Part of the America’s Entrepreneurs Special Report
Over the last decade or so, I’ve founded and grown companies in fields spanning everything from publishing to car sharing. Often, the businesses aimed to solve problems similar to ones I had personally encountered. As a result, they typically targeted consumers of a similar, younger demographic.
But at my current company, EVELO Electric Bicycles, I completely changed my perspective on finding the right customers. I focused instead on the longevity economy in general and boomers in particular. And I believe my new thinking has enormous potential for almost any entrepreneur looking to launch and grow a startup.
Launching and Tweaking EVELO Electric Bicycles
About six years ago, my brother hand-built an electric bicycle for his wife. (An electric bike looks, feels and handles just like a regular bicycle, but it has a small battery and a motor that helps the rider climb hills and go further.) After my brother rode his electric bike around town and got hundreds of questions from curious onlookers, he realized he had a potential product on his hands. So together we teamed up to launch EVELO, offering an assortment of e-bikes to the world at large.
We started the company to solve some problems we had ourselves — finding ways to get around more efficiently, commute to work and keep up with our partners. So we went after customers with similar needs.
Focus on features and support — not just price —for boomers. And show how your item helps people continue living their lives they way they want.
Over the last two years, however, we started noticing that most of our new customers tended to be older. They were looking for a bike to: maintain their independence, continue to do the things they loved and ride more with their friends and family.
Although I had expected EVELO buyers to be primarily commuters (and we certainly have a fair share of those), we saw a lot more people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. And while they appreciated all the cutting-edge technology in our bikes, they were even more thrilled about what our bikes let them do.
An electric bike represented more than a mere mode of transportation, especially for retirees: It was a tool to let them stay in touch with the world and activities they’ve long loved.
It lets them go out on rides with their kids and grandkids. It means they can get to the market and not worry about parallel parking. It’s an opportunity to see more of the great countryside surrounding them. I was amazed at how many customers told me that an electric bike lets them “do all the things they always loved to do.”
Refocusing on Boomers and Retirees
Based on hearing this, we decided to make owning a bike even easier for boomers and retirees. We adjusted our focus at EVELO to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for an older person to get back on a bicycle. Here are a few things we did to court these customers:
We made it simpler to call in and talk with a helpful support technician.
For extra ease of use, we introduced an easy-to-mount “swing-over” bike frame, cushier bike seats and handlebars that make it easier to ride upright.
To ensure more peace of mind, we introduced what may be the most comprehensive warranty in the e-bike business.
And, because we found that this type of buyer often liked to tell friends and family members about a product or service they liked, we developed the EVELO Ambassador program. It’s the industry’s first and only program letting owners make back their investment on their electric bike by sharing the experience with others and letting prospective buyers take a test ride. When EVELO gets a test ride inquiry, we notify a nearby Ambassador to arrange for a tryout. Then, if the prospect buys an EVELO bike, the Ambassador gets a $200 thank-you check. For every five test rides completed (whether they result in a sale or not), the Ambassador gets a $50 Visa gift card from us. There’s no limit to the number of test ride requests an Ambassador can accept; many of our Ambassadors earn hundreds of dollars extra month. Some earn $200 to $600 or more per month. So becoming an EVELO customer can wind up supplementing your retirement income.
Why Don’t More Companies Target the Longevity Economy?
While some of those ideas might be bike-industry specific, the general takeaways for entrepreneurs selling products are not: Focus on features and support — not just price —for boomers. And show how your item helps people continue living their lives they way they want to, for maximum joy.
This doesn’t seem like rocket science, yet so few companies seem to do it.
In talking with other business owners, many seem to worry that the longevity economy is not “on brand” for them. They’d rather target younger consumers with a hipper marketing message and then hope that when boomers see Millennials buying something, they’ll feel compelled to do so as well.
I’ve also found a popular misconception in the tech sector: that older people are resistant to change or would be uninterested in trying out a new product.
In my experience, exactly the opposite is true. Boomers bring a lifetime of expertise and knowledge to a buying decision, making them eager to try out new products, as long as they can see that they serve a truly useful purpose or solve a real problem for them.
Add in the fact that many marketing executives are on the younger side, and it’s really an unfamiliarity with older buyers that keeps so many companies from addressing this enormous opportunity.
I hope that EVELO’s experience can serve as a wake-up call to many other businesses and entrepreneurs. Not only has it been enormously rewarding to see all the smiling faces of people back on a bike after decades, it’s been a financial boon to our business.
The sooner other companies on business owners wake up and see this opportunity, the better off we’ll all be.
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