For years, the tech world produced near endless think pieces forecasting the futures and dissecting the trends of Millennials. But now, it’s our turn.
We’ve been called the most entrepreneurial generation yet. According to various studies, we are more likely to work for ourselves before ever taking a job working for someone else. We are Generation Z, and we represent approximately 61 million Americans, or 20% of the population, born between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s.
Seeing the generations before us rack up student loan debt or drudge through the Great Recession, it’s no wonder our cohort is determined to take things into our own hands and build wealth through entrepreneurship. In fact, studies show these inclinations manifest at a young age. According to a 2017 Gallup Student Poll, 40% of students grades 5-12 plan to launch their own business and 45% have visions of inventing something world-changing.
Precocious, maybe. But Gen Z has a lot to offer the world. We’re tech focused but value community, persistent but purpose-driven, we’re audacious, self-reliant and highly motivated by impacting social change.
And while these traits position us well to build the businesses of the future, entrepreneurship is not as easy as many of us have been led to believe. It’s why we need to make fast strides to grow and mature as individuals, otherwise we risk letting the qualities that define us become the hindrances that hold us back.
Youth: A double-edged sword
As a group, Gen Zers are launching businesses at younger ages, which enables us to capitalize on our stamina, fearlessness, resilience and high risk tolerance. But when not kept in check, these strengths can be misconstrued and perceived as immature, foolhardy and completely naive.
There’s nothing wrong entering the startup world with a somewhat wide-eyed, idyllic vision of business ownership. Some of this has come with how socially connected we are –– it’s hard to escape the glossy, shiny success stories of founders who’ve become fast millionaires or those who’ve seemingly made big things happen almost overnight. But it’s important to acknowledge that’s not the full story.
Starting and scaling a sustainable business is incredibly hard work, and it’s important for stakeholders to see that Gen Z, while young, can still appreciate the gravity of what we’re getting ourselves into. Being young and enthusiastic doesn’t change the fact you will need to juggle a number of roles, will encounter setbacks and increasing competition. You will have to learn how to hire, train and retain talent, and deal with HR challenges all while navigating cash flow issues. It requires a great deal of maturity and emotional intelligence. Make no mistake –– investors, employees and customers will be watching as these challenges of entrepreneurship inevitably get hurled your way.
That said, age is only a number –– emotional immaturity is something entrepreneurs across all ages struggle with. And if your goal is to launch a business of scale, you’ll need people and you’ll need money –– and most importantly, you’ll need others to trust that you’re up to the task at hand and what it will require of you.
Build for the future, not the now
The adage that once ruled Silicon Valley, “Move fast and break things,” falls short in today’s environment, and budding entrepreneurs operating by this mentality could meet a similar fate. We live in a much different world now, one dominated by consumer experience and highly advanced technology. If you’re driven to “invent something world changing” with an economic, social or environmental focus, you’ll need to adopt a new paradigm –– one that places your stakeholders at the center of it all.
Stakeholders are not just your customers –– they’re your employees, partners, vendors, mentors and investors –– and if your plan is to move fast, launch, and fix as you go, you have to think about how this will impact them. Particularly if you’re using powerful, advanced tech like artificial intelligence, blockchain, genomics, AR/VR, and machine learning –– the technologies that have the potential to impact lives at a profound level, far beyond the tech that was at the root of many of the success stories that emerged over the last two decades –– you have a tremendous responsibility to be accountable.
Accountability to stakeholders is something a lot of young and first-time entrepreneurs overlook. You have to have empathy, and that has to be baked into your business and product roadmaps. In other words, how will you and your business evolve as economic, environmental and societal factors impact your stakeholders over time? And as your company grows, how will you demonstrate empathy when more people, and thus more voices and opinions, enter the equation?
Remember, your stakeholders –– whether employees, customers or investors –– are entrusting you with a lot, and you have to be prepared to deliver. You have to have a strong why and purpose, and a plan for sticking to it, which often gets harder as you grow.
Luckily, Gen Z is primed for this
Generational stereotypes aside, the world we grew up in has actually groomed us in many ways to be great entrepreneurs. Early on we adopted social networks and prioritized building strong connections, which trained us to correlate success with collaboration.
We’re digital natives and know how to leverage digital to find information fast, quickly educate ourselves and use these tools to help us put our ideas into action. Many of us are also more motivated by solving social issues than making a quick buck, and as a result, many Gen Zers are developing businesses that address things like repurposing global waste, finding affordable health care and insurance, and eliminating social injustices and biases.
We are insanely driven and have a “side-hustle” mentality. Many Gen Zers go to school or work full time while working late nights or after hours to launch their entrepreneurial endeavors.
So, if entrepreneurship is in your blood, take advantage of the positive traits our world has instilled in us. But make no mistake, it’s hard work and requires a great deal of accountability and responsibility. And while we’ve been known to be a self reliant group of self learners, don’t be afraid to seek out mentorship and support along the way.