Entrepreneurs in the South West – Owen McNeir, Founder & CEO, Remarkable Lives

One of the most rewarding parts of life at AMBITIOUS is working with start-ups and entrepreneurs. Our ‘Entrepreneur Insights’ interviews feature some of the most exciting new start-ups that we come across in our working life with entrepreneurs in the South West.

We love the concept of Remarkable Lives – using the power of social media to tackle loneliness and improve the quality of care in later life. Founder Owen McNeir tells us why he is passionate about challenging the stereotypes about ageing and offering a positive solution …

You & Your business as an entrepreneur in the South West:

Tell us a bit about you:

I’m the founder of Remarkable Lives, a social impact venture that harnesses the familiarity and connectivity of social networking technology to improve quality of later life, wellbeing and care for our ageing population. I’m based in the South West, and my career background is 20 years in fundraising and marketing.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I’ve worked with a lot of care charities over the last three years. Part of my work involved interviewing their residents, and I was surprised at how many of their life stories were unknown to their families and carers – the people we task with providing person-centred care.

I set out to understand why life stories get lost and how this impacts our chances of ageing healthily. I immersed myself in the world of later life – visiting care homes, hospices, and spending time with older people, running reminiscence sessions and recording their stories.

I discovered that we really do live in a disconnected and ageist society that sees later life as a burden. We’re also constantly bombarded with bad news stories about ageing and social care.

So, I set up Remarkable Lives to find a positive solution to the challenges of an ageing population with a focus on tackling loneliness and isolation, against the backdrop of fragmented families and reduced connectivity between the generations.

What is your business all about?

Remarkable Lives is about trying to enhance care and wellbeing for three important audiences:

  1. Older people – to help them tell their life stories and feel a renewed sense of dignity, meaning and identity.
  2. Families – to enable them to save valuable memories and to feel more confident and positive about their relative’s care.
  3. Care providers – to empower them to deliver even better care with renewed context, compassion and empathy.

In developing a solution, I identified a systemic and social problem: firstly, we all have medical history records, but there’s no equivalent record of our life – what makes us who we are. And the means of recording our current non-medical needs and preferences is all paper-based. Secondly, millions of us use social media, but it doesn’t chronicle our life story from the beginning and none are dedicated to later life.

Remarkable Lives provides the public with a memory-sharing app – a sort of digital album to help older people tell their life story – saving their memories on an interactive, chronological timeline. It brings families, friends and carers together through private sharing, allowing everyone to contribute their own memories.

It also works like a Care Passport, so health and care professionals will know so much more about who you are; more than a collection of symptoms and tasks.

Second, working with care staff and community groups we’ve co-designed a platform that puts these human stories and lived experience together with current needs and preferences at the heart of care. Our Care Dashboard has a range of features to help save organisations time and money by digitizing information and tasks. But most importantly, it provides a way to deliver better care and support by getting to know the whole person.

What would be your elevator pitch to a room of investors or prospective clients?

Remarkable Lives is improving quality of later life, wellbeing and care by tackling loneliness, isolation and the challenges of an ageing population. Our memory-sharing app and care passport engage the public to empower and enable care providers to deliver better care with context and compassion. We’re an award-winning team with innovative technology, and we’re at the forefront of an opportunity that affects all of us. Join us.

What makes Remarkable Lives different to its competitors? 

We aren’t the first tech company working in the ageing and health care space and we aren’t the only social media platform. But our USP is that we are harnessing both to deliver systemic and social change, making it easier, cheaper, efficient and more meaningful to build a community of support around an older person.

The first example of how we’re different is shown in our first product: the new Remarkable Lives memory-sharing app. Whereas traditional social networks can’t backdate, our app is unique in chronicling people’s life stories from the beginning. And although people can use it as a personal memoir, its main purpose is to encourage people to help save someone else’s life story, perhaps before it’s too late.

Less selfie, more selfless.

What do you think about …

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start their own business?

Be real: Find something that you think needs a solution, then get out there with your assumptions and meet the people affected with some questions. Listen and learn, that way you’ll make something people both want and need.

Be passionate: Believe in yourself and what you’re trying to do, because at some point you’re going to need to persuade someone to support, fund, invest, buy, sell your idea.

Be generous: Being a founder can be a very lonely place. Get out and network, and be prepared to share, be collaborative, give as well as take. Join one of the many start-up communities and get involved, nurture and support others and you’ll learn so much in return.

Be receptive: The successful business you end up with is unlikely to be the exact image of the idea you first had. One of the greatest assets of an effective entrepreneur is having the courage to respond to your users and customers and pivot if necessary.

Be mindful: Starting a business is all-consuming, unsociable, frustrating, punishing, scary as hell and hard work all the time. It’s also thrilling, exciting, fulfilling and one of the best things you’ll ever do. Remember to look after yourself on the journey.

Why you do what you do …

What motivates you?

I’m motivated increasingly by the feedback we’re getting from users of our app. There are lots of positive responses, but all sorts of suggestions as to how we can improve as well. For a start-up that’s trying to give people something they want and that will make a difference to their lives, this is invaluable.

How do you generate new ideas?

Ha! I can feel my co-founder and CTO rolling his eyes, because I’m constantly coming out with new ideas and he just really wants me to focus. Lots of ideas come from observing our products being tested and used, other ideas come from reading, watching and listening to what’s going on in our sectors (ageing, social care, health, tech etc) and learning from other non-related sectors. And finally, from dog-walking. I start and end every day walking with my collie, Scout – a wonderful breeding ground for ideas.

What is your favourite aspect of running your own business?

Hmm, tricky. I could say lots about seeing the products come to life through co-design and making a difference to our users. Or the privilege of working with a technical co-founder with a brain the size of Saturn. But ultimately, I suppose I can sum it up by saying: running my own business.

What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur and get Remarkable Lives to this stage?

For starters, I’m not a successful entrepreneur yet. I’m a start-up founder at an early stage. I’m also in my early 40s, with a mortgage, children (that hound I mentioned) and all the outgoings of life you can imagine someone having at my age. Most business start-up books are written by people who set up businesses in their 20s, so I’ve been keeping a diary of my own journey as a forty-something founder. Who knows, it might be helpful for anyone thinking of starting a business at this stage of their life.

And finally …

If you could ask someone who inspires you a question, who would you ask and what would you ask them?

My mantra is: everyone’s life is remarkable in some way, and to someone. So, Remarkable Lives is for everyone and I want everyone to know about it, to start saving memories before they’re lost, and to help us achieve our vision of making the world a lot less lonely and isolated for a rapidly ageing population.

To help us fulfil our vision, we need loud voices, so I would ask Sir David Attenborough and Dame Judi Dench, two of my heroes who have always inspired me, to be ambassadors for Remarkable Lives. (Unlikely maybe, but here’s another lesson for entrepreneurs – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!)

Is there someone you would like to see featured in our ‘Entrepreneur Insights’ series? Or perhaps you’d like to tell us about your own business or venture or about being entrepreneurs in the South West? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us @Ambitiouspr.