Millennial Optimism About Workplace Technology Ignores a Key Problem—Ourselves

The bright, shiny future of meetings in augmented reality, AI assistants, smart workspaces built on the internet of things, and other Jetsonian office technologies fast approaches—and American workers can’t wait for them to improve productivity. A year ago, Stowe Boyd presented research here on Gigaom that found significant optimism about the potential for technology to make work easier and more collaborative.(1) Unsurprisingly, the research found this positivity strongest among Millennials.(2)
However, that same research found that nearly half of Millennials believe the biggest time waster at work is glitchy or broken technology. Millennial frustration with current technology might explain their simultaneous wide-eyed excitement about cool, acronymed stuff like VR, AI, and IoT. This is at odds with the overall population, which perceives wasteful meetings and excessive email as the biggest enemy of efficiency.(3)
The problem is, both diagnoses are wrong. Research shows that the most significant barrier to productivity, by far, is the good, old-fashioned problem of getting distracted. It’s not that distractions exist—it’s that we succumb to them.
Put another way: poor tech and erupting inboxes don’t waste our time—we do. We have lost our ability to choose where we spend our attention.
In one survey, 87% of employees admitted to reading political social media posts at work.(4) Other research shows that 60% of online purchases occur between 9am and 5pm and that 70% of U.S. porn viewing also happens during working hours (“working” from home?).(5) And if none of that convinces you, perhaps this will: Facebook’s busiest hours are 1-3pm—right in the middle of the workday.
To be clear, this isn’t just a Millennial problem. The 2016 Nielson Social Media Report reveals that Gen Xers use social media 6 hours, 58 minutes per week—10% more than Millennials.(6) Overall media consumption tells the same story: Gen Xers clock in at 31 hours and 40 minutes per week, nearly 20% more than Millennials.
And if there weren’t enough, each instance of distraction comes at a significant cost. An experiment in Great Britain showed that people who tried to juggle work with e-mails and texts lost an average of 10 IQ points, the same loss as working after a sleepless night.(7) And this affects essentially every office worker, every day.
What’s to be done, then? Fortunately, if you’ve read this far, you’ve already done the most important thing: understand that the true problem doesn’t lie anywhere but in our own lack of focus.
Regaining focus—becoming focus-wise, as I like to call it—doesn’t require a rejection of technology, however. Becoming focus-wise only requires we reconfigure our tech usage habits.
For instance, instead of expecting ourselves (and our employees) to be 100% available throughout the day to emails, chats, and walk-bys, set time aside in “focus vaults” where you are completely unreachable to the outside world for a set period of time. When you emerge, you can have complete freedom to check emails and Facebook, batching those communications so you don’t lose IQ points switching to and from them during the actual work.
Another example is how we use the tech itself. For instance, if you know you can’t resist checking the screen when your phone dings—turn off the sound. Or disable your computer’s internet connection for a period of time. Even something as simple as making your application window full-screen encourages your brain to focus on the single task.
Normalizing simple, focus-wise habits like these throughout your enterprise can reap huge rewards in workplace productivity. As technology starts to fill our offices with artificially intelligent robots, virtual work spaces, and self-configuring environments, you can be confident that you will use the technology to accomplish your goals—rather than letting the technology use you.

About the Author

Curt Steinhorst is on a mission to rescue us from our distracted selves. Having spent years studying the impact of tech on human behavior, Curt founded Focuswise, a consultancy that equips organizations to overcome the distinct challenges of the constantly-connected workplace. He is a leading voice on strategic communication, speaking more than 75 times a year to everyone from global leadership associations and nonprofits to Fortune 100 companies.
Curt is the author of the book Can I Have Your Attention? Inspiring Better Work Habits, Focusing Your Team, and Getting Stuff Done in the Constantly Connected Workplace (John Wiley & Sons, October 2017).


