Really big speedbumps on the road of getting to Media Brand of the Year

 

On Thursday night, Starts at 60 was awarded Media Brand of the Year for 2017 at the Mumbrella Awards, possibly the most prestigious media branding award a company can win in Australia. 

So, we’re rather chuffed this week and hope you see this as a bit of an achievement for all the over-60s out there.  Our fight to bring Starts at 60 to life has been tough, and we believe we’ve faced every bit of the discrimination you see daily and fought back on your behalf. 

Starts at 60 is a huge passion project, built for our real community of over-60s, that started in Australia and remains an entirely Australian-owned business. Today we can say we served 8.3 million pageviews in June to 1.2 million people, most of which are frequent visitors of our Facebook page or website. 

It’s been a huge challenge to get it to where we are today, we’ve spent much of the time on a very steep vertical learning curve, and this award comes at a helpful time.

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 Our not-so-little website is growing very fast, and it is doing so in a media industry that doesn’t always want to cater to anyone but Millennials, so having an award marking the success of our venture shows that a focus on Baby Boomers isn’t wasted time – it’s time well spent delivering digital news and products to a generation that’s tech-savvy and deserving of better treatment from news providers AND advertisers.

I wanted to give you a birds-eye view into the journey of building Starts at 60 so you can smile with us today.  It requires a bit of back-story so stick with us. 

I personally started Starts at 60 in the back room of my house in March 2013 as a night project, to see if there were other people like my parents who needed a place of their own online.  I started the site with a $40 template website, and a whole lot of curiosity. (Yes, I’m 41, not 60, but most of you are aware of that, I think, and I never figured age was a barrier to creating good content for any demographic – no one criticises a Baby Boomer-aged executive for making decisions on information or products aimed at 20-somethings, so why should the opposite by any different?]. 

My parents talked about life at 60, caravanning, and retiring, but had nowhere to go online where people discussed issues relevant to them.  They asked why no one had made a website like this. 

The first 12 months of Starts at 60, back in 2013 and 2014, was just me and a wonderful crew of volunteer 60-year-old writers that joined along the way who contributed blogs about life, fun, and aspirations. I worked days in my marketing job, which paid the bills, and my nights working on Starts at 60, often writing into the wee hours of the morning, seven days a week, and finding myself becoming great friends with many of the people who had joined in.

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Our website became a little community of people that kept each other company, shared thoughts on the things that were going on in the world, and contributed articles. And it grew and grew.

A lot of the mainstream online media at the time was very focused on the ‘Kim Kardashian’ era, trying vainly to shift all their activities to focus on the young and beautiful generations that advertisers so adore, and completely ignoring the needs of those with a greater sense of reality. Sixty wasn’t very sexy in much of the media back then. It still isn’t.

Eventually, after 18 months, with only a part time uni student to help me, something had to give.  My husband was working, I had three young kids who I was not spending enough time with because of my passion for Starts at 60, and I was finding myself spending my days at work telling people about how much I loved my ‘night job’.  So, I girded my loins, rented a tiny office from a friend, and hired our first editors, using my mortgage to pay the bills on everything. Pretty risky in hindsight!

Feeding the site with more content and more promotion, grew our community larger, and the workload got bigger and bigger.  The more we wrote, the more people demanded more!  It was a wonderful problem at the time.  Except we weren’t making any money and the bills were getting bigger.    

We had a few ideas for how we’d get our little website to make a few dollars, but no experience and we needed enough to pay the bills that were growing quickly with server costs, web developer costs, writers, software, computers, and rent.

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It seems funny to tell you that I didn’t know what a digital advertisement was when we started, let alone how to set one up, and our early advertising experiments were a disaster, packed with mistakes. Thankfully those clients forgave us. 

We had big ethics too, refusing to accept ads from shonks, spruikers, funeral companies and adult-nappy providers.  We stood by the fact that we were about ‘starting at 60’ so we were not going to advertise endings.  So, we learned, stood by our values, and little by little, we got better at making smart decisions to build Starts at 60 up, with all those ethics intact. 

Then we hit a massive speed bump.  We found out the hard way just how discriminated against over-60s are, with the media and advertising industry basically turning us away flat saying, “No, we don’t advertise to people over 54 – they’re dead to advertisers” and “No-one advertises to them”.

We heard it so many times it nearly crushed us and I can remember some very tough nights of worry in the early days.  But we weren’t about to give up, having come this far. Instead, we had even more passion to have our beautiful community understood by advertisers and treated with honesty, and not to pretend the people reading and contributing to Starts at 60 were something they aren’t.  If advertisers and marketers didn’t want to advertise, though, we were never going to be able to afford to grow Starts at 60 into a sustainable business so we had to get gutsy and make them understand and respect you.

