Kyle Rand: CEO & Founder of Rendever – Ep. 83

About Kyle Rand & Rendever:

Kyle Rand is the co-founder and CEO of Rendever, a company pioneering virtual reality connectivity for seniors. He grew up volunteering at a senior living community and later went on to study cognitive decline in the aging population at Duke University.

He was recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and his company was just listed to Time’s list of 100 most influential companies in 2022, outstanding achievements both. When you meet him, you’ll understand why. His company has raised millions in funding pursuing a truly noble cause, empowering the elderly to form communities through virtual reality.

In case you didn’t know, loneliness and isolation are two of the biggest problems facing us as we age, and he’s found a life and career of meaning solving that challenge.

Full Unedited Audio Conversation:

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2:40 – “At Rendever, as a company, we are on a mission to reduce social isolation through the power of positive shared experiences. And the primary way we do that is through virtual reality.” 

4:02 – “When you look at this demographics specifically, it’s really dangerous. We’re talking about a 30% increase in risk of hypertension and stroke, a 50% increase in risk of dementia, a lot of premature cognitive decline. We’re talking about immunosuppression, risk of infection goes up. We’re talking about even an increase in risk of diabetes…depression, anxiety, risk of suicide. All of these things together create a picture in which people have 30% higher mortality rates when they’re at a significant rate of social isolation.” 

5:29 – “The very first moment that always stuck with me was while I was volunteering at a community as a kid…We would go in and we’d scoop ice cream; it had an in-house ice cream parlor…and there’s this one day where this gentleman walked in and I locked eyes with him, I pointed at him and said, ‘You want rum raisin with chocolate sprinkles.’ And the smile that spread across his face in that little moment of recognition is something that just has stuck with me through this day.”

7:27 – “As a society, we don’t have a healthy relationship with aging. We think about aging, we think about old people, we think about death, and we push it away. It’s not something that we want to lean into and talk about or think about. But it’s so odd because the two things that are guaranteed in our life is that we’re getting older, second by second, and at some point we’re going to die. If we don’t have the capacity to think about it, to have conversations about it, to ideate and think about how can we make that process better, knowing that that’s a process we’re all going to go through, then we’re not only selling the current demographic short, we’re also selling ourselves short.” 

8:11 – (Ross) “I live in the greater Los Angeles area, and you won’t go broke making a business that offers facial fillers, Botox, uplift, anything to make us look younger…It’s not just the Kardashians, but it’s anybody like them. Here’s what they posted on Instagram and here’s how they actually looked before it was so heavily edited and Photoshopped …what is presented on Instagram is essentially more of a painting than it is a photograph. But that’s the world where we all feel like we have to present this youthful image at all times and I’ve always taken issue with that. I’ve always felt that aging doesn’t have to be something that we have to fight. It can be something that we can embrace, but we don’t.” 

11:36 – “One of the things that…creates these situations in which it’s easy to call someone old is when technology comes into play. Someone is introduced to technology and they don’t get it, they get frustrated by it, they’re like, ‘Nah, that’s not for me.’ And that creates an immediate divide between people who are tech-adaptive and people who want to push away tech because it frustrates them and that’s so unfortunate, and it’s been really formative in how we’ve built this company… saying tech doesn’t have to be something that divides and creates an Us versus Them but actually can allow people to connect if it’s approached in the right way.” 

16:09 – [On the early days of VR] “What can we do with this technology? Can we use it? And everyone’s looking to kids, everyone’s looking at video games…And we took a step back and were like ‘Look, you think about this headset, you hold that up there, all of a sudden you can go anywhere in the world and you can do anything.’ Think about the aging demographic…no matter where they are in their aging process, who along each step, their access to the world becomes more and more limited. Think about the opportunity to all of a sudden reopen all those doors and expand their worlds. And we got super excited, and the moment we did our first set of demos, it became super clear that there is definitely magic to uncover here, and we had to turn to: ‘how do we actually make this work?’” 

19:22 – “One of my favorite stories is…there was one person who I think they were about to celebrate their 100th birthday and they had a plan where they were going to go skydiving…the resident got sick and wasn’t able to go – and what the staff member at her community did was say, ‘hey, we can do this in VR.’ And so strapped her into a Rendever headset, loaded up the skydiving experience and then counted down: 3, 2, 1, turned on a giant fan, the wind was blowing in her face…and it was amazing. It was magic.” 