1. Boyd, Stowe. “Millennials and the Workplace,” Oct 26, 2016.
2. Dell & Intel Future-Ready Workforce Study U.S. Report. July 15, 2016.
3. Workfront 2016-2017 US State of Enterprise Work Report. Sept 9, 2016.
4. Kris Duggan, “Feeling Distracted by Politics? 29% of Employees Are Less Productive after U.S. Election,” BetterWorks, February 7, 2017,
5. Juline E. Mills, Bo Hu, Srikanth Beldona, and Joan Clay, “Cyberslacking! A Wired-Workplace Liability Issue,” The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 42, no. 5 (2001): 34–47,
6. Sean Casey, “2016 Nielsen Social Media Report,” Nielsen, January 17, 2017, 6,
7. “Emails ‘Hurt More than Pot,’”, April 22, 2005,

Ran Zilca on Millennials Think About Work Too Much

Ran Zilca of Happify ran a study on Millennials that reveals them to be work-obsessed, bed-loving, and irreligious [emphasis mine].

When asked what they are grateful for, people typically respond with the things they personally recognize as important — what they appreciate and value. Gratitude text can therefore provide a glimpse into the fundamental life priorities of individuals. In our study, 276,296 Happify users (30.7% of them in the age range of 25–34) responded to a gratitude exercise where they were asked to “jot down three things that happened today or yesterday that made you feel grateful.” Users were directed to think of a broad range of possibilities: “It could be something someone did for you, something you did for yourself, or just the simple fact that the sun was shining.”
Across all ages, the most common topics were related to “spending quality time with family and friends.” Yet the topics for which Millennials specifically expressed the most gratitude were different: “positive interactions with colleagues,” “having a low-stress commute,” “getting a new job,” “being satisfied with an existing job,” “sleeping,” and “relaxing in bed.”
Four out of these six topics were career related and had to do with the process of finding a job or with daily work experiences, and the remaining two topics were related to time spent in bed. Since the gratitude question specifically asked about things that happened today or yesterday, we can fairly confidently say that the unique things characterizing positive Millennial experiences take place at work or in bed.
The two topics of gratitude that were far less common for Millennials were “religious events,” a positive event that happened at church or a church event like singing in the choir, and “friends and family,” a topic that was among the most common for users of other ages.

Millennials are career-wacked drones that apparently live to work and sleep, and they lack the grounding of sociality and spirituality, alas.

Originally published at

Three Ways to Help Millennials Better Manage Themselves

This article is the fourth in a series of six. It is excerpted from Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials by Bruce Tulgan

Millennials are often amazingly advanced in their knowledge and skills at a very young age, yet they often lack maturity when it comes to the old-fashioned basics of productivity, quality, and behavior. What’s worse, managers often report that Millennials tend to be unaware of gaps in these basic skills and are completely unconcerned about it. In response to this gap in skills, some managers just get frustrated. After all, when Millennials come to the workplace, shouldn’t they already be mature enough to arrive on time, dress appropriately, practice good manners, stay focused on their key tasks, and do lots of work very well at a good, steady pace? Should managers be expected to teach them these sorts of things? As a restaurant manager put it, “Nobody taught me how to wipe my nose in my jobs. I had to learn how to manage myself.”
That may be. But if you are the boss, then this gap in skills is your problem. If you manage Millennials who lack some of the basics of self-management, I’m sure you are frustrated too. Here’s what you need to do: Help them. Lift them up. Make them better. Teach them to care about the basics. Teach them to be more aware of those gaps in their repertoires. Teach them to fill those gaps, one at a time. Teach them how to manage themselves.

1) Help Them Set Priorities

Setting priorities is usually step one in most time management programs and seminars. If you have limited time and too much to do, then you need to set priorities—an order of precedence or preference—so that you control what gets done first, second, third, and so on. That setting priorities is the key to time management is obvious to most professionals. The hard part is teaching Millennials how to set priorities.
When it comes to big-picture priorities, set clear priorities with Millennials, and communicate those priorities relentlessly. Make sure your Millennials are devoting the lion’s share of their time to first and second priorities. When it comes to setting day-to-day priorities, teach Millennials how by setting priorities together with them. Let them know your thinking process. Walk through it with them: “This is first priority because X. This is second priority because Y. This is low priority because Z.” Over time, you hope they learn. Until they learn, you have to keep making decisions for them. Teach Millennials to postpone low-priority activities until high-priority activities are well ahead of schedule. Those are the time windows during which lower-priority activities can be accomplished, starting with the top lower priorities, of course.

