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About The Episode

In this episode, Carl Jacobs, CEO of Apicbase is seating down with a special guest, Geert Houben, the CEO of Cubigo, a technology provider for the senior living industry.

One of the key topics discussed is how senior living is increasingly leaning towards the hospitality industry

Read the interview

Carl: Welcome to a new episode of the Food Service Growth Show. And today I have with me Geert Houben. He is the CEO of Cubigo. Welcome, Geert. Thank you, Carl, and glad to be here. Uh, for once, we have somebody in our studio, so it’s a live recording, uh, face to face. It’s very nice to have you. Um, I always start the conversation with the same question instead of introducing you. I, uh, would, uh, propose to, uh, that you introduce yourself. So who is Kurt and what is your role at the company?

Geert: Thanks, Carl. So. So I’m the founder and CEO of Cubigo. Started the company in 2011, um, in, in Belgium. Um, and so we grew the company first in Europe, now in the North American market. And I’m still the CEO of the company as well.

And as you say, you founded Cubigo in 2011. What is Cubico exactly?

Geert:  So we saw a big need in the aging population. So Cubigo is a technology company. As you mentioned in the intro, we are a software platform and we integrate all what we call non-clinical services in one single solution to give very easy access to residents like older adults, but also family members, team members, professional caregivers to make their work more efficient, but also to increase the engagement and the satisfaction of the older adult in themselves.

Carl: And you say you founded the company in 2011. It’s I think 12 years that you’re working on it. You started in Europe, you say, but I believe you’re mainly focusing on the United States at the moment?

Geert: Well, we still have business in Europe, too, so we kind of focus on both continents. But the majority of our business comes from North America. The reason is that when we initially started, it was more with the home care proposition.

So how can we keep older adults in their homes as long as possible, keep them independent, keep them autonomous? But when we started in the US in 20 1617, we saw the concept of community living, which is like a group of older adults, typically between 100 and 300 that live together in a on a campus or in a building. And that’s what we what we call senior living.

And it’s not comparable at all with what we know in Europe, which is way more focused on the care homes with very specific care needs In the US, Canada, we talk here about retirement living. So it’s a younger demographic, younger target group and people move in in these communities when they are like 65, 70, 75 years old instead of the 80 to 85 we see here in Europe.

Carl: So it’s not anymore the last resort. It is really like living the life to the max in such a in such a place.

Geert: Absolutely. So these people I mean, look at our own parents. When you look at like the 70 year old person today, it’s not the 70 year old year old person that it was like 20 years ago. People live longer, They’re more healthy. They save some money. So they want to live in their best years of their life when they are retired. And basically that is a completely different thing than a last resort. People see it as an upgrade of their life. Yes. While in Europe, if you go to like a like a senior living community or care home, it feels indeed like this is a downgrade. And probably the last move that I do in my life.

Carl:
I should mention to our listeners that, you already mentioned you are a software platform. Normally we have thought leaders from food businesses, etcetera. But I think from a personal perspective, I’m extremely interested in your journey as a startup, scale up now. So one more question I have about that is one moment in time you decide to go into that United States market. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approached that? That move into a totally unknown territory, and was this really pioneering in the sense that did software like this already exist in the United States? Or were you like one of the first to really come with that kind of solution?

Geert: Great question. So what we did actually is when we saw that we were growing in Europe, but also saw the challenges with growing in Europe, with different countries, cultures, languages, we decided to at least have a look in the US in specific Silicon Valley because that is the heart of the IT in the world. So you want to know what is going on in that area to set a kind of a benchmark for your industry.

So we went there in 2014, more on like a discovery trip for two weeks. And I remember very clearly when we went to like a trade show for technology in for aging population like called the tech vertical, We saw software that we already had like 3 or 4 years before. And so that was like an eye opening experience. Like, hey, we have more than they have here, so why shouldn’t we be here? Right? So we opened up an office. And then the second thing we did was to really understand the market. And it’s very hard as a European to understand the market in the US if you’re not there, if you don’t feel it. What we did is we sent one of our colleagues, he was 28 years old. We sent him for one year into a retirement living community to live among the older adults and really feel what what is happening, what are the challenges, what are the needs, what are the pain points? And so when he came out, he was 82.

