Q&A: A founder’s journey in aged care – headwinds and tailwinds

Colin Pudsey, CEO and Founder, SilVR Adventures

One of the most dynamic businesses we have written about in recent years has been SilVR Adventures. They won the Technology category in the 2020 Future of Ageing Awards and have gone on to expand globally with their tailored virtual reality experiences for seniors.

Along the way, they have launched a successful podcast series, grown their business against the backdrop of a global pandemic, been accepted into a healthcare business accelerator and come out the other side as one of the most interesting aged care start-ups around. This is the first time that we’ve put some questions to the founder Colin Pudsey about their journey, and with the business approaching its fifth anniversary, it seemed timely to understand what has taken them this far…

IA: Let’s start with the headwinds, you started SilVR Adventures back in 2019, not long before COVID-19 impacted the world. Apart from the impact of the pandemic, what sort of challenges did you face?

Colin: Commencing a business just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented a distinctive juncture, fraught with both challenges and opportunities. While feelings of loneliness and isolation were already pervasive among older adults, the pandemic exacerbated these sentiments for many individuals, thereby intensifying awareness on a larger scale.

Our target demographic, comprising aged care providers and retirement living communities, posed a formidable challenge in terms of engaging decision-makers amidst the chaos of the pandemic. With a myriad of pressing issues to contend with, including evolving best practices for staff and residents, securing their attention demanded a strategic and empathetic approach. Hence, we embraced a collaborative partnership model, positioning ourselves as a viable solution to their immediate concerns while keeping our interactions straightforward and impactful.

Operating as a resource-constrained startup, the transition to remote work and the widespread adoption of virtual platforms like Zoom proved invaluable. This allowed us to circumvent the need for physical office space, travel expenditures, and extensive time commitments traditionally associated with customer outreach. Leveraging these tools, SilVR has swiftly ascended to a position of market leadership across four countries over the past five years, with all sales, support, and training operations seamlessly conducted from our base in Melbourne.

IA: What do you think has been the toughest moment in your journey so far…dare I say…the lowest point? How have the challenges changed from then and what do you do to overcome them?

Colin: The journey of entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster, rife with unexpected twists, delays, and the constant pressure of navigating through challenges. However, amidst these trials lies the profoundly rewarding aspect of building something from the ground up.

One of the most persistent stressors we faced was cash flow management. Sustaining operations while also securing capital for growth proved to be a delicate balancing act, particularly during the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic. As residents of one of the most heavily locked down cities worldwide, maintaining financial stability with limited to no income was an arduous task.

Nonetheless, this adversity catalyzed the honing of our business acumen and fostering a culture of efficiency and resilience. We learned to do more with less, making astute decisions and minimising unnecessary expenditures.

While we entertained discussions about potential investments during 2021, ultimately, none materialised. In hindsight, I recognise this as a fortuitous outcome. Had we secured investment, there’s a likelihood we would have succumbed to the allure of expanding our team and indulging in luxuries such as lavish office spaces and extravagant marketing campaigns. This could have led us into a cycle of perpetually chasing funding or grappling with demanding investors, compromising our autonomy and long-term sustainability.

Thus far, we’ve remained self-sufficient, bootstrapping our operations and achieving profitability for over two years while steadily expanding month by month. As we look ahead to 2024, the prospects are very promising, and I’m eagerly anticipating the milestones and growth opportunities that lie ahead, both within Australia and beyond.

IA: Inside Ageing has written about your growth almost since inception, including recent
expansion into New Zealand and Singapore. Are those markets any different to Australia? Have they been easier or more difficult to operate in?

Colin: Absolutely, your support has been invaluable, and we’re sincerely grateful for it! I’ve noticed that the major providers in New Zealand exhibit remarkable agility and decisiveness. They boast a wealth of expertise within their teams, which has made our interactions with them incredibly smooth and efficient.

“Customers want a partner, not a provider. Underpromise and over-deliver”

Colin Pudsey, Founder, SilVR Adventures

Collaborating with the leading providers in New Zealand has been a privilege, and as they expand into the Australian market, I believe their innovative approaches, exemplified by operators like Summerset, will significantly benefit our sector here.

In Singapore, our partnership with St. Luke’s Eldercare, the largest care provider in the region, has been exceptionally fruitful. From the outset, they’ve demonstrated a preference for collaboration over mere service provision, aligning perfectly with our values. Their commitment to fostering mutually beneficial relationships has not only enhanced our partnership but also opened doors to opportunities across academia, media, government, and other care providers. Keep an eye on this space; exciting developments are on the horizon!

