If you want an elderly person to patronize your business and talk about it with friends, advertise with a mailed postcard. Stickers help too -- another visual reminder of what you're offering that will be kept around the house. And when you get someone's kind grandma on the phone, be fully present and patient. Invest in a good headset to be hands-free and focused, and think of your customer like your own grandparent. These are the very uncomplicated strategies GoGoGrandparent's founders used to arrive large and in charge in the ever-evolving ride-hail industry.

Unexpected post-college detour

This Y Combinator grad that adapted Lyft and Uber for tech-averse seniors is actually a story of generations.

GoGoGrandparent Co-Founder Justin Boogaard, like many other 2011 college graduates, met a rough job market after graduation, and had to live with a relative (and without a car) to get by. His grandmother, like many of her own peers, is past driving age and a bit repelled by new services requiring the use of technology.

Boogaard used ride-hail for transportation and knew his grandmother would if she could -- without a smartphone.

A 'Grand' illusion (and very tangible marketing materials)

Boogaard tested his concept on Grandma Betty without her knowing that he was the creator of the fictional ride service Grand. He didn't want to ask her what she thought of his idea because he knew she, being a dutiful grandma, would be encouraging. He wanted to watch the actual response to something unheard of.

It wasn't hard for Boogaard to fabricate an entire company that had no web presence, social media accounts, or word-of-mouth, because he knew from observing his grandmother while living with her that she and her friends don't swipe around on phones and tablets. They don't browse around online from desktop computers. They read their mail. That's ordinary postal mail. What many call snail mail and barely skim before tossing it in the recycling bin. 

Boogaard, posing as Grand founder "Josh Fitzpatrick" sent a handwritten note inside a bright, eye-catching greeting card. The envelope was hand-addressed too, because he knew that personalization matters to the elderly. 

Designing the call-in system

That first ride was an earlier iteration of how GoGoGrandparent now works: Grandma scheduled a ride by phone, and the person who answered the call ordered an Uber, selecting a driver with a high rating and texting important directions.

Grandma Betty still remembers that her Grand driver opened her door. Future users of GoGoGrandparent would tell friends that drivers, who've been instructed by text message from what is now a 24-7 call center, help with canes and walkers. The conversation comes up, these clients say, when they see postcards and stickers in friends' homes.

It's a booking service that uses Uber and Lyft, not its own fleet. Boogaard refers to himself as a professional grandson, doing what we all do for elderly relatives: Translating tech. Accordingly, there are no additional requirements of drivers transporting GoGoGrandparents' clients beyond what the ride-hail companies require. Operators just choose drivers with ratings of 4.9 and higher, and scour written reviews for notes on kindness and patience.

Competitors on the road

While GoGoGrandparent pulled up on the ride-hail scene as a highly visible Y Combinator selectee, it's not the only option for transporting the elderly. It must compete with other businesses who have a slight head start in the ride-hail race, and who have earned clientele from in-family referrals. 

In California, three safety-oriented ride-hail services geared toward women and children have found unexpected business in senior citizens. According to those firms' founders, many are relatives of other clients.

HopSkipDrive and Kango, ride services to rescue parents from carpool hell, require background checks including TrustLine, a stringent caregiver clearance system connected to the Department of Justice fingerprint database. Both operate in northern and southern California.

See Jane Go, a ride service with female drivers and passengers in southern California, does not use TrustLine but backgrounds its drivers and has found elderly clientele, often referrals from younger relatives.

All three competitors, each with its own fleet, also take notes on specific needs during the ride, and all, like GoGoGrandparent, offer pre-scheduled rides.

GoGoGrandparent charges 19 cents per minute (on top of ride-hail fares) from the time the ride is booked (not when the passenger is picked up) to the time the passenger is delivered, monitoring the ride and sending optional updates to relatives. Clients pay GoGoGrandparent directly, and then GoGoGrandparent pays Uber and Lyft fares.

Professional grandchildren

GoGoGrandparent has no plans to require additional background information of Lyft and Uber drivers. Boogaard believes the competitive advantage is a an ultra-patient team talking to clients like their own grandparents, headsets on and ready with round-the-clock service. Focused operators convert customers, he says.

And because it is not limited by the challenges of growing and scaling a fleet, it goes where Lyft and Uber go. Its biggest threats for the senior market are currently limited to California. 

The company may win not just on simple but effective postcards, stickers, and welcome kits via postal mail, but on addressing seniors' unique challenges, with features to accommodate access and functional needs.

On December 6, GoGoGrandparent introduced a voice-activated booking system for the visually impaired. A system for the hearing impaired is planned.