We out-spend millenials by 250% so why are we invisible?
The Queenager : Eleanor's Letter (October 9th 2022)
A tale of two conferences, mission washing, dry powder and the $72million question
Well here we still are – despite the world going bonkers around us, again!
During my years as a newspaper executive I spent many weeks of my life at the Tory party conference. Just thinking about it gives me a cheap white wine headache and sore feet. The Birmingham conference centre is huge and I would clop about for miles in high heels spending the day doing Tory Cabinet speed dating (we’d get each member for 30 mins, or for lunch or breakfast and grill them on their policies trying to get stories) and then stay up late at interchangeable parties gossiping and swigging plonk. Being at the heart of political power was a bit like sitting behind the curtain with the Wizard of Oz; our leaders are just harassed people in bad suits who look at their phones a lot. I think in the chaose of Liz Truss’s first conference the whole world got a bit of a sense of that. I have to say I was glad not to be there!
Instead, in my new incarnation I went to a rather different conference; Sifted, for tech Founders, at an impersonal black hangar next to the Dome in Greenwich. It was rammed with silicon valley types, Founders, investors – YOUNG people – talking in weird jargon. Anyone for “dry powder” (cash I think) “mission washing” (companies pretending to be worthy when they’re just out for a buck) Seed, Series A, profitability multiples, the 72 million dollar question (apparently all VC firms want to know how you are getting to $72million even if you haven’t made a penny). It was intense!
I was about the oldest person there but the place was buzzing with hungry entrepreneurs dreaming of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. I was flying the flag for Queenagers, making the case to this male-orientated world intent on youth and the next big thing that when it comes to underserved markets midlife women are where it is at.
At a panel run by Morgan Stanley for early stage founders worried about the current state of the economy (yes there were quite a lot of us) I asked about what female founders – who receive around 2 per cent of all VC (venture capital) funding – can do to boost their chances of investment. The answer was: learn to speak their language. It was a bit depressing that the answer (as ever) was “fix the women” – but it is probably on the money. One of the only female founders I know who has raised several million did so because she’d worked in investment banking and consultancy and was vouched for as an ‘honorary chap’ by a very senior man. She says it really is the last bastion of true chauvinsim.
I write a lot about diversity and inclusion and anyone who has read the Rose Review knows how little investment goes to female founders. This matters. Particularly in the context of the dire economic situation and the Liz Truss plan to grow the economy. The Rose review found that £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled businesses at the same rate as men. The whole private equity and Venture Capital world needs to broaden its vision; it really is one of the last redoubts of pale, male, stale bro-culture thinking.
The hallowed halls of Sifted were fully of youthful delegates wearing jazzy black headphones; it is one huge hall so to allow several different stages to host panels at once they have a silent disco protocol where you put on headphones to hear the speakers. A strange kind of virtual reality at an in-real-life event, very Meta-verse. I was actually rather heartened by the response I got to my Queenager pitch. In these dark financial days there are very few truly underserved markets and because of the male lens in our society which has rendered older women often invisible, Queenagers are a cohort whose time may be coming. We should be! Did you know that half of women 45-60 are the main breadwinner in their household? That the over 50s control 47 per cent of the country’s wealth yet appear in less than 12 per cent of advertising? Or that midlife women are behind 95% of all household spending decisions and that Queenagers outspend millennial women by 250% and that Forbes calls us Super Consumers? Yet how many brands target us directly? Only those flogging incontinence pants or wrinkle cream usually, although our Noon research shows that 63% of you are keen on the idea of an electric car and two thirds would be way more likely to buy from any brand that represented you.
There really is an opportunity here. It was what I was banging on about at Sifted. Hearteningly, I got lots of interest. I had a great chat with a young chap from an investment house which actively seeks out “underinvested” demographics. They’ve just funded special lube for LGBTQ+ groups – he could see the power of the Queenager. Slightly depressing that we are seen as such a niche when we are 25% of the population, but hey ho!
Maybe the coming recession will wake up the wider world to the power of older women. As one of the fab Queenagers in one of our Noon focus groups put it: “I am 50, the partner in a law firm, I don’t have kids – I am disposable income-erarma. But I feel invisible, it’s as if I don’t exist.” She couldn’t understand why no brands were targeting her, particularly now.
I know we’re probably not feeling particularly flush at the moment (I’m sure I’m not the only one whose mortgage is not fixed and is soon set to soar skywards) but the facts are that 60 per cent of early retirees own their own homes. And many Queenagers, particularly those of us who have worked all our lives, have more money than most. We’re pretty discerning about spending it – we want products that work. But as another Noon lady put it
“It’s my fucking money, because I fucking earnt it and I’ll spend it on what I fucking want” (Sorry I know it is rude to swear but there is a kind of wonderful freedom in not having to put XXXXs in like I had to in newspapers for so many years). I know that’s true. I bought some Saucony trainers the other day which cost £150 and you know what? They have brought me joy. Every time I walk anywhere in them I feel happy, like I am floating on clouds, like wearing duvets on my tootsies. If I’d felt able to wear those back in my Tory conference days I wouldn’t have had such sore feet.
These days as a Founder I eschew corporate dress for gold Air Force ones and a Mao style trouser suit – it looks and feels like freedom! And I am now off to another conference, the Travel Convention in Marakesh to talk to the travel industry about what Queenagers want when it comes to holidays. More on that next time!
Hope you have a wonderful week.
Ps A date for your diaries: on October 17th at 6.15pm I’ll be hosting an event for World Menopause Day with the amazing Carolyn Harris MP all about how to make menopause more inclusive. We’ll be launching a parliamentary petition to make menopause a QOF (which means GPs would be incentivised to call all women in and ask them about it). The idea is for ALL women to get the treatment they need, not just those of us lucky enough to be able to afford private advice, or with access to different kinds of sources of information.
Do join us and check out some of our fantastic articles on all of this on the Noon website. I particularly loved Yasmin Alibhai Brown’s piece on menopause in her South Asian community and how her aunties suffered…
pps Another date for your diaries. Noon Book Club for October will be on October 31st on LinkedIn at 12.30pm rather than Zoom as we have the brilliant Mary Ann Sieghart, author of The Authority Gap joining us. Mary Ann is an old friend and colleague of mine from the Times, she was Associate Editor there for years and a columnist. Her book is fascinating on why men are listened to more than women, and also what we can do to change that.
If you are one of those who has already signed up as a Paid Subscriber your book will be winging its way to you next week. It is a must-read.
By Eleanor Mills