MySpace For Baby Boomers

Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor thinks seniors should have a network, too.
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The idea for Jeff Taylor's latest startup came out of left field. At a conference a couple of years ago, Taylor wanted to underscore how a coming labor shortage would create opportunities for Monster.com, the successful and disruptive online job site he founded a decade ago. Some 77 million retiring baby boomers were leaving the workforce, Taylor said. Someone in the crowd called out: "Where are they going?" "That's not my expertise," Taylor replied. But as his own 50th birthday drew near, the question started nagging at him. So last year, he holed up after work in Boston on Monday nights to come up with an answer, furiously scribbling in the pages of a thick, spiral-bound black notebook. Taylor's research revealed that retiring baby boomers will not only have a lot more free time, but they will also have some $1 trillion of disposable income and, unlike their Depression-era parents, the desire to spend it. They'll have more years to spend, too: Today, the additional life expectancy of someone who reaches 65 is 18 years, on average. Meanwhile, almost 8,000 people a day are turning 60 this year. What these folks needed was some engagement about what to do with the rest of their lives.

"LET'S LIVE TO 100"

Taylor's answer was Eons.com, a MySpace NWS for baby boomers. Anyone 50 and over can sign up for Eons and share post- retirement dreams with other members, blog about their dating experiences or trips to Africa, and page through and contribute photos and memories to a database of 77 million obituaries. Rather than decry the problems of aging, Taylor sees the prospects of longevity. Indeed, the motto of his new enterprise is, "Let's live to 100 or die trying."

With black-rimmed glasses, a colorful striped shirt, and a goatee, Taylor, 46, wouldn't seem to have a lot in common with the AARP set. But trust him, he's jazzed. "I'm really in love with this topic," Taylor says almost apologetically when he finally pauses after a nonstop, 20-minute explication (with lots of thumbing through the original black notebook).

Given Taylor's past success, it makes sense to pay attention. His first big idea--putting job postings and résumés online--became Monster, which is now the top-ranked employment site on the Internet. Operating in 32 countries, Monster had revenues of almost $1 billion last year and a stock market value of nearly $5 billion. The company's database includes 52 million résumés and listings for openings at more than 200,000 companies.

No one doubts that there's a unique chance to craft a better Internet experience for people over 50. The senior set is the fastest-growing group on the Internet, according to surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Of course, that's because it's starting from a small base: While almost 90% of people 18 to 40 are already online, only half of 60-year-olds and one-quarter of people in their 70s surf the Net. Aging boomers, who gained Web knowledge in the workplace, are forming a "silver tsunami" that will dramatically increase the older online population, according to Pew. Yet, in a huge misstep, that group has been all but ignored by most sites, says Jakob Nielsen, a Web usability guru and consultant. "It's not like once people turn 50 they close themselves off into a corner," he says.

Still, before any hard comparisons can be drawn between Eons and teen social networking phenom MySpace, Taylor and his crew have a lot to prove. For MySpace, getting tens of millions of members was the easy part. Attracting advertisers took longer. Eons faces the opposite challenge. Many companies, ranging from Fidelity Investments and Humana HUM to Verizon Wireless, want to advertise online to wealthy boomers. The question is whether Eons can convince older folks that there's a reason to engage in online communities. Only 20% of people over 55 expressed an interest in using current social networking sites, compared with 75% of 18- to 24-year-olds, according to a 2006 survey by Jupiter Research JUPM . "There's a niche market, but it's a much smaller opportunity than for other groups," says Corina Matiesanu, a Jupiter analyst in New York.

ROAMING THE HALLS

Taylor plans to overcome boomers' resistance by combining practical services, members' own experiences, and corporate offerings. His goal? Put helpful resources behind Eon's inspirational pitch: "Do more, see more, learn more, be more." For instance, Eons asks people 50 and older to list goals for the rest of their lives and then offers articles, blogs, discussion boards, online tools, as well as advertising and marketing offers related to those desires. Since Eons' quiet public launch two months ago, about 50,000 members have signed up, with 10,000 setting up goals, including visiting China, milking a cow, and learning cake decorating. The "lose weight" goal page carries an article on setting up a walking exercise program, a member's blog post complaining about exercising in the Florida heat, and an offer from the Curves International fitness chain for three free workouts with a trainer.

From the beginning, Taylor wanted to create a startup environment that fit his view of Eons as a place where boomers could gather and forge more interesting lives in retirement together. For Eons' headquarters, he picked a slightly cramped three-story clock tower known as the Muster House that was built in 1853 just across the harbor from Boston. Until the 1970s, when the Charlestown Navy Yard was closed, workers gathered here each week to collect paychecks.

For the first two weeks of the company's existence, Taylor worked alone at the Muster House. "An entrepreneur starts in a very lonely place," Taylor explains. "It's when you think you have a great idea and everyone around you thinks you're crazy, and you act on it." Now he has raised $10 million and has more than 70 employees. Taylor has no office: He roams the halls, never without his trusty BlackBerry. When he needs to take a sensitive call, he sits in the parking lot in his car.

Using technology to reshape connections is at the heart of Taylor's success with Monster.com MNST . It is just as vital at Eons. The service's permanent obituary listings have the potential to turn into a large business because they're based on adapting an enduring ritual to the Digital Age. Most newspaper obits are paid placements. They list the barest facts about a person and funeral details, then disappear into the recycling pile. Steve Outing, former senior editor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and an Internet media pioneer, saw firsthand just how limited newspaper obits had become when his father died last year. "I found it offensive," he says. "Obituaries could be so much more interesting and significant by tapping some of the online stuff."

On Eons, obits don't expire. And they have the potential to come alive with reminiscences and photos because members can compile information about themselves, and friends can add to the obits. As a foundation, Eons created a database of deaths since 1937 using the Social Security Death Index to give members the opportunity to find out when old friends passed away and create memorials for them.

Despite his lofty goals, Taylor won't have the same advantage of surprise he had when he sprung his online Monster job board on newspapers in 1994. Several services already provide basic obits for newspaper's Web sites. Legacy.com, which partners with hundreds of papers like The New York Times to provide online, family-authored obituaries, claims 4,500 postings a day and 6 million unique visitors a month. Eons had fewer than 300,000 visitors in its first month. "We've seen quite a few competitors come and go," says Legacy's chief operating officer, Hayes Ferguson. Still, with Taylor's track record, it may not be long before Eons turns into a monster on its own.

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