Think of the words ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘online business’ and most minds will conjure up images of twenty-somethings working feverishly out of garages. But digital disruption isn’t solely the mainspring of the young. In recent years, the UK has seen a significant rise in so-called ‘olderpreneurs’, or people over the age of fifty who are setting up their own business for the first time. Martin Lock, a former BA executive and digital marketing veteran, exemplifies such a trend. Noticing that there was a lack of online communities that served the needs and interests of people 50 and older, in 2014 he launched Silversurfers.com, an online publisher describing itself as an ‘entertaining, informative lifestyle site and online community’.
A young idea
Whilst Silversurfers might target the older Baby Boomer generation, the idea itself is a young one. It began to take form in 2012, the result of a conversation between Lock and his friend Chris Oliver, who now serves as a director for the business. “[Chris’] father-in-law had a site called silverhairs.co.uk, which was basically a site to help people aged over 50 on PCs and the Internet. He’d started that over 20 years ago – we just thought it was a really good idea.”
Thinking there might be more to this, they brought in a consultant to take a closer look at the space. Surprisingly, they found there was little online really catering to the demographic. “Despite the fact that over 50s make up nearly half of the adult population and hold over 80% of the wealth in the UK, we just saw there was no real online community out there at all [for them].” Lock quickly went on to secure Silversurfers.com as a domain name (he was also the man who nabbed BA.com for British Airways in the late-nineties).
“It clicked instantly. We started with a proof of concept in 2012/13, and people were immediately interested. The name and brand helps a lot; it makes doing an elevator pitch incredibly simple. We’ve always had incredibly positive feedback, both from our members and right through to our investors, especially if they fall within our age bracket,” he says.
“There’s nothing else like it”
While Martin and his team might not seem like the stereotypical digital startup, they’re certainly not the only ones in their demographic taking advantage of the shifting technological landscape. In 2015, the ONS registered nearly 1.8 million self-employed people over the age of 50 – a 21% increase from 2008.
There are significant advantages to having numerous years of combined experience when launching a new business. The small but incredibly experienced team that surrounds Lock and his wife, co-founder Sally Lock, has been central to the healthy growth of the business.
“We’re a little bit different from the usual startup – most people starting one are in their twenties and thirties, while we’re all in our late forties, fifties – even sixties and seventies,” he says. “Everyone has a huge amount of experience and brought that with them”.
The depth and breadth of business acumen on the board of directors is one which few new businesses could rival, with key members possessing more than twenty years’ experience in digital marketing and sales. Their experiences vary significantly – from the Chairman Preston Rabl, who co-founded WPP with Sir Martin Sorrell and Nigel Colne CBE who was a director with M&S and Halifax through to Lieutenant-General Sir Graeme Lamb, a former Commander Field Army – they all bring the kind of insight and knowledge to a business that can only be developed over a long career. Many, such as Lindsay Menzies, former CEO of Bigmouthmedia, at one point the largest search agency in Europe, have been working in the digital arena since the year Google was born.
A place for connection
While millennials and gen-Z flock to Instagram and Snapchat, Facebook remains the most important platform for Silversurfers.com. People in their 50s and above have joined in significant numbers in recent years, often using it as a vehicle to stay connected with children and grandchildren, according to Lock. And they are active on the platform; Silversurfer’s Facebook page has almost half a million subscribers and might see more than ten million interactions in a month.
In contrast to posts on community pages aimed at younger generations, the comments often run into thousands, signalling perhaps that Silversurfers’ users are looking for a genuine conversation online. While most posts on the page receive enviable engagement rates, it’s those that tap into nostalgia and sentiment that really take off.
A recent post, asking users to “Name a film that always makes you cry, no matter how many times you’ve seen it,” garnered well over 21,000 comments. Another encouraging people to share the oldest thing in their kitchen that they still used received over 7,000 picture comments and 2,300 likes.
Lock sees connection as core part of his business’ philosophy. In 2016 3.6 million people over 65 were reported to be living alone, with loneliness and isolation on the rise according to the Office for National Statistics. For these people, engaging with like-minded peers on the Facebook page or on the site’s chat forums can be a way to ease that sense of isolation.
“We want people to be connected,” Lock says. “I think what the internet has done is alleviated that lonely feeling for lot of people”.
A different platform
Understanding the user community, and putting them first has always been at the centre of the Silversurfer’s business philosophy. Knowledge of their audience, but also the industry, has meant they’ve been able to connect with a key audience where other brands have struggled. “Every single company we deal with as clients, in whatever shape or form, are trying to crack this sort of community and social media. The challenge for a lot of them is if you have a product – whether that’s an airline product, or you’re a retailer – it’s difficult to get really big engagement because people aren’t that interested in what an airline, for example, has to say on a day-to-day basis”.
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