Chirpy is a combination of Facebook, Meetup, TradeMe, and Linkedin; all in one location, just for over 55s Carol Mahoney, Chirpy Plus\nCarol Mahoney smiles when she meets with potential business partners and members for the startup she co-founded with her son, Shaun.\n\u201cThey always assume he is the technology person,\u201d says Carol, who just turned 69.\nThe reality is Mahoney is the CTO of Chirpy Plus, and her son, a finance executive, is in charge of marketing.\nThese initial reactions do not faze Carol, who has been breaking barriers in an industry that is dominated by males (she was one of the first female CIOs in New Zealand) and proving that the startup world is not necessarily a younger person\u2019s territory.\nShe asks, \u201cHow many startups are started by a mother and son?\u201d\nCarol and Shaun Mahoney\nChirpy is an online community for those aged over 55 years, and it is the third startup she and Shaun have launched. \nShe also has another business,providing designs, templates and tools for quilts.\nChirpy had a \u2018soft launch\u2019 last month in New Zealand and Australia, shares Carol, who joined her son, in an interview last week with CIO New Zealand.\nMembership sign up has \u201cexceeded expectations,\u201d she discloses. \u201cWhile we have been sitting here, we have had two sign ups.\u201d\nShaun, who is based in the Gold Coast, says the site averages 40 sign ups a day in Australia.\nAs to how the idea for Chirpy came about, Carol says many people in their senior years face a different challenge in the digital era.\nNo caption\n The UK government has acknowledged the extent of this problem, with Prime Minister Theresa May creating a Minister for Loneliness Jen Cherrington, advisor, Chirpy Plus\n\u201cSocial media is an increasingly popular pastime, but it doesn\u2019t solve the issue that actually we like to meet up in person. And for lots of people, that\u2019s actually a tough thing!\u201d\nShe adds that, \u201cVirtually all nations are talking about the cost of loneliness and its effect on society, when really what most people are keen on is social interaction. But they don\u2019t know how to reach out.\u201d\nChirpy was created to help over 55s solve the social dilemma of making new friends in the real world, getting great deals and a tailored platform for this internet savvy group is an ideal and local solution.\n\u201cAt Chirpy, we want to help this group of over 55s online find people, who are local to where they are, so they can then meet up in person and make the connections that keep us all healthy\u201d.\nShe explains Chirpy aims to bring the online and virtual into the real world.\nAccording to Carol, Chirpy is a combination of Facebook, Meetup, TradeMe, and Linkedin; all in one location, just for over 55s.\n\u201cIt's a place to make more friends, to save money, and to connect \u2013 safely and securely.\u201d\nShe says they have opted to provide a subscription based and moderated site.\nCarol and Shaun have plans for a global rollout of Chirpy, noting how the site\u2019s target demographic happens to be the fastest growing demographic of internet savvy users in most of the Western world.\n\u201cWe are building a \u2018company with heart\u2019, which is something unique, and we intend to make a difference in people's lives.\u201d\nCool factor\n\u201cThis is not some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants startup,\u201d exclaims Jen Cherrington, an advisor to Chirpy.\nThe former CIO of Genesis Energy says she gets approached with lots of ideas for startups, but none caught her eye like Chirpy Plus.\n\u201cIt was the fact she was trying to build a platform to help combat loneliness that really caught my attention,\u201d she says. \n\u201cThis is bleeding edge, SaaS cloud based, with a view of the future.\u201d\nShe stresses, \u201cIt is not about building a platform - it is already there.\u201d\nCherrington first met Carol and Shaun at a startup event.\nThe mother and son were with other presenters, mostly in their 20s to 30s, who were pitching a range of apps.\nWe all know most successful startups address a real need, not just a new pizza app, and they are built by people who know a bit about life! Jen Cherrington, advisor, Chirpy Plus\n\u201cThey were cool and trendy, but they were not providing a real business model,\u201d says Cherrington.\nWhen she saw Carol, she mused, \u201cLet us put her on a skateboard wearing high top sneakers and see if that helps.\u201d\nWhen Carol was pitching Chirpy Plus, however, \u201cshe was talking about way cooler stuff than this bunch of kids that are developing apps, \u201d admits Cherrington.