2) Help Them Eliminate Time Wasters

Remember that Millennials treasure time above all other nonfinancial rewards. When you help them eliminate time wasters and limit the time they spend on low priorities, you are helping them focus their time on top priorities and giving them free time they otherwise would have wasted. That is a reward that keeps on giving. They’ll really appreciate it.
When helping Millennials identify time wasters to eliminate, don’t mistake distractions for time wasters. They may or not be. Remember that Millennials are used to multitasking—they’ve been doing their homework for years with an MP3 player in one ear and a cell phone buzzing text messages on the table. Just because it might be distracting to you doesn’t mean it is distracting to them. If the task in question is being performed well within expected time frames, then the employee is probably not distracted. Pay attention to which of the so-called distractions help them remain absorbed in their tasks at work as opposed to those that draw their attention away.

3) Teach the Habits of Critical Thinking

Managers often tell us that the biggest constraint on maximizing young workers is their lack of seasoned judgment.
What is good judgment anyway? It’s not the same thing as sheer brain power, mental capacity, or natural intelligence. It’s not a matter of accumulated knowledge or memorized information. It is more than the mastery of techniques and tools. In very simple terms, good judgment is the ability to see the connection between causes and their effects.
Teach Millennials to be strategic by using decision/action trees every step of the way. Teach them to think ahead and play out the likely sequence of moves and countermoves before making a move: “If you take this decision or action, who is likely to respond, how, when, where, and why? What set of options will this create? What set of options will this cut off? How will it play out if you take this other decision/action instead?
The senior executive of a media company asked, “How does a person learn real-life lessons faster than he can experience real life? Is there any way to jump-start this process?” One way is to learn from the life experiences of others or from history. This is why the case study method is used by most business schools. Real company cases are presented to students in detail. Who were the key players? What were their interests and objectives? What happened? How did it happen? Where? When? What were the outcomes? Students are then taught to apply the methods of critical thinking to the facts of the case. They are taught to suspend judgment, question assumptions, uncover the facts, and then rigorously analyze the decisions and actions taken by different key players in the case study. The pedagogy is simple: look at the outcomes, and trace them back to see the chains of cause and effect.

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]; you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website.

‘In Loco Parentis Management’ — Five Steps to Effectively Managing Millennial Employees

This article is the third in a series of six. It is excerpted from Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials by Bruce Tulgan

1) Care About Your Millennials

When I say, “care about your employees,” I’m not saying you need to love your employees as if they really are your own children or let them come live in your basement. But you may need to usher them through these early stages of their working life and into the next. Help them make the transition.
Don’t be alarmed. You don’t need to relate to this person’s deep inside thoughts, feelings and spirit, or even inner motives. In my view, you shouldn’t even try unless you are a trained therapist or pastor. Just care enough to help this person succeed at work, at least whenever this person is working for you. One Millennial recently told me, “I need to work for people who know who I am and what I’m doing, and who seem to care. I’ve had bosses who didn’t even know my name. But right now I’m working for this woman who is very busy, but she really connects with me, eye-to-eye kind of, asks me questions and really listens. She’s taught me a lot already.”

2) Don’t Pretend

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you should actually pretend to be a parent to your employees at work. In fact, you shouldn’t pretend anything. Millennials have giant BS detectors, especially around authority figures. You have to be authentic to succeed with them. So focus on the authentic common interest between you two, which is the work at hand, and on playing very well the real role you have in their working lives: that of a manager.
You are running a workplace. The relationships at work are transactional relationships. I promise you, none of your employees would be showing up to work every day if you were not paying them. So treat each person and the relationship with respect. But don’t hesitate to take charge and tell them what to do. You are paying them to work very well, very fast, all day long. Make that fact explicit, keep a spotlight on it, and never try to camouflage it.

