Marketing to the over 50’s with Jon Warner

On Episode 75 of the Paper Planes Podcast Simon chats with Jon Warner, CEO of Silver Moonshots.

Show Notes

Silver Moonshots help to develop compelling solutions that can make the lives of adults aged 50+ better.

You can contact Jon Warner on LinkedIn.


Simon Dell: Welcome to the show Jon Warner who is in Palm Springs in California at the moment. Thank you for joining us today.

Jon Warner: Oh, well, thank you very much, Simon. It’s good to be here.

Simon Dell: And as you said to me before we started, for the observant people in the audience will recognize that whilst you are in Palm Springs, you don’t really have a Palm Springs accent. You’ve travelled about a bit. Do you want to give us the quick overview of where you came from, and where you went to, and all those kind of bits and pieces?

Jon Warner: Yeah, absolutely. I was English-born like a number of people in your neck of the woods and I spent my first 29 years in that country, went to university, there came out with Exxon Mobil to Australia — to Adelaide initially and then Melbourne — and then finally in Brisbane. And I was down under for 15 years, came to California then, got married for a second time, and I’ve been in Southern California. This is my 16th year here. So my claim to fame is I now have three passports that I can wield when I want.

Simon Dell: And the big question I have for you considering we’re both English-born is that: Did you watch the football this morning?

Jon Warner: I didn’t watch it this morning and don’t tell me anything about what happened. I don’t want to know until later.

Simon Dell: All I’m going to say to you is it was an exciting match. It is a genuinely WTF match.

Jon Warner: Excellent. You’ve really made me salivate, Simon. So, thanks for that.

Simon Dell: Okay. Now, the reason we’ve got you on is because we believe, or so it says on your LinkedIn profile, that you are an expert and have a fair amount of experience in the older demographic. How would you describe that demographic?

Jon Warner: I do have a passion for this space and it’s because it’s getting bigger and more important every day. I’ve been in health care for nearly 30 years going all the way back to my Australia days, but slowly, I started working more and more on the business side with older adults. And for me, that’s the individuals who are over the age of 50. That’s a fairly arbitrary number, but it’s when individuals start getting somewhat marginalized from every perspective including marketing.

And I think there are a lot of unmet needs in our older adult population in any case, but of course, it’s burgeoning the boomer population which in the us alone is 77 million strong. It’s a giant population of people that’s living considerably longer than ever before. It’s a big population with a lot of needs that need people to solve for.

Simon Dell: And we’re going to talk about that demographic today and how important it is in terms of business, and marketing, and all those kind of things. But again, I just want to get an idea of — when people look at you on LinkedIn, you’ve got the words mentor, advisor, CEO, educator, investor, all of those things in your business title. And if they look at your experience, it kind of goes on for a long time, I’m just going to say that now John. There’s a lot of experience there. What do you currently do on a day-to-day basis? What gets you up in the morning and gets you working?

Jon Warner: I can put them in three very clear buckets for you. I do work on the investment side, so I manage the deal flow into a healthcare fund in Los Angeles, and that means I see a lot of startup decks. I see well over 300 decks every year, and I’m assessing those for seed investment, and then helping those companies put their best foot forward. That’s number one. I serve on a number of advisory boards. I’m on eight right now. Four of those I’m on those boards, four of them I chair.

Those companies are all in the provider-side healthcare space or in aging focus technology companies. I run a virtual accelerator for start-up companies under my Silver Moonshots brand. And what I’m looking for there is very early stage companies that are looking to achieve great things in the older adult space, hence the name Silver Moonshots. Do they have a moonshot solution that can really apply it scale? And that’s not just on the healthcare side. That’s any unmet need in the older adult population.

Simon Dell: I got to say. I think that Silver Moonshots is a brilliant name for a business. Was that your idea or did that come from somewhere else?

Jon Warner: That took a lot of sucking on the pencil to come up with that but we got there in the end.

Simon Dell: I love it. Love it. I’m just going to touch on the first one that you do there. Because again, we get a lot of people that are in business but also in start-up businesses or have an established business and looking to create an offshoot, a side project, something like that. You talk about seeing a lot of startup decks, and I guess you probably get asked this question a lot, but maybe just for everyone out there: Give us the top three things that you look that make a start-up deck really jump out at you when you look at it.

Jon Warner: And to some extent, I’ve covered some of that in terms of the SLAM process, which I’ll talk about more later. But the things that I like to see really early are the problem that the startup is solving for, and I’d like to see them clarify that almost from the get-go, right out of the gate, tell me what problem they think they’re solving for.