\n\u201cWe all know most successful startups address a real need, not just a new pizza app, and they are built by people who know a bit about life!\u201d \nShe adds that, \u201cWe (and I include myself in this group) are the fastest growing demographic in the over 50s who are internet savvy.\u201d \n\u201cAnd, despite the fact that we are also the biggest users of social media, we are a lonely group, because we don't get enough human face to face contact,\u201d she explains.\n\u201cGovernments acknowledge that it is a real issue that costs lots of money - but importantly, we all need to have friends.\u201d\nShe says the UK government has acknowledged the extent of this problem, with Prime Minister Theresa May creating a Minister for Loneliness in January this year.\nPlus, she says, Carol Mahoney has a real edge. \n\u201cShe's tech savvy and has been breaking these norms for a long time,\u201d states Cherrington.\n\u201cThe business model is sound, it can be global,\u201d she declares. \u201cAnd, if tech is the fastest growing export sector for NZ, then this could be the next Xero.\u201d\nStartup-plus founder: Carol Mahoney also has an online store providing designs and templates for quilts.\n\u2018Secret deals\u2019\nShaun, for his part, explains why they opted for paid subscriptions.\n\u201cSimply, it keeps our members engaged, it provides us the cash flow to ensure our platform is fully moderated.\u201d\nHe explains that members pay a flat rate of $5 a month, whether in New Zealand or Australia. \n\u201cThis is less than a large cup of coffee,\u201d notes Cherrington.\nCarol Mahoney says Chirpy Plus is building its base, so it is free to join until the year end. \n\u201cYou need basic users for people to see there is enough activity going on,\u201d she explains on this approach.\nShe adds that Chirpy is working with national providers for a range of services and deals for members. \u201cWe are helping older people save money, and we are adding some fun.\u201d \nCherrington agrees. \u201cEven though we are in an older age bracket, there are some essentials in life we have to pay for, like power, travel insurance, and banking fees.\u201d\nNo caption\nWe are building a \u2018company with heart\u2019, which is something unique, and we intend to make a difference in people's lives Carol Mahoney, Chirpy Plus\nThus, one of the things that they will feature are \u2018secret deals\u2019 that will be available only to a certain area.\nThese deals will not be advertised elsewhere, as they are available only for Chirpy members. These could include discounts in a grocery or a cafe for members in select areas.\nCarol says the site will also host classified advertisements.\nAccording to her, Chirpy members can also ask who are the other members living in the same area and contact them if they would like to meet for coffee.\nOr, a member who is driving to Wellington can ask other members going the same way if they would like to carpool and share fuel expenses. \nShe says one of their first anchor partners is Genesis Energy, and they are in final discussions with three other partners, who will be known just before Christmas.\nBuilding an agile team\nAt Chirpy Plus, Carol\u2019s title is chief technology officer and co-founder. She also manages the money and the team.\n\u201cWe are very much in the agile way of working,\u201dshe explains.\n\u201cWhen we bring somebody on board, we ask, 'how do you want to work, how many hours a week?' We build the job around the person.\u201d\nShe says this flexibility allows them to have a diverse team. One member has five children and tends to work late at night till 5am.\nShe says Chirpy has a \u201ccore\u201d team, who have been with them for some time and are used to a "very agile\u201d way of working.\n\u201cWe all work from home, using remote tools such as Trello and Zoom.\u201d\nAccording to Carol, they are divided into four teams, spread across Australia and New Zealand. Key members of the team are aged 55 years and above.\nWe recently lowered our average age of developers by bringing in some new graduates, she discloses.\nChirpy Plus co-founder Carol Mahoney and advisor Jen Cherrington (Photo by Divina Paredes)\nThis is not some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants startupJen Cherrington \nChirpy is presently on WordPress and PHP and CSS, but is moving to Firebase and Polymer.\n\u201cFirebase has the speed and growth we need,\u201d she states, on their platform choice. A plus is the \u201cfriendly\u201d developer environment that share their ideas for the global members.\nThus, she says, \u201cWe are sitting in New Zealand, but the technology we are using is global.\u201d\nCarol and Shaun have launched two other startups together. One of this is the Uletters, which creates newsletters for SMEs across Australia and New Zealand.