HR Tech Interview with Kyle Rand, CEO at Rendever

Journey into Tech

Hi, please tell us about your role and the team/technology you handle at Rendever.

I first discovered the impact of social isolation during my senior year of college. My grandmother was diagnosed with her second round of cancer, and my family made the difficult decision to move her into a senior living community so she would have the highest quality care. Unfortunately, she declined quickly –  it was impossible not to see the toll that social isolation took on her and the other residents.

At Rendever, we came together to take a closer look at the data and found that the long-term effects of social isolation were alarming, especially among the aging population. At that time, virtual reality was just starting to become mainstream. To us, virtual reality offered something truly special – when you put on a VR headset, you can literally go anywhere and do anything. This is amazing for anyone (and has been especially incredible during the pandemic) – but for the aging demographic with severely limited access to the world, it offers the perfect opportunity. Our initial testing showed it could have a big impact on mood – but the real magic and tremendous opportunity to impact mental health comes in when people get to experience virtual reality together.

To this day, our core guiding principle is that the foundation of all human connections is shared, positive experiences. This is what we’ve been building for years, and we’re excited to be bringing that to a wider range of people through the recent launch of RendeverLive on the web.

Read More: HR Tech Interview with Valerie Junger, Chief People Officer at Quantcast

What is Rendever and how do you improve VR experience journeys for your customers? 

Rendever is an end-to-end virtual reality platform built to help overcome social isolation through the power of shared experiences. Research shows that social isolation is as detrimental to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s especially harmful for the aging population – prolonged social isolation is linked to a 30% increase in mortality rates for this demographic.  After COVID-19 and a year of social isolation, this challenge has never been more important than ever to address. In the US today, 10,000 people turn 65 every single day. With this rising trend, social isolation amongst seniors is poised to become a modern mental health epidemic.

From senior living communities to hospitals, Rendever is fostering personal connections by allowing participants to travel the world, revisit childhood neighborhoods and memories, and check off bucket list items – all via virtual reality. Everything on the Rendever platform is built to start conversations, form deeper relations with others, and give participants a new way to experience life virtually from the comfort and safety of their homes.

Tell us more about your customer base and the new markets you are exploring for your products and services?

Rendever is focused on empowering social experiences for seniors, whether that’s through senior living communities, hospice organizations, or healthcare systems. Rendever is currently deployed in over 300 enterprise locations in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and we are looking to expand to other countries in the near future.

Our platform serves communities at large by including the family members of residents and the administrative staff of the communities we work with.

We offer a family portal that allows loved ones to stay connected, no matter the distance. Families can simply upload personal photos and videos (either traditional or 360°) from a web-based platform. The family can capture any experience – whether it’s a momentous occasion like a wedding or an everyday family barbeque in the backyard – and upload it directly to our platform for their loved one to see. From there, staff can assist the resident in putting the headset on, and let them be a part of the event.

In addition to helping residents connect with their families, we also help staff and residents connect with each other. It can be overwhelming for an older person to move into a senior living community with new people but Rendever helps foster a sense of community through group activities including tours, games, discussions, and more. Activity professionals are equipped with a toolset that prompts them to ask specific questions to foster positive group dynamics and keep the conversation flowing. This type of shared experience often uncovers common interests that are a starting point for building relationships. At Rendever, we’ve found that it’s the conversations and friendships that grow after the virtual reality sessions that are the real magic – our platform really empowers these relationships to start and grow.

How did your role evolve through the pandemic months? How did your previous experiences with technology management help you scale your efforts and meet unprecedented challenges?

The pandemic brought a unique opportunity for the entire world to get a first-hand look at the devastating effect of social isolation, and build a true sense of empathy for those in senior living communities that have been experiencing it for years. While things are beginning to change for the better as COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out, social isolation will, unfortunately, continue to be a challenge for this demographic. At Rendever, we feel it is a moral imperative  to ensure this vulnerable population is cared for and not forgotten. With a growing understanding of the dangerous comorbidities stemming from social isolation, the pandemic has accelerated the rate of adoption of tools like Rendever. The growing excitement around our platform encourages us to expand our offerings and bring participants new experiences as frequently as possible. Early on in the pandemic, we crafted a comprehensive response to COVID-19, with a variety of product and platform updates designed to help our community partners offer top-of-the-line programs. For example, our two-way voice communication feature allows groups to participate in programming from their own rooms while still staying connected and maintaining the same level of conversation that is characteristic of a Rendever session. The Connection Corner also gives residents in different rooms a chance to gather in a virtual community room, sitting on couches and engaging in conversation next to each other in avatar form. We also launched RendeverLive™, which offers expert-run tours twice per week for our users worldwide, ultimately freeing up time for staff and caregivers while also building a greater sense of community among all Rendever participants. This has been a phenomenal success, and we’re starting to expand this offering significantly.