3) Give Them Boundaries

The Millennials you manage want freedom to maneuver at work. They want some latitude when it comes to their schedule, where they do their work, whom they work with, what they do, and how they do it. The problem is that every task, responsibility, and project has parameters that constrain every employee’s freedom.
But as much as they love freedom, Millennials also gravitate to structure and boundaries. For one thing, they don’t want to waste their time. Don’t forget, since they were kids, Millennials have been hyperscheduled by overbearing adults. One Millennial describes it this way: “The last thing I’m looking for is somebody telling me, ‘Yeah, do it how you think it should be done,’ but then it turns out she already knows exactly how she wants it done. I don’t want to beat my head against the wall trying to figure something out if you’ve already got it figured out. I definitely am interested in putting my personal stamp on things, but if that’s not going to happen, tell me up front.”
If you want to give Millennials more freedom at work, the biggest favor you can do for them is establish clear boundaries and give them a structure within which they can function with some autonomy.

4) Help Them Keep Score

Think about a video game that a Millennial might practice and practice, beating one high score after another, set by himself. He wins every time, and nobody has a reason to feel bad. That’s the kind of competition Millennials are looking for: they want to compete against themselves in a safe environment where they can try over and over again to improve on their own performance benchmarks. When it comes to competitiveness at work, this is what one Millennial had to say: “I’ll do whatever they want me to do. Just tell me someone is keeping track of all this stuff I’m doing. Tell me I’m getting credit for it, that I’ve been racking up points here like mad. Tell me someone is keeping score.”
When Millennials know you are keeping track of their day-to-day performance, their measuring instinct is sparked and their competitive spirit ignited. Keeping close track of their work tells them that they are important and their work is important. The process motivates them to perform because they want to get credit, score points, earn more of whatever there is to earn.

5) Negotiate Special Rewards in Very Small Increments

Today we live in a world in which relationships are governed by an increasingly short-term and transactional logic. Millennials have never known it any other way. Segmented as a market from birth and armed with credit cards, they have been taught to think of themselves as customers in virtually every sphere. Even in their roles as students, most Millennials think of themselves as buying and consuming the learning services sold by schools.
By the time Millennials arrive at the workplace, short-term transactional thinking is second nature to them. They are still thinking like customers. Plug into Millennials’ transactional mind-set. Stop paying them and start buying their results, one by one. The more you trade results for rewards, the more reliable their performance will be. The smaller the increments you buy in, the more effective it will be. The critical element when it comes to rewarding Millennials is letting them know that rewards are tied to concrete actions within their own direct control.

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]; you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website.

Hotels are getting over the millennials and returning to basics, at last

It seems like millennia since hotel chains have been trying to tailor new ‘experiences’ that line up with carefully researched millennial leanings. Now, after many attempts to create more social shared spaces, new aesthetics to counter the old-school tastes of Boomers and Gen Xers, and other supposed innovations, we are seeing some new takes that ditch the millennial psychobabble and which really try to get at what is emerging as travelers’ real desires.
Hyatt has launched a new Centric line of hotels, which feels like a serious departure from the adjective-laden attempts to get at the psyche of business and leisure travelers, and which instead just gets out of the way. A brand video refers to guests as “Modern Explorers” and “wish-listers.” The ‘lounge-centric’ design reminds me of the Ace Hotel in NYC, where guests and locals interact in a library-inspired setting.
“We call them Modern Explorers because these are travelers who are very curious, very independent, and very time crunched,” says Kristine Rose, VP of brands, Hyatt. “They have a wish list and they really want to make the most out of all of their experiences and reasons for traveling.”
These travelers want to be in the center of the urban experience, to interact with locals: local people, local food, local attractions. The restaurant is called‘the Local Bar and Restaurant’ and will feature local dishes served up for the ‘casual foodie’.
I can attest to the attractiveness of the Centric concept to non-millennials, since I am a late Boomer, and the practicality of ‘the essentials done right’ combined with a deeply local orientation could be the definition of a cure for the experience I have regularly when traveling, even in luxury hotels.
At the other end of the spectrum, Hilton is also working away at trimming out the inessential, however in the new Tru hotels, they are cutting out business-oriented amenities like desks, and targeting the budget conscious leisure traveler.
As the company says, “Tru by Hilton is a category disrupter. It’s built on a belief that being cost conscious and having a great stay don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Tru focuses on what matters most to guests, with a hotel that is more than just a place to sleep, it’s a true travel experience.”
Hilton is running Tru as 100% franchise operation, with systems designed from the bottom up to cut operational costs, and leading to a $75-$90/night price point. This an effort to appeal to people that might otherwise turn to Airbnb for accommodations, but who’d really rather a no-frills hotel, so long as quality reaches some minimum.
So what is the deep trend? Modern travelers want no fuss, easy in-and-out hotels that meet some promise of quality at a price — at various tiers — but that appeal to their desire to explore the hotel’s locale rather than remaining cooped up private rooms or stodgy same-old-same-old eateries. A return to simplicity: a night’s stay and off you go!

