Devika Wood

Your vision and values need to be embodied in everything you do

Devika Wood is the Founder and CEO of Vida, which was set up in 2016 to help people who need care find the right carer. She raised £3.5m to build a technology platform, with the aim of making home care more efficient and higher quality, and to professionalise the home care industry in the UK. She shares her business insights with Smith & Williamson’s Hall of Fame.

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A personal mission

I understood the limitations of the care systems from an early age. My grandmother, Sita, had dementia and epilepsy and moved in with us when I was 10. I am half-Indian and that is our approach to family members who need help.

We found the care system wholly inadequate for her needs: over the twelve years she lived with us, we had 150 different carers, sent to her home by social services. My grandmother had had a stroke, which brought on early- onset dementia. As part of this, she lost her ability to speak in English, reverting back to Hindi. The carers they sent us could only ever speak English. Her inability to communicate left her frustrated, which manifested itself in increasing aggression.

There was also no consistency of care. It was unreliable: some would turn up, some wouldn’t. We even came home to find a carer eating her food! There was no transparency. The carer wouldn’t report back on her mood, for example.

Her problems worsened after she was left paralysed following a poor interaction between her anti-psychotic medication and her epilepsy drugs. We moved to a bigger house in an Indian area. There we found a small Indian agency and they found us two Hindi-speaking carers. This was a life-changer for our family. My grandmother called them her daughters. Finally, there was a person-centric approach to care for this intimate and difficult situation. I wanted to be able to help other people get better care and this was the germination of Vida.

Matching technology and healthcare

After going to university and studying science, I was one of the founding employees of Babylon, a subscription health service provider that enables users to have virtual consultations with doctors and health care professionals via text and video messaging. This got me interested in how technology and healthcare could interact and improve outcomes for people.

Initially Vida started out as a standard healthcare provider. This helped me work out the difficulties inherent in running an agency. There were a number of key problems to address: there was a very limited supply of carers, there was no career progression and they were paid next-to-nothing for doing a pretty difficult job. Often they were travelling a lot, visiting six to nine homes per day and dealing with the most vulnerable people.

There was also huge demand: it’s not just the elderly. It may be those with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, autism. I believe that with the right support, most will not need to go into a home. We want to give people the freedom of choice to stay at home, without the resulting strain on their families.

Technology presented a solution: our technology platform aims to match demand to supply. It will cluster demand in a particular location, with shifts and rotas allocated on that basis. It also helps improve reliability for families who need care: the carer accepts the job, says ‘I’m on my way’ via the app. We use geographic-tagging, so the family has peace of mind – they know the person is where they say they are. It also helps greatly with billing and invoicing.

There is also an automated care plan and the carers will have to tick off tasks. This will include areas such as ‘did you take your medication?’, but also more subjective areas such as ‘how was their mood?’. This can flag when there are concerns that someone may have an infection, for example, and a doctor’s visit is needed.

We have an in-depth recruitment process for all our carers. We do all the DBS and right to work checks, plus training. The training is led by a nurse. We want our carers to be more like healthcare assistants. We want to provide them with the skills to care for people who are very sick.

The challenges

There remains a very ‘old industry’ mentality. Carers had learned bad habits and we needed to encourage them to change their behaviours and use the tools we provided. They need to check in within five minutes of arriving, for example, and not all of them liked it. But it takes a lot to gain client trust and one error can shatter everything.

This is, rightly, a highly regulated industry. We work with the Care Quality Commission and are trying to grow with the demand. We need to show that we can scale up, within the regulatory parameters.

As a female founder, raising capital was a challenge. Finance is a very male-oriented industry and it is easy to be manipulated: I have learnt over time to be tougher in the boardroom.

It is also important to have the right team with the right mindset. I believe when running a business your vision and values need to be embodied in everything you do. Investors will be saying that you haven’t hit this KPI or that KPI, but I think you have to stay aware that you are there to help your clients and nothing else is as important. It is OK to have slower growth, if it is healthier growth.

We have built our client base both on the public and private side. There are two local authorities – Kingston and Greenwich. On the private side, we use PR and ad word campaigns. Once you have a client on board, the retention rate is high and that has significant lifetime value. For the clients, care is a very scary thing to navigate. We want to make sure we have a really good relationship with them to help them through.

 

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