Founding partner of Kuvu
“We want to generate genuine social relationships and end isolation”
Loneliness is one of the major contemporary problems in the first world. So much so that some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Japan have already incorporated loneliness ministries into their governments. At the same time, statistics and our own experience confirm that living on your own is becoming more and more expensive, especially at the extremes of the population pyramid: when you are young or when your only support is a pension, which can be a little tight.
To face this double challenge, Kuvu was founded, a Bilbao-based company that won the 2022 Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Award in the Senior Economy category. Its first objective is to improve the quality of life of older people by preventing and reducing unwanted loneliness. And to do this, Kuvu helps them to share their private homes with younger people through an online platform. Their services are already available in 55 municipalities, their initial market being the Basque Country, and they are also growing strongly in Madrid and Barcelona. We interviewed one of the company’s founders, Eduardo Fierro, an economist by training and a social “startupper” by vocation.
How did someone so young (30 years old) come up with the idea that living with an older person could be a good idea?
I, myself, lived with my grandmother for two years and she was the best roommate I’ve ever had! In a conversation with my partners, we wondered why it is that when there are older people who do want to share their homes, they are actually too afraid to do so. And that on the other hand, so many young people have problems finding housing. We needed a solution to help solve that issue!
There are various initiatives from public authorities along these lines, aren’t there?
Spain has been one of the pioneering countries in intergenerational shared housing programs, with an average age of 89. What we saw is that we needed to give this a digital twist to enable us to broaden the spectrum. Our seniors have an average age of 62, which allows us to stave off the evil of loneliness so much earlier.
How does the Uber or Airbnb business model fit in with your social aspect?
This is one of the great challenges. We want to generate genuine social relationships. Based on that idea, the platform’s algorithm is able to indicate who is most compatible in terms of cohabitation.
What happens if there is a good connection but the price is not right?
We also want to create affordable accommodation and one of our thoughts is to limit prices. But there are people who have advertised rooms for 600 €. And what if it is for a space that is almost a studio apartment in the center of Barcelona? Are we going to exclude someone because we they have better housing, even if they are also looking for genuine relationships?
And on the flip side, if the price is right and the demand rises a lot, could there be interested parties who are more interested in saving a few euros than in connecting?
For us the key is not to force anything, we have a general framework contract and we focus on compatibility. There are many people who open their homes because they can’t make ends meet, who receive non-contributory pensions, around 5900€ a year on average, and with Kuvu they can add about 2900 € a year for a room.
How do you know if people are going to live together well?
We perform a compatibility test. For example, we ask about how you arrange your spices in the kitchen. It’s a good indicator of your tidiness! There are also questions related to where you like to eat, whether you prefer to do it alone in the bedroom or with company in the living room, about your work or study schedule… For us, the key is to create a framework that allows the relationship to flow. And that’s where you really feel that the person is not doing it out of obligation or to save money, but because they want to.
And you follow up with them…
Yes, there is a one-month trial, to see if it’s a good fit. Then in month three, when you start to get to know each other a little better, and again in month six, when you may have had an argument… Some situations come up again and again! The rest is based on a model of customer service and incidents, they can call us at any time.
What is your typical older customer like?
We have people over 55 years old, people who may be divorced, or whose children are no longer at home and who have a room available but don’t want just anyone to come in. The oldest person who has registered herself on the platform is 89 years old. And the very oldest, at 92, was signed up by her daughter.
Are the majority women?
Yes, 80% are women. With men we have a challenge. It is known that once men retire, we lose a lot of our social relationships and we find it hard to open up. We are thinking about how we can improve this aspect.
What is the prize money (40,000€) going to be used for?
We are now developing the mobile app, we had it stopped for lack of resources and with this cash prize we can accelerate the process. It also presents us with the opportunity at the outreach level, to open a dialogue with other organizations. We created Kuvu as a means, not an end, our mission goes far beyond: to end the system of social isolation.