\nThe other is The Sticky Handshake, a social network for small businesses. The site provides a free referral solution for time-poor small businesses across New Zealand. \u201cWe help SMEs build connections in both the real and online world,\u201d she says. \nCarol shares she became an entrepreneur after leaving her corporate roles. \u201cI had to learn all the other skills in running a business, not just the technology side,\u201d she explains on adjusting to her career shift.\n\u201cIn doing so I learnt the value of branding, sales and marketing, and how technology fits into the mix. And most importantly, how important cash flow is!\u201d\n\u201cA key lesson we learnt from those startups is \u2018listen to your customers\u2019, they are the only people who matter!\u201d\nPushing her way into IT\nCarol shares insights on what worked for her in building a career in technology, and how current and future leaders can encourage more women to join the sector.\n\u201cYou have to to talk to people when they are starting their careers, to get them into a frame of mind that they can do it,\u201d she says. \u201cWomen don\u2019t always put themselves forward for a job.\u201d\nCarol recalls how she \u201cpushed her way into IT,\u201d while working as an engineer at NZ Post. She put herself up to work in the organisation's first computer systems.\nXero founder Rod Drury\nThe business model is sound, it can be global. And, if tech is the fastest growing export sector for NZ, then this could be the next Xero Jen Cherrington, advisor, Chirpy Plus\nShe has held CIO and CTO roles at a company that is now part of Bunnings, and also at Allied Liquor Merchants and Dominion Breweries.\nCherrington notes, \u201cShe had opened the door for the rest of us.\u201d\nAt EY, Carol was national director of technology and knowledge management. She left EY and spent a year travelling around the Australian outback in her motorhome.\nOn her return, she decided to do something different, but also in technology.\nShe became manager regional services (North) for the NZ Defence Force, based at the Whenuapai Air base and the Devonport Naval Base.\n\u201cI was the liaison person between the users of technology in the Northern Defence Bases for Army, Navy and Air, and the team (JISA) who provided it,\u201d she relates.\nCarol also worked in project management at Procare Health.\nShaun has memories of his mother building her first computer from scratch and joining her as she took it to computer shows.\n\u201cShe was the only woman there,\u201d he proudly says.\nPicture: Dennis Skley (Flickr)\nGuerilla marketing\nBoth mother and son augment their online promotions with face-to-face meetings. They hand out car stickers to volunteers. \nCarol visits retirement villages. She says they talk about the technology and how they can use it.\n\u201cIt is so heartwarming to hear our members\u2019 stories,\u201d she says, \u201cespecially when I talk to large groups about our vision in what we will achieve with Chirpy.\u201d\nShe states, \u201cI am our market, when I talk to a lot of people about Chirpy, they can relate to it.\u201d \n\u201cGrey hair has an advantage,\u201d she says, smiling.\nCherrington calls this \u201cguerilla marketing\u201d and attests to its effectiveness.\nShe says is it important to go to these \u201cgrassroots\u201d events. \u201cThere is nothing better than having advocates for your brand.\u201d\nBack when Cherrington was working for eBay in the UK (she was country manager in 1999 to 2003), she and her team would go to different events like car boot sales and fairs to promote the brand.\nThey were handing out t-shirts. \u201cI knew we made it when I walked down the streets and saw somebody wearing one of our shirts.\u201d\nOne of the things Carol Mahoney wants to dispel is the misconception about how older people are using technology.\nUsing Chirpy as an example, she says half of their members access the site using their smartphones, and only 15 per cent do so using desktops.\nCherrington concurs. \u201cIn five years, I am the prime demographic for Chirpy,\u201d she states. \u201cAnd I am as internet savvy as you can possibly get.\u201d\n\u201cThere is a lot of talk nowadays about older people not retiring at 65,\u201d says Carol.\n\u201cI have no intention of retiring.\u201d\n\nGet the latest on digital transformation: Sign up forCIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, career tips, views and events.Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz\nSend news tips and comments email@example.com@divinap\nCarol Mahoney with Shaun: 'How many startups are started by a mother and son?'