Pairing young caretakers with the older generation, Gubbe is the pioneering female-led Finnish startup dubbed the 'Nordic solution to elderly care'. We sit down with founders Sandra Lounamaa and Meri-Tuuli Laaksonen to find out how they've managed to make elderly care trendy
Sandra and Meri-Tuuli met online in 2015. Since then, they’ve spent about as much time together as two people can. They experienced pregnancy together, spent maternity leave together, have shared goals and dreams, and regularly go to counselling. No, Sandra and Meri-Tuuli are not a couple – though they joke their relationship is more intense than those they have with their husbands – they are co-founders. Founders of a subscription service for elderly care, Gubbe. A female-led startup that is not only on track to become a Finnish unicorn, but is solving a social issue that has long been tackled in silence.
The growing older generation (and its critical consequences) is something most are aware of. We’re having less children today: more are choosing not to, and those who do, are having fewer at a later stage. At the same time, we’re on earth longer than ever before. And while it's a privilege to live those extra years, the quality of those years can be questionable. But Gubbe is here to change that.
Gubbe pairs young caretakers with the elderly – those that might have mobility issues, unable to care for themselves and their homes, or those that are lonely (which the WHO reports to sorely affect life-length). Gubbe gives that elderly person care and companionship, tailored to them. The service matches them with a caretaker – or “Gubbe helper” as they’re called – who is qualified to fulfil their needs. Everything from weekly social visits and conversation, investing in their hobbies and outdoor exercise, to more regular support for household chores. Even daily, physiological and intimate care. A customisable subscription care service.
The idea came to Sandra and Meri-Tuuli from their own lives. Sandra had been struggling to find care for her grandmother. “We didn’t know who was coming to look after her, or when. The nurses changed with every visit (something that can be unsettling for someone who is sick or needs more intimate support), and there was no communication. ‘Where is the service you can really trust your family to?’” Sandra asked herself. She brought the problem to Meri-Tuuli, then a teacher at a nursing school. From the first conversation about the concept that would become Gubbe, they knew they’d found an idea with unicorn potential.
We want to make elderly care trendy
“Its something that every family worries about,” they tell me, “not having a service to trust that person you love to.” So they started a service that focuses on quality of life, and communicates how they are supporting that life to their family. “The customer always gets the same helper,” Sandra explains. Fulfilling one of the things we need most for well-being: a relationship. “The first visit begins with building that connection, as well as a goal-setting session” Meri-Tuuli adds. “Every patient gets their own fitness-program, made by a physiotherapist.” The Gubbe helpers are there to help them achieve those goals and get back in touch with their interests.” To do things that support both their body and mind. “It’s truly a rehabilitation,” finishes Sandra.
And it’s working. Gubbe sees its patients double their time spent outdoors, especially during winter, where darkness and icy conditions can dissuade many from venturing out from fear of falling.
“Living alone, it’s hard to find the motivation," says Meri-Tuuli. But with their helper, they have someone to do the things they love with again. “Baking, playing games, walks in the woods - all the ‘hygge’ things,” she goes on. “I think that’s why international publications call us the ‘Nordic solution to elderly care’, because we put focus on things that are really valued in the North - exercise and cozy activities that raise well-being year-round.”
The service has other benefits too. “There’s a nursing shortage around in world right now,” explains Meri-Tuuli. Gubbe employs young, qualified adults outside the nursing sector. “They actually compete for spots in a service that is usually avoided by nurses. We want to (and are already making) elderly care trendy.” They believe the flexibility of hours is a big part of the attraction, as well as the relationships between the elders and their helpers. “Its hard today to meet people from outside of your age group, if they’re not family. In the relationships formed with Gubbe, the young are learning from the old and visa versa. It’s really important and special to them.”
This rings true with those pictured here: real-life Gubbe pairings. Liisa, 29, is a Gubbe helper to Helka, who is 93. “It is the highlight of my week when Liisa comes,” exclaims Helka. "I sing to her, we go out to my favourite restaurant, she is absolutely terrific. I have Alzheimer's so I don’t remember many things but I don’t let it stop me! Life is an adventure! If you can’t be good – be careful!” Liisa helps her be careful on her adventures, and they’ve build a friendship because of it. “My own grandmother lives far away in the north and I don’t see her often enough, so I wanted to find a way to give back to the elderly on a regular basis,” says Liisa. “Helka is such a legendary character, there is no one like her. She gives excellent life advice and the stories she tells about her life are incredible.”
The first Gubbe pairing that they matched in 2018 still stands– a testament to the startup model, if there every was one. This, and the testimonials from customers is what’s kept Sandra and Meri-Tuuli going through the down days. “It reminds us that we’re doing the right thing," they say.
They want to be open about the lows they’ve had, not only the highs. Having each other has helped. “Its really important to have a co-founder,” Meri-Tuuli says. “Everyone has days where you’re tired and a bit lost, but often those were the days that Sandra was hopeful for the future, and visa versa.” They know that knowledge can be gained, but that the company’s foundation lies on their relationship. “If you look at the reasons companies fail, it’s often that the relationship between the founders breaks down. So we go to counselling, because we know we need to spend that time and effort on our relationship.”
And their investment is paying off, with Gubbe (now already operating in the Nordics and UK) set to launch in the United States and Japan in the next three years. “We’re doing this for life. Gubbe will be the biggest and best service for elderly care in the world.”
It's a long way from where they started, something they want to be open about too. “We didn’t know how to find investors at first, so we just googled the 10 wealthiest families in Finland,” laughs Sandra. “We did so much without knowing so much,” Meri-Tuuli chimes in. “We didn’t know what a valuation was, or how to calculate it. We’re very normal women, both mothers who learned along the way. And hope that women that hear this will feel empowered to start their own companies too.”
They’re already bringing generations together, returning to the days where the young and old lived together, looked after and learned from each other. And will, for those that use it, help the elderly live in their own homes for as long as possible. Bringing not only quantity, but quality, to the lives of our elderly.
Photographer Janita Autio
MUA Satu Arvo
Styling Beda Suni
Gaffer Arttu Kokkonen