That’s a joke. But it was such a tremendous experience not only for him, but also for the company to get real insights in what we and what we have to offer as a solution that it completely changed our product, but also our our success at that moment.

So let’s dive into a little bit into this senior living industry. So can you tell us a little bit about that senior living industry and maybe in Europe and compare to the United States And how big is that industry and, what is senior living?

Geert: So senior living is of course, a broad term. You can even say that people living in their own homes is is senior living because it’s a senior and older adult that is living in their home and that is also making the bridge to what is the future. That is the future. It doesn’t matter where people will live. They want to live their best life. When we refer to senior living, we typically mean that people move into more congregate community style living. And then you have basically two big segments. One is the retirement living, also called independent living assisted living. And then you have the the skilled nursing, which is typically the care home, like we know it in Europe.

The difference between both continents is that in typically Western Europe, people tend to stay at home as long as possible. We have the infrastructure for that. The countries are smaller. We have a government that is supporting that, and when they cannot live anymore at home, they move into a care home for the last like one and a half, two years of their life. In the US you have home care obviously, but then because of the distances are large, it’s all a private industry. People see that retirement living as a as an as a next step in their life before they even have to think about a care home or dementia care and so forth.

And so that industry in the US retirement living is pretty big. So you have a couple of ten thousands of communities, which is which is huge from a from a market size perspective, of course.

Of course we are focused on food and beverage. How do they experience food and what is the importance of food in such a community?

Geert: So to understand that, we first have to say that people move into these communities to have a better life, so they want to have a lot of services around them that make their life more easy. And that is not only like transportation or maintenance housekeeping, but also activities for social contact with other people, which is a very important reason that people move into such a community is the isolation, but also the food side. And actually when they do these research on what people really like find as important, food is always number one. And and that is actually a very like normal human behavior.

Look at ourselves. And food is such an important thing, not just to feed our body and to keep alive, but also to enjoy, like the taste and and all the flavors you can you can have. Right? And so for them as well, actually, that target group or parents, that is the group that invented like the fine dining experience. Right. I mean, or grandparents, they came out of the World War. There was a lot of there was a different context. Absolutely. But then during the 60s, 70s and 80s, the whole concept of like, like, like fine dining was was invented. So this target group is specifically very focused on that. And so food experience is so, so such a crucial component in a community.

Carl: Can you maybe describe like a, a typical senior living community, like how, you know, how many people live there on average? What are the amenities facilities that are being provided. So especially our European listeners can can feel a little bit, you know, the difference between home care here or senior living in Europe and senior living in the United States.

So for the clarity of our listeners, it is not that you bring together different point solutions. You are the platform

Geert: We do both, so we do offer our own modules. If we do not find the appropriate point solution that can serve the the goal. But we also integrate with a lot of solutions because you cannot be the best in everything that is impossible. So the integration capabilities is a crucial element of a platform. Of course, we do that as well.

So first of all, we should explain why and I assume the listeners know what a point of sale solution is, right? So we have to explain first, what does, what does that mean on the front of house side before we go into back of house? So for a long time, senior living was kind of an all inclusive model. So you come in, you pay a fixed amount per month and that’s for your rent, but also for all the services you can you can take even food. So three meals a day, all inclusive and so forth.

More and more you see a trend that we move away from all inclusive to a la carte. And that is a. Trend that you see in hotels as well. If you have that experience and the same here. So because you have people that say like, hey, but I don’t want that three course meal in the evening, I just want a little sandwich with a coffee and that’s fine for me. So I don’t want to pay for that. Yes. And on the other side, you have people that say.

I’m fine with a normal coffee. And I it’s part of my of my budget. But maybe Carl, you like that nice cappuccino with extra foam or whatever and you pay $2 more for that. It’s totally fine. But you need a system that captures all that. Yes. And that’s where a point of sales come in. And for a long time, point of sales was not really needed. And so when you bring a point of sale from a restaurant environment, again, you cope with that problem of personalization and so forth. And so what we have built as one of the modules in the platform is that point of sale front of house solution. So you capture all these ancillary revenues, which is not only dining can be a billable activity, can be a transportation to the shopping mall, all these little charges and we push them into the invoicing system.

So that is first of all, that part when you move into back of house, obviously when you have to manage like three, four restaurants on a site that cope with ingredients, with stock management, with with waste, you need a you need a digital solution to manage that and the perfect world.

