First-Time Entrepreneurs: Plan To Be a Workhorse, Not a Unicorn

Generation Z has a lot to offer the world. But in order to make waves in entrepreneurship, they need to make fast strides to grow and mature as individuals.

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.

Why your startup should strive to be an industry partner instead of an industry disruptor

It’s time to change our mantra from “Move fast and break things” to “Move intentionally and make things better.” Here’s how.

Many in Silicon Valley may subscribe to the mantra of “move fast and break things,” but entrepreneurs should think twice before billing their startup as an industry disruptor straight out of the gate. That type of language might initially pique investors’ interest, but it also risks putting people in the industry on defense. Starting out, your focus should be on building a business that partners with your industry. Think of this conscious approach as “move intentionally and make things better.”

To be clear, disruption is not a bad thing. Disruptors ignite ideas that can change things for the better. They can bring products and services to customers who previously couldn’t access them, reduce inefficiencies and even lower costs. Disruption may very well happen naturally as a result of your business. But this requires a balanced approach of being an industry partner while creating innovations that move the industry forward.

Take Netflix. The world’s largest streaming service didn’t set out to fundamentally alter how we consume media. Rather, as co-founder Reed Hastings tells it, the company was created to find a way to avoid late fees, like the $40 one he incurred at Blockbuster after losing a copy of “Apollo 13.” So he and Marc Randolph tested sending a CD through the mail, and Kibble (Netflix’s original name) was born. Streaming would come later, but first, Hastings and Randolph had to work within the confines of the video business and build up the company’s reputation. In other words, they had to partner with movie studios before competing with them.

It’s more effective to enact change by partnering with those in the industry. Why? Because getting people to change their ways is easier if you’re seen as an ally. Once you’re a trusted partner, you’ll be able to solve the problem together. Taking this approach may very well result in disruption, but you’re now attacking problems from within.

The danger here is trading your outsider silo for an industry one, which could result in tunnel vision. Innovative entrepreneurs must hold onto their vision for a better way to do business even as they work with industry partners.

So how should you operate as an innovative industry partner?

1. Become an expert on your industry.

The best entrepreneurs are good at pattern recognition, which will help you identify up-and-coming industry changes and help you capitalize on them. Start by learning all you can about how an industry operates by reading articles and going to industry conferences. Find out what the biggest pain points are. This also requires being a good listener. What are people in the industry actually saying? How are they expressing themselves? What kind of panels do they host? By constantly observing the state of the market and how things like technology are affecting consumer behavior, entrepreneurs will start to recognize patterns and see business opportunities for new products or services.

2. Be a problem-solver.

Identifying opportunities is the first step, but the next is offering solutions. Doing research will be critical, but research without empathy all but guarantees your efforts will fall flat. Empathy invites creative solutions. By placing yourself in the shoes of people in an industry, from executives down to rank-and-file workers and customers, you’ll take a wide approach that will help you see the best solution that benefits everyone. A 2015 paper by Bocconi University researchers confirms this: “User perspective taking lets entrepreneurs identify market opportunities that are not only more innovative, but also more desirable and aligned with the user needs.”

3. Remember that customers come first.

The goal of innovation is not to strictly improve things for those within the industry. Innovators should always focus on customers first and foremost. How can you make the customer experience better? As Thales Teixeira wrote in Harvard Business Review“The most common and pervasive pattern of disruption is driven by customers. They are the ones behind the decisions to adopt or reject new technologies or new products. When large companies decide to focus on changing customer needs and wants, they end up responding more effectively to digital disruption.”

Approaching your industry as an ally will not only let you see opportunities that those who strictly focus on disruption won’t, it also gives you another competitive advantage of having the trust of industry players. When you champion your industry and your allies within it, everyone wins. And eventually, you may realize that you were a disruptor all along.

4 Ways Conversational AI Can Close the Millennial Insurance Gap

Insurers need to have a plan to millennials, who behave differently than other groups, are the largest generation of adults in the nation—roughly 73 million—and also the most uninsured.

