Jan Markus Hoffmann (Co-Founder, marta)
Jan Markus Hoffmann founded marta in 2020 along with Philipp Buhr. The startup offers the first platform to connect caregivers across Europe with careseekers through an online marketplace. Before founding marta, Jan studied at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management and served as USA Managing Director of the European mobile payment service provider SumUp.
Can you explain your job to a five-year-old?
Think about your grandma. Right now, she may still be very active, but the older she gets, the more likely she will need help from a caregiver. We have built an app that supports her in finding the right caregiver, no matter where she is or where they are. Finding the right person is very difficult because there are many things to consider. For example, if the caregiver is not strong enough to help your grandma get up, it will not work out and can cause a lot of stress for your family. That is just one example of what can go wrong, so you need a lot of information to make the right decision. To add some complexity, most of those caregivers are coming from other countries like Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc. Without technology, it is very difficult to communicate or make the right decision, and the process is simply prone to error.
marta makes sure that everyone understands this information, and that both your grandma and the caregiver are happy. So we have built a platform that allows your grandma, or yourself if you help her, to make the right decision—even if you don’t know anything about elderly care.
What excites you most about your job?
The privilege to work on your own venture is always fun. As for me, I like building things that I care about. When I was on a call with my cofounder Philipp about 2.5 years ago, arguing about our grandparents and families struggling to find the proper care, I got quite angry about the situation. When we looked at the market, the massive opportunity, and the potential to improve the lives of millions, we knew that this was something we wanted to dedicate ourselves to. Taking on the challenge now ourselves to improve elderly care by building technology is challenging but incredibly exciting.
For many people, it seems unintuitive that we want to digitize processes. We often get confronted with statements like, “But your clients are too old to use apps.” They are not. In virtually all cases, children and other relatives are the decision makers. They are usually in their 50s and very able to use apps. In fact, we believe that we are at the ideal point in time to revolutionize care, and that this is one of the most important challenges our generation will have to solve.
What we are building with marta is not incremental innovation; instead, we want to think about the sector in an entirely new way. We are changing the way independent caregivers and people in need find each other, without human interaction or middlemen taking a cut of the caregivers’ income. This is difficult, in particular because you are trying to not only bridge language barriers (as most caregivers are coming from Eastern Europe with limited German skills), but also cultural aspects—while simultaneously displaying a lot of information that needs to be processed by the user.
In the case of our caregivers, they are making a decision for or against a household. They invest in a bus ticket, get on a bus for 30+ hours, and take care of patients for many weeks. They want to know a lot about the household. For example, they understandably want to see the room where they will sleep to actually decide on a case. You really don’t want to miss out on anything, as you need to listen to their preferences and build features that create a marketplace that makes them more comfortable than a person on the phone convincing them would.
To build this, you need to involve people from different cultural backgrounds. Understanding both sides of the marketplace is vital, and you need very talented engineers and designers who can build a platform intuitive enough to be used by both parties. We have teams in four countries, with over 50 people determined to build something great—this is the most exciting part for me.
Which trend will change the future of medicine?
I believe in leveraging data where it matters most. Two years ago, I had surgery at a hospital and needed to manually fill out pages of documents, most of them asking the same questions. It was not only annoying for me, but I realized that there are also people on the other side who will have to process this information. Those are trained nurses who will not be able to help people during this time. There are still many fields where we need to automate processes and use data wisely.
As for elderly care in particular, there are so many things we do not understand yet, from medical treatments, to activities and services. Nutrition is incredibly important as well—it’s a trend that mostly affects very conscious young people; however, the right nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can extend the lives of the vulnerable population that we are serving.
We see more and more MedTech startups, and funds, that are solely focused on the broader sector, and that obviously need to happen from a political standpoint, but we are moving in the right direction.
Looking back, which trends have you missed or underestimated?
We have been working on marta for a little less than two years and are very focused on our core product. In our current market, nothing major has changed over the past few months.
Obviously, topics like robotics, telemedicine, or predictive analytics will come up in the future, and we want to continuously gather our relevant knowledge, as we are extremely close to our patients, households, and other stakeholders. This will not be a topic we will address in a year, but over the next five or 10 years.
The topic we’re covering is complex and offers a multitude of opportunities. One thing we have not been able to dedicate ourselves to yet is building a community around caregivers and careseekers. All careseekers are experiencing very similar challenges, yet every family solves them from scratch because the information on the internet is just overwhelming. It’s difficult to make the right decision, so we would love to create a community where people with similar challenges can have an open discussion and exchange their experiences.
