When I was a teenager, I wanted to manage rappers. The lifestyle didn’t agree with me, so I became the next best thing: a VC. Managing rappers and investing in startups may seem like totally different occupations, but I’ve come to think they’re quite similar. In both instances, you’re helping ambitious, talented people build an identity and tell their story. And where does that story get told? On the internet.
As a member of the first generation to grow up online, I like to think I know a thing or two about building digital identities. The internet is the primary way Gen Z works, plays, and finds community. That’s why my venture firm, Behind Genius Ventures, is built around content and community. Through everything we do, our aim is to bring people together.
Nowadays, the people my founders often want to be connected with are members of my generation. We already account for 20% of the U.S. population with $360B in buying power (and growing yearly). The youngest generation is always the future, but Gen Z is taking an active role in shaping that future. We’re values-focused, skeptical of the status quo, and we know how to leverage the full power of the internet to accomplish our goals.
I’m an advocate for both ambitious, talented founders trying to solve hard problems, and passionate Gen Zs trying to shape the world in their image. As such, I feel uniquely qualified to examine how these two parties can come together to affect meaningful change.
With that, here are some thoughts on how founders can reach the Gen Z market:
Stand for something
Gen Z are conscious consumers. This means we aim to do business with companies that align with our values and how we want to live.
This trope has been overplayed in the market, to the point of ridicule (i.e., Gen Z being labeled as “social justice warriors”). I think this commentary has somewhat distracted from the original intent. What really matters to Gen Z is the business is pursuing a mission that’s important to them. It’s not just about the bottom line—it’s about bringing your vision of how the world should work to life.
Gen Z feeds off the magnetism of brands that have the confidence of their convictions. A great example of this ethos is Ben & Jerry’s. Despite being a legacy brand, Ben & Jerry’s has fostered strong affinity in the Gen Z market by leading with their values and allowing those values to inform how they do business.
For businesses looking to inject a bit more idealism into their brand, here are three recommendations:
- Develop company values (if you haven’t already) and determine how they manifest themselves throughout your organization.
- Promote your company values in customer-facing communications.
- Think of ways to build long-lasting relationships with your users, rather than one-off transactions.
Tell a story
Part of being values-oriented manifests itself in great storytelling. Stories make the world go round. When BGV is evaluating startups, one of the criteria we look for is the ability of the business to tell its story in a conversational, digital-first way.
I think of this as the business’s “eclectic fiction.” It can be actualized in a variety of ways. For example, making funny TikToks (short-form video is highly effective) and memes indicates a business’s willingness to not take itself too seriously (great examples: Duolingo, Morning Brew).
Siri shaking in her boots rn pic.twitter.com/4Ii2ZBob4O
— Morning Brew Daily (@mbdailyshow) May 18, 2023
There’s a sort of post-capitalistic nihilism to brands poking fun at themselves that tends to resonate with the mindset of Gen Z.
Another approach is to express vulnerability as a brand. Gen Z is very forward-thinking on issues of mental health, and we appreciate brands and founders speaking honestly (via blogs, podcasts, tweets, etc.) about their journey, struggles, and what they’ve learned. These kinds of approaches are a departure from traditional corporate marketing (which wreaks of empty platitudes and confusing phraseology).
- To connect with Gen Z, focus on authenticity in customer-facing communications.
- Two techniques to come across as more authentic are humor and vulnerability.
- Gen Z has a low tolerance for marketing BS. There’s no better way to destroy your credibility with the Gen Z market than through inauthentic, boring content.
Create a memorable product experience
As digital natives, Gen Z has a strong nose for product. We can sense immediately when a product feels janky or dysfunctional, and we exert a measure of influence over what’s considered sleek and tasteful design.
What typifies a great product experience for Gen Z is a healthy mixture of function and form, matched with deep empathy for the customer experience. The latter ingredient comes from customer research and the development of target personas (what your customers like, how they spend their leisure time, etc.).
At BGV, we push our portfolio companies to talk to their customers as much as possible. I believe most founders should set aside at least one hour per week to interact with customers, be it through direct customer interviews or responding to support tickets.
Customer empathy helps you understand where your product creates value, and how to capture that value in your pricing model. It’s also exciting for customers to feel like their feedback is being taken seriously. Listening to customers and moving quickly on their feedback in a thoughtful way sets great companies apart from the fray.
- Gen Z has a low tolerance for bad product experiences.
- Great products are a combination of form, function, and customer empathy.
- Companies need to talk to their customers to understand how to iterate on product. Utilizing feedback also helps build stronger customer bonds.
Shaping the future of tech
There’s a changing of the guards happening in tech. After a lifetime spent as the end user, Gen Z is now stepping in to dictate how tech is built, funded, and sold. We understand tech has a profound impact on how we live day-to-day, and we want a say in determining what problems tech solves. That’s why I started Behind Genius Ventures, and it’s why I advise founders on how they can connect with the Gen Z market. Learn more and get in touch by visiting our website.