IA: We recently wrote about your partnership with Europe’s VR Platform Oroi Wellbeing, which will enable SilVR Adventures to incorporate Oroi’s cognitive learning library that simulates everyday scenarios such as grocery shopping, dressing and other skills commonly taught by professional therapists. The benefits of simulation for supporting those living with dementia are well documented. This partnership seems like a significant moment for your business. How important do you feel it is and where do you think it might lead?

Colin: At the core of our mission lies the relentless pursuit of enhancing the quality of life for older adults. Continuously exploring avenues to enrich our VR solution, be it through content expansion, software upgrades, or even hardware innovations, it remains paramount to us. The addition of Oroi’s cognitive library, underpinned by rigorous research, seamlessly complements our existing offerings. While it provides a distinctly different experience for participants, the overwhelmingly positive feedback from respected experts bolstered our confidence in its potential success.

Although it’s still in the nascent stages since its launch at the end of last year, the initial results and feedback have been incredibly promising. Moreover, the upcoming developments on their roadmap hold great promise, which we eagerly anticipate incorporating in due course.

Our commitment to personalisation and meaningful engagement is unwavering. As participants in the AWS aged care accelerator cohort last year, we took significant strides towards this goal by expanding our content into over 10 languages. This initiative has yielded profound impacts, particularly evident in instances such as St. Luke’s in Singapore offering Mandarin content and Scalabrini Aged Care in Chatswood NSW delivering experiences in Italian. These initiatives have not only fostered inclusivity and celebrated cultural diversity but have also resulted in heartwarming stories of enhanced engagement and connection.

IA: We recently wrote about a capital raise being undertaken by aged care start-up Dossy and just how hard it is to raise capital. Have you or are you considering going down that path?

Colin: Our investment journey has been a rollercoaster ride. Three times, we’ve come tantalisingly close to securing investments of over $1 million, only to have them fall through at the final hurdle, and frankly, it’s been mentally taxing. The amount of effort and time invested in reaching this stage is immense, and I’ve found it more rewarding to channel that energy into growing the business rather than constantly chasing investors.

In today’s market, the cost of capital is steep, often resulting in founders or startups receiving less-than-favourable terms, so I do take headlines about the celebration of a start-up raising capital with a big pinch of salt.

As a result, we’ve found that prioritising revenue generation from customers yields far greater benefits than relying on investment to fund growth.

IA: What sets your business apart from others?

Colin: SilVR Adventures stands out in the realm of care solutions for older adults due to its array of unique features and comprehensive approach. Backed by rigorous research, our VR experiences are not only meaningful but also scientifically proven to enhance cognitive function and overall well-being.

Moreover, our platform is designed to be inclusive, offering support for multiple languages to cater to diverse populations. We’re recognised by multiple industry awards and distinguished for our excellence and innovation in improving the lives of older adults.

Our turnkey VR solution provides care providers with everything they need, from a vast library of immersive experiences tailored specifically for older adults to top-tier technology and customer training and support.

At the core of our business is a focus on holistic well-being, addressing essential aspects such as identity, growth, autonomy, security, connectedness, and meaning.

Through shared VR experiences and the ability to revisit cherished memories, we foster a sense of connectedness among residents while adding meaningful dimensions to their lives.

Ensuring the safety and comfort of our users is paramount. We have expertise in providing customers with robust training resources and comprehensive support services to ensure peace of mind to both residents and care providers. Furthermore, our platform offers specialised content for dementia care, including activities tailored to support individuals in their daily living and cognitive well-being.

With many successful deployments across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UK, we’ve proven to be a trusted and effective solution for enhancing the well-being of older adults in care settings. Our commitment to continuous improvement and customer satisfaction drives us to remain at the forefront of the industry, providing transformative experiences that enrich the lives of older adults.

IA: Marketing: What strategies do you use for marketing and reaching your target audience?

Colin: In our experience, LinkedIn has emerged as a highly effective digital marketing tool, complementing traditional cornerstones such as websites and AdWords.

Several years back, we pioneered the launch of our own Aged Care Enrichment Podcast, which has since garnered significant success in building brand recognition and expanding our network. This podcast stands as a valuable, no-cost resource for industry professionals, offering insights from global experts on topics ranging from dementia care to the latest advancements in activities and technology.

IA: Where do you see SilVR Adventures in another five years?

Colin: Our vision is to become the foremost authority in VR solutions catering to older adults and individuals with disabilities across the Asia-Pacific region. With the rapid emergence of artificial intelligence reshaping various industries, including healthcare and technology like VR, I believe we’re well-positioned to harness the transformative power of this technological wave.


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