Martin Lock – Founder & CEO of Silversurfers
At the close of the 1990s, long before most of us had taken our first tentative steps into the online world, Martin Lock was already at the cutting edge of communication technology. In those early days of the internet, Martin was heading up e-commerce for British Airways in the UK before going on to manage global sales and marketing for ba.com, a role that included purchasing that famous domain name.
Other internet jobs followed as well as a digital consultancy, but it was an informal chat with a friend that was to result in a unique web venture aimed at providing a much-needed public service.
‘The internet can really enhance people’s lives, not just for keeping in touch with family and friends, but to find information, share opinions, and shop remotely too,’ says Martin, a father of three who was approaching 50 at the time.
‘But there was no online social community aimed at our age group, despite the fact that we are the sector that buys most new cars and spends serious money on holidays.
A lot of the older people didn’t really know how to get the best out of the internet and were worried about keeping safe on line.’
Martin could see a huge gap for a site that would offer an interactive version of morning television and your favourite magazine. A site with a community forum for sharing opinions, as well as offering entertainment and information. So he bought the domain name Silversurfers, commissioned a website, and embarked on a PR campaign through the national press to raise public awareness.
‘We quickly took off through word of mouth and organic growth. We could put a post on our Facebook site, for instance, and someone would share it with maybe 50 Friends, 20 of whom might then register with us. Eight years on, we now have 400,000 registered users on the site and over a million on Facebook.’
Log on to the Silversurfers website and you are offered a wide choice of subject matter from total trivia to serious issues, product discounts and practical advice. The range of regular topics has evolved since day one, the basic site gradually expanding to include topics such as Health, Travel and Finance. There are holiday offers, live online classes, and even a popular dating operation run by an outside company.
‘We have some 12,000 pages on Silversurfers,’ says Martin. ‘This is the third revamp of the site and there will be another one in a year or two, but that requires more investment. Two other companies have tried to do something similar but both failed through lack of funds, so we are taking things steadily.
‘Three-quarters of our members are in the 50 to 64 age bracket and 80% of them are female. We get great customer feedback and the overwhelming consensus is that they trust us. We never forget that only 20 years ago, today’s 50-year-olds were out clubbing like their kids are now!
‘Our generation has aged much better than our parents and grandparents, partly thanks to improved health care. We play sport and enjoy adventure travel, take part in a wide range of leisure activities and we like to share our experiences with friends and family online. But we want to feel safe about it which is where Silversurfers scores.’
Martin is genuinely blown away by the willingness of the Silversurfers community to engage online. A Facebook post about Major Tom attracted 100,000 comments. Another post recently reached 5 million browsers.
‘We occasionally post funny cartoons about the ageing process on our Facebook page – the sort of thing that most of us chuckle at on greetings cards – and inevitably, someone will tell us off for taking the mickey out of older people. But we’re all adults and for every comment we receive like that, there is always a long list of people pointing out that it’s only a joke, so lighten up. We should all be able to laugh at ourselves.’
Martin and his nine colleagues all work from home which not only benefits the individual team members and their families, but also their readers. ‘With everyone able to work remotely, it means we can pick the very best people for the job, regardless of where they live.’
Ask him about the future and Martin is buoyant. ‘This sector is going to attract more and more investment, so I honestly think we will keep on growing,’ he says firmly. ‘It’s a very exciting time to be working with the over-50s, but also for those of us who fall into the Silversurfer category. Watch this space!’