Michael Walsh is the Co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Cariloop, a digital health and well-being company based in Dallas, Texas. Since its founding, Michael has helped Cariloop to successfully raise over $3.7 million in private investment capital which has enabled them to recruit an incredibly passionate team of engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, marketers, and business developers, deploy their Caregiver Support Platform to a variety of small, middle market, and large organizations and assist thousands of caregivers across the US with their life transitions. Michael and Cariloop have been recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine (Entrepreneur 360), TexChange (One to Watch), Dallas Business Journal (Who’s Who in Healthcare), D Healthcare Daily (Innovation in Medical Technology), Aging 2.0 (Global Startup Search semi-finalist), Tech.co (Startup of the Year semi-finalist) and Becker’s Hospital Review (Healthcare Entrepreneurs to Know). Michael has also served as the President of the Dallas Roundtable, founded the Dallas chapter of Health 2.0, and holds a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certification in Personal Training (CPT). Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.
Cariloop is the world’s first tech-enabled Caregiver Support Platform which guides families as they plan for and manage the care of their loved ones. Think of it as a private HIPAA-compliant Facebook for your family to securely collaborate across all your devices, share important medical, financial, and legal documents and access your very own dedicated Healthcare Coach who is going to walk with you and your family on your journey. These are mostly nurses or social workers and they play the role of concierge by guiding the family through the process.
So, if you’re taking care of your mom, for example, and trying to find the right nursing home or home health agency, the Healthcare Coach would assist with the research and incorporate important factors such as geography, facility ratings, Medicare coverage, medication management, required services/amenities, budget, etc. To the average consumer, managing all of that for a loved one can be really confusing.
How did you start your career to eventually co-found Cariloop?
After graduating from Purdue in 2007, I joined Protiviti. At that point, we were in the middle of diversifying the firm’s solution mix so it wasn’t so heavily tied to Sarbanes-Oxley audits when the economy turned. It was a crazy time. When the economy fell out the way it did in 2008, all of our clients’ budgets evaporated. Suddenly, projects that were five or six people were reduced to one staff.
This challenging time for our country provided me with an incredible career opportunity as a second year Consultant and first year Senior. One of my clients was a rehabilitation hospital and had a few consulting projects planned, but we had to reduce the staff to one Senior and one AD because that’s what they could afford. So basically, as a C2 and S1, I ran all the groundwork of these projects for this hospital system for an entire year and a half. It gave me the opportunity to directly report to my MD, the CFO and even be a part of reporting to the Audit Committee for the hospital.
When the Affordable Care Act was signed in 2009, many of our healthcare clients were asking the same questions: how is this going to affect me? How do we prepare for this? What are the risks?
At the same time, a good buddy of mine – we literally played t-ball together – was working for a big publicly traded senior living company in Minneapolis. He was seeing and feeling the same things I did, except it was from the perspective of the patients’ families. So, Steve [Steven Theesfeld, Cariloop’s co-founder and Board of Directors member] came to me with this idea; we went back and forth and formed the early version of Cariloop.
If not for my experience being the lone consultant on some of those projects at Protiviti, it’s possible that Cariloop would have never happened.
How has the original concept for Cariloop evolved over the years?
I was hearing all of the chatter in hospitals from process owners and champions asking how best to adjust their processes from billing and collections, discharge planning, intake, patient satisfaction, etc. The ACA was going to completely transform how all of that worked. If you didn’t prepare properly, it could potentially affect your reimbursements and ultimately your bottom line.
At the same time, Steve was seeing a steady stream of the same families and patients leaving the hospitals that were now ending up in these facilities and asking, what’s next? It was an a-ha moment for us about how lost the patients and their families were feeling after dealing with this acute event and having to navigate healthcare, which can be a mess.
The original idea was to create a system where we could feed better data streams into hospital systems related to post-acute facility bed openings, so that when hospitals were discharging patients back into the world, they could assist the family better and provide them with the information they need. That was probably 20 to 25 ideas ago!