What I can’t stand seeing is a kind of, “We’ve built this and we hope the customer will come.” Really, I like to see that there’s some pain to dig into in the first place. I then love to see lots of corroboration of the target market that they think is going to have their hair on fire for the problem or pain point that they think they’re solving for. And then lastly, I’d love to see a really sophisticated go-to-market strategy, not, “We’re going to pick this up on Facebook or SEO is going to solve all our problems.” Because that’s great, but it only works for a few startups. There’s many, many marketing channels to use, as you know well Simon, given your background. We need a lot more sophistication than that.

Simon Dell: We’ll come back to that later on because there’s probably a few other questions out of that, but I really want to sort of get into these key demographics. You mentioned the growth of the aging demographic in the US market. Is there anything else there in terms of those key demographics or numbers that you think we should be aware of, perhaps how they’ve been changing over the past 5, 10 years, spend, those kind of things? What are the key metrics that you look at in that demographic?

Jon Warner: Yeah, and it’s not just in the US. The US is often a poster child, certainly in the western world because it’s an enormous population, but these statistics broadly are true in Australia. You have an aging demographic in the Australian context. My favourite would be China where there are 400 million boomers in that 1.3 billion population. So, they have an enormously aging population. Japan is already there. There’s many people in retirement as there are working now in that economy.

What’s happened are two things in the demographic. Number one, they’re living longer. So if you just go back 50 years, you go back to as little ago as 1970, we were actually living 10 years longer than we were in 1970 on average. And of course, what that means is that individuals are around for longer. They’re longer in retirement. They have more needs. There are certainly more healthcare issues. We’re seeing a big rise in errors like dementia. So those changes in the demographic need to be catered for, and we need more solutions. We need more innovation, more people thinking about start-up ideas in that population.

But we have a very millennial-focused or certainly younger person-focused approach in the world in general, and that was fine if you go back 30, 40, 50 years. Today, we need to adjust our lens a little bit, which is why I spend so much of my time in the older adult community in general. Just to give you the US number, ARP, which is the big association over here which has 38 million members, says we have 10,000 boomers retiring every day in the US right now, and that will continue unabated seven days a week for the entire year for the next 16 years straight.

Simon Dell: Wow, that’s a lot of people. And that demographic now, I would say, you know, compared to 10 years ago, is much more sophisticated in the way that they’re consuming media and information. Again, give us ideas around how that’s changed.

Jon Warner: Yes, much more. So, the boomer generation is not what’s called the silent generation before it, that perhaps would have gone quietly into retirement and we wouldn’t hear from you, the whole quietly grey population sort of stereotype that we used to have. So the boomer population is going to go very unquietly into retirement and is going to want to go and have a lot more fulfilment in terms of what they expect and want.

They are more well-heeled. We’re obviously richer in general certainly in the western world, and the discretionary spending is that much higher. In fact in the US, there’s about $15 trillion worth of discretionary spending in this economy. The 50+ population actually controls $7.6 trillion of that, so more than 50% of the discretionary spending in this country is in the 50+ population, and yet only 12% of the sales and marketing budgets for the nation are spent in that population.

Simon Dell: I mean, everyone jokes about that older demographic now getting into Facebook and things like that, but I guess the gap between what they’re using from a marketing perspective and what the millennials are using has really come down. They’re all using smartphones, and iPads, and so on and so forth. Have we kind of reached the peak yet of that within that demographic, or are they still learning and still growing in terms of what they’re doing?

Jon Warner: I think there’s a different challenge. I actually think the 50+ population are hugely underserved. I think by and large, we produce products and services for a younger demographic. I think we’re producing for people in their 20s, and their 30s, and in their 40s. And then I think it’s just then rendered to be available to people older than that. So I think older adults are forced to use products that are designed for much younger people by and large, so the opportunity is to tailor solutions more for that demographic.

Just think about something like movie going. The demographic for movie-going is 19. That’s how moviemakers do it. Now, that’s the stereotype, but nonetheless, that’s what we’re doing. And yet, movie-going is incredibly popular in the older adult community. We just don’t make enough movies that cater for them. They would go if they were there. So if you look at indie films, if you look at film festivals, they’re burgeoning with 50, 60, 70 year olds going to them because people are making those films for them. We could do more of that if we got focused on the demographic properly.

Simon Dell: if you were going to start a business in that space, I mean, I know you spoke about the things that the pitch deck should have, but I’d also guess there are some pitch decks that come across your desk that you look at and go, “This is an area that is definitely a growth market place within that demographic.” So if people out there are listening and going, “You know what? I want to tap into this. I’ve already got a business or I want to exploit this market.” Where do you think — and healthcare is obviously one, but where else do you think there is the growth opportunities to target this demographic?

