Singapore's Homage plans to accelerate regional expansion as it scales up

·5 min read
Gillian Tee, co-founder and CEO of Homage. (PHOTO: Homage)
Gillian Tee, co-founder and CEO of Homage. (PHOTO: Homage)

By Lyn Chan

SINGAPORE — Homage, a healthcare start-up focusing on home-based care solutions for seniors, plans to further accelerate regional expansion and continue to grow its platform with the support of local and regional partners.

These plans will be funded by the US$30 million it secured in September in its Series C financing round, led by Sheares Healthcare Group, a wholly-owned healthcare enterprise of Temasek. It brings the total raised so far to more than US$45 million.

Gillian Tee, co-founder and CEO, was inspired to start Homage when she personally faced difficulties in finding caregivers for her ailing mother upon her return to Singapore. Tee had lived abroad for 15 years where she completed her studies in computer science and a Master of Business Administration degree, in addition to building a successful start-up in Silicon Valley. She noted how technology helped to improve senior care in the US, and wanted to try something similar in Singapore. Together with two others, she started Homage in 2017. The co-founders, Tong Duong and Lily Phang, have since transitioned out of Homage.  

Homage’s platform uses a matching engine to help families find the best caregivers, while its telehealth platform provides services like online medical consultations and screenings.

In the four years since the company was formed, it has seen growing demand for the use of its services in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia. Homage has just passed the million-hour care delivery mark, the result of having a regional network with more than 6,000 licensed care professionals, including certified and trained caregivers, licensed nurses, care navigators and board-certified therapists and physicians.

Last year marks a milestone for Homage which saw the business growing over 600 per cent and the company more than tripled its revenue in the same period, the 39-year-old executive told Yahoo Finance Singapore in a recent interview.

“The biggest and newest challenge for Homage is both building the team needed to scale up the company as well as how the team is managed, that is, setting up the operating system of the company that enables our scale,” said Tee. The competitive hiring landscape, especially in the technology sector, has been a strain. Recruitment and retention are a priority, she added.

When asked about the possibility of an initial public offering, Tee said: “We believe there is still much potential for growth prior to any exit event, be it public or private."

Tee, who enjoys yoga, dancing and music, shares with Yahoo Finance Singapore the entrepreneurial lessons she’s learnt.

What has driven the company to the success it is today?

The turning point came when we found that many locals wanted to become caregivers, because they are drawn towards a more flexible work schedule and also want to utilise their skill sets to make an impact. Many of them have had caregiving experience themselves, and they wanted to perform it as a vocation and gain meaningful income in the process.

There was also the strong need to adopt technology in the sector to not only enlarge the caregiver pool to solve the care work shortage, but also to mobilise carers at scale.

Fundamentally, what drove the company from a start-up to the success it is today was the team: We had the spark and the common connection around our cause. We also carried our culture of always taking on a growth mindset and being resilient through the challenges we encountered.

With most countries in Asia becoming an aged or super aged population within the next 10 years, the time is now to build and scale much-needed quality long-term care infrastructure – from payer to provider – to meet the fast-growing everyday living support and clinical needs that we will all need in the long term.

What lessons have you learnt on your entrepreneurial path?

There’s never a better time to continue to invest in people development and leadership, and, as a leader, to always communicate transparently with the team. This is particularly important when it comes to building a service like Homage, where what we do directly impacts the individuals delivering and receiving care. So, we look closely at bringing on people who can be our mission carriers and are committed to our purpose.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

You have to start off not being so good at something. So, if you're a first-time entrepreneur, take on the mindset where every interaction is important and learn everything: Read up online resources as much as possible, talk to people, and, more important, go and get an internship at a start-up to get exposed to current entrepreneurs and start-ups. It’s not possible for someone to start off as an expert and be experienced in execution, so be open to learning, and adopt the growth mindset instead of staying in your comfort zone of what you know; be very open to things that you do not know and always ask “what if''.

Any favourite books?

I have always loved the works of Jhumpa Lahiri, who wrote the Pulitzer-winning Interpreter of Maladies, out of many other works. In the book, she shares about the first- and second-generation immigrant as well as human experience that traverses multiple nations, identities and contexts. It hits heavily, as I’ve lived in three countries.

The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz serves as a great resource for building and growing a company. It touches on issues faced in the entrepreneurial process with no easy answers and that are not often surfaced.

Other works like Creating A World Without Poverty: Social Business And The Future Of Capitalism by Muhammad Yunus, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Anne Frank’s Diary are also favourites.

Finally, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Atul Gawande touches on the experiences of a renowned brain surgeon in dealing with the affairs of ageing, long-term wellness and mortality. A Homager’s must-read.

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