When an ALS patient spoke with the President and CEO of CareLinx, Sherwin Sheik, during a check-in call, he told Sheik that CareLinx and his dedicated team had made the last year of his life possible. Unfortunately, given the amount of care that ALS patient needed, he could not afford to receive care through a traditional agency.
After he passed, Sheik and the CareLinx team members that helped him and his family were invited by the family to his memorial at U.C. Berkeley where he was a professor in biology. Sheik held another memorial in the company conference room to remind staff that they are in the business of caring for people in what is probably the most vulnerable time in their entire life. This client’s picture remains on the CareLinx conference room wall, serving as a constant reminder of the real importance of what they all do on a day-to-day basis. They are dealing with families whose loved one has progressed to the point at which they needed to hire a stranger take care of them. “My job is to constantly instill that into my team, reminding them of what we are actually doing here.”
Seeing that purpose translated in feedback received from clients like this professor is when it is reinforced that CareLinx is not a tech company, they are a service company in the business of helping clients find the best level of care given their specific needs and budget. Moments such as those remind Sheik that in order to succeed, one must listen and pay attention to their clients and treat them like they are very close family friends.
Sherwin Sheik has worked in healthcare for about fifteen years, going from biotech, to healthcare investment banking, to working as a healthcare portfolio manager for a hedge fund. Because of his vast background within the field, he has a very strong understanding of both the mechanics and the demand.
Sheik attributes his primary motive for developing the company to deeply personal reasons. His sister has multiple sclerosis and had progressed to the point that she became quadriplegic and blind. Concurrently, his uncle, a father figure, mentor and role model, was diagnosed with ALS and required twenty-four hour care.
Observing what was happening on a macro basis was an eye opener, between being an investor in healthcare and watching what was unfolding within his family. He realized just how broken the traditional home care industry model was and assumed that it was only going to continue to get worse as baby boomers age and the need for care increases. The overwhelming amount of reasons to try and solve the problem was what set Sheik off on his mission.
When Sheik’s sister was diagnosed, she was in Los Angeles and their mother was in the San Francisco Bay area. After being discharged from the hospital, the options were to either put her in one of the only two local homecare agencies available or into a facility. “The amount of time my mom took off of work to deal with the transition into a home, the number of turnovers that we had with caregivers… it ultimately ended her career. She is a PhD molecular biologist, and she ended up becoming a caregiver for my sister.” When his uncle was diagnosed with ALS, his aunt essentially found herself running an ICU out of her home, as he required twenty-four hour care, seven days a week.
Sheik quickly realized that many families, including his own, end up resorting to hiring privately, instead of working with traditional agencies given that agencies charge double the rate they are paying the caregivers and many end up spending tens of thousands of dollars for care for just a couple months of service.
Like many families – after working with traditional agencies, his family looked to find a lower cost alternative. That solution was hiring a caregiver privately. They put ads out in classifieds, exposing themselves to a lot of risks. From caregivers that never showed up, to caregivers that stole, it proved to be a defeating and exhausting situation. “We just didn’t know how to properly screen caregivers, run comprehensive background checks and had no idea about all legal requirements that come with hiring a private caregiver. You do save money when hiring a caregiver privately, but families also expose themselves to a lot of risk if they don’t know what they are doing.”
Sheik was raised in an entrepreneurial family, growing up with the understanding that it was ok to try something new and fail. When he saw the pain that his family was going through, he made the decision to utilize his experience as a macro investor in healthcare and dedicate the next years of his life to finding a reasonable solution to the problem that was bound to get worse.
CareLinx, Inc. was born.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
It has been about 3 years since CareLinx was launched in San Mateo, CA, and today, the company has over fifty thousand care providers on its online platform in the top fifty metropolitan areas, with CNAs, MAs, LVNs and RNs. The purpose is to help families find the right provider for their loved one. To do so, a family visits CareLinx.com, they fill out an intake form that informs a Care Advisor of their needs, and then the family gets assigned to a dedicated Family Adviser whose sole objective is to find them the best possible caregiver match, with the goal of providing at least 4 qualified candidates for the family to select from within a week. “We are helping find better matches, and we are saving families thousands of dollars a month in the process.” Approximately five thousand caregivers register with the company online every month, and the company is hoping that several hundred families will be able to find care through the platform on a monthly basis.
The current industry structure consists of many mom-and-pop franchise agencies, typically launched by an entrepreneur who ultimately transforms it into a staffing company. “They have a brick and mortar presence, paying a royalty of ten percent gross receipts. As a result, there are a lot of baked in margins, and many families, like my family, have a hard time affording it.” On the other hand, the CareLinx team and model helps families easily manage all of the legal and financial risks and responsibilities as an employer of private caregivers. Based on the internet, the system is primarily intended for generations that have grown leveraging technology for their research. “I built this company for my generation; a lot younger and a little bit more tech savvy. I met my wife online. It’s what I am used to in this world.”