Globalization, Technology, Customization & Overparenting — Meet the Millennial Generation

This article is the first in a series of six. It is excerpted from Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials by Bruce Tulgan.

It seems that the vast majority of leaders and managers think Millennials have an attitude problem. But isn’t this always the case when a new generation joins the workforce? Doesn’t every new generation of young workers irritate the older, more experienced ones?

At the early career stage of life, young people are just learning to break away from the care of others (parents, teachers, institutions) and taking steps toward self-sufficiency and responsibility. As they move into the adult world with the energy and enthusiasm—and lack of experience—that is natural at that stage, they are bound to clash with more mature generations.

And yet as much as human experience—such as the rite of passage into the workforce—stays the same over time, the world doesn’t. What makes each generation different are these accidents of history that shape the larger world in which human beings move through their developmental life stages. So while every generation rocks the boat when they join the adult world, they also bring with them defining characteristics that alter the rules of the game for everyone going forward.

Millennials’ “attitude” probably is not likely to go away as they mature; their high-maintenance reputation is all too real. Still, the whole picture is more complicated. Yes, Millennials will be more difficult to recruit, retain, motivate, and manage than any other new generation to enter the workforce. But this will also be the most high-performing workforce in history for those who know how to manage them properly.

Meet the Millennial Generation

Although demographers often differ on the exact parameters of each generation, there is a general consensus that Generation X ends with the birth year 1977. Most agree that those born between 1978 and 2000 belong in the Millennial Generation. But by our definition at RainmakerThinking, Inc., the Millennials come in two waves: Generation Y (those born between 1978 and 1989) and Generation Z (those born between 1990 and 2000). Gen Yers are today’s thirty-somethings, no longer the youngest people in the workplace, while Gen Zers are the newest new young workforce, those who are filling up the rising global youth tide in today’s workforce.

Here’s the short story with the Millennial Generation: If you liked Generation Y, you are going to love Generation Z. If Generation Y was like Generation X on-fast-forward-with-self-esteem-on-steroids, Generation Z is more like the children of the 1930s… That is, if the children of the 1930s were permanently attached to hand-held super-computers and reared on “helicopter parenting” on steroids. Overall, the Millennials embody a continuation of the larger historical forces driving the transformation in the workplace and the workforce in recent decades.

Globalization and technology have been shaping change since the dawn of time. But during the life span of the Millennials, globalization and technology have undergone a qualitative change. After all, there is only one globe, and it is now totally interconnected. Millennials connect with their farthest-flung neighbors in real time regardless of geography through online communities of interest. But as our world shrinks (or flattens), events great and small taking place on the other side of the world (or right next door) can affect our material well-being almost overnight. Nothing remains cutting edge for very long. What we know today may be obsolete by tomorrow. In a world defined by constant change, instantaneous response is the only meaningful time frame.

Why are Millennials so confident and self-possessed, even in the face of all this uncertainty? One reason is surely that they grew up in and after the Decade of the Child. Gen Xers were the great unsupervised generation (they made the latchkey into a metaphor). But Millennials are the great over-supervised generation. In the short time between the childhood of Generation X and that of Millennials (especially Generation Z), making children feel great about themselves and building up their self-esteem became the dominant theme in parenting, teaching, and counseling. Throughout their childhood, Millennials were told over and over, “Whatever you think, say or do, that’s okay. Your feelings are true. Don’t worry about how the other kids play. That’s their style. You have your style. Their style is valid and your style is valid.”

For Millennials, difference is cool. Uniqueness is the centerpiece of identity. Customization of the self is sought after with great zest and originality, through constant experimentation. In the world of the Millennials, the menu of selfhood options is extraordinary and the range of possible combinations infinite. For the Millennials, customization is the Holy Grail, and it has always been right there within their grasp. From the first day they arrive in the workplace, they are scrambling to keep their options open, leverage their uniqueness for all its potential value, and wrap a customized career around the customized life they are trying to build.

