The Coming New Face of Eons—All About Social Networking
Eons, the upbeat web portal for those on the “flip side of 50,” has been feeling the vagaries of age—young age, that is. Despite amassing $32 million in venture capital, the 15-month-old (depending on how you count) startup has experienced severe growing pains and in September was forced to lay off a third of its staff—and it’s been busy reshaping its identity ever since. The company is now spinning off its original bedrock Obits section as a new business—Tributes.com—and Eons itself will formally debut anew in January as it evolves from a more general collection of resources into what might be thought of as Facebook or MySpace tailored for the baby boomer crowd.
Or, as founder Jeff Taylor puts it, “The epicenter for Eons is 50, whereas the epicenter for both MySpace and Facebook is teens, 20s, 30s. And so as we evolve, there’s the possibility of a peer-to-peer network for people in their 50s, people at similar life stage and experience, people that understand ‘me,’ and a place I can call my own. That’s our goal and our role, I think.”
I got the skinny on all this last Wednesday from Taylor when I visited the company’s funky fourth-floor headquarters in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard. The HQ is a quasi-attic space with sloped roofs, exposed brick walls, and worn leather chairs mixed in with newer stuff. The whole place, somewhat like Taylor himself, emits a fun, quirky, hip-yet-down-to-earth vibe. Everyone works late on Wednesdays—they typically have dinner together—so folks can call it a week at 1 p.m. on Fridays. “I always wanted to do that,” Taylor told me.
It was a wide-ranging conversation that covered Taylor’s career, his experience founding pioneering online job site Monster.com (where his title ran, “founder, president, CEO, chairman, and chief monster”), the ideas behind Eons, the travails of the site, and his plans for the future. The recent cutbacks had been hard, and Taylor was pretty candid about losing some of his core advertisers as well, but as usual, he was upbeat. “I am extremely bullish on where our company is today,” he told me. “But I’ll be the first one to say we don’t have all the answers. We just have an extremely interesting challenge, which is how to galvanize the baby boomer online energy.”
Eons, which debuted on July 31, 2006, grew out of a couple key observations Taylor had as the oldest baby boomers (the post-WWII generation born between 1945 and 1965) moved past the half-century mark in age. One, he explains, was that “there was no media focused on the 50-plus space. No radio, no TV, no print.” What’s more, hardly any businesses, on the Internet or otherwise, really focused on serving this economically powerful group. “About the only thing with traction that [had] existed in the marketplace for over 50 years was AARP,” says Taylor.
Enter Eons—or kind of. First there was a thing called raising money, lots of money, which Taylor ultimately did primarily from two giants of venture capital, Sequoia Capital on the west coast, and General Catalyst in Cambridge, MA. (Other investors include Intel, Charles River, and Humana). The funds came in two stages, a $10 million first round in January 2006 (the company actually formed in September 2005, nearly a year before the website debuted), and a $22 million Series B financing that closed in March.
A key to remember in this whole story is that Eons is largely a reflection of Taylor’s personality—energetic, enthusiastic, and, yes, optimistic about the future. Taylor himself is still only 47, and he’s been chided for being too young to use his own site. But when it comes to believing that hitting 50 is no reason to slow down, he’s got it right. He tells a story of visiting venture capitalists seeking initial financing. “I saw the folder for my idea on one of the VC’s desk here in Boston, and it said, ‘Golden Years’ on it. That was the broad perception of what I was working on. And there was no way it was ‘Golden Years’ to me.”
Instead, Taylor chose to celebrate aging. “Let’s Live to Be 100 (or die trying)!” is one of his slogans. And, of course, there’s his trademark “Boom, boom, boom” phrase, which you might have seen him belting out on TV ads. Another way he sums up Eons’ ethos: “If you’re interested in retiring and drying up like a raisin, we’re not the place for you.”
Optimistic energy spewed out of the site from the start. There’s been some fine-tuning over the last 15 months or so, but from day one Eons served up a tableau of broad categories that appeared as circles atop the home page, each bearing names like “fun,” “love,” “money,” “games,” and “obits.”
Inside these offerings users could find a variety of activities and tools tailored for the flip side set, including Boomer Trivia and brain games designed to stimulate (and I guess counter aging in) different lobes of the brain. There’s a popular Longevity Calculator that both calculates your current life expectancy (based on lifestyle and history) and suggests ways for you to extend it. And, at least in the first stage of its evolution, the site was populated by lots and lots of short 200- or 400-word articles, what Taylor calls “light touch editorial,” on things like quitting smoking, swimming with dolphins, or walking your way to good fitness.
And in some ways, at least, it worked. The site now has some 600,000 registered … Next Page »