This podcast between Fred Fishkin (Host of Technistation) and Mark Silverman (CEO of Amava) originally aired on October 3, 2019. For the full audio, check out: https://www.techstination.com/interview.jsp?interviewId=3849
Fred Fishkin: Welcome to Techstination. Joining us is Mark Silverman, the CEO and cofounder at a company called Amava. A-M-A-V-A. Thank you for joining us, Mark.
Mark Silverman: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Fred Fishkin: Well, give us some background here. What is Amava all about?
Mark Silverman: Well, Amava really is trying to empower this new generation of tech-enabled individuals to make successful transitions to purposeful socially engaged post-career, post-parenting lives. Kind of a redefinition and a renewal of what retirement means.
Fred Fishkin: And how do you do that?
Mark Silverman: Well, we built a platform that’s really designed specifically to connect our Members with socially engaging experiences and life stage focused services that are provided by a select group of partners–who want to continue to provide opportunities, whether it’s to earn, learn, give back, or more. And we also have opportunities being provided by our Members themselves.
Fred Fishkin: Well, tell us, tell us more. Step us through how this works. I guess you have a bit of an age range that you’re working with?
Mark Silverman: We do, but we focus less on age than stage. So, there’s a correlation between people who are finishing up their full time careers and looking for a more balanced life–or people whose kids have left for college or they’re late in high school–and they’re looking for more things to do with their time. And that correlates with people who are in their mid-40s to, let’s say, upwards of mid-70s. And what we’re really trying to do is help them avoid what’s becoming, in essence, an isolation epidemic in the United States and abroad. People are leaving their full time careers or leaving their sense of purpose when their kids move out of the house and they really struggle to find what’s next for them.
Mark Silverman: And so what we’re really trying to do is help them, first and foremost, explore the possibilities of what they can actually do now that they have free time–and that they can really focus on things that are interesting to them. But we really try to move them very quickly to specific opportunities, where they can start to experiment with… whether it’s a flexible job or maybe a volunteer gig or maybe some group education travel so they can explore things that interest them and hopefully find a group of people… a new group of people as they matriculate through this stage of their life to spend time with–and also to provide them with a sense of purpose.
Fred Fishkin: Interesting. So what are the kinds of things that people can find? Can you give us some examples here?
Mark Silverman: Yeah, absolutely. So, we have a whole host of different types of opportunities for part-time work and even full-time work on a flexible basis–and it’s everything from board positions that people can consider both in the for-profit and non-profit world as well as part-time executive and mentoring positions–all the way to things that we’ve had very sophisticated people want to experiment with like being a barista. Learning how to make a cup of coffee and serve it to people. And we’ve found that lots of our Members find meaning in very different things than you would expect. We have folks that are PhDs and Masters that want to simply be in a service position and work with people on a day-to-day basis where they haven’t in the past. And we have folks who had careers that are kind of straightforward careers in teaching and other things like that–that want to expand their possibilities and really challenge themselves intellectually further at this stage of life.
Fred Fishkin: Are some of these things paid and some are not? How does it work?
Mark Silverman: Exactly. So we try not to judge, you know, judge what our Members are looking for. Unfortunately for this generation that is starting to retire, upwards of 70% will need to find some incremental work or at least some incremental earnings potential to be able to make it through their 25 or 30 years of retirement. And so we provide lots of opportunities for people to find work so that they can augment their income, even if they don’t want to work full time. But we also want to allow people to explore things that are meaningful to them if they don’t need to make incremental money or don’t feel that money is what is necessary to provide them with purpose or value. And that includes volunteer gigs–everything from the daily type of stuff that people do. We have people that, for example, work with Habitat for Humanity or other types of leading charities around the country.
Mark Silverman: But we also provide them with opportunities for continuing education and we do that both in terms of programs that are local and programs that are online as well as combining that with travel. And what’s really interesting, Fred, is across the site, one of the most popular things for people to look for and start to experiment with is combining travel–which is a big goal for a lot of people once they feel they have time after their careers–with things like volunteering and education. I think that’s going to be one of the most popular and fastest growing segments of not just our business and the interactions that our Members have with our partners, but also broadly.
Fred Fishkin: So step us through how it works. This is through a browser not an app? Or how does it all… How do people get involved?
Mark Silverman: Yeah, exactly. So today, you would come to our website, Amava.com, and you would just start exploring. And today, our opportunities and our content is free. And the opportunities provided by our partners and the level of content we provide will always be free. We augment that with certain services over time–that we may charge for that are very specific–that people need help, for example, finding a particular position or working on their resume, those types of things.