Once families narrow their interests to a few potential caregivers, CareLinx Family Advisors can help them schedule the interviews. When they make their final choices, the CareLinx platform manages all of the payroll and tax responsibilities for the family. Additionally, Lloyds of London underwrites the company, so the caregivers are all bonded and insured.
Sheik’s goal is to make the process as easy as possible for families in need. Whether they only have a few requirements of their caregiver, or they have a laundry list of needs; whether they live in the same city as their senior or on the other side of the country… CareLinx will be able to help. “That’s what I have set out to do; make it easy for a family to tell us, ‘I’m looking for a female caregiver, five years of experience, is CNA, has experience with dementia, resides in the Sacramento, CA area and is willing to work for fifteen dollars an hour.’ Then, get access to their comprehensive background checks, references, and reviews from prior employers.”
Preparedness is an active trait of the company, as they regularly run analytics on caregivers’ engagement backgrounds to do predictive modeling, used to determine who is going to be a good provider, and who is not. “We’re constantly curating, sorting and booting caregivers off the platform that don’t belong in order to really build this vibrant community.” Families are interviewed before and after their experiences with the caregivers and they are encouraged to send in reviews so that CareLinx can ultimately make the best offerings to future families.
“Caregivers are happy because they’re earning higher wages, and families are happy because they’re saving money.” The satisfaction of both parties all stems back to the ways in which the business leverages its technology-based company to make a very inefficient market a lot more transparent for both families and the caregivers.
Sheik works hard to always bear in mind the nature of CareLinx’s services. “We’re dealing with people’s lives, people’s loved ones. A lot of times they live long distance and need some assurance that there is someone that they can go to for help, not just a website. That’s something that I have had to embrace and build into the culture. I tell my team that we’re not a tech company, we’re a services company that is leveraged by technology to help make the market more efficient.”
Embracing the fact that they are in the business of customer service, staff and management also look beyond the technology aspect and make a point to treat their clients as if they were a close friend or family member who is in a bind and in need of a lifeline to help them navigate through the process. Still taking customer support calls himself, Sheik always tries to learn by talking directly with clients, fact-finding, and explaining that this company is his mission and passion.
A RESOUNDING UNDERSTANDING
The CareLinx goal is to make quality home care more affordable and accessible for everyone, operating on the “Customers always come first” model.
The business is in a constant state of testing, a factor that must be recognized by employees, new and old. “I always tell everyone that at CareLinx, we are running a massive experiment. We might fail every day, but we’re incrementally finding out what is working, and hopefully getting closer to cracking the code and building a sustainable model that’s really going to disrupt the industry, given our margins.”
Sheik recognizes that his business might not suit everyone. Rather than recognizing that and trying to sell it as the best fit anyway, he is honest with prospects. The company wants to help people, not misguide them. “It’s all about honesty, integrity, and perseverance. I tell families right off the bat that we’re not the best solution for everyone. ‘If you need immediate care, right now, CareLinx is not the option, but I would be happy to refer you to a traditional agency that has staff ready to be deployed immediately.’ It’s also about really understanding what the client’s needs are.” Sheik constantly tells his team that ultimately, more than anything else, their job is to make sure that the client gets the right level of care that they need, whether or not it is with their business.
“That’s my tenant and my core value, to do what is in the best interest of the family and the person needing care. To make sure that we give them the right resources needed to make decisions as soon as possible.”
According to Sheik, caregiving is an unfortunate event that occurs unexpectedly. No one plans for it or sees it coming until it’s directly in front of them. Often, people don’t even want to share the struggle that their families go through. Rather, they just pray that the journey won’t be difficult and that their loved one will be ok. When the event does happen, they have to scramble to find the resources available. It’s CareLinx job to help them through that time of desperation and accommodate them with the necessary resources, regardless of if it is with their company or another.
THE HIRING PHILOSOPHY
Sheik’s current group of employees is very small as compared to the size of the company, and is characterized as being very dedicated and hard working. “We are literally a family.” He admits that when he started CareLinx, he was coming off of extensive experience working primarily as an independent, “living and dying” off of his own investment decisions. Because of this, he is still learning the mechanics of hiring and terminating employees.
Admittedly overly cautious when hiring, his current team is much smaller than one would think, dipping into his “capital efficiency mindset.” Working with a carefully selected group of just twelve individuals, Sheik is aware that he has set the bar really high and that hiring the wrong people can be disastrous at the stage the company is in.
Sheik’s philosophy when hiring is that his candidates must first truly feel and understand the problem that the company is working to solve. Next, they have to have the mental stamina to work through this problem and not give up when the answers are not presented. “We have yet to crack the code. We’re helping hundreds of families a month find care, but, are we building a sustainable business yet?” Answering his own question, Sheik said that they are not because they haven’t yet reached the point that they are profitable.
