Gillian Tee loves water sports. Fresh from a Phuket surfing trip, she talks about unforeseeable weather changes that surfers have to react to, saying, “I love that part because that’s how it is in the real world”.
This ability to respond effectively to problems is demonstrated by her decision to set up Homage in 2016. The 37-year-old technopreneur had returned from the US that year, and had found it extremely challenging to find a carer for her mother, who has a medical condition. Tee decided to take action to address Singapore’s caregiver shortfall.
Weaving in the human touch was key. “When I think back on the impactful moments in my life, they are the times when I felt supported and cared for,” she says, sharing fond memories of her grandmother and nanny and simple pastimes such as watching TV dramas and discussing them. In health care, too, interactive activities are valuable. “We needed infrastructure to help enlarge the pool of caregivers who are not perfunctory in service, alongside having the right training and experience,” she explains.
Tee, who holds a bachelor’s in computer science from the University of Melbourne, put her tech background to work – creating a bridge between seniors and caregivers with an on-demand caregiving service platform. The Homage app pairs carers with seniors who need specialised medical services (such as therapy or stoma care) or non-medical assistance, such as a companion for a check-up. On the other hand, it helps carers too, allowing for flexible work arrangements. All caregivers go through Agency of Integrated Care-accredited training, and over 50 per cent of them are nurses who hold active EN (enrolled nurses) and RN (registered nurses) licences from the Singapore Nursing Board.
Tee also stresses the importance of soft skills. “It is the same qualities I look for when I want to trust someone to care for my loved ones: communication skills and motivations. I will pick the one who is less skilled but with a growth mindset because your attitude takes you so much further.”
Indeed, to harness tech to give families greater assurance, she created an in-app function that allows carers to submit reports, such as status updates or photos. “Technology…provides the backbone and infrastructure to consolidate caregivers that can be placed in any home or facility,” she says. Simply put, she has created a platform that works, having used IT to match demand with supply. Even PM Lee Hsien Loong cited Homage at the 2017 National Day Rally as a role model for other agencies on how to use IT to improve lives.
To date, Homage has a database of 1,000 fully screened and trained caregivers and has entered the Malaysian market. It has scored grants from the Ministry of Health and DBS Foundation and has raised over $4 million.
This is not the first time Tee has applied her skills in what she terms an “unsexy space”, business areas that seem unexciting. In New York, she co-founded Rocketrip in 2013, which went on to raise US$15 million (S$20.4 million) in Series C funding. It helps companies slash travel expenses, by rewarding staff with partial savings if they choose cheaper business travel options.
Tee seems to have a knack for creating mutually beneficial services, but isn’t looking for another challenge just yet. “I don’t ride motorcycles anymore because I don’t want anything to happen to me now. I need a succession plan first.”