Mark Silverman: But most of this is available to people just to come by the website and start exploring and follow the path. And the paths that we have today really are designed around that exploration process, helping people discover what they want to do next. But within the exploration process, there are opportunities to find very specific jobs or volunteer gigs in their local communities. And today, because we’re still building out our relationships with partners across the country and even across the world–if somebody can’t find something in their local community, they don’t find the specific thing that they finally decided they want to do–our concierge service, today for free, will absolutely help them do that. We don’t want to have people in a dead end. So we actually provide a personal service where we help people locate and find that particular thing they’re looking for.
Fred Fishkin: Interesting. So, the users aren’t paying anything. Where… Do the employers pay a fee? Or… How does… I’m wondering…
Mark Silverman: Yeah, so…
Fred Fishkin: …how you’re financed today?
Mark Silverman: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So, the model is really that the folks that are looking to hire these people–or look for these people to engage in the experiences that they want to provide–will pay a fee. …We try to sign annual contracts with our partners. We want to have long-term relationships to develop value for our Members over time. And so that’s the primary source of revenue going forward. And most of the things that we’re providing, people already pay fees for. So if they’re looking for employees, they pay fees on listing sites and things like that.
Mark Silverman: And our fees are actually much more reasonable because what we’re trying to do is encourage employers not to think about this generation as the generation that they want to move out of the workforce but as the generation that they want to bring into the workforce and keep in their diverse work environment –because all of the studies that have been done recently (and some have been promoted by Encore.org and some of the other really successful nonprofits in the States) show that having an age-diverse work environment is really beneficial. Having workers that are experienced and mature be able to mentor and provide guidance to younger employees. And also younger employees helping maintain and continue the education, especially in technology areas, for older employees is really beneficial.
Fred Fishkin: How did this come about?
Mark Silverman: That’s a great question. I was actually working with my cofounder on a couple of different ideas and we read an article by Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity and then I went over and met with Laura and started realizing the significance of the transition for the Boomer generation and beyond. Just the sheer numbers of people that were going to be leaving the workforce and leaving full time parenting. And when I was talking to her, she started explaining all of the issues associated with loss of identity, loneliness, isolation–and pointed me to the fact that all of these issues that people were experiencing were going to impact their health to the same extent as having smoked their entire lives, or having diabetes or obesity or heart disease.
Mark Silverman: And when I looked at some of the solutions that were being proposed out there, I realized none of them were really being focused on this aspect. They were all being focused on very practical aspects of services in the home and things like that but nothing trying to keep people engaged and find a purposeful set of activities during their retirement. So unfortunately for me, I’m really attracted to big complex systemic problems and I decided to take on the challenge and really work with folks like the Stanford, people at the Stanford Center on Longevity and the DCI [Distinguished Careers Institute]–bringing together, a bunch of very experienced people from the tech world and the consumer world to really try to figure a way to solve this problem for people.
Mark Silverman: And in the end, we realized… While the problem is complex, and the scale is massive, it’s interesting because it’s really just about providing people with opportunities. And once we focused on that and we started working with Members–and we worked with several hundred thousand people already–we realized it’s pretty straightforward just in concept but it is complex to deliver.
Fred Fishkin: Interesting. So can you tell us anything about the number of people who are using this today? I know you’re fairly young. And what the plans are?
Mark Silverman: Yeah, so we’ll pass 100,000 Members shortly. And we’re actually reaching on a monthly basis, through all our channels, over 500,000 people. So we’re pretty excited about the progress we’ve made in a very short period of time. And we’re growing pretty rapidly month over month. What that’s enabling us to do is attract even more partners more quickly–and that’s really what we’ve started to focus on in the last, let’s say, two or three months–is really starting to build out the partner relationships to provide more and more opportunities for our Members. We’ve also started looking at how we can provide supporting services for them. Everything from, how do we help them re-develop a resume at this point in their career (because many of them have worked for the same organization for 30 or 40 years and have never thought about building a resume) to just really understanding what it means, in essence, to build a portfolio life. To work, for say, 10 or 20 hours a week, to incorporate travel, and nonprofit activities, and really build a balanced approach and a purposeful approach so that they have a really enjoyable time.
Fred Fishkin: Again, the site is Amava.com. A-M-A-V-A dot com. Mark Silverman, thank you so much for taking the time with us.
Mark Silverman: Thanks, Fred.