For caregivers, I often feel that the job is massively underestimated. When I thought about my grandpa, I considered it a fairly simple case for the longest time, but I was wrong. There was a lack of understanding on our end, but the agencies we worked with weren’t able to process the information properly either. The result was subpar care, which caused a lot of stress for my family. Having worked in this space for almost two years now, I have a different view of things. The stress of independent caregivers, traveling for many hours to a different country, and partly being isolated from their families, is a tough experience. They need transparency upfront, but they also need a community. Connecting our users and caregivers with each other, but also with families, is something that we believe can massively improve the reality of all the involved stakeholders. While this is already happening somewhat in portals like Facebook, we would like to create a community dedicated to care in the future.
Which MedTech initiative or startup deserves more attention?
I believe AgeTech, elderly care tech, silver tech, or whatever you want to call it was very hyped a few years ago, but that it has recently failed to draw enough attention. A lot of money went into elderly care, and many VC partners have burnt themselves out. There are many people who got—either personally or through investing—in touch with the topic, and yet there does not seem to be a sufficient number of large players. That makes it more difficult to get people excited about the topic.
In Germany, today we are looking at 5 million people in need of care. The numbers will keep growing until 2050. Most companies in the world, whether they are in Italy, the U.S., or Japan, are facing the exact same challenges. When we were looking for an elderly care home place for my grandfather three years ago, the wait time was 18 months. But the need for care does not have a wait time; family members will be involved, yet they have to keep working due to our increasing working age. The result is a stressed family, with possibly overwhelmed and emotional family members. We are already in a massive care crisis that is worsening. There are primary effects in relation to the people in need of care, but we must not underestimate the secondary effects.
The market in Europe alone is more than €600 billion in size, but there is no fund that I am aware of that focuses explicitly on the topic. As for the U.S., there are a few specialized funds, like Alan Patricof’s Primetime Partners, that exclusively focus on it. From the government’s perspective, there are no grants or programs that I am aware of that address the issue of the aging population needing care. I find this very surprising because we are already in the middle of a care crisis, with caregivers being stressed and oftentimes burnt out, which is also contributing to the shortage of skilled labor that will only get worse in the coming years.
As for a particular startup that should get more attention, we were recently invited to the Tech Awards Gala by W Lounge in Berlin where Vitaegum won an award. They have developed chewing gum, which is essentially a vitamin-infused gum designed to improve oral health. It is meant to serve as an alternative to a toothbrush when they are not available. One of their cofounders Janine pitched their super-cool product, which is meant to help in refugee camps, underdeveloped countries, or for whoever wants to use it. I really think it’s a cool idea because it has the potential to reduce pain and help people, to relieve the healthcare system and doctors of pressure, and to become a widely-used consumer product because it just makes sense. I am excited to follow Vitaegum’s journey and see how the company develops in the future.
Where would you put a million dollars?
Of course, I would invest it into marta. We happen to be starting with live-in care, but our platform offers so many options for adjacent services that we would love to provide. So additional funds could help us move quicker. On top of that, many of our caregivers come from countries that also need support in elderly care, where you would have similar movements within the country and similar models to what we know as live-in care in Germany. Margins are thinner, and it is more difficult to build a business case around that, but it will definitely be possible as our platform advances. We have already started initiatives around supporting elderly care homes in Romania, but we would love to extend these initiatives and support the elderly at the local level.
On top of that, I always get excited about people who want to build a great business that delivers consumer-based, and ideally societal, value. Ultimately, I believe it is not about the initial idea, but the founder team and their drive behind a certain topic. So first and foremost, I would invest this into people, the teams around an idea, and the vision driving it, rather than going after a specific topic. I see more and more people in my network becoming entrepreneurs, and I always get excited, trying to support them where I can, sometimes also with smaller angel tickets.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I remember having finished my studies at WHU and going for a walk with a friend in the Rheinaue Park in my hometown, Bonn, arguing over whether I should move to Boulder, Colorado to start a new job. Back then I was debating whether I should take the step, and leave my old life behind and move to the U.S. to learn more about technology and build a startup. There were many things to consider (that no Excel sheet could properly cover), leaving friends and family behind and going out of my comfort zone. When my friend told me, “There is no such a thing as a free lunch,” it really got me thinking. We have to take risks to achieve greater things, so I took a leap of faith and moved into the unknown. I’ve made sacrifices but learned a lot. Today, I am incredibly thankful for the experience, learnings, and new friends I have made. Though I had already heard this quote by Milton Friedman during a university class, in this particular situation it gave me a different perspective.