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]; you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website.

If you want millennial TV viewers, it’s interact or bust

Zane is CEO and cofounder of Watchwith.
It’s pretty much taken as gospel these days that millennials are cord-cutters, eager to abandon television as we know it — torch broadcast and cable business models along the way.
The reality, though, is a lot more nuanced. Yes, millennials are more likely to opt out of subscriptions to traditional cable-TV bundles. But they’re cord-cutting in only the most narrow sense—substituting one delivery system (linear TV) for another (on-demand streaming) and one type of hardware (cable-fed TVs) for others (mobile devices, and TVs and PCs rigged with over-the-top solutions).
They’re still watching TV shows — lots of TV shows — and consuming plenty of programming generated by the “traditional” TV industry. They’re just doing it on their own terms.
At Watchwith, our team of entertainment, technology, and advertising experts have been studying video consumption patterns since 2012. We’re particularly interested in understanding the psychology of what works and what doesn’t for the new generation of TV viewers, particularly when it comes to advertising messages. That said, here are three broad findings we’ve found to be true…

Mobile pre-roll feels like a personal violation for millennials

All of us tend to be deeply connected to and dependent on our mobile devices, but for digital-native millennials, omnipresent smartphones are almost like an extension of their bodies — and of their personalities. That’s why pre-roll and mid-roll advertising that might be acceptable (or at least tolerable) in a desktop setting becomes absolutely rage-inducing on mobile.
We’ve heard again and again from millennial consumers about their incredible feeling of frustration while watching pre-roll on a phone. There’s a profound mismatch between the pre-roll experience and a personal device like a smartphone. Pre-roll advertising in a desktop browser tab comes off as interruptive, but the same pre-roll on mobile feels domineering, like viewers have been temporarily deprived of the sense of control they take for granted when using their beloved devices.
According to a study just released by eMarketer, “young adults ages 18 to 29 are more likely to own a mobile phone or smartphone than a desktop or laptop, pointing to how mobile is becoming an all-purpose device that users are increasingly relying on.” But in a phenomenon that MaryLeigh Bliss of youth-market research firm Ypulse calls “ad A.D.D.,” millennials are turning a blind eye to traditional ads on their favorite platform. According to Ypulse research, says Bliss, “when we ask young consumers which type of advertising they usually ignore or avoid, 62 percent say online ads, like banner and video ads, and 68 percent say mobile in-app ads. In other words, online marketing — you’re doing it wrong. It’s not enough to be where they are. You have to be where they are, and match your message to their behavior.”

‘Interactive TV’ is entirely intuitive on mobile for millennials

Many digital-native millennials grew up, or at least came of age, thinking of media consumption as a tactile experience. It’s entirely natural — indeed, second nature — for them to feel their way through media on mobile devices. And that’s even more true for post-millennials, aka Generation Z; witness the various videos on YouTube like “Baby Works iPad Perfectly,” and “9 Month Old Baby Using iPad.”
All those years of people fumbling with remotes to navigate through cable guides and various iterations of “interactive TV” have given way to being able to touch, tap and swipe — in the process instantly controlling their content-consumption destiny. That’s part of what’s behind the explosive growth of millennial-favorite streaming-gaming platform Twitch, which Amazon acquired last year for $970 million as well as prioritizes real-time interaction on its mobile apps.
The very culture surrounding streaming video itself on both mobile and desktop engenders seamless interaction. Consider the billions of shares, likes/dislikes, and channel subscriptions in just the YouTube ecosystem alone.

Millennials are poised to interact—in context, in program

Millennials are incredibly distracted consumers of content. They’re media multitaskers. So, programming that allows them to multi-task in-program helps them satisfy their natural desire to touch, tap, and swipe their way through their content-consumption journey.
In a recent study Watchwith conducted in collaboration with Magid, we found that more than half of 18- to 24-year-olds are more likely to watch more episodes of a show if it has in-program (i.e., non-interruptive) ads. We also found that in-program ads have higher levels of unaided recall compared to traditional TV ads. The point is to let the show continue flowing, but still get the ad message across.
In other words, while millennials may be inveterate multitaskers, when they’re actually in the flow of content-consumption, they’re ready and willing to interact with brand messages on their own terms.