The point of sales front of house in the back of house management is like seamlessly integrated. Yeah, because then you really get into efficiencies, insights through data visualizations and so forth. And that is what Cubigo and Apicbase together are providing and building out.

Carl: I think also one of the things that is very important for these communities, is the insights in allergens, nutritional data, all of that. And that’s also something that our integration, uh, provides thanks to, to thanks to working together. We accomplish actually a much broader scala of, of uh, you know, tools that we can offer to these, uh, communities, of course.
Geert: Yeah. And it comes back to that. Personalization and personalization is not only about better service. For example, again, you live there, so you, you, you want people to know you. So if you in the morning order your axe and you always order them sunny side up with a bit of extra salt and a and a multigrain toast as a side. You don’t want people even if there is a new waiter, because there were a lot of turnover, of course. So you have a lot of new people.

You don’t want that waiter to ask every morning, Hey, Carl, how do you want your eggs? Right? You want to have it in the at hand in real time at the table. Yeah. And that’s, that’s that’s just personalization on the more soft side. But think about an 80 year old person with a lot of allergies and a lot of medical challenges. Yes.

It’s a it’s a crucial component to know these allergies as well and to become as a waiter almost like a nutritional coach to help curate the food and say like, yeah, maybe because you’re a diabetes patient, maybe for today, that dish with that lot of sugar, we we should skip that and we, we do something else. Yeah. Like all these things are so important not just from a nice to have but even a must have about.

Talking about technology, where is the senior living industry standing in terms of digitization, is it already digitized or is there still room for improvement?

Geert: Well, I think there is room for improvement. And the reason is, I think health care in general, by the way, is one of these last industries that is kind of disrupted by technology. The reason is people were used to do a lot with their hands. It’s a lot about human to human, which makes a ton of sense.

And we don’t want to replace that. No, no. That’s where the scary part of technology comes in. I think about these robots that suddenly will wash your mom every day and there is no human contact anymore that is an image that people don’t like because in the end, getting older, getting health care or medical care, it’s all about human interaction. So we don’t want that. But if you can make your professional caregivers or your professional team more efficient because of technology, you have more time even for people and for human interactions. Yeah.

And so that is a trend that is now starting. There is definitely a lot paper to digital transition that we still need to do. And yeah, but that’s the beauty. You are in an industry that is at the forefront of that big evolution through technology and so it’s great to be to be there at that point.

Carl: And if you implement the software like Cubigo in such an industry, what are the objections that you come by? Everybody is complaining about pen and paper and excel, but then you implement Cubigo and suddenly Excel was the best tool ever invented. So how do you how do you combine these objections and challenges?

Geert: Well, I think, first of all, and that’s the most asked question I get from people outside our industry when I talk about what we do is like, yeah, but listen, older adults like 70 plus year old people, they cannot cope with technology, right?

They don’t have iPhones, they don’t have laptops. And and that is already wrong. And so that is, of course, something that during the pandemic has accelerated. But I can I can tell you that when we look at our client base, let’s say the 70 year old people, like 85 to 90% of these people, they have access to a device. Yeah. Which is already like like a hurdle that we had, like, maybe ten years ago, but not anymore. Yeah. Yeah. So, so just saying like, yeah, you don’t get this target group on technology that’s done. So that is not an objection anymore. I think the biggest challenge is still like in a lot of like digital transformation or change management processes.

It’s the, it’s the professional because they have to embrace it as well. And maybe they are used to do their work for 20 years on paper. On Excel. Moving now to a tool is always change management and you have to support that in the best way possible. And probably Excel is the competitor of a lot of software solutions, right?

Carl: We know Excel very well and sometimes you still need it. If you need a customized report, Excel is is the go to way. Yeah absolutely. So there’s nothing wrong with with that. But one thing I realize is when you mentioned that that you know, the the aging industry is or the the senior living industry is one of those last resorts of of that needs to be digitized when you were explaining that I think. That. That does make me realize that senior living is part of the hospitality industry. It is about being open and friendly and very human focused, as in restaurants, as in hotels. It’s all about this human contact.

