Ratan Tata, the multi-faceted industrialist who runs the $128 billion (approx. Rs. 10,13,200 crore) Tata Group for decades, has backed a startup that connects senior citizens with young graduates for meaningful friendships.
Goodfellows, which promotes “inter-generational friendship”, said on Tuesday it had received an undisclosed amount of seed investment from Tata, the influential chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, which runs about 150 companies, including software outsourcer Tata. Consultancy Services and Tata Steel, the country’s largest steel producer.
The startup was founded by 30-year-old Shantanu Naidu, who manages Ratan Tata’s office and his startup investment portfolio, in the role of general manager. Naidu assists the Tatas as chairman of the Tata Trusts, the group’s major philanthropic arm.
“You don’t know what it means to be alone until you spend time alone,” Tata said at the startup’s official launch in Mumbai on Tuesday. “You don’t mind getting old, as long as you don’t get old and you don’t think the world is difficult,” he said, addressing a group consisting of seniors and their young friends.
Naidu said the idea for the startup came from his own relationship with the Tatas, which he called “an excellent example of intergenerational friendship considering the age difference of five and a half decades”. He added that he is drawn to the likes of Tata for his new-found innocence, wisdom and motto of savoring every moment.
Tata is credited with turning around the 168-year-old steel-to-airlines conglomerate founded by his grandfather. But after stepping down from executive duties at the group five years ago, he came into his own, unexpectedly becoming a star figure in India’s startup circles. He has since backed over 50 startups including eyewear retailer Lenskart, digital payment brand Paytm, electric vehicle startup Ola Electric. and online stock trading platform Upstox.
Even a small check from Ratan Tata is considered a badge of honor among the country’s entrepreneurial fraternity. Naidu, a design engineer and MBA from Cornell University, Ratan Tata’s alma mater, approached Tata when he sought funding for his first startup, MotoPows, a social enterprise providing reflective collars to street dogs. The two became close instantly.
“He picks his investments intuitively,” Naidu said in a phone conversation after the launch. “He aligns with young people, and supports their campaigns and their social impact. It’s never about financial returns. “
Goodfellows pair about 50 “grandfathers,” men and women in their twenties, with “Goodfellows,” an eclectic group of employees selected after several rounds of intensive screening and psychometric testing. Many are recent graduates in engineering, art or filmmaking and are paid salaries.
In a country of about 1.4 billion people, every second Indian is under the age of 25. But more than 15 million elderly Indians live alone, either because they don’t have family or because their children are abroad, which poses mental and physical health challenges.
The subscription-based service is currently only available in Mumbai but will soon be offered in other cities, including Bengaluru. The startup emphasizes companionship, which can mean anything from going for a quiet walk or watching a movie to simply engaging in conversations. Nonprofit models that have attempted this have failed, Naidu said, because partners are unpaid volunteers who are not committed to the long term.