Papa is a company we partnered with back in 2019 to lead their Series A. Since that investment, not only has the team’s expertise and tech matched our expectations, but their mission has never been more important.
It’s no secret that COVID has exacerbated the global loneliness crisis. But what is lesser known is that the lack of social connection severely heightens health risks, with effects similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As the pandemic has continued, older adults have disproportionately reported more loneliness and prolonged isolation. All of this has intensified the need for new services like Papa, built specifically to improve well-being through human companionship.
Papa’s on-demand service helps alleviate social isolation and loneliness by pairing members with Papa Pals for companionship and assistance with everyday tasks. As the company says, “The solution to better health is not an app. It’s a human.” And as this study confirms, empathy-focused programs can improve loneliness, depression, anxiety and general mental health. Papa has hundreds of thousands of members across all 50 states, growing 600% this year, and forging partnerships with multiple large insurance plans, including United Healthcare Group, Aetna, BCBS and Cigna.
But why stop there? If the company can help alleviate loneliness, which is often thought of as intractable, what else is possible? Just like Uber’s evolution into food delivery or Amazon’s into healthcare, tremendous expansion is possible when a company can solve a foundational complexity first. That’s Papa’s approach in establishing itself as a trusted partner to improve the way we care for older people. (Much more on that a little later.)
That approach is a big reason why we are excited to double down on our investment in Papa as they announce a $60M Series C financing today led by Tiger Global Management. This round is a testament to the team’s work during the pandemic and progress on its mission to support families throughout the aging journey.
It seems slightly crazy to say now, but when we first invested nearly 18 months ago, we did not expect a global crisis would freeze much of our daily lives and put significant space between us and loved ones. At that point, Papa was 100% in-person, with Papa Pals meeting members in their homes or on their turf.
That changed quickly.
When COVID hit the US, Andrew and the Papa team adapted quickly and built a virtual substitute to work for older adults until it was safe to meet in person again. This virtual companionship service acted as a real intervention for its members, many of whom were more than alone physically, and in many cases, were at risk if they didn’t have anyone available to talk to in their lives.
The speed (read: days) in which this team spun up this service to meet member needs is representative of their ambition to not just dream, but to actually build a better world. Papa also worked with health plans and families to ensure critical member services, such as access to urgent care, medications and food were not an issue. Andrew even used his own credit card to cover groceries for members until a more formal system was implemented to work in conjunction with plans and members.
It’s a prime example of why we at Canaan believe improving the world for the better is not just about building great technology, but also exhibiting exceptional leadership and creativity even under the harshest conditions. It’s exactly why we seek out founders that are not only relentless in their pursuit of a mission, but also just kind people. Andrew is exactly that.
Looking forward, we’re excited about Papa’s ambitions to use its focus on companionship to move into care navigation. This has already started with the introduction of Papa Health, a service that enables members to quickly access virtual primary care, urgent care and chronic care management through its platform. It means that in addition to having a friend for light conversation or a trusted companion to help with light chores and transportation, Papa Pals will be trained to help members facilitate access to telemedicine services and enable greater comfort and flexibility to access the care they need, quickly.
Since first investing in Papa, we’ve seen lots of newcomers (as well as public companies like Oak Street Health) get into what has been dubbed “elder tech” — combining technology and healthcare solutions to create a better life for older adults. We expect Papa to be a leader in this growing category long after social distancing and mask mandates are behind us.