Entrepreneur Shantanu Naidu, general manager in the office of Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, has founded Goodfellows — a start-up that provides meaningful companionship to seniors through the fellows, their ‘grandpals’. Naidu spoke to Eeshanpriya MS about the inspiration for Goodfellows, and its aim.
The senior citizens will have to take subscription and while the first month of subscription is free of charge, Goodfellows will charge a nominal monthly fee thereafter. Fellows have option of taking up internships for either three months, six months, or nine months, and they get paid a nominal fee. Edited excerpts:
What inspired the idea of Goodfellows?
My personal experience has been the inspiration. If there is a room full of people my age, and another full of grandmothers, I naturally gravitate toward the other room. My personal bond with seniors led to this idea. That [bond] peaked with Mr Tata in my life. It is a sort of a goofy relationship, where we are professional when we are working, and we are sort of fooling about, pulling each other’s leg, and introducing each other to new things. So I thought, if there is a gap among seniors who are now alone, and youngsters who want to pursue fulling careers, I can do something about it.
What are the lessons learnt from the beta phase of Goodfellows?
Beta gave us feedback that the friendships form much faster than we had imagined. Of course, that entirely depends on how the individual is, but fortunately we are lucky to have mined the right people. So the connection that I was expecting would take two months took half a month. Then, they started introducing our goodfellows to their friends as ‘meet my Grandchild’. The other feedback was that we have to take care of the mental health of our fellows also, and we cannot expend them indefinitely. So we have to cap the number of grandpals they can visit to three.
What services do you provide through Goodfellows?
Grandpals behave the way grandkids would. We do not say this is a checklist of what all we can do. The average pattern that has emerged from beta phase is 3-4 hours of interaction on alternate days, because seniors also want to maintain their own routines, their own lives and privacy, which is very important to this demographic. We don’t want to mess with that just to push companionship, because even companionship has to have a balanced outlook with independence.
How does the relationship work?
That depends completely on the fellows and their grandpals.
What backgrounds do fellows come from?
There are film makers, engineers, arts students. Name any demographic unit, and I have someone from them on my team. Surprisingly, this is not restricted to fields that make caregivers [social workers, nurses]. That is the point; even after you have completed a considerably heavy degree, such as engineering, or medicine, millennials are looking for something that gives them fulfilment. We are sort of fulfilling that gap for the younger generation by giving them a space for a fulfilling career.