Jon Warner: I think there are many and various. To answer it generally before I do specifically, I think the best thing entrepreneurs can do is to pay attention to all of those pain points and even possible gain points that are available to them. There are many and various. So as you say healthcare, you can slice and dice hugely. But then beyond that, there’s the whole realm of entertainment. There’s the whole realm of diet, nutrition, and food. There’s the whole realm of travel and hospitality. There are a number of areas in terms of e-commerce and supplying goods and services that are tailored to the older adult marketplace.

So there are many and various. And in fact, I see too many decks focused on the obvious problems, by which I mean if you just take health care, how do we solve heart disease? How do we solve cancer? Those are important issues, but they’re not the only ones that are out there. There are many other things that we could be solving for if we had more people focused on the issue.

Simon Dell: I guess you also see a fair few mobility ones in terms of autonomous cars and all those kind of bits and pieces.

Jon Warner: Yeah, and I think transportation is a really interesting one. And I think it’s really in all forms of transport. So I really think mobility, whether it’s around the home, or it’s in your locale, or whether it’s further afield I think could have a lot of ideation thrown at it.

Simon Dell: We touched on it earlier on, but if you want to reach out to this demographic, what are they susceptible to? What channels are you best be talking to them? Is it still traditional print media? Does that still work? Is it is Facebook? Where do you see the best sort of bang for buck from a marketing perspective?

Jon Warner: So I think that has to be tied to the target customer segments and tribe you’re talking about. One of the pejoratives to avoid is to talk about older adults as if they’re one homogenous group. So, everyone between, say, 50 and 90 years of age is exactly the same. You and I would be arrested if we started saying a 5 year old is the same as a 25 year old, but apparently we can say that a 55 year old is just like a 75 year old. It just isn’t true. So the channels they pay attention to really do depend on a whole bunch of demographic issues and a whole bunch of psychographic issues.

So the first thing I would say is pay attention to that first before you select the channel. And then what you’ll find is that all channels that are available, whether it’s social media, whether it’s print, whether it’s through TV or cable, through trade shows, through email marketing all come into play and they come into play differently. And certainly, when I think about go-to-market strategy, that’s the sort of granularity that I want to see people have been thinking about at some level of depth.

Simon Dell: I tell you one of the ones that surprised me over the years is, which I’ve always found quite an interesting channel for marketing in, is mobile games. And I don’t mean the big complex games that you get on mobiles, but the simple puzzle games and things like that. I’ve worked for an aged care organization in the past and we got a lot of traction from advertising in those kind of sudoku, crosswords puzzle games. A huge amount of time is spent on those with that older demographic. And I suppose it is with the millennials, it’s just a different type of game.

Jon Warner: You make a very good point about how you can leverage those areas. So not only do older adults in their different demographics and psychographics play different games, they also want to collaborate differently. And how much could we possibly layer on top of that interconnectivity between them to create whole new product classes in terms of what you might do given the interest in, say, sudoku, just to go and take that as one simple example. So I agree.

And of course, the gaming population has all grown up. The game explosion was really in the Gen X population, but of course, some of those are entering their 50+ years now. It’s a very big category, and again, I don’t see anywhere near enough ideation in that space. How do you entertain older adults? That’s going to be one of the pathways.

Simon Dell: Absolutely, and I mean, I as a 45-year-old man, 10 years ago before I had kids, I would waste a lot of my Saturday playing Call of Duty on an Xbox and things like that, waste my evenings playing Call of Duty, things like that. And literally two months ago, Call of Duty released a version on the mobile phone. I could espouse a lot about the quality of the graphics and how much the actual iPhone is doing to drive those graphics in terms of the processor, but I’m sitting there going, “This is what passes time for me as entertainment.” And I’m 45, so we’re not far away from seeing that sort of 50, 55, 60 year old target market sitting there around an Xbox playing some first-person shooter instead of sudoku.

Jon Warner: Absolutely, and I think that’s where we have to dig in. And of course, this is the whole lean business model thinking that says, you most usually start by asking your customers what they want. And I think this is where we’re not paying enough attention. If we were to go and ask this population at some level of depth, I think we’d be inundated with possibility and thereby revenue opportunity in terms of building successful businesses.

Simon Dell: I was going to ask you just sort of going off on that tangent a little bit, was that the gaming market as a medical solution I believe is quite in its early stages with the aging demographic as well?