21:32 – “Understanding who that human is, what their desires are, what their idea of purpose and passion, and the life that they want to live in that day, in that moment, is and then figuring out how to approach it, deliver it, enable them to experience what they want to experience and do so in a way that is building a bond…The experience is one thing but our approach as a company has been really to empower staff, volunteers, family members, anybody who is working with this population, to deliver magical moments. And through doing that, we’re inspiring connection to happen. And that’s really where the magic is.” 

29:08 – “We saw the impact. We saw just how significant it was when you put a headset on someone who might have spent months depressed, you bring them to Italy and this huge smile spreads across their face and they just light up.” 

31:34 – (Ross) “I’m glad that you’re able to pass that gratitude and humility on and instill those values in your company, because that’s so important. I’ve talked about values a lot with other people…if you’re building your own thing, why build the wrong values into it?…If you’re coming into somebody else’s thing, you don’t have a choice – you’ve got to follow their rules. But when you’re building your own thing, to recognize and reprioritize, that’s huge.” 

34:09 – “Since we don’t have the external pressure and since everything is so internal, what we’ve built is a company that is really high on gratitude. One of my favorite parts about our company is that we kickstart every single all-hands meeting with a kudos session where everybody just gives kudos to everybody. I think that the last meeting, it lasted a full 25 minutes. In an hour-and-a-half-long meeting, 25 minutes was people just delivering kudos to each other and expressing gratitude. And that’s really unique.” 

37:53 – “Our approach is so relationship driven that we are constantly getting partners, every single day, who will send us a note or send us a video or a photo of ways in which they’ve used Rendever to change somebody’s life. And then that obviously gets shared all over our internal Slack messages and it allows us to stay so close to the mission, and again, to wake up every single day and know without a doubt what we’re doing is making really significant positive impact and you can remove everything else – that makes life a ten.” 

43:25 – [On a story from a Rendever partner] “They had a stage four pancreatic cancer patient who spent her whole life involved in music…We need to figure out how to bring her something unique. And so we partnered with the Colorado Symphony and went on stage at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, filmed the entire symphony experience during sunset at Red Rocks, and then brought this patient as the first person to get to experience it. And it was unforgettable. At one point, she said, ‘Music has always been my medicine.’ And one of the hardest parts about navigating this journey is her access to being able to experience live music is just totally cut and to be able to put on a headset and all of a sudden be on stage at one of the most spectacular music venues in the entire world with the Colorado Symphony. It was just it was incredible.” 

47:02 – “We found that after just two weeks of daily shared experiences in Rendever our participants had statistically significant decreases in their depression scores and increases in multiple measures of social health. Most interestingly, people actually started to trust each other more. When we think about what it means to build a relationship, one of the fundamental elements is trust…This isn’t just people having fun together using technology. This is people who are presented with a unique opportunity to really, authentically, genuinely connect. And they’re taking it and they’re running with it.” 

49:10 – “As an early entrepreneur, everybody wanted to give advice. The advice to everybody is: you’re not the first person to do something. Go out there, figure out who did what? What can you learn from? While there’s truth to that, I think the thing that I really stuck to as an early entrepreneur was: everyone has advice, but that advice is 100% informed by their personal experiences. And if you take somebody’s advice without actively figuring out how big of a grain of salt you need to put on that piece of advice, you’re going to be sent in every single which way direction…If you’re fully confident what you’re doing and the approach you have in your why, then take as much advice as you can, but understand that you need to be adding grains of salt to all of it.”

51:09 – [Advice to care-givers] “One of the things that is tough to navigate is caregiver guilt and caregiver burden. You experience these things hand-in-hand as your duties as a caregiver go up. Whether or not you’re alone, you have help with home care, you have a loved one in senior living…Remember that it’s a relationship they you are a part of. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the caregiving side of the relationship but there is another element to that relationship. Figure out how to set up time/space opportunities to be a part of the relationship as it exists outside of your caregiver duties. And that makes everything better.”

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