as we all know, were great learning opportunities.
It's usually one of those two things.
Yeah, yeah, it is. It's very unusual for it to be in the middle and just kind of languish for a really long time. Yeah, that doesn't happen does it. So had a lot of fun with that. And then, you know, a couple years later, met my husband, my now husband, and we got married and moved to Denver, and I loved Denver. So it was a very different culture, a different environment. I, you know, had to make new friends had to, you would think growing up in Colorado Springs and right next to Denver that I would just know it, but you don't, you really don't and and Denver had changed a lot. So we moved to the suburbs, because we still had kids in school. And then I said, I need something more to drive my passion. So I went back to school and got a master's in psychology and communication. And that was much more up my alley. And at that time, my husband and I launched a startup. I'm gonna rephrase that he launched a startup. He is a serial entrepreneur, and I joined Meet him because I had such passion for what he was doing.
He’s the serial entrepreneur and you're the serial startup person.
Exactly, exactly. We, we fit really, really well. And this, this, I want to say was like company number six or seven for him. So for him, it's old hat, I was kind of learning. So I was really looking to him as we're going through that journey. And learning what it looks like to do this from the very beginning and from the founders viewpoint. And in that process, so the product was an online communication tool for divorced parents raising kids together, the goal was to keep the conflict out of it. And we really took a stand that and I have to credit Rob for this really took a stand that we would not work with lawyers, because our focus was to work with people who want to be conflict free, or to be amicable and focus on raising the kids and not to have lawyers pitted against each other. In the end, that doesn't make a good business. So that was a great learning experience.
Because the lawyers can't bill hours…
So but you know, we had 25,000 users on our platform in two years is amazing, and really made a difference in people's lives. Then I went to work for another Bay Area company that was AI based. And really,
We must be in the 20-teens. AI is now in the vernacular.
Yes, exactly. Yeah, yeah. And it was, it was so fantastic to learn about what AI really means. And all the components that go into AI and, and what natural language processing was, and machine learning. And these are things I didn't know and sentiment analysis. And we actually, I think one of the funnest projects we worked on. And, and again, this was a learning experience, startup. So in the end, it ran out of money. But one of the funnest experiences in that organization was working with the Rolls Royce company, as they were designing their self driving car. And in that design, it was they showed us their futuristic designs of like, basically pods, they were pods that had comfortable chairs all around like in a circle, could put your feet up, there was coffee makers, or little TV screens, that all the things that are just comfort, and you think about the concept of just hopping into the pod as it's going by you getting to where you're going and hopping out right and not missing a beat on your meeting or, or whatever work you're doing or just relax. So,
It’s like even better than the Jetsons.
I mean, I know. That's what it made me think of.
Well, you know, and just to say it too, like this is this is probably early, very early in, in sort of the arc of you know, this is before Waymo GM cruise Aurora like, this is early in the arc of even, you know, normal people thinking about cars driving themselves. And you’re working on it.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun. And it reminded me that no successful product happens overnight. We all think it does, because it comes to fruition. And even in the big companies like Rolls Royce, they had been working on this for 20 years, it wasn't like it was this new idea they had and now they're jumping in. They had all the schematics, all the all the architecture, all the designs. And it's you know, but when something hits the market, if that had hit the market, everyone would have said, Oh, what a great idea. They just thought that up, right? Yeah.
What a great 20 year overnight success. So you worked on that. So Bay Area company AI then, then Serenity?
Yes, actually. So during this process, in parallel to all the things I've been talking about since 2010 2011, it my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and my mom and dad still lived in Colorado Springs. So I would drive down there try to support my dad because he was noticing all of the things that the rest of us weren't noticing, which is very common. The person living with someone who is getting dementia notice before others. Then we had to take mom's keys away and that was really really hard, she actually she actually threw them at my brother when he said Mom, you have to give the keys, you have to hand over the keys after a little tiny argument between all of us took them and, WHAM, right at him. And we can laugh about it now because you know that it was just hurt and anger and fear on her part. And she didn't know what to do. She just, she knew that things weren't good. In that process, over time, as her dementia progressed, we had to move her into memory care. And, again, a very common story noticed that dad couldn't live on his own. Within three months, he he in the last month of those three months, he had four falls in one month. Living and working in Denver, I have brothers, they're amazing, fantastic. My dad just tended to lean on me. And I as as the only girl in the family tended to just take it on step into the role of primary care coordinator. And that used to be 90% true that it was it was females, it's more like 65-70 now, so I want to make sure I give credit to all the other people who are stepping into that primary care coordinator role. Because it's hard. And, you know, my dad four falls, one month, I'd get the call at work in Denver, emergency room, I'd have to leave work drive down to Colorado Springs. Eventually, I said, you know, we got to move into assisted living dad. So demanding jobs, right, startups are demanding, and maybe people don't know that. So any of your listeners who are unfamiliar with the lifestyle of a startup, there, there is like very few boundaries of your personal life and your your work life. And I think that's okay, that's part of what you sign up for. So I don't think that’s a negative thing.
