Sometimes, the best business ideas address problems faced by large numbers of people. This is what led Vancouver entrepreneur Rustam Sengupta to found Tuktu Care Inc., a relatively low-cost errand and companionship service to seniors.
We’ll get to that in a minute, but let’s start with the problem that launched his venture. Like many Canadians, Sengupta struggled to look after his aging parents during the pandemic. His mom is 80 and his dad is 86—and they are living halfway around the world in Singapore.
Sengupta would send money overseas and took care of their other needs over the phone. But he concedes that it was very difficult. Eventually, his wife, Helina, suggested that he ask friends and his parents’ neighbours in Singapore for assistance.
“We were basically calling in favours—‘Can you go check on my dad and take him to the hospital? Can you set up this stand for my mom?’ ” Sengupta tells Pancouver over Zoom.
The Delhi-born Sengupta had previously run a clean-tech business in Singapore, installing solar-powered generators in remote communities for several years. After studying in the U.S., he moved to Vancouver in 2016 when his wife entered a PhD program at UBC. From 2018 to 2021, Sengupta worked for Sustainable Development Technology Canada.
Because he felt that he couldn’t help his parents, he started volunteering at a church to help local seniors.
“This was in the summer of 2021 when we were just coming out of COVID,” Sengupta recalls. “I started doing small errands with a group of eight or nine other friends for older folks living alone in Kitsilano and Kerrisdale.”
The volunteers delivered groceries to seniors’ homes and drove them to various destinations. They also offered advice on how to use technology to connect with loved ones.
“I realized the impact was huge and transformational,” he says. “While healthcare is taken care of, nobody takes care of companion care when people grow old. Loneliness is the worst thing that happens to you. And that transformed into a business idea.”
Tuktu posted this video on YouTube.
Tuktu offers services on hyperlocal level
He decided to create a platform and an app, called Tuktu, which offers a matchmaking service between people needing help and those interested in offering services to them. These include personal shopping, housekeeping, tech help, gardening, and travel companionship. Prices range from $20 to $45 per hour, depending on the task.
“The app is like Airbnb: it’s very hyperlocal,” Sengupta explains. “People who come to help you will be neighbours, within a six-kilometre radius.”
He says that through the app, it’s possible to ensure that the person needing assistance and the service provider speak the same language. Some of the helpers are students; others are newcomers to Canada who are getting to know Canadian culture while improving their English.
Since it was founded, Sengupta says that more than 300 service providers have assisted more than 2,000 people across B.C. and in Edmonton and Calgary.
“We ensure safety, of course,” Sengupta emphasizes. “We do background checks.”
For example, Tuktu seamlessly conducts criminal record checks with the RCMP database through application programming interfaces. In addition, service providers must provide two references. They can come from a variety of sources, such as a school board, a church, a volunteer agency, and a nonprofit organization.
“It’s been 100 percent safe to now,” Sengupta says.
A company video features a satisfied senior, Annie McReynolds, raving about the service. It also includes the voice of a single mom and business owner who praises Tuktu for helping her mom when she was too busy to do so.
As for the company’s name, Sengupta says it’s the Inuktitut word for reindeer.
“We derived that name because reindeer are the bearer of good things,” Sengupta says. “Also, we were starting during Christmas, so we said, ‘Hey, how about Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer?’ ”
Friends chipped in some money to help him start the enterprise. To this day, Sengupta maintains that he still hasn’t taken a salary.
Two monumental figures in India’s history have shaped his outlook on life. One is Mahatma Gandhi, in part because of his grit and determination. The other is the Nobel Prize-winning writer Rabindranath Tagore, who shared Sengupta’s Bengali heritage.
“I brought up Tagore because he was probably one of the people who had the biggest diversity of thoughts and tolerance for accepting outside values,” Sengupta states. “He travelled all across the world. He was a global citizen.”
As someone who has lived in India, Singapore, France, the United States, and Canada, Sengupta also feels like a citizen of the world. And he acknowledges that there’s a spiritual underpinning to his mission to connect seniors with service providers.
Sengupta tells Pancouver that he was born Hindu but grew up with many Buddhist teachings. As a result, he’s been meditating for the past 35 years.
“I do believe that we are all here to serve a purpose, which is beyond monetary value and beyond physical aspirations,” Sengupta says.
“What we realized is that we have been extremely fortunate because of God’s grace but also because of the people around us and who give us the opportunities,” he adds. “We now want to give back.”