By Richard Cawthorne, who profiles Joel Shamash, co-founder of HomeHeart
In common with many people with elderly parents, Joel Shamash viewed what has been labelled the growing crisis in the care industry with concern, but it was when his own father fell ill that the depth of the problem was brought home to him. Typically, he decided to do something about it – and so HomeHeart was born.
“I believe elderly care is one of the biggest challenges our generation faces,” he says, “and when I became one of the primary carers for my father I experienced first hand just how difficult it can be to find quality care support for a loved one.”
He scarcely needed more motivation, yet the more he delved, the more pressing the problem seemed. “Care needs are often urgent yet sensitive matters and navigating the world of care can quickly become overwhelming, as there is no trusted and transparent solution,” he points out.
“Traditional agencies have developed a reputation for being inconsistent, impersonal and expensive and government cutbacks mean fewer and fewer people are able to find suitable support through the state.
“The system is broken and, given our rapidly-ageing population, the situation is only going to get worse.”
There was a silver lining, however. As Shamash acknowledges: “I also saw the incredible impact that quality care can have when done right – my father developed an amazing bond with his carers and their support enabled him to stay in his home surrounded by his family and to maintain his dignity. Finally, by speaking to those actually doing the work, I learned of the huge shortage of carers and the tough reality of their work life – minimum wage, no travel pay, lack of support, lack of flexibility around working hours and the lonely nature of what they did.
“The notion that someone stacking shelves in a supermarket is paid more than carers working long hours to care for society’s most vulnerable feels wrong and I felt compelled to do something about it.”
No sooner said than done. Last year, Shamash, 29, teamed up with one of his best friends, Alex Hersham (the two met more than 10 years ago at university), who had similar experiences finding care for his loved ones, and launched HomeHeart with a vision to use technology to connect families looking for care with best-in-class carers and generally improve the quality of life for all involved.
Tellingly, it is the people doing the caring who take pole position on Shamash’s list of priorities, though that is not to say those who need caring for are any less important.
It is simply that Shamash’s reading of the situation pinpointed the problem as one of motivation. HomeHeart’s solution was to cut out the high overhead costs of agencies, which he says has enabled his company to pay carers up to 70 percent more and give them the flexibility to choose their own hours and clients.
Second, or possibly equal first, on the HomeHeart wish-list was to improve the quality of life of the elderly by providing them with consistent and high-quality care tailored to their specific needs and interests.
And then comes improving the quality of life of families by providing them with a new more affordable way to find quality care and empowering them with choice and the tools to manage care directly.
In summary, Shamash says: “Our ultimate mission is to elevate the critical work of carers and empower the elderly to live longer and more fulfilling lives.”
Those who know Shamash could be forgiven for being surprised at his change of direction.
Born and raised in the rural Scottish fishing village of Kirkcudbright of Iraqi heritage – his late father’s parents were both born in Baghdad – he began his career in the financial services division of the management consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, where he advised investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan on strategy.
He then spent two years as chief of staff at the digital finance company Wonga, reporting directly to the CEO and working on all areas of the business, including operations, strategy, product development and international rollout.
Wonga raised $145m from leading venture-capital investors and at its peak employed more than 700 people worldwide.
On the other hand, there was a strong pull towards doing his own thing. While at school, aged 16, he founded a profit-making greeting-card company, Kirkcudbright Kards, and was soon immersed in a business atmosphere, led by his father, who was an entrepreneur in the Kirkcudbright community.
Shamash’s brother Ben attended Harvard Business School and is now an entrepreneur with his own business, Classic Desserts.
His other brother, Maurice, works for Sir Brian Souter, the founder of Stagecoach, on the investment team in the Souter family office and his sister is a partner at law firm H B J Gateley.
Shamash’s girlfriend co-founded, built up and sold the boutique bakery business Lola’s, while Shamash himself is also an active angel investor with a number of investments in tech start-ups such as Enki and the healthcare company Notable Labs, which is working to treat the cancer that attacked his father.
With a background like that, it is hardly surprising HomeHeart can boast of a rapidly-growing client base across north London, though Shamash, who attends Lauderdale Road Spanish and Portuguese synagogue and supports charities Chazak and the Tree of Life Foundation, is more prosaic when asked what he thinks is the key to his success – “a humble approach and not being afraid to ask questions and learn from others”.
Fair enough. But best to remember also, perhaps, that Shamash is also a keen golfer with a handicap of one, played for Scotland as a junior and represented GB&I in the 2005 Maccabi Games in Israel.
Plus, in 2011 he led 11 friends in completing the UK Three Peaks Challenge, raising more than £100,000 for the Marie Curie charity in memory of his father.
HomeHeart, it seems, has a backbone that is solid as they come.
• More at: www.HomeHeart.org