Welcome to Icon: A Q&A with Icon CEO Ryan Galea on the All-in-One Communication and Engagement Platform Making Aging Better

After months of disciplined collaboration and thoughtful planning, we are pleased to announce that VoiceFriend has acquired the Caremerge Engagement business and is rebranding to Icon.

But what does this move mean? For answers – and a breakdown of how this Caremerge acquisition benefits the entire senior living industry – we spoke with Icon CEO Ryan Galea. Check out his answers below.

Before fully jumping in, can you share a little bit about yourself and what got you into the senior living industry?

I started my career in investing, actually. And I thought that’s how my career would go – sticking with hedge funds.

But that changed after watching my grandmother in her final months. Her aging experience wasn’t optimal. And I remember in one of our last conversations, she told me “I’m not done yet. I have so much more to do.

She passed shortly after that.

It’s what drove me to leave my job and pursue a career that would improve the spectrum of care for older adults. One thing led to another and I joined VoiceFriend as its CEO.

So enhancing senior living care technology is personal to you?

Absolutely.

The reason VoiceFriend and Caremerge completed this acquisition was to improve the experience of aging. Our shared values were integral to the deal.

What led to the Caremerge acquisition?

I was introduced to Ziegler – a leading investment bank for the senior care market that had invested in Caremerge.

Around the time I met with Ziegler, Caremerge was approached by another vendor about an acquisition. But the folks at Ziegler saw an opportunity for VoiceFriend and Caremerge to combine forces, and they initiated the connection between us.

I met Caremerge’s CEO, Nancy Koenig, back in September of last year to start discussing this possible acquisition. That communication was incredibly important. We both wanted to take the time to make this work and plan appropriately.

How did the rebrand to Icon come about?

We knew VoiceFriend would likely need a rebrand anyway.

Customers would approach us and think we only did voice – not other channels, as well. So this Caremerge acquisition was a great opportunity for us to find a name that fits.

Hence, Icon – which actually comes from the phrase “I Connected.” As in, I connected with others. We feel this speaks to the platform’s ability to bring people together, from residents to staff to families.

Connection is certainly important in senior living: what needs can Icon uniquely address?

The backdrop of every trend is the growing Boomer population – the biggest growth in older adults we’ve ever seen.

But there are three other pain points communities are experiencing today:

  1. Dwindling resident mental health. Social isolation is still a huge factor, even after community-wide quarantines. People overlook the mental health of older adults. But we’re seeing more and more how the mental health of older adults directly influences their physical health.
  2. The caregiver shortage. Without support – usually in the form of integrated technology solutions – staff gets burnt out and leaves. For some communities, 100 percent turnover YoY is standard.
  3. Low resident occupancy. It’s a competitive industry, even with the expected boom of older adults. Not to mention, the market hasn’t bounced back from the peak of the pandemic yet. That’s left many senior living providers scrambling for ways to stand out.

We created Icon to solve these issues. An integrated communication and engagement platform streamlines tasks for staff, connects families with their loved ones, and gives residents a greater level of autonomy.

What makes you confident that Icon can help solve these issues for senior living providers?

Our people, for one.

The senior living industry is highly specialized. Retaining incredibly talented folks from Caremerge will help us seamlessly scale.

Acquiring the Caremerge Engagement business has also propped up our customer success function – an existing strength for both VoiceFriend and Caremerge. I can confidently say we have the best customer support in the industry, hands down.

Two additional things going for us now are 1) the influx of data and 2) the sheer size of Icon.

  • The influx of data: we want to innovate quickly – data is the key to that. By combining data sets from both Caremerge and VoiceFriend, we can create solutions supported by the most data on the market. That’s a huge competitive advantage.
  • The sheer size of Icon: the smaller you are, the longer it takes for your engineering and development teams to create or enhance products. We’ve essentially doubled our engineering and development capabilities with this Caremerge acquisition.

This size also makes us an all-in-one solution (engagement and omnichannel communication). There’s no need for senior living providers to piecemeal niche solutions when they have Icon.

The impact of using an all-in-one solution? It’s less expensive. It seamlessly integrates data. And it’s easier to onboard staff and residents.

The future seems incredibly bright: what can we expect to see from Icon in the coming months?

We’ve planned two integration phases.

  • V1 is a basic product integration that will happen in the next 90 days. With it, the VoiceFriend and Caremerge platforms will exchange data, but remain two separate platforms for users.
  • V2 is a fully integrated solution that will happen in the next nine to 12 months. With V2, we’ll merge the VoiceFriend and Caremerge Engagement solutions into one shared platform for participating customers.

But we also intend to tailor solutions for existing customers. Plenty of Caremerge clients are interested in VoiceFriend, and vice-versa. But that might not be the case for everyone. We want to make sure those communities keep what works.

Improving the Aging Experience Will Take Integrated Technology Solutions

There are plenty of updates to come, and we’re enthusiastic about this acquisition because it gets us closer to improving the aging experience at scale.

We also know that, historically, the senior living industry has been somewhat slow in adopting technology.

As the older adult population rises and demand increases, an all-in-one communication and engagement platform can keep your occupancy – and staff retention rates – high. We’re committed to delivering that exceptional experience to our users.

For more information, check out the new Icon website.

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