When Akota Home Care CEO and Founder Jim Lindsay was hunting for a new location for his family’s home care business, the Castle Rock native saw an ideal fit in Colorado Springs.
The business’ services include round-the-clock assisted care, regular registered nurse visits, light housekeeping, dementia and Alzheimer’s care, transportation, food preparation, personal hygiene and companionship.
Having already opened two successful offices in Maryland and Virginia, Lindsay said he and his family targeted his home state for their newest branch in 2017 and decided on Colorado Springs largely because of its military and retiree presence.
“We thought it would be a great place to get our feet wet going further away from the East Coast and getting started back where we had some roots,” he said.
“My father-in-law, who is the chairman of the board emeritus … he was a Navy pilot and was flying off the USS Enterprise in 1957 when he was shot down, and he spent just over six years as a prisoner of war. He came out of his prisoner of war experience … and later commanded an aircraft carrier. Then he went to Capitol Hill, and was the Navy’s liaison to the House of Representatives.
“So with that kind of a heritage and background, coming to Colorado Springs with its large retired military presence, and its active-duty presence, seemed natural.”
While choosing a location with the right demographics was relatively easy, Lindsay said breaking into the saturated Colorado Springs home care market was not.
“We found that there are about 200 competitors in Colorado Springs that do home care, and now it’s probably even more than that. So we found it surprisingly competitive. It’s been a struggle to grow … but we’ve made our footprint now, so it’s working out great.”
Akota’s client base has so far remained pretty small in Colorado Springs. They’re currently serving six clients and have provided care for about 20 families over the past three years.
Getting the business off the ground, Lindsay said, was also surprisingly expensive.
“Because we pay our caregivers more, it turned out to be about $150,000 for us to get started,” he said, “which was more than we thought it was going to be.
“It took us about two years to turn a profit. Frankly, I was overconfident and I thought we could get into the market for $50,000 and make a profit in a year, and it cost us $150,000 and took two to get to profitability. So everything I thought I knew, I didn’t. I’m a much more humble person now than I was before.”
While Colorado Springs is Akota’s newest branch — or at least will be until next year, when the company aims to open another location in Denver — Lindsay’s experience in the industry spans back to 1994, when he started his first home care agency with his father-in-law.
Across its three branches, the business has about 100 employees and operates — at least philosophically — in a model that Lindsay calls an “upside-down pyramid.”
“Our two values are to love and serve,” Lindsay said. “So my job as the president is to serve the staff, their job is to love and serve the caregiver, and then the caregiver’s job is to love and serve the client. And so because of that kind of inverted pyramid, I’m at the bottom and my job is to serve everybody.”
The company has two types of home care licensing— both for companionship and skilled care — which allows Akota to continue serving its clients as they get older and their needs become more extensive.
One of the biggest obstacles the company currently faces, Lindsay said, is finding the right employees.
They currently have about 25 people in Colorado Springs — three nurses, the rest caregivers.
“The big challenge, in Colorado Springs and nationally, is labor. It’s getting enough good caregivers to serve clients,” Lindsay said. “One of our core values is to care for the caregiver. So we do a bunch of training, we get our caregivers together on social outings, we do caregiver coffees and dinner parties, and go over to each other’s houses and have dinner together — so we’re really big on labor, because caregiver shortages are significant across the whole country.
“And then, of course, if you get a poor employee, they’re going to serve poorly and you’re going to have a client that’s not excited about your services. So getting a good employee is almost everything.”
Akota, like every U.S. business in recent weeks, has also had to adapt to entirely new challenges as its employees navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right when the coronavirus started showing signs in January, we started gearing up for how we would respond,” Lindsay said.
“We serve seniors and the coronavirus is particularly fatal for seniors, so that includes us securing every senior’s home and then for the caregivers that are coming in and out of the homes, making sure they have universal precautions and are aware of how to keep the clients safe and themselves safe.
“So we were prepared. The benefit of it is we can now turn outward into other community organizations. We’ve actually reached out to churches here in the Springs and other organizations and said, ‘If you need help, let us know.’
“So for us, it’s really expanded the opportunities we have to serve.”