Han van Doorn: Freeing elderly users from intrusive monitoring
Han van Doorn, 83, was the first winner of Aegon’s Silver Starters program. Here he explains why he created “Are you okay today?”, a self-learning app designed to free elderly users from intrusive monitoring and alert systems.
What drove you to start a business at the age of 82?
Han: I launched this project, at the age of 82, after being triggered by a couple of events. I first asked myself "What happens if I fall down the stairs? How long will it take before somebody finds me?". My son Matthew was often calling me, using excuses to check-up on me. From that moment on, I analysed the problem together with Matthew. We came up with the idea to create an app with a traffic light. If the traffic light is green, everything is Ok with me. I didn't want to wear anything to alert anyone nor wear a device around my neck and no cameras and sensors in my house, so I found a way in which the app could work using my electricity usage as a basis.
The app guarantees 100% privacy, while allowing older people to feel safe so they can maintain their independence at home for longer. It also takes some of the worry away from voluntary carers, like my son.
What were the main challenges you had to overcome?
Han: While I had had a successful career at IBM for the last 30 years, I had no idea about how to start a business on my own. After looking around, I stumbled onto the Silver Starters program. It was a gift from Heaven. Thanks to the program, I learned how to set up a company; how to finance the project. I also discovered that there are greater benefits to creating a start-up during the retirement years, rather than starting at a younger age.
I am selling a solution using my own problem, so people trust me. On top of that, I have a lot of working experience being in my 80s. And, one advantage being in that age group is that I do not have extra financial costs anymore like family, children, I have time on my hands to try ideas and re-test until it works.
What are the best things about running your business?
One of the best things of running my own company is that I have a purpose when I wake up in the morning. This idea that grew into a company, gave me a purpose. Now I don't have to sit around all day, waiting for the time to pass by.
'Are you okay today' is a free app that works by connecting the electricity meter with the Internet in an elderly person's home. It learns the pattern of their usage, for example, how often they use certain electrical appliances. If there's a deviation from a person's normal behaviour, then first the elderly person is prompted to confirm that they are okay. If they don't respond, then the traffic light in the app changes from green to orange, and a carer is alerted so that they can check on them.