“Enjoy the journey as much as the destination”
Wendi Burkhardt is the co-founder of Silvernest, a company focused on home sharing for modern aging. I recently spoke with her about her growing company and the issues that lead to older adults looking to share their home.
Jamie: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me Wendi! You launched Silvernest just over 2 years ago (happy anniversary!) as a roommate matching service for baby boomers and empty nesters. How did you and your co-founder come up with this idea?
Wendi: For me it all started when I lost my dad 4 yrs ago. My mom lived on the other side of the country just outside of Atlanta, and she had been with my Dad since high school so never lived on her own. It was a very traumatic time for her but fortunately she had a good friend move in with her which helped her and provided peace of mind to me and my sister. At the same time this was happening, my dear friend Chuck Mckenney had come up with the idea for something like Silvernest, to let 6-8 aging individuals live together in their home in their existing neighbourhood. We realized this was important for longevity and community, and to allow family members who lived nearby easy access to their parents and grandparents. He realized older adults could also employ rooms in their own home to make extra money, fight the high cost of living associated with senior homes and combat social isolation.
Jamie: Are you involved in financial caregiving within your own family?
Wendi: Fortunately my Mom is still independent and healthy, and I’m therefore not very involved with her day-to-day needs. But I do participate in her financial planning calls and help as needed. However, my husband and I are heavily involved in my mother-in-law’s finances at a very detailed level. She’s 86 and was diagnosed with dementia and COPD and still living at home. My brother-in-law had to purchase her home to offer her some liquidity and cash flow for her caregiving costs. And my sister-in-law currently manages her money on a regular basis and tries to keep us all in the loop however we haven’t had a tool to connect us easily – we could definitely use a tool like Onist!
Jamie: How do you see technology like Onist’s household financial management platform making a difference?
Wendi: This is super important, I want to start using Onist for me and my husband too! I like the full package of seeing all our accounts and our full net worth. That makes it easy to actually review our available income from different assets, expenses and then what’s left over. And I have seen first hand that the aging accommodation you chose is dependent on an older adult’s free available money, so seeing it all in one place for your parents or aging family members is very helpful and adds real value.
Jamie: Is there one area that you hear from clients they find the most daunting when it comes to leaving their home due to financial or health reasons?
Wendi: Unfortunately, many housing transitions occur at a point of trauma when the older adult or their family realizes suddenly there is an increased need for care. There has often been no financial planning in advance, however the transition requires additional expenses and immediate action. I would say that’s what’s most daunting. At Silvernest we focus on adults aged 55-75 and our customers often haven’t planned very well for retirement so they have little to no cash flow or liquidity; they can’t cover the cost of living in a retirement home and they therefore need to make significant decisions about lowering expenses, increasing income, decreasing vacations, etc. This type of move also tends to come at a major life transition like the death of a spouse so it really helps to identify a solution in advance that helps people continue to live the lifestyle they’re accustomed to with minimal interruption.
Jamie: Do you have a mantra you live by day-to-day?
Wendi: Be extremely present and aware in every moment. For myself in the startup world I tend to focus a lot on the future, but I try to remind myself that every moment is a gift and that I should be present and experience them all – “enjoy the journey as much as destination” as they say!
Jamie: If you could leave us with anything, what would it be?
Wendi: I think that what Silvernest does is critical for a number of reasons – one of biggest challenges is that family members have lived independently for a long time which is great but it also disrupts the sharing of necessary information. For most of our lives, we tend to live in a community, but as we age we lose our community little by little, we start to become isolated and lose access to key information. Being able to react to changing conditions and situations quickly is important, and the absence of communication and connectivity is detrimental (when someone’s family is not around them). And tech like Onist helps older adults’ family members act as advocates, and serve as a one stop place to keep all the assets and tools which help with life planning – which is key.
Jamie: I couldn’t agree more. It was great speaking with you, thanks Wendi!
If you enjoyed this post, checkout my interview with Jason Heath, journalist for the Financial Post and MoneySense as well as the Managing Director at Objective Financial Partners Inc.