I’m glad you said it. I think it's a quite a common theme on these episodes. So if they are listening, I'm sure it's starting to sink in. But you're absolutely right.
Okay, good. Yes, yes, it is. So, really, really demanding job. And yet, I'm being randomly called out when my dad has a fall, which of course I'm gonna go. And I think when we eventually did move him in, I moved him closer to me. So I moved, he and my mom, closer to Denver, we found a really great spot between Colorado Springs and, and Denver just on the south end of Denver, and I had a brother in Castle Rock. So it all worked really well geographically so that we could try to split the duties where possible. And I really found at that time that I so I'm still working at this AI job, right. And in the Bay Area and traveling out there. Well, we're moving mom and dad up here. And I realized one day I came home actually from visiting my mom and I was like, Rob, my husband, Rob, I don't know, like what I'm doing, I must have 30 people I'm communicating with about my parents care. And they're not talking to each other. And I don't know what to do. And I'm, you know, breaking down and, and I'm like, This is not a problem in the technology world Haven't we solved this problem of disparate teams communicating, and I'm just going on and on and on, and comparing it to a different industry. And, you know, we kind of looked at each other. And I said, I think we could solve this. And he said, me too, let me build a prototype, because he's a also, he's a serial entrepreneur. He's also a brilliant software engineer. Gotta give him credit. So he built me a prototype. Any any said, you know, let's see, let's see what we can do go out and sell it. And I did. And then you “uh oh”.
Yeah. Then what now. Oh, now we got customers. What was it? What was kind of the what was the MVP? Like? What was the kind of just the general product strategy with the MVP and the initial program?
It was I wouldn't even say MVP, it was prototype. It was a design of what it would look like that looked and acted like it worked. Even better. Yeah. Love it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you you have to test the market, you have to find out and and lo and behold, I had someone who said, Oh my gosh, yes. Why is this not in the industry? And let me touch on this because really important, that particular person was a younger Senior Living, owner, owner operator. So my product is in the senior care world and the in the senior care world, pre-COVID 60% of all CEOs were scheduled to retire in five years. So what does that tell you. They were already close to retirement before COVID. They're retiring out, they're aging out of the industry. And, and you know, thank goodness, they did what they did during the time they were, you know, holding the reins. And it's time for a shift in the industry. And so we're getting the younger 35-40 year olds who are CEOs or owner operators, and they're looking around going, where's my tech? Like, I'm a tech native. What What do you mean we have people sign in at the front in a binder.
What's this paper stuff? Yeah.
Oh, and it gets better. Well, here's the better than signing in, in a binder on a piece of paper, fax it to me, I can only take it in a fax like or what what person even knows how to spell fax anymore. It's such an and, and and I'll just say this, and then we'll come back. I believe the fax machine has become the, the the easiest excuse. So how often have you heard someone say I faxed it to you? I did I faxed it. I have the confirmation right here. Or somebody
Like it's in the mail.
Well said well said. Yeah. Yeah. So interesting. So you know, we went out, we took our prototype out, I took our prototype out, sold it. And then as Rob likes to say, it's like dog chases, car. dog chases car dog catches car. Oh, no. Now what now? So then we had to build it.
Yeah. And so what timeframe? This is late, like, late 20-teen.
Late 2018. Okay. Yeah, late 2018. And, you know, looking back, I'm sure we didn't hide it very well. But we worked really hard to make it look like we already had the product built. And we knew what we were doing. But it worked out it worked out. And there's still a customer today.
Yeah. And at that point, did you decide? I mean, it sounds like you decided to go all in at that point, right? Or?