Read More: HR Tech Interview with Rob Smith, Founder at Team Huddle

VR trends are positively influencing digital transformation culture. How is Rendever leading the path as an industry leader to improve the adoption of customized visual experience capabilities across various industries?

The global pandemic has put a spotlight on the power of VR to bring people together, transport them to places they may not be able to go, and enrich their lives with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Rendever has consciously chosen to focus on reducing the impact of social isolation on aging communities through shared VR experiences. Rendever’s role as an industry leader is to educate and advocate for this often underserved demographic. We created a device-agnostic web version of RendeverLive to reach thousands more senior living communities, educate them about Rendever’s platform, and allow them to access our unique programs. More broadly, RendeverLive™ allows us to educate and connect regularly with our growing family of community partners while also giving meaningful reprieve to staff who are often overworked and overwhelmed (which has been especially true throughout the pandemic). At Rendever, our platform is nuanced. It’s not just about the technology itself but how we use it to reduce social isolation and bring people together through shared experiences – and that is why our retention rate remains strong at 96%.

Tell us more about RendeverLive and how it supports senior living.

We built RendeverLive to provide residents quality programming while also providing much-needed relief to community staff members who were often overworked and overwhelmed during the pandemic. Using virtual reality, our communities worldwide can tune in to live sessions, led by an expert, to learn more about intriguing topics and explore breathtaking sites. In the last year, we’ve taken Rendever participants on a road trip across the United States, toured art museums in Africa, explored the islands of the Caribbean, and more – all from the comfort of their own communities. This program has seen great success with more than 600 hours worth of programming delivered over the past year. We are constantly listening to participants’ feedback and requests for new programming as we continue to build strong relationships with content partners, allowing us to bring world-class experiences to those who need it most.

In May of 2021, we also launched a web version of RendeverLive™ to reach more people and communities who would benefit from this program. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are also offering free, live meditation sessions for residents and staff daily to relieve stress and practice mindfulness throughout the month of May. This free programming comes at a time that we believe is more important than ever to support the mental wellbeing of our communities, including the caregivers, staff, and residents. With the stress from the last year, we want to provide an accessible resource to help strengthen our industry as a whole.

If we were to evaluate the VR maturity trends, which industries have been leading in the adoption of these capabilities? How do you enable the slower / lagging industries to come to pace with AR VR adoption?

As with any new platform, adoption takes time and delightful user experience paradigms. We’re seeing businesses start to implement VR more and more into their daily operations, and have seen an exponential rise in healthcare deployments amid the pandemic in particular. Lagging industries will come to pace with adoption when more people see it being used and delivering great results. With this technology in particular, we need to encourage more people to try it, as that first positive experience can frequently lead to an “aha!” moment, and then the possibilities are endless!

Read More: HR Tech Interview with Jill Popelka, President at SAP SuccessFactors

Could you tell us what kind of IT and Data Management infrastructure does a company require to successfully transform into a high-end VR adoption center? What kind of support does Rendever provide in this regard?

With cutting edge technology, user experience needs to be both delightful and simple. We built our platform to be as user-friendly as possible — and that goes beyond the platform itself. Our setup only requires fast, reliable WiFi and a training session between community staff and our team. Following the training session, communities are given a comprehensive 90-day onboarding plan in which Rendever’s community engagement team provides. Our team takes a proactive, high-touch approach throughout this process, and we’ve found that to be key.

In the first month, Rendever helps communities get familiar with the platform and user interface by participating in two RendeverLive sessions each week. In addition, we share tailored session guides that are proven to make an impact and strengthen adoption – we encourage communities to intersperse these throughout the month so they’re using the platform three times per week.

As communities grow more comfortable with the platform, it’s typical to see nonstop smiles, laughs, and maybe even a few tears as residents adopt the technology and try each feature. It’s important for communities to document these reactions and share the impact with families and prospective residents to build excitement. Toward the end of the 90-day onboarding process, when the entire community has comfortably adopted the program, staff will then learn how to invite family members to upload personal photos and videos to Rendever’s family portal. In addition, staff will be taught how to create their own custom experiences based on locations that are important to their residents, and frequently we’ll explore opportunities to bring exciting local experiences into the platform through 360° video.