It’s been a process of evolution for us. We’re now the world’s first tech-enabled Caregiver Support Platform and have been fine-tuning that for the last four years. We’ve created an incredible experience so that when that moment arrives when a caregiver and their family find out they now need to drop everything and care for a loved one, they have the tool to put a plan together and navigate the murky healthcare waters successfully.
After an initial try focusing on the retail market, we made a pivot in late 2014 to integrate our program into corporate America benefit packages. It’s a way for companies to help their employees save time and stress as they plan for and manage through the chaos.
Do you feel like this is an underserved space?
The first two years when we were sitting down with HR and Benefits teams, no one was really budgeting for this. The “Caregiver Support” line item didn’t even exist. So, underserved might even be an understatement! It wasn’t even on their radar.
Now that more and more data is coming out on how many people are acting as caregivers and how time-consuming and unhealthy it can be, it’s becoming a more well-known issue. If you can support these caregivers through their journey, they will take better care of themselves and the patients will do better as well.
How do you sell something that companies aren’t (yet) budgeting for?
The biggest challenge to overcome was making this “a thing” when it wasn’t “a thing” before!
Thanks to groups like AARP, the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), MetLife and others who are looking at this issue and releasing data, more and more people are talking about it and it’s starting to land in more benefits strategies every year. And the more companies we work with, the more referrals we’re seeing.
With unemployment being as low as it is, it’s also getting more competitive out there for top talent. Companies are looking to innovate with their programs to attract talent. We’re seeing really strong, deeply rooted trends forming around emotional and financial wellness, which has opened doors for us to showcase what Cariloop can offer and why it’s important.
We also recently partnered with Facebook, whose employee program is best in class, to develop a playbook for how you can support your caregivers through a benefits program.
Aside from creating demand, what’s been the toughest part of getting Cariloop off the ground?
I left Protiviti seven years ago and have been working on this ever since and it’s really just now starting to take off. So, you can imagine how patient we have had to be in managing our resources and being conscious with our capital. Can you image not having a paycheck that long?!
All that being said, building Cariloop has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’m so proud of what our team is doing. It’s tough sledding out there for caregivers and if we can play a small role in making that process easier for someone for a month or a year, we think it’s a pretty noble cause.
What’s your vision for Cariloop’s future?
Three or four years ago, when we made the pivot into this area, the focus was on B2B selling into employers, nonprofits, membership groups, you name it. It was interesting because we started getting phone calls from people who weren’t part of these companies but wanted to sign up. It forced our hand to come up with our individual program. It’s been small – maybe 5% of our revenue – but next year, there will be a renewed push around consumer and retail for us.
Employee benefits has been the entry point, but we easily see applications in other verticals or channels like retirement, wealth management, estate planning, etc. We’re already fielding interest from the health, life, and disability insurance carriers. It will be a fun experience to see where Cariloop will start to pop up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cariloop attached to a AAA or Amex membership in the future.
Did you always consider yourself an entrepreneur?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad started a business in the suburbs of Chicago in 1995, 1996. I worked for my dad every single summer, so I understood what it took to go from one employee to 40 or 50. Both sets of grandparents were also hospitality and real estate entrepreneurs. I knew this was a path I wanted to walk at some point in my life, but I wasn’t sure when or how.
Actually, when Steve first came to me with the idea, I wasn’t so sure this was the right time. I was really engaged with my work at Protiviti, had just bought a condo in Chicago and wasn’t necessarily looking to make a change. It was a funny universe thing when one of my clients ended up postponing a project. I didn’t want my chargeability to take a hit and Steve was just about to get things started. I took an entire month of unpaid leave to go help him. I wasn’t planning on leaving Protiviti, I was just helping my buddy out. I saw what he saw and what an exciting opportunity it was to make a substantial improvement to our healthcare system in the form of helping caregivers and families. So, I went back to Protiviti for another year, working as hard as I could, but I really fell in love with the chance to fix this for people, so I ended up leaving full-time to help build Cariloop.
I loved the firm. Loved the work I was doing. But this was something that was kind of in my heart that I would walk an entrepreneurial path at some point. I wasn’t married at the time. No kids, no debt. If there was ever a time to take a chance, this was it. And if it didn’t work out, my first phone call would’ve been to Sharon Lindstrom in Chicago!
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