Ivy League graduate, Marcie Rogo, chose the AGSM MBA for a new experience and a fresh perspective. She returned to the United States with the business knowledge, entrepreneurial skills and concept to transform her passion into a business.
Marcie Rogo never intended to be an entrepreneur. She approached her AGSM MBA program with a view to building on her management career. "It was not something I ever thought I would be doing. I didn't go into the MBA thinking I would start my own business" she says, but her studies afforded her the opportunity to understand lean start-up approaches and during a course project Marcie realised she could combine her passion with her growing business knowledge to address a pressing issue for an ageing population.
Always having had a passion for supporting the elderly, admitting she is far more comfortable in a retirement village than a preschool, Marcie chose to do her strategic project on addressing social isolation in retirement communities.
"Social isolation is a growing problem for older people. They are a generation largely ignored by tech start-ups, not offered the tools to connect with their communities, when all the research shows that companionship and community ties are vital for, not only quality of life as we age, but longevity as well" Marcie says.
The project resulted in the concept of a secure, localised social network, connecting retirees with similar interests and hobbies. After her presentation (AGSM Course Leader) Jeffrey Tobias, saw potential in her concept and encouraged her to make it a reality.
Upon graduating, Marcie returned to the United States and commenced building her social network platform, ConnectAround. Marcie had just sourced some vital funding, when the AGSM was to play another key role her in future.
"One of the AGSM Student Experience team contacted me to tell me about a start-up that had just presented to the current cohort on a social networking tool for the elderly called Tapestry. He said you should connect with these guys and see how you can work together."
On her next visit to Sydney, Marcie did just that. "I met with Tapestry and loved what they were doing. They asked me to join the team, but I just received funding for ConnectAround and I wasn't ready to shift my focus."
She returned to the States and as ConnectAround progressed, stayed in touch with the Sydney-based Tapestry team. A partnership was to evolve naturally, when both identified strong market demand for a match-making platform.
"A dating site was never in my plans for ConnectAround, but we received a lot of feedback about connecting singles and I started to see that the members of these communities really wanted to make one-to-one connections and find companionship in all forms."
Tapestry acquired ConnectAround, and with Marcie on-board, Stitch was born.
Likened to Tinder for the over 50's market, Stitch offers a secure platform to make connections, for romance, travel, group activities or simply companionship.
The Tinder approach might seem an ill-fitting model for the demographic, but Marcie explains "Stitch resembles Tinder in the sense that members view one profile at a time and both have to indicate an interest in connecting before they can contact each other. Searching through an overwhelming number of profiles to find potential matches wasn't right for our members."
The concept is monetised on a subscription model. Members can join for a monthly fee, and select a bronze, silver or gold membership, determining the positioning and features of the members own profile, as well as the volume and method of connection.
Sourcing funding presented a challenge, particularly in Marcie's home city of San Francisco. "There are so many tech start-ups here" Marcie says, "and they're all vying for capital. It's an unbelievably competitive market and working with a generation often overlooked in the tech world, didn't make it an easy sell."
Marcie says that funding was buoyed by Australian investors and organisations that saw the true potential of the platform. "It's a different market in Australia, much more open. We have been approached by a large media outlet and an insurance company wanting to look at partnership options; to get that in the States would literally take years."
Marcie refutes the idea that the baby boomer generation isn't on board with technology, and cites a membership base of 15,000 after a single year of trading as testament to that. She explains that one of the major obstacles to technology adoption across this sector is security concerns, and says, with romance scams costing victims $23M last year in Australia alone, they are not unwarranted.
"Sadly, this market is often the target of romance scammers. Stitch addresses this issue by requiring an identification verification check upon sign up, to ensure we can offer a safe environment. We also offer the option with some subscription packages to make secure calls through the site, so members don't have to share personal details too early on."
She also says that the Stitch approach goes beyond security to maintaining a like-minded, supportive community. "This allows us to verify that all our members are genuinely over fifty. If someone younger is looking for an older partner or conversely, an older member, to meet someone younger, this is not the right platform for them."
Marcie and the Stitch team intend to continue growing the platform, and hope that it will become an increasingly important medium in addressing isolation issues.
For Marcie in particular, this goes well beyond business. "We know that companionship has a positive impact on an individual's life expectancy. Some might think it's drawing a long bow, but I really feel we are saving lives and making a real difference at an individual level. We can see the business has not reached its full potential and with so much room to grow, come so many opportunities, but even if these weren't realised, I'd be happy just knowing the impact we have already had on our members' lives."