Hear it from the pro: How can healthcare services companies and healthcare insurance providers benefit from using VR management for their various operations? Could you explain the scenario in healthcare with your own customer success stories, if any [ You can quote any other industry as well, like Telecom, IT Ops, E-commerce Marketing / Sales, etc, if that makes sense]?

Loneliness among senior citizens can have the same healthcare consequences as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. By using the power of VR to create unique shared experiences that overcome social isolation, we can begin to address a crisis in mental health that has not received the attention it deserves.

For example, one of our community partners, Maplewood, which operates 15 communities in three states, has been astounded by the result of using the Rendever platform. Residents were blown away by the experiences and couldn’t stop talking about it, calling it magical. According to program administrators, these residents had never reacted to a program like that before, laughing and interacting with one another. Residents were transported to Antarctica with penguins moving around, then on to Africa, and finally a “puppy pen.” It was real-life footage so it felt very real to them.

With this kind of reaction, the opportunity to improve or resolve mental and emotional health is profound. In fact, Rendever has received research funding from the NIA and was awarded a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I grant by the NIH to test the potential for impact of their virtual reality platform with residents experiencing some form of cognitive decline and their adult children who live at a distance.

Your predictions on the future of VR and how Rendever is planning to stay ahead of the competition:

The VR industry is unique in that we are all growing together and doing so through heightening awareness and promoting strong experiences, so it truly feels like “all ships rise with the tide”. As a company, we’ve made a clear commitment to reducing the effects of social isolation in demographics at need – and we’re constantly finding unique ways to accomplish that through VR. We are creating new experiences weekly, launching new programming features and applications monthly, and also are always considering how to empower collaboration, interaction, and strong social dynamics into the mix. It is through the power of shared experiences that we truly make a difference – that is Rendever’s mission, and holding that as our guiding light is why we continue to innovate and grow so considerably.

Read More: HR Tech Interview with Greg Moran, CEO at Outmatch

Your favorite technology webinar/ podcast that you keenly follow: 

I love Snacks Daily by Robinhood Financial. It’s short, informative, and….enjoyably snackable. I think it’s perfect to listen to while brewing coffee in the morning and getting ready for the day, and while it’s more business than hardcore technology, I always find good takeaways and it frequently sparks solid ideas for ways we can grow as a company.

Any advice for young technology professionals looking at VR with eagerness; 

Jump in! Seriously, this industry is growing so quickly and there are so many opportunities…it really feels like we’re just starting to scratch the surface with commercially viable products. I would just encourage everyone to remember that user experience needs to remain strong – we need to continue encouraging adoption, and any product implementations with a poor user experience will pose the risk of setting the industry back. Learn from the past, and make sure we’re building a future of VR that brings delightful interactions and dynamic accessibility together forever.

Tag a person from the industry whose answers you would like to see here:

Christian Ulstrup

Thank you, Kyle! That was fun and hope to see you back on  HR Tech Series soon.

[To participate in our interview series, please write to us at sghosh@martechseries.com]

In 2016, Kyle Rand cofounded Rendever – a virtual reality platform deployed in 300+ communities across the world – to combat social isolation amongst older adults through the power of shared experiences after seeing the effects on his own grandmother first-hand.

In college, Kyle researched neuroprosthetics within the international lab behind the Walk Again Project (FIFA 2014). His neuroscience research largely focused on the link between functional structural changes in the brain that occur with age and the associated deficits in economic decision-making skills. After leaving the research lab, Kyle set out to create a solution that empowers the older adult population to live happier and healthier lives, and Rendever was born.

For Kyle, mission matters. In the past, he led the development of a niche research-based social network and created a crowdfunding platform for ecological conservation. He also created the first major college scholarship program for students of martial arts and architected a grassroots initiative focused on increasing healthcare access for populations-in-need.

Logo

Rendever is overcoming social isolation through the power of virtual reality and shared experiences. From senior living communities to hospitals, their platform is being used to reduce depression and loneliness by fostering personal connections amongst populations where life has become limited. Participants in group sessions can check off bucket list items together, revisit meaningful places and share stories, stay engaged with family members, and more. Rendever is being used by high-profile senior living operators including Revera, Benchmark, and SRG, healthcare systems such as UCHealth and Cleveland Clinic, has research funded by the NIH and NIA, and has commercial partnerships with major organizations like AARP and Verizon.