Kboose assistants help clients with anything from grocery shopping to rides to and from medical appointments. Courtesy Kboose
After a visually impaired friend described her frustration with public transit in 2016, Annie Young got to work building a service that would dispatch traveling assistants to vulnerable individuals.
Young — who worked in IT and systems administration at Kent Quality Foods and Bil Mar Foods for 15 years — spent the past 2½ years developing the startup Kboose, which just launched its first platform, Kboose Assists, in January at kboose.com.
The service is designed to help families and caregivers fill in the gaps when their elderly, disabled or dependent loved one has a need they cannot meet.
Currently, the service operates by appointment, but Kboose often can do on-demand service.
Clients who text or call (616) 228-3324 will, after an initial interview to determine their needs, be assigned a personal assistant to help them with transportation to and from appointments and errands; physical mobility, including using and transporting a walker or cane; and advocacy services such as being present at a doctor visit or court date as a second set of eyes and ears.
“We will go to wherever they are, and we’ll help that person do whatever they want to do. That might mean a senior calls us and says, ‘I need chocolate cake from the store. Can you go pick that up for me?’ We go do that for her and get it to her. It may mean that she says, ‘I feel good today. Can you come get me and take me to get chocolate cake?’ So, it varies, each customer, each need, each request is really different,” Young said.
“We've had clients where we’ve gone to the hospital and advocated for them with the social worker or visitation with their children and other things. A lot of the clients that we ended up advocating for tend to have mental health issues and need additional support, need someone behind them to help them get what they need. A lot of the seniors that we work with have mobility issues and trust issues.”
Young said her personal assistants are thoroughly vetted — including complete criminal background checks and driving history — and must have previous caregiving experience, as well as their own vehicle to use on the job.
Kboose charges $8 per quarter-hour or $28 per hour for the personal assisting services. The transportation is free.
Young said charging for transportation would categorize Kboose as a rideshare business, which would mean it would have to pay about $78,000 to insure drivers and vehicles, according to one quote she received.
To avoid that “prohibitive” startup cost, Young restructured the transportation side of the business to a carpooling model, in which the rider can offer to pay a portion of the gas costs, but the driver is not making a profit and the rider is not obligated to contribute.
“Because of insurance, we just really had to look at how can we creatively address the issue and do it another way,” she said.
Tyler Wilkins Design developed the Kboose website. Young’s management team includes Linda Langs, director of business development, and Jason Riley, marketing and design director.
The company currently has seven people contracted to provide personal assistance and advocacy, and an additional three ready to come on board the assisting side.
So far, the platform offers both male and female assistants with a range of backgrounds, including nursing/health care, law enforcement and primary caregiver/guardianship experience.
Young said the contractors can set their own schedules and often end up serving the same regular clients as their availability allows.
Kboose has an internal app that was created to let the personal assistants see all the pending requests and match them up with their schedules.
Currently, Young, Langs and Riley all are making personal assists as the business ramps up, but Young expects that to slow down after they hire a lead assistant.
Young has been busy during the past year entering pitch competitions, such as Start Garden’s 100 Ideas and the Ford City of Tomorrow mobility challenge in the city of Grand Rapids. Although she hasn’t won, she said it is helping her refine her business model.
Much of Kboose’s business is done through word of mouth. It has forged informal referral partnerships with Porter Hills and the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, among others.
The first week after launching in January, Kboose did 10-15 personal assists totaling about 60 billable minutes. The week ending June 9, it did 60, totaling 2,070 billable minutes.
Young said Kboose has competition in Grand Rapids proper, so long term, it plans to focus on underserved rural areas in the surrounding counties. Kboose, so far, has provided assists in Sparta, Belding and Rockford, as well as Grand Rapids.
Besides Kboose Assists, Young currently is working on a carpool platform that will allow people in the same communities to give each other rides on demand for a monthly membership of $6 or yearly subscription of $50-$60.
Ultimately, Young hopes Kboose will become a nationwide company with multiple platforms.
For now, she is focused on building up Kboose Assists “to make a difference in this world,” one interaction at a time.
“We want to be the best part of someone’s day, not the person who just dropped them off,” Young said.