It’s the hardest fight I have ever had. But Starts at 60 is now known throughout Australia’s marketing and media industry for being the advocate for the over-60s. People now come to us for that integrity.

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Just as we got up and going strongly, a competitor popped up, with deep, deep pockets.  They flooded the market with advertising and we didn’t have the money to do that.  So, we stayed on the path of caring, relevant, conversation-friendly content and hoped it would be all right.  More reasons to worry.  Would we become unappealing to the few advertisers we had just because we weren’t able to keep up? 

Finally, some strong light appeared in the tunnel.

The site was growing well, still with the same honesty that we started with, and our beautiful community was getting bigger.  We were selected for a business ‘pitch competition’ – which would mean being ‘incubated’ by female business leaders and taught how to get investors – with an amazing group called Springboard.

Getting this kind of opportunity, which new online businesses kill for because it can open you up to new opportunities to bring in funding and thus make even better products, was a much harder process than it looks.  You must be one of the best businesses in the country to attract a high-quality investor – and even then, it’s very tough.  Could we really be that?

Eventually, we found our way to investment from Seven West Media, people we are endlessly grateful to today as they are the reason Starts at 60 has had the time and space to grow with its ethics and values intact. They’ve taught us a lot about how to be a sustainable business and how to run a proper media company, which is a crucial requirement if we want to get bigger again, and continue to serve our readers in a rapidly changing media sector that is immensely cut-throat.

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With a decent-sized investment, a darned good team, and a big plan, in February 2016 we could take the leaps we couldn’t afford to on our own so quickly. A new website, new servers that didn’t fall over all the time (collapsing servers mean readers can’t load pages), smarter technology that would allow us to keep up with the media industry and people in our business that knew what they were doing in the complex worlds of digital media, technology and software building.  Starts at 60 started growing rapidly again.

Our little website turned into a big website, and with it we got new challenges and new opportunities.  With a player like Seven beside us, the advertising industry paid us a little more attention, and by then we needed it because we needed to prove to our new investor that we could be a viable operation. A business like ours also had to start ticking along properly and professionally to continue to grow industry and peer respect. 

Thankfully though, there was more people to build a place that respected over-60s online.

We moved out of our little sublet that was overflowing with people and into bigger offices, employing some leaders that were world-class in their fields and wanted to join our business to help us stay ahead because they could see we were doing something right, with integrity.

Somewhere along the way, my husband packed in his day job and joined the team too.  

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We’re a business with a huge heart, and everyone who joins our team has a passion for the community we serve.  Sometimes, these world-class people get an eyebrow raised by their peers who wonder why they’d ‘want’ to serve over-60s.  All of them know why they do it, and they love it.

There’s now 21 people who get out of bed every day and call themselves Starts at 60 team members; and another 250 active community writers who contribute whenever they want, through an electronic submission system.  There’s a team of 22 book reviewers who have formed a tightknit community, and a travel blogging community writers team of more than 50 people too. 

We have three great, high-profile ambassadors and a host of amazing contractors who help us from time to time.  And, let’s not forget our investors at Seven and their team.  Without them we would never have got here this fast.  The crew we get to work with at Seven are as passionate about 60-plues as we are.  Perhaps we found the only media company in Australia that actually gets the Baby Boomer to stand beside us.  

We have a couple of regular sponsors that we couldn’t live without, in Dymocks and Hachette who support our book club and bloggers. And Uniting who anchor our Healthy at 60 program.

The media industry’s challenges are no stranger to us. 

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We battle the same problems that you see at newspapers and magazines, of not wanting to or being able to overstaff when the industry could change structurally at any moment.  So, we’ve got just enough of the right people to juggle through every day, serving our community, managing advertising, and building technology.  Boy, our team works hard!

I think I can say confidently now that we’re good at what we do.  Our community is frankly, huge, and we manage one of the loudest collective voices in media in Australia on our Facebook wall.   We produce diverse content, written by a hugely diverse team. 

We also run between 40 and more than 50 community meetups around Australia each month, which we don’t charge for.  We believe everyone should be able to make new friends if they can.

And, more recently, our travel media site, Travel at 60, has been bringing people even more value than we’d ever imagined, with deals that can’t be found anywhere else. 

That’s why winning Media Brand of the Year means something to us.  We’re not a polished magazine page full of pretty pictures or another brand in a big media company stable. We’re real people, on a hair-raising journey to build an ethical and professional community-centred media platform full of diverse voices, in an industry that’s fragmented and changing constantly.

We came up against some absolutely mammoth media brands in the competition and were judged by the country’s best marketers and media professionals.

We’re all a little thrilled here in Starts at 60 today. We think this is a win for all over-60s. Your voice has been heard.