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Ep. 7: Mike Rethage of Touchtown

Summer of 50 PGH Tech Stories

Touchtown SVP Mike Rethage talks about Touchtown's growing presence in Pittsburgh after its acquisition by Uniguest last year. Through the acquisition of Touchtown, Uniguest is expanding as the most relevant customer engagement solution in hospitality and senior living. Uniguest and Touchtown will jointly focus on the shared needs of their clients by continuing to provide solutions and services that enable business growth and operational efficiency through centralized content management.


I couldn't be more pumped up more excited to talk to our guests today. Here on our summer of 50 Pittsburgh tech stories. This is Jonathan Kersting hanging out with my good friends at Comcast making this series happen. We're telling 50 other cool stories happening in Pittsburgh tech sector. And one of these stories is the story of Touchtown. A company started 21 years ago by one of one of Pittsburgh tech pioneers Jeff Pepper. He was like back in the ServiceWare days of Pittsburgh if you can go back to the mid 90s. Back when they pioneered free beer Fridays if I'm not mistaken and like 1997 or 1998 that's how far back I go to which is kind of embarrassing. I think, like watching that was amazing and it had been acquired, but continues to grow here. And now Mike Rethage leads up Touchtown here in Pittsburgh and like I'm just really excited to tell more of your story and Touchtown's story. So thanks for joining It's here today on our summer of 50, Pittsburgh tech stores and Comcast man.

Well, hey, thanks. So I'm really excited. You know, touchdowns a small company, but we have a lot of fun. We're based in Oakmont. And we're doing a lot of good. So I'm just happy to tell the story and get the word out about us.

Key thing you said have a lot of fun because I know Ted Teele, who had just retired you took his place. That was his main thing was making sure people were having fun keeping people motivated. And I've known Ted forever. And he's one of those guys where like, I think he's an inspiring fellow. I know that's always important to him. And I'm glad you're keeping that mantra going, that's for sure.

Well, I appreciate that.

So let's just start off in real fast, just the elevator pitch for touchdown because it's really it's performing this service and this this technology that we just don't think about all the time when it comes to connecting our older citizens with tech using them to connect to their families and loved ones and just stay plugged into the world.

Yeah, I mean, touchdown that's our bread and butter is connecting older adults to within their, their community, so when they're living in senior living communities and beyond, and you know, that is a segment of the world that is, you know, in a unique position just like us all in this in this pandemic, but these Senior Living communities are locked down and technology is helping them really kind of, you know, stay vibrant, and, you know, keep that sense of community alive, right? You know, technology is so so important as a tool to connect older adults, just like it is for me and you and using all the tools that we use. Exactly. Right. or adults. For some of them, and in fact, right before the pandemic hit, I was in a community out in Philadelphia, and you know, we had 90 year old folks are sitting there, they had no clue what an app was. They had no clue how to navigate their smartphone, wanting to learn they weren't ready, because the people

I mean, they're there.

They're still living their best life and they you know, what? Senior Living communities and I think because of the pandemic, they get a bad rap. People think nursing homes and people dying left and right because of COVID. That's not the case. In fact, the vast Majority of senior living communities have no cases at all. They're doing it really, really well keeping things locked down, right, safe and having great programming. But there are senior living communities that have breweries on site. This is not just like, you know, this is not just bingo at four o'clock every day. there's a there's a misconception. These people are really living great lives and contributing in so many ways. We're just helping to provide the technology, right, empower them to connect with each other across the community. And I think that is so so important.

So Mike, tell us how touchdown plugs into these Senior Living Centers. I know it's about signage, it's about app connection in rooms and so forth, give us a little rundown as to how people kind of experience touchdown when they're in a Senior Living Center.

Well, we're all about choice. And everyone consumes that that choice a little bit differently. So we have a variety of products that help to deliver those messages in the community, whether it's through digital signage of their in room television, one of the big things for us has recently been the usage of video that we're Every three days now we have more video put in our system that all of last year because of COVID-19 mysterious, it's crazy. I mean, video doesn't mean we're on video right now you can communicate better, you can show empathy better, right? It's just a better tool in senior living communities are turned on to that. So in room television has been huge for us over the last few months as we're helping people get through this pandemic. But our app has also seen, we've seen that as well. In fact, we're only for almost halfway through the year. And we're almost about what the sessions that we saw in 2019, in terms of our app. So we are seeing more and more engagement with technology in our app in general, so that people can know you know, what's going on in their community. It's not just about you know who their neighbor is. And that's a big part of it. It's not just about what's for dinner. That's it. That's a big part of a man. It's about all the other aspects of the community, the clubs and councils and the connections that are being made as communities and our app and our distribution channels can really help do that.

