‘Persistence is key’: Richard Poole on GrownUps’ growth

Richard Poole

American business woman and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Mary Kay Ash once said: “There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch what happens and those who wonder what happened” and listening to GrownUps general manager Richard Poole reflect on the past 11 years, it’s clear he is one of those people who makes things happen.  

In 2006, Poole and entrepreneur Shane Bradley identified an opportunity to help those aged 50-plus make the most of every day with a website serving up information for them that had no existing home in the local media market.

Since turning it into a reality, GrownUps has culminated in an online magazine with over 7,000 mostly unique articles and items covering everything from travel, health, recipes, life, family, sport, books, entertainment, technology, DIY, pets and gardening, that inspire the 120,000 unique visitors each month to try something new.

On top of that, it has over 100,000 members who participate in discussion groups, live chat, competitions and brain training puzzles as well as finding new friends. And over 55,000 of them receive at least one email newsletter per week.

It’s an achievement GrownUps is proud of, however, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing and Poole says GrownUps, and as a result his life, has been through a series of twists and turns.

Breaking it into chapters, he says the GrownUps journey started with an initial 20 percent investment by Sentinel (now part of Heartland) in 2006, which GrownUps bought back as the GFC showed signs of approaching. That was followed by a 60:40 joint venture with Yellow that started in 2008 and ended in early 2012, before a 100 percent acquisition by Cigna Insurance last year.

Since that acquisition, GrownUps has experienced an upward trajectory with a doubling of its revenue, 30 percent growth in membership, 20 percent increase in traffic, and increase in email opens and click thru rates.

“Although we entered this latest chapter of GrownUps, not knowing just how things might pan out, we genuinely love our work, where we’re going and our purpose for setting up the business hasn’t waivered. It’s a great case study for how a large global corporate can acquire a small New Zealand business and enhance every part of the experience for the better”.

Throughout those chapters, Poole has braved a number of bad meetings, including one that left him thinking: “Well, that was a shocker and we won’t be getting any advertising business there.”

However, in a lesson that ‘good’ can come from the perceived ‘bad’, that meeting turned out to be the catalyst for that business to offer to buy it just two weeks later.

“So always be nice, smile and do your best as you never know,” Poole says.

With the journey being a bumpy one at times, Poole’s learned over the years that persistence is key. Even when faced with some “seriously tough lows”, Poole ignored the easy way out which would have been to give up and instead kept giving it a crack.

To reaffirm this, he recalls one of his catch ups with David ‘Waldo’ Walden, who he met up with for several years to discuss GrownUps.

“At the end of what was to be our final catch up before his death, Waldo said that he wanted to show me something… so I wandered to his office and he pointed to a quote on his wall by President Calvin Coolidge, about ‘persistence’. He simply pointed to it and said: ‘Mate, that’s you.’”

Poole often thinks of that moment as not only a realisation of his own abilities but also a reminder to just pick up the phone and talk to the people you want to speak to.

Poole says Walden didn’t know him from a bar of soap as he was a ‘nobody’ and Walden was ‘the big ad guy’ but that didn’t stop him from making his voice heard.

“I think that those people in certain positions who don’t take the time ultimately to take your call, maybe aren’t worth speaking to,” Poole says.

“Don’t shy away, just do enough investigation and ask enough people who might be able to get you to that key person you think might see value in you and then pick up and dial.”

Having faced both highs and lows since founding GrownUps, Poole and Garth Hill, its director and shareholder, are fortunate enough to still be working with the business and are continuing to evolve it into something bigger and better.

And throughout it all, they’ve held onto the original vision and purpose to be the go-to trusted place for New Zealanders aged 50-plus and their families and Poole says it’s how they approach every day.

It’s also a vision shared with advertisers who have the aim to serve up products and services that can make a positive difference to the lives of the audience.

One of those advertisers is the travel company Globus and last year, its marketing manager of New Zealand, Letitia Eyes spoke to StopPress about the relationship it’s had with GrownUps since 2009. At the time it was promoting its travel opportunities through ad space but it’s since progressed to Globus creating content for the website and travel packages for the GrownUps database.

“They are not just all about selling advertising and just getting material out there, it is more about what their demographic are looking for and how they can help them in this life stage,” Eyes said.

“GrownUps understands what they want and is producing that on a site as opposed to just generic advertising.”

Partnerships like these have been rays of sunshine in Poole’s journey and he says if he has one regret, it’s that he didn’t even take a minute to celebrate those deals at the time.