Yes and no. So I, I was still working, kind of doing that not kind of doing this nights, weekends and every other minute that I had available. But it wasn't long before we knew that the AI company was going to run out of money. It just wasn't getting funded. And and the CEO and founder was trying to fund it through Aetherium. So yeah, so he was really, really, really into cryptocurrency and that was his thing. And it just it, it wasn't there yet, in late 2018. It just wasn't there. So we ran out of money in early 2019. And that's when I said, Okay, I can either go get a job, which I did, by the way, I interviewed and I got an offer for the highest pay I've ever had in my life. And it was a job that I could have done in my sleep and done a stellar job. And I had to come home...If I if I had said yes, I wouldn't be sitting here with you.
Yeah, that's the conviction, though. That's awesome. Like, that's the founder conviction.
But who knew that right? I had no idea. I've never been a founder. So at that point, I had never never done this from that perspective. And I came home and told Rob and you know, we could’ve use the money at the time. He said, Where does your heart say? Where does your heart say you gotta go with your heart. And thank goodness I have a serial entrepreneur husband even though I curse that as well it's been thank goodness that he he was able to see that this is my passion and it is what I am meant to do in my life right now.
Yeah, amazing. Amazing. brave choice. Yeah. So you turned it down, turn the offer down, jumped in. Full in on this and then and then what did you have to do? Were you like, okay, now I gotta go raise money or how did you think through like funding the business and funding, you know, the, the experiments and the growth and all that.
So we bootstrapped as long as we could, which is the advice I always give people, bootstrap as long as you possibly can. I obviously didn't have a job. So I wasn't getting paid while I was doing this. But Rob continued to work. So he had his day job and and then was doing this at night. And I think August 2019. We finally said, Okay, it's time we have to start thinking about Rob not working and being able to do this full time. So then we put together our pitch deck and and you know, I have Rob is also a TechStars mentor. So like I have the best of all worlds, right? He could coach me on those things. And you know, as a wife I am sometimes coachable for my husband and sometimes not.
Now, that sounds like a superpower right there. Husbands and wives that are coachable with between each other with each other. That's a superpower.
Thank you. I'm gonna tell him you said that. And you know my husband, so.
Yeah, tech leader in one of our portfolio companies. Yeah,
yep. So. So, you know, we we did it, we went out, we found some angel investors and a micro VC in Colorado, who really was experiencing the issue that we were solving with their aunt, so they were watching their mom go through this with their aunt, and with her sister, and just how much pain it was causing. And they knew we could solve it. So it was really, it was really a perfect time. And perfect people. And they are some of my biggest cheerleaders still today. And I just so appreciate them. It's. So yeah, that was really great. So that gave us enough money to keep going and for Rob to leave his job and do this full time. And we did that for probably another year. And then we said, Okay, now it's time, we got to go get some pre-seed funding, we need bigger funding, and we're not at product market fit. We do have some revenue. We have some experiments and some good milestones. So put together another pitch deck, and went out and got a little bit more. Oh, and and Colorado has the Colorado economic development organization has a fantastic grant. And so we applied for that grant, and we got 250k from that grant. But it's a grant that is double matching. So we had to have 500k in the bank in order to get it right. So we figured out that was our funding was to go get that 500k Which we did, we got 650. And, and that that held us for a year, maybe a little more than a year.
And this is in in the midst of sort of COVID Right. In the middle and COVID Yeah, right in the middle of COVID.
And Les, you know, that's
And that was when we met I think to right, was it 2019? Or 2020? I can't remember exactly.
I think I think so because I think it was at a at a gathering for the company Rob was working for in Boulder, right? Yep. Iron Core Labs. Was it? I think so. Yeah, I think so. And, you know, we always think people are going to be logical, and people are never logical. So for my business, which is was all about at that time, all about communicating between staff and family members about those in their care, who couldn't advocate for themselves or couldn't represent themselves very well, like my mom was nonverbal, the last two years of her life. And so I, you know, I wrote I absolutely depended on the care team. I couldn't just call her up and find out. My dad, I could call and he would, he would talk like crazy, but he would tell me all kinds of stories that were not true. Like he hadn't been fed or hadn't been showered or didn't know who his doctor was. And even when you know they're not true. It still makes your heart stop, and I hope Yeah. So now I'm trying to think where I was so,
So 20, so 2020. You so you said you went out to kind of get raise, seed round then it was late 2020 21? Yes.
It was early. 2021. That's what it was. Yes. And yes, we're in 2022. Right.
really 22. Early 22 is when he went out to raise early 20. Closer than April of this year.
