Portfolio News

DUOS co-founder & CEO Karl Ulfers: We need to reinvent caregiving—now

Jenna Birch, Director, Content

Summer 2021

3 min read

Karl Ulfers, Co-Founder and CEO of DUOS, admits he’s one of the lucky ones. Both his grandparents on his father’s side are still living—and, as he puts it, they are “stubborn, fiercely independent, and want to age in their own homes.” Now in their mid-90s, he couldn’t help but notice how hard it was to honor their wishes, though his dad was certainly trying.

Healthcare was simply not optimized for the complexities of aging. “Everything was bespoke, hyper-fragmented, and the burden of making everything happen falls on loved ones,” says Ulfers. “As soon as I started to see that, I thought, ‘Wow, there’s got to be a better way.’” 

The need to better serve this demographic is already here, but coming faster than ever as all Baby Boomers reach retirement age. According to the Census Bureau, there will be more Americans over age 65 than Americans under age 18 by 2034—for the first time in our nation’s history. As Ulfers started to notice the needs of the aging population, he was the CEO of Rally Health. With a mission of putting health in the hands of the individual through digital technology, his experience collided with the right timing to take a new leap. “We had gotten big at 1500 people and over $1B in revenue,” says Ulfers. “I’ve always joined these earlier stage opportunities around 60-person size, but had never done one from the ground up.”

Ulfers left his role to start DUOS, which launched earlier this year with two core components—digital healthcare platform, and workforce of personal assistants. Users can coordinate care and services via deeply engaged caregivers—Duos—who work to meet their needs, which may include meal delivery, transportation, housecleaning, booking medical appointments, helping with technology, delivering medications, and beyond. Duos are often stay-at-home parents, retirees, and emerging healthcare professionals who are looking for something flexible and part-time, and also want to be part of a mission. “What we are fundamentally building is a technology and service company that allows older adults to age independently, and provides their caregivers peace of mind while we do so,” says Ulfers.

Originally, the DUOS team thought more of its care would need to be coordinated in-person, but in some ways, the company launched at the right moment. As the pandemic forced everyone to go virtual-first, DUOS leaned into digital-first. “That has been incredible for us, because the scale and level of engagement we can get to in a virtual model is far greater than if we had to do in-person coordination and logistics around every interaction with the older adults and caregivers,” says Ulfers. “You always try to look for positive things that come out of bad things, and this was definitely a positive of the pandemic as it relates to our business.” 

The shift has helped DUOS start strong out of the gate. Over the past six months, the company has seen an 88% retention rate on the platform, and has been able to meet over 95% of the needs that older adults have brought forth. 

Pointing to the Census Bureau statistics on the aging population, Ulfers says the window is closing to lay a foundation for our older adults. “We have about five years to establish this new category we’re building at DUOS, which takes the labor that has previously fallen on loved ones and turns it into a technology and service,” he says. In teaming up with Duos, Ulfers hopes that older adults and caregivers can go back to nourishing parent-child or grandparent-grandchild relationships—a facet of wellness too frequently overlooked.

Check out getduos.com and the company's careers page for more information. Want more consumer insights? Subscribe to Forerunner's weekly digest, The CQ, to get ongoing analysis from our investment team. 

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