Millennial MBAs, NextGen FinTech & the Rise of the Micro Conference

Continuing the millennial and fintech discussion, I recently attended the country’s largest (business) student run digital media conference, the Berkeley HaaS School of Business’ PLAY — a show curated by high achiever millennials, in which SoFi and PayPal were major sponsors, where some 20% of the agenda was focused on financial services disruption, and 25% of the exhibiting, pre-funded start-ups proposed some kind of re-invention of personal finance.
My learnings:

  • In an unstructured analysis by Foundation Capital, roughly 3500 fintech start-ups have received funding in the past 10 years, with some 60-70% started in the past 4. This indicates that many new fincos are just now coming out of their incubation and beta periods.
  • To be perfectly clear, SoFi aspires to do away with your old school banking relationships (if you’re a millennial). SoFi’s narrow target allows the company to rely less on lead generation vehicles – a cost and competitive advantage.
  • As a whole, SMB lending is in trouble, and that’s exactly where nextgen fincos are finding opportunity.
  • Lending Tree portfolio extends to medical and educational loans though SMB lending is still its core. The company has loaned $13 billion so far, with $9 billion in just the past year.
  • Credit Karma claims 45 million members – representing a quarter of all US residents who have a credit score. As a partner to lenders, the company is currently focused on facilitating the student and SMB loan process, but counts as well amongst its customers a broad base including top 10% earning individuals such as consultants, lawyers and bankers.
  • The bulk of finco competition resides on the supply front, with many companies competing for traffic and attention – this situation likely to force many companies to focus on a specific niche, and to become brands and product lines within larger well-resourced entities.
  • Lending Club on average reduces the debt load for SMBs and consumers by 7% versus their old loans.
  • Banks for the most part are embracing the fintech newcos (know they enemy), but not so much Sallie Mae which is finally seeing a threat to its student loan monopoly.
  • That said, SoFi has originated $6 billion in student loans so far in 2015, tiny in relation to the $1.4 trillion market.
  • Fintech newcos are developing their own models of risk, with a focus on cash flow and income versus credit score benchmarking. SoFi no longer uses FICO scores as a “blunt instrument.”
  • That said, most established newcos are not using un-tested “wacky” data like social media profiling either – primarily to adhere to regulations and best practices such as Fair Lending rules.
  • FDIC reports show that there’s been a rise in bigger loans above $1 million – up 55% — while small loans (i.e. for SMBs) are down 24%. So the customer base for alternative lenders is growing, with “even young white guy business owners” having trouble getting SMB loans via traditional outlets today and seeking other means of financing versus a past demographic of primarily black and Latino business owners from the inner city and other less affluent geographies.
  • Mobile usability still has a long way to go in fintech, with only a small handful of newcos allowing for account opening via mobile.

My take:

  • Contrary to some naysayers who believe that we are about to hit a fintech bubble, we are not yet at the peak of the next gen finco wave as companies who have been in stealth mode the past 1-2 years are now emerging, with the strongest finding their product-market fit in the coming year.
  • Niche in fintech is big business. Whether it’s taking SoFi’s stance of focusing exclusively on millennials, or addressing a single sector area such as auto loans, consumer acceptance of handling their finances online and via mobile has reached enough critical mass to support these niches.
  • FICO score will be largely irrelevant in next 5 years. While the company has remained under the radar with the Consumer Financial Board, which is too busy attacking the banks to yet look at the underlying flawed foundation/credit bureau underpinnings of people’s financial lives, the fintech newcos are heeding consumers’ pain and addressing it appropriately with their own measures and credit risk models.
  • The success that alt lenders have with SMBs will continue to accelerate as new small business owners discover the advantages of going with non-traditional lenders and the word spreads organically throughout local business communities. As some of these businesses grow into small franchises over the next decade, they will continue to be proponents and users of crowdfunding and alternative lending as their loan size needs increase and in some cases, become permanently disenfranchised from traditional lenders.
  • Mobile is still greenfield for fintech. The companies that figure this out will rule in the next 5 years, regardless of their position today.