We did. We did. Yeah. Because a $1.3 million round in April. Yes. And, and yeah, so that's where I was going during that time when we think that my business would be flourishing, because COVID Locked everyone down. And we have people sitting at windows saying hello to their loved one, right. So you're thinking that a technology that could solve that problem would be in high demand. But people aren't logical. And when their house is on fire, they have to take care of the fire first, they cannot look at ways to make sure it doesn't get on fire again. So Rob calls it cow in the ditch. When there's a cow in the ditch. The first thing you do is you get the cow out of the ditch…
What do you use to get the cow out of the ditch? I've never heard this before. But I'm so intrigued. Oh, what's the second thing? Milk the cow? I don't know what the second thing…
You make sure the cow doesn't go in the ditch again. Figure out how to not get the candidate, right. So the cow was in the ditch all through COVID. And, and it was hard, it was really hard sell. You know, we did get some customers and they were amazing. So you know, we were really steady, but super slow. And, and now that COVID has lightened its grip, loosened its grip, just now literally a year after it's really loosened its grip enough for people to be visiting again. Now is when communities, senior living communities, home health, home care hospice providers, others who are providing care for our older adults are able to just finally take a breath and lift their head and say, Okay, I'm gonna go back to the cow’s out of the ditch. We figured out COVID We know how to do this, we know it's going to come again, we know what happens when it comes again, we know what protocols to put in place, time to start looking at how we don't let that disaster happen again, and, and that with the combination of the younger folks moving into leadership roles, has really spurred our business. So senior care, and I say that intentionally not Senior Living, Senior Care, which is the entire spectrum of any provider providing care is undergoing a massive generational and digital transformation right now. We are, right, there we are, we are making all of this simple. That's our goal. Technology can be complex it can be we sometimes call it app-Jenga, because there's so many different apps that you know, everybody's like, hey, try this software, do that app, do this thing, do that just install this remote patient monitoring, everybody's like throwing things at the at the providers who, who don't understand all of it anyway. And then they try to put it all together. So our goal is to just make all of that work together and be simple. For everybody. Yeah. Very cool.
And as part of part of this, your this mission of this journey, I mean, you've you've it seems to me, like you've really tried to become a thought leader in this space as well with you have the video podcast is that is that right?
I do - Mavericks of Senior Living Oh my god. Okay, so there's still crack you up, you know that that customer that we sold the prototype to, I'm sitting next to him on the couch at one of his facilities, you know, doing some backend stuff, trying to get this rolled out without him knowing that it's all back end, right. And we start chatting about the industry. And I asked him how he got into it, he shared his incredible story about his grandfather with Parkinson's and how he watched his mom deal with that, and the same issues that I had been dealing with. And that's what drew him to Serenity and and then he just shared his immense love for older adults. And his incredible brilliance and how to manage care in a way that is, is dignified for them and loving and creates as much independence as possible. And I was just like, blown away by this guy, because I hadn't met anyone in the industry like him. And I said to him, you know, I've been thinking about starting a podcast and talk about this. I feel like we need to raise this conversation nationwide. And so we said, let's do it. And we literally, literally had no idea what we were doing. We sat down with a laptop, like two months later, we push the play button. We didn't have headphones on we're using our laptop mic, you know all the things you're not supposed to do. But we didn't know and we just did it and we talked for 20 minutes and and then we did a next one. And now we're three years in and we interview people across the industry - leaders, caregivers, families, older adults, technology providers, everybody to really shed a light on what's happening in reality in this industry, because when was the last time you heard somebody say, I can't wait to go to independent living or assisted living. I'm so excited.
Never in my family I don't know if other families have different experience but it's usually kick kicking and screaming and it’s said, really.
It is. Yeah. And it and it shouldn't be it really just it, it's just another place to not just it's another place to thrive. And this whole thing about everyone should age at home, everyone wants to stay home, not everybody wants to stay home and not everyone should stay home. It's very lonely, it's very isolating if you don't have the support systems around you, and to have home care 24/7 is way more expensive than then moving in. Yeah. Plus, when you move into a community, you get all the support to get activities, you get meals, you you have the option to be social and and really engage and and truly thrive.
Right, because because that in turn can lead to better quality of life better day to day happiness, potentially longevity as well.
Absolutely, yes, longevity, fewer hospitalizations, lower depression, a lot of of beneficial emotional, mental, financial, physical benefits.