Jon Warner: Yes, it is. And in fact, there’s a lot of stuff. So if we widen the category a little bit, the gamification of healthcare is now happening a pace in general. And then in some cases combining technologies, I’m seeing quite a lot of VR that’s gamified now in areas like orthopaedic surgery. So, about 10% of our older adult budget is spent on hip and knee replacements for example in the US. And when recovering from that, they’re gamifying the process of recovery. Because if you can get someone to get back walking within four weeks as opposed to 10 weeks, it saves a lot of money of them being in the infrastructure because that’s expensive. It’s better to get them home and get them back to work. So, I’m seeing a lot of innovation in that space now.

Simon Dell: My aunt who is 80 years old who’s recently started to struggle with her memory, that was one of the actual suggestions from her doctors in terms of start playing games that keep your brain fresh. My mother is doing the extra extra-hard sudoku every morning in order to stay alert.

Jon Warner: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s obviously some interest in the dementia space. In fact, the Wicking Institute which is down in Tasmania in Australia is doing some very leading-edge work in terms of whether dementia can be staved off by engaging in activities such as gameplay. It’s a fascinating area. I think the jury is still out about how efficacious that is. Nonetheless, the research is interesting.

Simon Dell: I was going to ask you about brands that you see that are doing it well in that space. And not necessarily startups, but even the bigger brands. It might be in the American market. It might be in the Australian market, but who do you feel is doing a good job in talking to that? And again, you’re exactly right. We can’t lump the whole demographic into — there are lots and lots of demographics within that aging population, but who’s doing it well in that space?

Jon Warner: I’m going to disappoint you with this answer, Simon, but almost nobody. I can challenge you to this. Name five brands that you associate with older adults.

Simon Dell: Yeah, you’re right. I could probably maybe think of a travel agent or a travel group that’s targeting that aging demographic specifically.

Jon Warner: But not a brand, right? So, this is really tough because they just don’t do it. So we can’t. If I’d have said to you, name a brand that’s aimed at teenagers, you’ll just rattle off a ton, or go and pick females between 21 and 30, you can rattle off a ton. You can take any realm, but if you said, “Well, what about fashion in the 50+ population?” Not really. So, we just aren’t spending enough time focused on it, and yet there is a need. So, guess what? 50+ year olds want to be fashionable. Yes, they want to go and do things that are cool, but the brands do not pay attention. They spend too much of their time in the younger end of the market. No question about it.

Simon Dell: You mentioned a process really early on that you wanted to talk about. Was it the SLAM process that you wanted to touch on?

Jon Warner: Yeah.

Simon Dell: Give us a good bit of an overview about what that is.

Jon Warner: Yeah, absolutely. So for a number of years, I’ve been using the lean business methodology. And lean was made famous by a professor in Stanford called Steve Blank. And then Eric Ries wrote the book called The Lean Startup, and I’ve been using that process for a decade now. But through using it, I started noticing that there was some shortfalls just in terms of how useful this was to start at particularly early stage ones.

So I slowly evolved the process of my own that I called SLAM, and SLAM is an acronym for the Startup Launch Assistance Map, and it became a book. The book has just been published. It was published on the 1st of August on Amazon, so it’s up there and available now. It’s very short. It’s 144 pages, and it’s an outgrowth of that same thinking. And that thinking essentially is that we obviously don’t today any more than we did 10 years ago when it came out need to produce a 50-page business plan to grow a business, because it goes stone-cold as soon as it goes out to meet customer needs.

But we do need to think about how we build that startup in the most agile way we can. And what the SLAM is really is a glorified checklist. It’s an exploratory framework in eight steps that says — spend some time validating that you have something that has potentially got product market fit potential. And what the book does is guides people through the questions they should be asking and rigorously diving into particularly with customer feedback in order to go and validate they’re onto something good. That’s it in a nutshell.

Simon Dell: And you’re saying that book’s out on Amazon now? What was the title again?

Jon Warner: It’s just called SLAM, and it’s an acronym for the Startup Launch Assistance Map cool. So people, Google Search that, SLAM and Jon Warner, they’re going to find it pretty easily. There’s actually a dedicated website that goes with it, which is called in which I give away a whole bunch of free stuff. There’s the templates that are on there. They can download for free without buying the book. And there are a couple of videos on there, one of which is explanatory of the whole framework.

Simon Dell: So with all that in mind, in your experience, you obviously come across a lot of startups, some that you guys have been involved in investing in, some that you’ve been watching from afar. Is there two or three out there that you’re really excited by that people should just pay attention to?

Jon Warner: I think there are a number of startups that are in public consciousness now that have done it well historically. Of course, you can never see who’s going to really make it. I mean, certainly through multiple realms of capital, I’ve certainly got a few that I’m watching with interest that I’m looking at, but I like looking over my shoulder the ones that have done it well.