While small compared to more formal tech industry events, the PLAY conference is representative of a new wave of bringing tech to a wider audience in the spirit of Dreamforce (i.e. providing substantive sessions and/or high profile speakers at low cost/free tickets) and content curation in which students or “non-experts” are developing independent voices and running their own home grown events versus passive attendance at more established/massive industry events. Panels and speakers tend to be less scripted, if at all, engendering honest and meaningful discussion. While not entirely free from “pay for play,” these under the radar “micro conferences” are at the least refreshing and gaining mindshare as they literally allow everyone to be in the same room, and can be highly insightful when attendees’ and presenters’ guards are down. We’ll be covering more of these organic, niche events in the coming year.

Fighting for Their Financial Freedom: Millennials Reinventing FinTech

One of the more enlightening sessions at this year’s Money 20/20 payment industry conference (9,000+ attendees) featured new findings from a Foundation Capital survey on Millennials and Financial Services. The survey found that U.S. Millennials as a generalized group (those born between 1984 to 1997) are financially stuck – they have bank accounts, but are swimming in student debt and thus have no money to spend on investments and the extras after food and rent. Not surprisingly, most Millennials do not believe that what savings they have – mandatory Social Security contributions – will actually materialize for them in retirement.
And as indicated by such emerging social constructs as the post-college group house, Millennials are essentially stuck in the bottom tiers of the needs pyramid — not only can’t they save for big purchases, but they are also postponing milestone life events such as getting a place of one’s own, marriage and family.
Ergo you could say that millennials – even more so than the capitalist generation before them (i.e. the wolves of Wall Street) – are obsessed with money. And how it holds them back.
At the same time, Millennials are very facile with their mobile financial apps and rely heavily on them for financial information, services and purchase decisioning. They may have big brand bank accounts, but to them the brick and mortar branch, the ATM, even physical money– are becoming less relevant.
All the above lays the groundwork for continued massive disruption in financial services as Millennials fixate and act on their [lack of] money obsession and the status quo education and financial systems that have literally left them living in their parents’ basements.
And thus driven by the financially disenfranchised (but still optimistic) Millennials, a new FinTech Renaissance is emerging. From alternative methods of lending like SoFi ($1 billion capital raised in Sept. 2015 to help consumers refinance their student loans) to services focused on helping consumers to understand and take control of their credit scores (Credit Karma raised $175 million in June 2015), to bitcoin and other cryptocurrency technology that represent a new payment rail and partial replacement for fiat ($1 billion+ investment in 2015 with blockchain development companies like Chain raising $30 million), Millennials are taking down – or at least making less relevant — the traditional financial power structure one sector at a time.
Over the course of the next year, we’ll take a look at some of the emerging financial services disruptors and trends coming out of Y-Combinator and other incubators and launchpads such as Draper FinTech Connection and Plug and Play’s Fintech Accelerator.

Survey shows surprise decline in US startups run by young people

Heard about all those young people who drop out of college to build their own business? Turns out there are far fewer of them than you might think. Contrary to popular perceptions about tech and millennials, the number of people under 30 who own companies has fallen to a 20-year low.

According to new Federal Reserve data parsed by the Wall Street Journal (paywall):

Roughly 3.6% of households headed by adults younger than 30 owned stakes in private companies … That compares with 10.6% in 1989—when the central bank began collecting standard data on Americans’ incomes and net worth—and 6.1% in 2010.

Meanwhile, the number of young people as a percentage of all entrepreneurs is also shrinking. According to a separate study cited by the Journal, only 22.7 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2013 were aged 20–34, compared to 26.4 percent the year before.

The story suggests that various factors are driving the dearth of young entrepreneurs; these include banks making fewer loans to small businesses and a lousy labor market that has deprived millennials of job skills. In turn, young people may have become more risk-averse, and have less confidence to embark on their own.

The overall picture would be brighter in the event that more older people were picking up the slack by launching startups later in life. That appears unlikely, however, given other numbers:

Overall, the U.S. “startup rate” — new firms as a portion of all firms — fell by nearly half between 1978 and 2011, according to an analysis by Mr. Litan [of the Brookings Institute] and his research partner, economist Ian Hathaway.