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1999 Small Business profiles
Monday, March 29, 1999
eniorcom: A Web site provides information aimed at the over-50 set
by Helen Jung
Founder: Tom Poole
Seniorcom's office in downtown Bellevue isn't much to look at. The floorboards creak, the walls are mostly bare and the building itself looks suspiciously rickety.
Doesn't matter, said founder Tom Poole, 38. It's the company's real estate on the Internet that really counts.
He's referring to his company's Web site, http://www.senior.com, a virtual community center where senior citizens from around the country are converging to find information, assistance and companionship. The site offers news, doctor directories, interactive chat rooms, book clubs, travel clubs, Web orientation tours and other services geared for people older than 50.
The idea came in late 1994, when Poole, a former commercial real-estate agent, was having trouble trying to find housing options for his grandmother, who wanted to move from Anchorage to the Seattle area. He thought: If he was having trouble, weren't others, too?
At the same time he was hearing more and more about the Internet. An idea was born.
Poole researched, wrote and presented a business plan to various people with whom he had worked in commercial real estate, successfully securing $300,000 from two backers. He used that to develop the site, eventually securing another several hundred thousand dollars to continue work. The site launched in May 1995.
There were setbacks, mostly from losing software developers to other companies. He realized he needed to give employees a greater stake in the business. "We went through growing pains, figuring out how important that team was," he said. "It's more important to provide stock options for your team and fault on the side of being liberal."
The company now has seven employees who maintain the site, develop new features, interact with members, respond to e-mail and handle the business operations.
It now boasts about 65,000 members and is adding about 8,000 a month, he said. Nearly 800 other sites link to Seniorcom's site and the company is looking for potential partnerships or potential buyers - deals he hopes to line up in the next six months. Poole won't disclose annual revenues, except to say they climbed 130 percent last year. Like many Internet companies, it's not profitable, although Poole said it could be if the company did not want to expand.
The next step is for Seniorcom to leverage its network of online seniors by working with retailers to sell products through its Web site.
After four years, the company is finally graduating to a "big grown-up" space in Bellevue. The rent will jump from $736 a month to $4,000 a month.
Spending money on the technology and the employees is more important than high-priced office space, Poole said. But still, it was getting embarrassing when news crews and top executives wanted to stop by, he said. "We want to make sure we have an acceptable location."
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