And there are a number of those, and they’re famous names. You only got to look, say, an Airbnb and how well that scaled to market, or a software product like Slack just to take an example. Not only are they good companies today, but they were built really well from the get-go, and really followed the process, and really executed well in everything they did, and I think they’ve been investible as a result of all of that.

The most recent example I like, and it’s really only 18 months old as a business, you may not have run across called Hims. Hims is the latest unicorn billion-dollar company, and Hims just really a business that very simply was built to go and meet the needs of men in their 50s in terms of what they were most worried about. And it turns out, they were most worried about things like hair loss. And the pain point they were solving for was that a lot of the solutions out there weren’t credible. There was a lot of snake oil. And they decided to fix that and upscaled a very big company on the back of doing that rigorously and scientifically well. 

Simon Dell: My last question for you today is probably a bit of a curly one, and you might like this and you might laugh at this. Do you think we’re all going to live forever eventually?

Jon Warner: I do not.

Simon Dell: And the reason I ask that is because there’s a lot of startups in the space who are trying to increase longevity and eventually eliminate the concept of death. And I wondered if you had sort of seen any of those or had any opinion on those?

Jon Warner: I actually know some of the people involved with robotics and are playing around with this whole concept for example of the singularity, this whole idea that through machine learning and robotics, that we can enhance our lives at least initially and ultimately then upload our brain activity to the cloud in some way and thereby live forever. I think it’s fascinating and I enjoy the debates, and I like going to the conferences and listening to it.

But I think it’s really one of those things that’s visionary but without having much scientific substance yet. Because you never say never, and it’s fascinating to watch, and I think there’s some really interesting and cool innovations because we can enhance human life. We are clearly doing it. So, I like to think more in terms of what we can do to extend people’s health and wellness for longer, so living until 120, 140, I think is totally within the realm of possibility in the next 50 years and I think that’s what we should focus on and then see where we get to.

If anybody out there is interested in that concept of uploading the consciousness to a computer, there’s actually a book that I finished reading a couple of months ago by a guy called Neal Stephenson called Fall; or, Dodge in Hell which is all about a guy who’s a tech entrepreneur who invests in a company that does exactly that, which is when you die, they scan your brain and they upload it to a computer.

And it creates this world inside the computer that he exists in. It is sadly a terrible book because by the time you get to the — Neal Stephenson is famous for writing a lot of words, exactly that, writing a lot of words. And unfortunately by the time we get two-thirds throughout the book and you just go get this book, it’s probably about a hundred thousand words too long than it should have been. But the interesting thing is it does tackle the technical, ethical issues around having a population existing in a server that were once humans.

Are they alive or are they not alive? And perhaps the most interesting thing is that the server requirements to just run one person, one person’s brain patent, is so phenomenal that I don’t think that’s one of those challenges that have been fully thought out by people in that space. Very interesting book, it sadly is a bit — it’s not one of his best by a long way.

Jon Warner: But it’s a fascinating concept. I couldn’t agree more, so I think we need to pay attention to these things. But I think there are quite a few challenges that are also worth thinking about in the nearer term, too.

Simon Dell: Yeah. Look, there’s lots of other science fiction books that talk about the process of evolution through any species, is that eventually there’s that singularity where they upload the conscious and decide that these bags of meat that we walk around were really inefficient.

Jon Warner: Absolutely. You’re right. It’s a very old idea. I know Isaac Asimov was writing about this 50 years ago.

Simon Dell: Absolutely. Alright, so my last question for you: What’s on the horizon for you this year? What else have you got planned? I know we’re reaching the end of it, but what other things are you working on this year?

Jon Warner: More startups, more people coming through the virtual accelerator. I have tons of fun with those companies because I think we’re all trying to figure out best ways to go forward in a changing world. And I think that’s what’s exciting about the world right now. I think we’ve got this incredible reach, this capacity to cooperate across borders. We can ideate with teams that are completely distributed these days. So, I have very busy weeks and months with lots going on, and I’m continually learning, and I just love it.

Simon Dell: Brilliant. If anyone wants to get hold of you, what’s the best way of contacting you?

Jon Warner: They can contact me via that website. There’s a contact form on there, and I’m on social media. I’m on LinkedIn as Jon Warner. I’m on Twitter @joncwarner. Anyway, you can find me.

Simon Dell: Brilliant. Mate, thank you very much for your time today. I hope you enjoy the football later on. And again, I hope we get to catch up again soon.

Jon Warner: Sounds good. Very good, Simon. I appreciate it very much.

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