Geert: Yeah, well, and that’s a big discussion in the industry. And I even it’s very hard to to to make a bold statement here. Meaning is senior living a health care industry with hospitality on top of it, or it is a hospitality industry with some care on top of it. Right. And that’s a very difficult one. I prefer the the latter because if I’m 65, 70 years old, I will go to hospitality first before I need care or because I don’t want to live in a care setting.

And I think also there is a little bit of culture versus Europe. I think us when you go to restaurants and when you go to experiences, you feel it’s a bit more hospitality focused as, as a as a country. And just to give an example, so Disney, which is the famous event Park Builder and operator just announced I think a year ago that they will start a senior living community. All right. And actually, they have like. A wait list with tens of thousands of people on it and just it’s crazy. Yeah, exactly. Because people like that kind of, uh, team or like vibe, even when they are like 65, 70 years old. That’s that’s fascinating.

Carl: And you know, one thing that that for Europeans and maybe also Americans, I think a big difference is, of course, the price, the cost of living there. I think it’s it in Europe, mainly health care taking is taken by the state and, you know, provided by the state. And of course, we also have to pay in Europe to to be in a senior living environment. But it’s less expensive, I guess, than the United States. So of course with money you can solve a lot of problems. But what are the things that European senior living should learn from the American approach of, let’s say, hospitality? Senior living?

Geert: first of all, to to make very clear what the difference is, they just pay less taxes in the US on average and that’s why they have less government involved projects, senior living education, infrastructure. So that is the difference. We pay a lot of taxes actually the most in the world in Belgium, but because of that, the government can pay for a lot of things, including senior living.

So that means that the industry is almost completely privatized and that is something and made to make the bridge with the learning. Because when you privatize an industry, you get really the market effect, like demand and supply. Yes. And like a hotel, if you are not happy with your experience in your hotel, you write it online. You give a bad rating. A couple of other people do that as well. And the hotel in the end has to even like has to either like improve their service or they’re out of business. Yeah. And so that kind of principle of making it way more transparent.

For example, in senior living in the US, you have just ratings online which you cannot imagine in Belgium to have. Crazy right? But that is the case in a privatized market and it has, of course a lot of challenges as well because you can start a discussion. Can you make money on the medical situation and health care of people and so forth, But just by privatizing it, you get way more transparency and the market will decide who will still be there.

A plea for more privatization in the in the European market or how what what what are, let’s say the learning points or the the positives that we need to look into?

Geert: Privatization is a is a very big thing. Right? And with a more social system in Europe, it’s a hard and difficult discussion. I would start with more transparency. Yeah, like give way more insight in the quality of a of a senior living community in Europe. Make it way more tangible and just put it open. Yeah. Because now it’s a black box and you don’t know where you move into or your parents move into.

Carl: And then, you know, obvious question what are the traps we shouldn’t fall into in Europe?

Geert: I think the privatization can, can flip to the side of and actually you see that a bit with some more private nursing homes in France, which was in the press a few like a year ago that, that they say like you make money because if you pay less people to serve your like older adults you have you make more money as a company. But it’s not better for for people that need care.

Carl: So they forget the hospitality part.

Geert: Well exactly. And they just they just look at it as a numbers game. Yeah. And so if we don’t go to your parents every day to watch them, but every three days it’s less people, more money and it becomes a better business. The question is, is that better?

Carl: Enough politics. How is the senior living space looking in ten years from now.

Geert: I think, two main things that will happen, first of all, and that’s more the technology angle. There will be such an amount of data available that we will that we will be possible to like hyper personalize the experience and make it very, very tangible and concrete. What like specific actions or specific things that person like older adults should do to keep more healthy, happy and so forth. And even can say, this is your plan. If you do that, you live five years longer.

Yeah, like that kind of predictions will definitely be there. But that’s more the technology side. On the on the broader societal side, you will see a way more like a bigger blend between living at home, living in. In a building, living on a campus, it doesn’t really matter anymore. You will have access to all types of services that now are only available in a building or community. You will have them as well at home because there is like fall detection monitors, there are safety systems. You have even smart lamps these days to monitor if there is something happening.

So so that so technology will help there to live wherever you want. All right. And that will be a big difference with today.

This webinar is best for:

What you'll learn:

Guest & Host

Geert Houben

Founder & CEO
Cubigo

Carl Jacobs

Co-founder & CEO
Apicbase

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