We spoke to Hannah Thomson, CEO and Founder of The Joy Club, a membership platform for retirees
How did The Joy Club get started, and how would you best summarise what you offer?
My Granny Jean was the inspiration behind The Joy Club. For her, retirement was an opportunity for discovery. Her retirement adventures included backpacking around New Zealand solo, volunteering in Bulgaria and becoming an amazing painter!
Sadly, not everyone has the same experience of retirement. Older people are facing an epidemic of social isolation and loneliness, with 40% of retirees feeling that the television is their main companion.
Upon losing Granny Jean to dementia, I decided that the best tribute to her would be to share her sense of adventure with as many people as possible. So, I created The Joy Club to enable retirees to meet new people and try new things. Our members can join over 30 live online events a month, ranging from Tai Chi to creative writing, where they can learn and connect with each other.
Have you undergone any formal training or previous roles that have helped with what you do now?
Before I founded The Joy Club, I spent a decade working in other people’s startups to gain experience and build my network. I was Head of Strategic Partnerships at a femtech company where I worked on improving the lives of new mums, and then Chief Operating Officer at a digital healthtech start-up which supported innovation within the NHS.
This grounding has been invaluable—my understanding of the common challenges and opportunities in early-stage startups has helped me progress quickly with The Joy Club.
"Older people are facing an epidemic of social isolation and loneliness, with 40% of retirees feeling that the television is their main companion"
During the pandemic, The Joy Club hosted Zoom dance classes
How does your work compliment your personality?
Building something from nothing requires a very particular kind of resilience, vision and attitude towards experimentation—qualities that I pride myself on. As a founder, I have to give everything and believe in where I’m heading, inspiring colleagues and investors to follow me but also being prepared to change direction, if that’s what the data tells me. ‘Strong opinions, loosely held’, is a phrase that resonates with me.
The Joy Club runs on quite a collaborative structure, getting feedback from its members on everything from the brand name to the activities you run. What inspired you to take this approach?
I was very close to Granny Jean but I have never actually been a retired person myself, so I knew it was important not to make any assumptions. I started working on The Joy Club in September 2019 and spent the first six months interviewing people who were retired and semi-retired, reading about our ageing population and the consequences of that trend, speaking to experts, and volunteering with Age UK.
Once I felt I had a good understanding of the challenges retired and semi-retired people are facing, I came up with several potential product ideas (including the early-stage concept for The Joy Club).
I got feedback from the retirees I had interviewed on which idea was the best match. They then helped me create the name, brand, website, categories and more.
By the time we launched in December 2020, more than 100 retired people had helped me to create The Joy Club. We now have thousands of members who continue to guide us, as well as a Member Steering Group we speak to monthly. I see my role as a facilitator, building what is needed.
"We now have thousands of members who continue to guide us"
How did your business adapt for lockdown?
I raised the first round of investment for The Joy Club in March 2020, just before the first lockdown. During lockdown, I raised another two rounds of investment and built a team of ten people. When it came to launch, we had to make sure that everything was online and Covid safe—this was the origin of our online events programme.
Necessity is the mother of invention! Our events programme has been a great success and attendance has continued to increase even as restrictions have lifted, making it the main element of our Premium membership. My team has been amazingly flexible and resourceful—I think the human capacity for adaptation in adversity is astounding.
Retirees are also encouraged to join in on walks
What does a typical workday look like for you?
As it became clear that the pandemic would have a lasting impact on working styles (and that it would no longer be the norm to be in the office everyday), I moved to the country and bought a puppy (lockdown cliché!).
So, my typical workday starts with taking my chocolate labrador puppy, Winston, for a walk through the countryside. I then get an early start on urgent emails before spending most of the day on Zoom meetings with colleagues, partners and investors.
I always have an ear to the ground when it comes to the experience of our members, so I spend time daily checking in on member feedback and metrics. In the evenings, I exercise, catch-up on the news and make sure I’m in bed early enough for my eight hours of sleep—essential!
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
I am living my dream. I have always wanted to found my own start-up but knew that it would be wise to gain experience first. That experience taught me how hard it is to create a business from scratch, so the hard parts feel part of the dream too. Having said that, the admin involved in running an early-stage company is something I look forward to delegating as we scale.
When it comes to my favourite parts of the job, there are so many—it’s hard to choose. Having amazing investors and colleagues join you, to build your vision for the future, is an incredible feeling. Ultimately though, feedback from our members, telling us about the positive impact we’re having on their lives is what makes all of the hard work feel worthwhile.
What do you like to do to switch off?
Running is my meditation. I run several times a week, to clear my head and process the ups and downs that come with startup life. I ran the London Marathon last year as part of the Age UK team, though we had to run virtually due to Covid—I filmed a video whilst running. I’m part of the Age UK team again this year and look forward to running the London Marathon, actually in person!
What has been the most valuable business lesson you’ve learnt so far? And what has been your most tangible achievement?
Learning to get comfortable with making decisions on 60% confidence has been incredibly valuable.
When I first left university, I would only make professional decisions if I was 100% confident they were right. Ten years of working in other start-ups got me comfortable with making decisions at 80% confidence.
As a founder, I’m now making decisions at 60% confidence—otherwise you wait too long for certainty that you’ll very rarely find. You have to leap, keep an eye on the data, and then iterate as needed. This approach has given us success in quickly and effectively evolving ad campaigns, for example.
"My most tangible achievement has been to raise over £1.5m investment, enabling me to build an amazing team who have created something that brings our members joy"
My most tangible achievement has been to raise over £1.5m investment, enabling me to build an amazing team who have created something that brings our members joy.
We have some incredible investors on this journey with us, who have themselves built global consumer tech products—Tania Boler of Elvie, Alexander Asseily of Jawbone and Lars Rasmussen of Google Maps). Having their support and confidence is hugely affirming.
The Joy Club also provides member discounts for GoApe, an outdoor adventure centre
In five years time, where would you like to see the business?
We are going to build the largest and most joyful community of retirees globally. In five years’ time, we will have grown an amazing team, evolved The Joy Club product into something even more magical and scalable, launched in several countries, and—for our 1m+ members—will have ended their loneliness and filled their lives with new friends, inspiration and joy.
If you weren’t in this line of work, what other career would you love to have?
Offshore yacht racing is another great passion of mine. I have my Day Skipper license, have crewed in the Rolex Fastnet Race and was a Watch Leader in a UK-Uruguay race. If I wasn’t doing this I’d be working in the maritime industry, working my way up towards becoming an offshore racing skipper.
For those who haven’t yet signed up, what would you say is the single greatest benefit of being part of The Joy Club?
Pure joy! On average, we now spend more than 20% of our lives in retirement. If you’re semi-retired or retired and want to make the most of this chapter in your life, join The Joy Club, where you’ll find new people to try new things with.
Find more about The Joy Club here.
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