“In ensuring company success, I always look for people who understand and have personally experienced the pains of finding a caregiver for a loved one.” Sheik described how it is much easier to maintain the right mindset in building a business like this when you have dealt with the trials and tribulations yourself. For example, a recent hire’s mother was diagnosed with M.S. 25 years ago. Having dealt with it for a great portion of his life, he gets the motive behind the work. “He is the consumer, still to this day. He doesn’t need to understand the consumer mindset because we get to build this for ourselves. We already know what the families and the providers are going through.”
Sheik looks for people that are adaptive, experienced, quick-thinking, and confident enough to challenge the system, raise questions and offer suggestions. “I will be the first to admit, I have no idea what CareLinx will eventually become.” Sheik describes the company and its staff as constantly iterating, working on the whiteboard, reevaluating the model, the acquisition funnel, the process the families undergo to find the right caregivers, and the algorithms used to rate the caregivers. “I am looking for people to join the team and be able to admit that we don’t have the answer. We constantly have to be questioning what we have to do to make it better and improve.”
When hiring new staff, Sheik takes a long time to make the final decisions, but when he sees that someone won’t be a good fit, it is usually a pretty quick decision that it would be in both of their best interests to part. “I have had to get rid of some people who did not perform up to my expectations. If it’s not going to work, you’re going to know within the first three months.” All new staff members are told from the first day on the job that they are on a team and that the effort goes both ways. However, if they at any point feel that that is too much, they are told that they can leave without any hard feelings.
“That is probably some of the best advice that I have gotten from a successful entrepreneur and mentor that I have worked with. He told me that on the day you hire them, you should let them know that the door is always open for them to leave and for you to let them go. As long as you’re both committed to the cause, you’re a partner in this business and there is always a spot for you. If at any point in time you feel like it isn’t working out, I don’t want there to be any hard feelings because in the end, we’re all doing this to serve. If it’s not working, there is probably something better for you out there anyway.”
Sheik also needs to see passion. The people that he brings into his company are all passionate about the cause and are not motivated by the money. He is confident that they’re not looking at this as a gig. Approaching them as upfront as he can be, Sheik tells prospective employees that if they think working for CareLinx is a nine to five job, then CareLinx is not the place for them. They have to be always ready and willing to serve the families that are coming to CareLinx for help.
He reminds his staff that they are dealing with people’s lives and does his best to lead by example. He makes a point to inform his staff that he is available twenty-four seven, at any point in time, and that they will never hear him complain if they ever have a question or an idea. “We don’t stop. We are always on. We’re always here to serve and to improve. I need to see that in everyone that we hire, otherwise they’re not going to fit. You’re either, A) going to look at me like I move a million miles an hour and struggle to keep up, or B) you’re going to get it.”
While he does look for the experience factor, another primary deal breaker is whether or not they really understand what the company is trying to solve. “A smart MBA graduate can go look at the industry numbers and say, ‘Wow, this is a massive market opportunity.’ Right? But what we do is not sexy. The way I lose clients is that they pass away or progress to the point where they can no longer safely stay in their home anymore and need to be moved to a facility.” The company is in the business of dealing with people’s lives, so it is important to make sure that the team fully comprehends what is on the table, and realizes that the job is not just another walk in the park.
Recognizing that a successful company requires varied levels of talent at different stages of growth, Sheik hopes to see CareLinx succeed whether or not he is a constant part of the team and process. Some people are able to migrate through the trials and errors, ups and downs, and see a company through its progression, but according to Sheik, that’s rare. “I hope to be the guy who takes it all the way home to the finish line. But I recognize that ultimately, I might not be the one. Right now, the goal is to get it to work.”
IT’S NOT EASY
Sheik would like all prospective employees to know that at CareLinx, it is not easy. The company was initially built based on personal experiences. At the time, what Sheik did not realize was that the pain he was feeling from the rough times that he and his family faced would now be amplified five hundred times. “We deal with people who are in crisis mode. I don’t want people to naively come to CareLinx assuming that what we do is easy.”
The staff is constantly confronted with emotional displays of families crying about their situations, caregivers upset about being overworked and endless amounts of personal moments. “You don’t think about that when you first build this type of business until you are in it.” So, when Sheik gets new team members, he does his best to be open and communicate the fact that there is a heavy need for them to be empathetic and for them to have thick skin so that they can truly help families during their time of crisis. “If you take it all in, you will most likely burn out emotionally.”
When Sheik made the choice to step away from his big career in the healthcare industry and risk starting a new business, he asked himself, “Do I want to be a trader and use my mind and resources to make money, or do I really want to solve this problem that I have a high degree of certainty my thesis can correct?” Believing that he can build a great business that’s going to impact millions of lives and will revolutionize an industry, Sheik trusts that the risk/reward on this trade, “call it my life and career,” makes sense. When he looks at the opportunity in front of him and the personal pain of his past, everything is crystal clear. What he doesn’t know, however, is whether or not he will be the one to officially solve the problem. All he can do is try, and continue to build awareness of the CareLinx mission.
For More Information: http://www.carelinx.com