By @SimonCocking. Great interview with Theodora LauMarket innovation for 50+ | Work, Run, Drink, Eat, Repeat.

What is your background briefly?

My background is in Engineering. I have spent almost 20 years of my “prior life” in the telecommunications industry, focusing on solutions management and systems implementation.

Does it seem like a logical progression to what you do now?

Kind of. Financial services industry today is in some ways similar to the telecommunications sector 10-15 years ago. Back then, you had the “CLEC” and “MVNO” vying to take market share from the giants. The incumbents were plagued with legacy systems that did not talk to each other and they at times struggled to provide a seamless experience that consumers demanded. They were more focused on the “tech” than the value that they could provide to their customers. Both professionally and personally, I have always been intrigued by the impact of technology on how we live.

1 min pitch for what you do now?

For the past two years, I have been focusing on sparking innovation in the private sector for the benefit of the older demographics, and to empower them to create the financial future that they want. I’d love to see more entrepreneurs innovating for the financial needs of the older adults, and more venture capitalists funding those solutions.

How do you balance all your different interests / elements of what you do?

It’s very tough, I’d be honest. I travel a ton for work, meeting startups, VCs, and accelerators. I go on long runs when my schedule allows in order to keep my mind fresh. I love to read (paper books), though I have a hard time finishing them.

What are you excited about in the near future?

I am excited about the energy in the startup space, particularly in the areas of FinTech and InsurTech, and the collaborative mindset between the financial institutions and startups. In the end, the consumers will benefit from better products and user experience. I am fascinated by the progress made in artificial intelligence and machine learning; think about how our lives and day-to-day experiences could be transformed!

I am also encouraged by the increased understanding of the need for diversity in tech. I am a big believer in diversity of thinking and problem solving. We live in a very heterogeneous world; it is natural that the diversity of the founders should mirror the society that we live in today. We are not quite there yet when it comes to gender parity, but we are one baby step closer.

How is it going trying to meet the unmet needs of older adults?

There are of course naysayers, people who assume older adults don’t use tech, hence they think it is a waste of effort trying to innovate for them. But I have also met like-minded individuals and organizations who understand the importance of innovating for the 50-plus folks. I see more startups and VCs who are interested in the space. By the way, do you know that there are over 111 million Americans aged 50 and higher, and collectively they control over $30 trillion in investible assets? It’s a big opportunity.

When people think of “old people”, they automatically think of retirement. While preparing for retirement is a monumental task, the 50-plus also worry about rising healthcare costs and student loans, amongst other things. They need tools that can map out their end-to-end financial picture and help them make smarter choices and not outlive their savings.

To put it bluntly, this is hard work but immensely important.

You’re based in DC, what are the pros and cons of being based there?

I have lived in DC since late 90s and I love it. It is a transient place due to the city being the nation’s capital; people come and go. However, it is also a big melting pot and you run into individuals from all walks of life. I remember being on a project a while back where we had all continents represented (except Antarctica). That’s pretty cool.

What tips would you give to others looking to develop and grow their businesses?

First and foremost, talk to your end customers. Spend time to understand their pain points and challenges; solicit their input on what might work and what might not. Worst thing you can do is innovating in a vacuum or designing solutions for the use case of 1. Be purposeful and don’t assume.

Next, prepare yourself for a rollercoaster ride. There will be tough times ahead. Having been in two startups before, I can attest to the hard work and the sleepless nights. But don’t stop believing. Be the change you wish to see in the world and make every day count. That’s important.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am extremely grateful for the help and support I have received from the FinTech and InsurTech communities, and the friendships I have since developed both online and offline, in particular, with Spiros Margaris, Brad Leimer, Jim Marous, and Danielle Guzman. They are my sounding boards and have make the long days more pleasant.


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