Absolutely. It's so important because like you actually bring seniors together. There's different clubs and activities and people can then plug into them does make people's lives so much richer because then they can use technology to actually plug in with other people that they're living nearby with that maybe they would never get a chance to meet not know that there's a chess club thing going on and that someone else shares their passion for chess, right? Absolutely. I mean, if someone's living down the hall from your one building over time, and they have the same similar interest, let our technology you know, connect you it's no different than some of the great neighborhoods and the connections we see in Pittsburgh. We're just helping to feel that in a more confined space yet. So how many facilities are you guys located in now? I know it is growing and growing, obviously.

Yeah. So we're we are in well over 1200 communities across the country. We're going to see I think, some rapid growth growth in the second half of this year and add potentially hundreds more communities into what we're doing because we are seeing communities really turned to us where whereas technology was a nice to have before the pandemic it's really a must have must have we were really seeing just exponential growth. Do you think that being no one, hopefully we say post COVID or that people are going to realize that this is the type of technology that you have to have you say it's a must have you think that's gonna drive a lot people realizing that they weren't able to connect their guests, especially when people were locked down for as long as they were building. This is the the you got to have. I'm assuming your thinking has to be driving some some more growth for you guys. Yeah, I don't think we're turning back at this point in use of technology. And as the silver tsunami comes through, and more and more people are moving into senior living, which I think is a great a great path for so many adults, older adults, you know, to have a sense of community. Yeah, I think they're going to be even more technologically savvy as time goes on. But I think the pandemic has changed things for the better, quite honestly. And I already mentioned use of video. We've always wanted communities to use more video and stream events and do those things. Now. It's happening out of necessity, but I think that trend is just going to continue.

Yeah, I think people see that it works. It's fun. Let's keep using it. Why would you not like Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, the work from home trend is not the only good thing that's coming out of the pandemic, very much so very much so.

Let's, let's switch gears a little bit and talk about Mike here for a second. I think it's so cool that like you're now leading up the Pittsburgh Office. And you've got got some deep roots in Pittsburgh tech sector as well, too. And before we hit the record button, this you were kind of telling me that you, you've been with the company for about six, seven years right now. So what's it like to be like to be in this position now? where like, you're gonna be guiding What's going on here?

Well, you know, it's a lot of fun. We have a great team about 35 or a little over 35 people here in Pittsburgh. We have a lot of fun together. It's a tight knit family. And you know, I think that is such an important piece. Our culture helps to drive our innovation our empowerment helps to drive each person in the organization really contributing. I quite honestly it's it makes it coming to work. just so much fun to have the team behind me. Knowing that hey, we can help people and help fulfill so many lives more helping hundreds of thousands of people a day. That is that's enough to get my feet on the ground every morning should really you know jumpstart and just help people and we've got the team to do it. That is a lot of fun for me.

Yeah, I've noticed that I visited your offices quite a few times over the years. And every time I rolled in there, I can all I could sense this kind of positive energy, that plus the dogs, we got lots of dogs.

I'm missing seeing all the dogs because we we've been working hard since mid March. I'm missing all the dogs.

Soon enough, hopefully we'll all be heading back to office at one level or another to see a dog or two as far as that goes. But But definitely it goes to show that when you have a tech company that has this very distinct mission of helping older people connect using technology to connect that it gets people fired up and it gets them kind of moving forward. So what's it I'm so happy that touchdowns keeping it's brand new here in Pittsburgh, tell us a little bit about like, who bought touchdown and why they decided to keep the name and keep it here in Pittsburgh because so many times we'll see a company be purchased and they kind of take the IP from it and they kind of slowly disintegrate and tell the people to go away they take IP rolled up into their their stack and off they go but this is not the case here and I'm really happy about

Yeah, not at all. I mean, our Pittsburgh Office is thriving. A company called unicast purchased us in March of 2019. It was it was a long road to get there. We're really excited about that new partnership. And it really plugs us into a global company. In fact, I forget exactly, but I think it's 12 or 15 offices across the globe. unicast is a global leader for the hospitality industry, and providing a variety of technology for the hospitality industry and beyond. In some of our sister companies, over in the UK and beyond also are some of the leaders in pro AV so you know, looking at some big stadiums, like the Jets, jets and Giants Stadium up in New York, they power every screen but the jumbotron that's really, you know, just fantastic tech that we want to plug in, not just in Pittsburgh, but beyond bringing into senior living and the relationship that we have there is so fantastic. really being able to save every single job in Pittsburgh and really expand our office has been a joy, but then plugging into some of the resources of a larger company like for example, we Have a small support team about 12 people in Pittsburgh, some of which are, you know, those reactive support people, right? we're plugging into a 24 seven center down in Nashville that is assisting with something that that helps us grow and allows our people to also take on new challenges. Definitely. I'm really excited about that. I'm excited about the growth potential with you. Yes, backing.

