An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Philip Lee, the co-founder of LifeLoop, which was honored in our:
- 2021 Best Tech Startups in Omaha
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Omaha
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Omaha
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in Omaha
Tell us the origin story of LifeLoop – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
I was driving across the vast, featureless expanse of western Nebraska along I-80 with my wife and our 1.5 year old boy to Colorado when Kent Johnson called me up and wanted to talk about the idea that he and his wife Amy had been cooking up. Some sort of software application for nursing homes? It sounded like a long shot at best. Technology? Seniors? Two things that traditionally are stereotyped as going together like oil and water. We had no experience in senior living or technology. But, it was intriguing. I tend to be drawn to things that sound improbable, and this certainly had the makings of a huge contrarian challenge.
The issues that Kent and Amy’s family went through when their family member moved into a senior living community is a familiar one. A beloved family member needs more assistance to continue to live in dignity and safety than is possible for the family to provide. The senior moves into a care facility, and then communication and connection seems abruptly cut off. The intermittent and disjointed communication seems to only be bad news as the health and well-being of the resident drastically heads south more quickly than anyone expected. Communication amongst the family is sporadic and disjointed too, occasionally non-existent, and they end up feeling caught off-guard with their loved one’s abrupt end of life.
The resident doesn’t experience the enhanced quality of life they thought they were going to when they moved in. This problem is widespread and well-known. But could it really be solved? Which problem? Maybe that was asking the wrong question. The typical situation like that could definitely be improved upon, and that’s what we set out to do. To improve the experience of residents and their family members as they moved into a senior living community. Why? It felt like an important part of life that people tended to avoid thinking about until it happened to them. It also felt like a widespread problem that we could have a big impact on. We decided to give it a shot.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
Everything felt like a hurdle early on. More than that, many hurdles felt like straight up roadblocks. It’s hard to specify which one seemed the biggest. Once, before we had really gotten started, we had a really smart professor tell us bluntly, leaving no room for misinterpretation, “This. This is not a company” after we explained what we were planning on doing. Naysayers can be a big hurdle, for sure. Whether they are potential investors or just friends or family. Any know-it-all negative Nelly can get you to question the viability or advisability of what you are trying to do if you aren’t sure yourself. And if you’re always 100% sure that what you are doing is brilliant, then that’s a bigger problem. The trick is not to ignore them (which is what most people will instinctively do), but to listen to them objectively, without letting their negativity seep into your mindset. They may have valid points that you should address after all.
I think another big hurdle was coming to the realization that this was not something that would be “done”. There wasn’t one thing, or partnership, customer, or event that we just had to make happen and then we could sit back and pat ourselves on the back about. Nobody goes into a venture thinking like that, but it can be tempting to do so when stress levels start rising quickly. But, thinking like that distracts and takes all the fun out of it, in my opinion. Like raising a kid, once your kid exits a “phase”, they just move into another phase. You’re never done being a parent – it just becomes a part of your life that you’ve got to own or it’ll end up owning you. Coming to that realization early on, and coming to terms with it without letting it consume you can be difficult, but I’ve found it’s a pre-req to focusing on doing the little things right. And a pre-req for really enjoying and having fun with what you are doing.
What does the future hold for LifeLoop?
The future of LifeLoop is bright. We have expanded our amazing team of bright, energetic people who are passionate about trying to make a positive impact on the world around us. That right there will take us a long way. I believe that we are on our way to being a staple product for senior living communities. “Should we partner up with LifeLoop?” is a question I think every community admin should be asking him/herself. I also think that communities in more diverse care settings outside the senior living setting will continue to grow and that we will adapt and serve them. The core concept is so strong: managing any sort of major life challenge is made more manageable by going through it with people who care about you, as a community, and we want to play a positive role in meeting those challenges – whether that challenge is simply getting older, losing your memory, living with autism, coping with other health challenges, etc.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Omaha?
There’s no how-to guide. There doesn’t seem to be a cookie-cutter pathway to starting a tech company in Omaha, but there probably isn’t one anywhere. I’ve never spent time in startup cultures in other parts of the country, so it’s hard to compare. However, the environment here is a great one. The schools, the small business support system, the financial capital, and the talent is all here. Companies like Buildertrend, Hudl, and Aviture have led the way and showed everybody how it could be done. They want others to succeed too and aren’t afraid to help. That, I feel like, is pretty rare. The community is still small enough, and the people here in Omaha genuinely want to help, so that all you have to do to meet, and get in touch with people with the experience and knowledge and contacts you need to access is simply reach out and listen. Small businesses here are proud to call Omaha home and seem to root on other local small businesses. That dynamic is amazing. All the necessary ingredients are here – they can just feel a little hidden at times. The tech talent pool continues to grow in a sort of virtuous feedback loop, but I’m told is still a little lacking, even though that hasn’t hurt us at all. We got lucky finding incredible dev talent. People with the qualities you look for when you’re putting together a team (sensible, bright, down-to-earth, hard-working, friendly) are present in abundance in Omaha.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Focus on one thing at a time (the most pressing issue you face, big or small), consider your options, and then just put your best foot forward. Consider how that step went and what you could have possibly done better. Repeat. There’s no miracles. Sports analogy – just keep getting first downs, no “Hail Marys”. Lastly, don’t be afraid to hire people who have more talent than you do, and try to be wise enough to accurately acknowledge when that’s the case.