The editors of LinkedIn asked me to write something for new entrepreneurs. What advice would I have for Generation Z, people aged 16 to 24, aka Gen Z?
There are many reasons Gen Z (Born 1997-2012) will be the most entrepreneurial cohort our generation will ever see. They have a lot going for them. They grew up using digital technology. They can gain whatever business skills they need rapidly and inexpensively thanks to online education platforms. They have ready access to massive audiences thanks to social networks. And they have the Cloud, which offers incredibly powerful tools to build apps that can reach global scale.
By contrast, for Boomers aged 57 to 75, it has taken decades to get to the business environment where Gen Z are just now starting. Young folks think there is a formula that guarantees success in business, and all you have to do is plug in and enjoy the ride. Boomers know that there is no formula. No matter how great the technology is, you won’t get very far without a lot of help from people who have been there, done that, and learned the hard lessons. Having technology is not the same as having a business model that works.
Only now do I appreciate how little I knew about business when I was in my 20’s. I knew that I loved working with personal computers and software, and I was willing to risk financial stability in order to explore the application of this new technology in business. I thought I would be able to figure it out as I went, and while that did happen it took 10 solid years before I would know enough to be able to call myself an entrepreneur. There was no formula. It really was a trial and error process of discovery, and I was fortunate to connect with smart people along the way with whom I shared common interest.
So what should our Gen Z entrepreneurs be doing now?
The generic advice goes something like this:
- Educate Thyself
- Get Connected
- Find an Underserved Market
- Invent a Product/Service that Delivers Value to Customers
- Understand How Business Works
- Have a Plan and Be Accountable
- Never Give Up
Rather than to elaborate on the foregoing, let’s discuss a few specific ideas for Gen Z.
You know how to use a computer, read articles, write papers, and calculate spreadsheets. No matter how good your technology is, however, to be a player in business, you need build and maintain relationships with more established players. Business knowledge is assimilated over time by actively playing the game and emulating the winners.
We like to say, “Together we change the world”, but how does this really happen? In reality, it is NOT that easy to make TOGETHER happen. The effort requires a certain global focus, active participation, and a commitment to improve the lives and businesses of others. It seems there will always be some kind of endemic problem to deal with in the future economy.
We need Gen Z to invent a way of doing hybrid networking events, a combination of in-person for the vaccinated and virtual for everyone else. We need new apps to drive both mobile and big screens at our events so that in-person and remote-connected people can communicate both individually in private mode and collectively in group mode as if they were in the same room. The show must go on.
Incidentally, my home state of Connecticut is currently the best place in the USA, if not the world, for in-person networking with 80% of the population vaccinated and COVID infections at lower levels than anywhere else. That combined with a solid business environment makes Connecticut a great place for Gen Z to incubate the Hybrid Networks of the future.
As digital natives, Gen Z instinctively understands that they can get started in business with a smart phone, a computer, and the support of their peers and without a big capital investment. I would argue that they can’t afford to go there without mentors in business. Among many other things that’s how knowledge, experience, and capital are passed down. At the same time, investors and mentors don’t have a lot of time to spend on coaching the basics. They would rather invest and stay connected with those who are already “off the runway” so to speak.
Here’s an opportunity to take education technology to next level in a way that makes 1-to-1 mentoring and fund raising more efficient. We need Gen Z to create online communities for investors, mentors, and entrepreneurs that provide courseware that beginners can access anytime they want. At the end of basic training, they are connected with one or more mentor based on common interests. When mentors agree they are ready to pitch, they are connected with like-minded investors. As the company levels up from Startup to Seed to Series A and beyond, the portal provides investor updates. It may even be possible to create an AI that can suggest next steps for entrepreneurs based on the company’s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and industry trends.
With Hybrid Mentoring, entrepreneurs can focus on what matters the most:
- The Product
- The Customer for the Product
- The Value of the Product to the Customer
- How Much Customer Pays for the Value
- How Much Cost to Deliver and Support the Product
- The Business Model
- The Economics of Consistent Annual Profit
- The Economics of Scaling above $10 MM Annually Recurring Revenue (ARR) and beyond
It takes much more than money and good advice to keep a business growing. It takes ongoing access to talent, tools, and essential materials. We need Gen Z to build the next generation, AI-powered e-commerce marketplace for on-demand access to business resources. And that is the subject for another blog posting.