Very cool stuff. Like I just think it's a great story all the way around. Especially because this story of this this this company was founded when I believe when Jeff pepper founded it, he was inspired because of his own family being in an assisted living or something to that effect. And the idea that he wanted them to be able to communicate better. And he plugged away at that thing. And like 21 years later, it's really I think, hitting its stride because I think so many of the technologies that are now available, are really allowing his vision to kind of come to life now and to have the backing of a major corporation. I think it's just so cool.

Yeah, I think there's the sky's the limit in what I see, especially with relationships with unique guests, and the The technology they bring from other companies that whether through acquisition or organic, is very exciting, right to be able to bring new technology to folks that are not exposed to that technology thus far in their life and make you imagine you're nine years old is your first smartphone, and all this new technology that's coming to you. And that's just insane. So we want to help feel that and Yeah, I agree. It's very exciting to see where we can take this this big machine that we're growing.

Absolutely. So I have my this is our our standard question that we make part of our 50 or 50, PGH tech stories here, because because as we all know that this whole this whole video series is all about raising some money for beyond the, which helped me get laptops into Pittsburgh public school students hands because there's this big avid kids that don't have computers when they go back to school in the fall. And we're trying to bridge that. We've been thinking a lot about the whole digital divide, especially during COVID. And one thing that I keep thinking about is the fact that like so many of our seniors are actually part of that digital divide. So what's the best thing that we can be doing in order to help our seniors get more connected to technology and get them empowered?

Yeah, well, I think, you know, one big thing is keep in mind that these communities and COVID is making this harder. But a lot of these communities are looking for people to come in and assist, right, come in and volunteer, you can still go in and volunteer and spend time with somebody's community, you can volunteer your time to help teach them technology, we form resident Ambassador groups, and they're constantly looking for people to come in and talk with them. So you know, if you're, if you're a maker or somebody that's in Pittsburgh, and you have an idea and whether you're not you're servicing older adults are not okay. There are lots of communities that you could go into and talk to them and get their feedback because I tell you, they have a lot of great feedback. We work with Longwood and Oakland right off the road from our office. We go up there constantly to really engage the the people up there and really understand like, what are the challenges you're facing? What do you want and they help to drive features, they help to drive cool. It's so cool to hear what they're saying. And so I think for all of us, we can't just, you know, design our apps for the younger generation, we have to design it for all. And you know, when we when we think about how do we get the older population who is using technology more now than ever? How do we get them involved? Well, let's involve them. Right? Exactly.

Like that's perfect, man, I can't even a better way to land this jet. Just I want people to learn more about touchdown and to see all the great work that you guys are doing. And like, I'm so glad you're there leading the way. I think it's just awesome. All the way around.

Yeah, thank you. I really appreciate the time. And you know, really, we've all got a lot of Pittsburgh support, recently just partnered with a company called kinetics, and you know, a lot of a lot of Pittsburgh connections there. And so really, really excited about the Pittsburgh community and all the support. We've gotten here a touchdown. So thanks for the opportunity to share most of it.

We need to backup this real fast because you mentioned kinetics and they're one of my favorite companies because they've been around for like 51 years. 52 years. Crazy. The first like first tech company, the doctor, see you Putting that whole thing together and I saw the headlines you guys apart and give us a little a little insight as to what you're doing with copy next. I love it when to Pittsburgh companies are kind of hanging out with each other.

Yeah, sorry. Hey, we're extending this out. This is the bonus edition. But yeah, we we partnered with copying Enix are just at the start is the pandemic here to provide video chat services, you know, for family to staff, or residents. The staff right within our application kinetics is helping to power a lot of it. It was a joy to work with them Jerry pop over there is just fantastic. And his team. I've known Jerry for a very long time since I was really little actually. It was so great to collaborate with them and build a platform that really kind of extends our platform to help seniors connect and keep them safe, right because a lot of times they're in their room right now and they kick it out. But we still want them to visit with staff we still want them to visit through telemedicine and copy that mix is helping to power all that. And there's no better story than these two Pittsburgh companies joined together and helping so many people across the country that is really, really exciting to us.

Absolutely. I'm so glad I was so tickled when I saw that because I'm thinking man, two things like that come together. You only need something cool is coming out of it. So I'm glad you reminded me that was like one of my questions on my list here and like

I was just trying to slip it in there, Jonathan. You know?

I'm you got my back, man. You got my back. I love it. I love it. My grandkids from touchdown. Thanks for hanging out with me today. Thanks for being part in one of our summer of 50 Pittsburgh tech stories with Comcast couldn't do without you, Mike.

Hey, thanks so much. love being here.

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