“Whatever else you have on, celebrating has to be the priority,” he says.

“Otherwise the moment passes and you find yourself saying: ‘Oh that’s right, we must do that.’ Of course, you never can capture that moment again when you sign on the dotted line.”

It’s yet another key ingredient to life Poole has learned in the last 11 years and he shares the rest below. They’re not intended to be a sermon-like lecture or suggest he knows better than anyone else, but he hopes they will resonate and make some difference for you:

Life is about purpose.
What is it that truly spins your wheels?

While it’s difficult to find the time to ask yourself this question, and even more difficult to then act on it – do it! It’s not as easy as chucking in your job and I’m not advising that, however, for me, I like making a positive difference in people’s lives, every day. Fortunately, I get to do that with GrownUps. Maybe you can massage your role to achieve your purpose ultimately.

Learn to breath.
This has been one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever followed. It’s helped me think more clearly, remove myself from the chatter, deal with stress, manage anxiety and also, to pick my battles (and as a nervous flyer, even helped my palms be a little less sweaty on takeoff!).

Yoga goes hand in hand with this and I’d really challenge a few more blokes to turn up to a yoga class. 

Ask people what they get to do with their day.
How many times do you wince when asked, ‘what do you do for a job?’? Some of the coolest conversations have come from changing that to something like ‘so, what do you get to do with each day?’. It gets you thinking differently and often sparks a much more interesting conversation, I’ve found.

Sit and be comfortable sometimes.
Last year, I went away on Zac de Silva’s Nurture Change; Bizcation Retreat, to seek a few answers about life. Interestingly, the best piece of advice that resonated with me, was having someone suggest that actually, it’s ok to be comfortable sometimes, enjoy what you have going on and don’t always feel that you have to be on the move in order to actually be going forward in life. Smelling the roses finally made sense!

You just never know who you’ll meet and where. Break the ice.
Last year at The Icehouse 15-year celebration, in a very crowded bathroom of all places, to break the ice, I shared a joke with an older gentleman that I’d never met before. Outside of the bathroom, we continued to talk for an hour and we just clicked. It turned out that he was a great guy and hugely successful in business, recently selling his well-known brand, although he was under the radar. He had an amazing outlook on life – and always had by the sounds. Since then we’ve caught up and he’s provided me with some great life advice. My take on life is that although it’s often frowned upon to say something for the sake of it, I’ve met so many interesting people by not adhering to that (although my wife calls me a Chatty Cathy!). Well, otherwise life might just pass you by.

You can’t control everything.
So my thinking is to be nice, conduct yourself with grace and be genuine! No matter what, even though it’s not always easy. If we can’t do this, then what are we teaching our children?

Smile more! And even say ‘hello’!
You just never know who is looking no matter where you are—running, riding, waiting to cross the road, walking into an elevator, even walking back to your desk—maybe seeing you might brighten up someone else’s day as you pass by, plus I’ve found that it actually makes me feel good.

Have an exercise meeting with yourself, regularly. 
For years I didn’t make time to do this. I really wish that I had but at least I’m doing it now for the most part. Exercise changes your life, by changing your mindset and giving you perspective. In my view, you get out of your head in order to get back into your head, by clearing your synapses. Place it in your schedule daily, no matter how short a time and catch up with yourself!

Just ask one more question.
You never know what might come from it and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the answer that you wanted. Sometimes it seems that you shouldn’t but if it’s a burning question, don’t leave the meeting thinking that you wish you had. In sales, it might be that final question that gets you across the line.

Share without any expectation of anything back.
I’m not suggesting that you give away trade secrets, however, I’ve found that being open with other people about your thoughts on ways to get things done—or maybe ideas that you’ve found that make life and business a little easier—makes you feel good.

Absolutely nothing is easy but that’s not the same thing as nothing is rewarding.
Well, as far as I think anyhow. It’s a cool thing to always give it everything and never giving up – maybe that’s just called life.

Try and break the Groundhog Day cycle.
Life can get like the hamster on the wheel sometimes and booking a holiday or even a long weekend sometime in the future, gives me something else to focus on, no matter how far away. It also seems to stop the sense of every day being just another day. Change things up, have something, anything to look forward to and oddly, it actually slows life down sometimes as your brain then gets some highlights of life, rather than each day blending into one in the memory banks.

The sun will always come up.

  • This story is brought to you as part of a content partnership between StopPress and GrownUps. 

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