Well, we'll be sure to post the link to if you're listening and you'd like to learn more about the Mavericks of Senior Living, we'll be sure to post that in the show notes. Two more quick things. One, I want to highlight. So in April of 2022, you were nominated as a finalist, a top entrepreneur finalist in the state of Colorado. Congratulations. Yes, was very well deserved. I gotta say,. I was I was about to say it's about time.
Thank you. Now I truly didn't know someone forwarded it to me. And I was like, what I just I had no idea. Wonderful.
What a great accolade. And then I also understand maybe something exciting. That just broke a few weeks ago that you maybe want to want to announce
Very exciting. So we recently formed a signed a strategic alignment with a company called World Cinema that actually started their life in the hotel industry. And imagine the hotel industry even 10 years ago, if you had budget, your your question was, do I implement software that's going to make us more efficient? Or do I put new carpet in the room? And the answer was always put new carpet in the room. Always, always, always until one of the hotel chains said, Hmm, you know what I think we should look at the traveler experience and remove the friction from the traveler experience. Let's focus on that. And that was the winning play. And that is exactly what is happening in senior living right now. So World Cinema said, hmm, let's take our knowledge, our experience, all the lessons learned. And let's go do this for senior living, because we know how to do this. So we signed a reseller agreement with them, they are bringing Serenity into their deals. And as part of that relationship, we are in the Thrive Innovation Center in Louisville, Kentucky, anybody in the senior care world knows about Thrive innovation, it is a nonprofit, where they have set up a space for senior care executives to tour and see what the latest newest state of the art technology is to create the future of senior care. And we're part of it. And we're very excited about that.
That is such exciting news. And I mean, it's it's refreshing to hear that sort of that sort of a visionary, you know, kind of a kind of approach to things, I'm really excited to hear that and boy, is it exciting that you're at the center of the future there. So…
Thank you, you know, I truly I feel like between Mavericks and Serenity, and then, you know, I've done a few other things that are kind of shaking up the ground in senior care. You know, I want to change the world. And I don't mean that lightly, I want to change the world. And that's what the rest of my life is about is changing the human experience of the way we age.
That's it incredible. My last question, I always like to kind of ask, you know, kind of a personal one at the end. And I'm just curious for for folks that are, you know, listening to podcasts that maybe are starting to approach, you know, some of these stages of life where they're dealing with care for their parents, any any advice that you would give to folks to help them, you know, get get through some of the high level kind of challenges that that, you know, we all are expected to face? I think someday with regards to caring for our parents and for seniors.
Yes, don't go it alone. We all think when it starts to happen, we all think we are the only ones and nobody else has gone through it and nobody knows what we're going through. And it's just not true there are so many resources available, reach out to me, I'm happy to connect you to the right resources, I probably won't know the answer, but I can guarantee I know someone who will, and, and leverage your resources. Because there are a lot of people just like you and the same pain that you're in. And some people are a little bit ahead of you and are able to say, here's what the trail looks like, here's how to navigate it, and help you through that. Just don't go it alone. And, you know, I'll I will share that we I spoke with someone recently who I was telling them what we do, and she kind of started to cry a little bit. And she said, you know, my husband was that, he was the primary care coordinator and he had a breakdown, because it is so intense. So emotional, so time consuming. And so financially draining that he had a literal breakdown, and we just don't need that. So don't let that happen to yourself. Reach out, use the resources, call me, I will get you connected.
That's great advice. And now your cell phone number please. So they can call you not just days and a lot of calls. It's on your website. Well, Katherine, I just want to say as a friend and as an entrepreneur that I have just grown to have tremendous respect and admiration for in Colorado. I want to thank you so much for being on our podcast. Certainly, your big heart is an amazing superpower. But there's so much more where that came from your high EQ, your amazing communication ability, the impact that you're having on people and the culture that you're building in your company. I think I speak for all of us. We're excited to see where Serenity goes from here.
Thank you, Les. I think I need you on my shoulder saying that every day.
While I'm here if you need me just okay, and why don't you just leave our listeners with just where they can find more about you and Serenity online?
You bet. So go to www.Serenityconnect.com. We just switched over and launched a new website.
Very cool to check that out. Thanks. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Found in the Rockies. You can find links in the show notes or go to nextfrontiercapital.com to get transcripts, links, and contact information for today's guests. If you like what you heard and want more, please don't forget to rate review and subscribe to get notified as our new episodes drop every two weeks. We'll see you next time.