Entrepreneurism, Culture Tribes and Social Change: Why Gen Z Totally Rocks IMHO

By Ariana Finlayson

Coming out of my first SXSW Interactive experience, I had a few major takeaways: virtual reality is now, official festival sponsor United Airlines leaves a podium of free Stroopwafels unattended outside the Austin Convention Center’s Ballroom D, and millennials are SO last year.

I’ll let that last truth bomb set in, because I totally get it. Right when you were about to #win your brand’s “targeting millennials” strategy, you hear that this demo is about as over as the term #squadgoals. (Okay, I may or may not be exaggerating, which is SO millennial of me, but stick with me for the purpose of this post.) I’ll admit I’m as millennial as they come, and even I can’t help but feel really bullish about my successors— Gen Z, or, individuals born between 1995 and 2015. There are 83 million of them, which is a larger population than Baby Boomers, and make up ¼ of the population. (Um, can you say purchase power?) But things are different for these young’uns than they were for us #backintheday, and it’s clear from the several Gen Z-focused panels in Austin, TX this month that marketers are looking to embrace this and get on board—fast. Read more for why I think this group is <insert undated adjective that’s a synonym for ‘cool’>.

Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking.

“We’re self-assured and confident, because we have always been told we could,” Shark Tank success story and panel moderator Lachlan Johnson, 19, told the room at Gen Z Startups: Influenced by Media, Reality and BS. It’s with this concept of meaning and purpose that brings today’s spotlight to entrepreneurism like never before. Not to mention, social media has made catching that rising star to fame seem easier than ever with YouTubers blowing up in popularity overnight and Snapchat content turning meme-tastic within 24 hours. It’s important to remember that the older end of this generation grew up witnessing the recession and not-so-guaranteed jobs, which have them questioning their pursuit of higher education. “The way they see it: you can spend $250k on school, or take that $250k and invest in yourself,” Johnson’s panelmate Kaitlyn Crawley, editor in chief of Elite Daily, chimed. But isn’t starting a business daunting to someone who’s just earned his learner’s permit? No, according to Johnson, who sold her first company, Flipoutz, at the age of 12. “We don’t need to go through the 10-page business plan, because we’re so plugged in and have mentors at the click of a button,” she said. “Plus, like, who wouldn’t want to help out a kid?” #Truth, girlfriend.

Their “culture tribes” are the new squad goals.

While some may argue that Gen Z are so buried in technology that they aren’t connecting offline, what these critics don’t realize is that tech has actually caused something beautiful to happen: “culture tribes” are forming around common interests, passions and hobbies and are enabling Gen Z to tap into these communities like never before. Also fostering the sense of community: growing up in a sharing culture. “Gen Z will be collecting community,” the panelists at Gen Z: The Most Influential Consumer proclaimed. “They’re growing up in the age of sharing, where experiences aren’t singular anymore.” Which is true, when you think of all the companies that have community at the center: Airbnb, Uber and Lyft to name a few. What’s #mine is #ours.

They’re do-gooders at heart.

Knowing now that entrepreneurism and a strong sense of community are at Gen Z’s core, it should warm your heart that they’re compelled to foster these qualities for social good. “Sixty percent of Gen Zers want jobs with social impact,” Tim Hayden, director at the Entrepreneurship Center at St. Louis University, shared during the Gen Z Startups panel. “They’re seeing everything happening in the world and want to be able to make an impact.” This also affects how they engage with brands: they look for companies whose own equity and values align with their own.

So the next time you’re about to make a cantankerous remark to a Gen Zer like, “Get your nose out of your phone!” instead, let them live. He or she may be engaging with his or her latest culture tribe, storming the next game-changing app or tagging into a cause for social change. <insert heart eyes emoji>

Ariana is a Senior Digital Strategist at MMC, leading social strategy for COVERGIRL. Her expertise is rooted in editorial writing, with a focus on fasion, beauty and pop culture, working on the staffs at Hearst Magazines Digital Media (RealBeauty.com) and Wenner Media (UsMagazine.com).