By now it’s well known that millennials represent our nation’s most uninsured generation. And this is not relegated to any one sector of insurance—it’s happening across all facets from health to life to renters’ insurance. As the largest generation of adults in the nation—roughly 73 million—insurance companies need to have a plan in place to address this trend if they want to thrive in this new era.

One primary reason for the expanding millennial insurance gap is the perception of inaccessibility. Millennials either don’t know how to apply, feel navigating the insurance options and exchanges is difficult, don’t feel informed enough, or see it as an inconvenience because the information they need is not available when and where they need it. Advancements in technology, namely artificial intelligence (AI) and chat, are empowering brands to deliver on the experience expectations the next generation of consumers have.

Buyer Characteristics Have Changed

Millennials are projected to account for approximately 75 percent of the global market by 2025. This has serious implications for any company—primarily because if it wants to survive, it must learn how to engage with and attract millennial business. The caveat? Millennial consumer habits are vastly different than that of their baby boomer counterparts.

Millennials value efficient, authentic consumer experiences. They want convenient solutions and care less about how those solutions are delivered, whether by a human or technology.

This is where a number of businesses are struggling to keep pace, and one reason why the insurance industry has lost traction among this demographic. A report released by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, “Millennials: Digital Natives Disrupting Healthcare,” found the number of uninsured millennials is continuing to increase more so than any previous generation. As of 2018, 16 percent of millennials were uninsured while just 8 percent of baby boomers opted out of insurance. What’s more, a New York Life conducted a survey that found only 10 percent of millennials say they have enough life insurance in place to cover self-reported needs.

To turn this trend around, insurance companies will need to challenge the way they’ve traditionally engaged with consumers. This is where conversational AI can bridge the gap.

Technology Meets Millennials Where They Are

Advanced technology, like AI and chat, is helping brands meet millennials where they are and in real-time. However, not all AI is created equal.

Although similar to chatbots, conversational AI platforms are more capable of handling the complexities, like those associated with the insurance industry, and relates to millennials in a way that generic experiences simply can’t. True conversational AI is capable of performing multi-turn conversations and executing judgment-intensive tasks, just like humans. Here’s how AI empowers insurers to deliver a better customer experience:

Communicating on Millennial-Friendly Channels

Much of the millennial consumer’s life is already taking place online, and they’ve come to expect these seamless experiences across all areas of their lives. According to Salesforce research, 58 percent of customers say emerging technologies, such as AI-powered chatbots and voice assistance, have changed their expectations of companies and 54 percent say companies need to transform how they engage with them. Additionally, the same research stated that when given the choice between filling out a website form or getting answers from a chatbot, only 14 percent of customers would choose the form.

Why? Because today’s consumers expect real-time interactions on the channels they’re already communicating on, which is exactly what conversational-AI platforms deliver.

Being There When It’s Convenient for Customers

Emergencies are not planned for or scheduled—a concept the insurance industry is all too familiar with. When the unexpected happens, customers want to know they can access a solution. AI-powered tools provide insurers with another option to staffing human support. They can provide answers and process claims requests when human service is not an option or serve as a supplement to free the team up to handle only the highly complex situations. In SurveyMonkey and Drift’s report, “2019 State of Conversational Marketing,” it was found that the fact chatbots are always on makes them more preferable over other methods of brand communications, like email, live chat or social media.

Another advantage of conversational AI specifically, is it has the capability to handle a high volume of inquiries across multiple channels within a single moment. This eliminates the frustrating process of waiting in a phone cue for the next available associate, particularly during high-volume call times.

Enabling Human-Like Conversations

Although we live in a digital age, the value of human connection is not lost on today’s consumers. In fact, 38 percent of consumers still want to talk with a human when engaging with a brand. And conversational AI, as it builds brand- and industry-specific intelligence, can deliver. While it will never displace the human-to-human connection, AI has the capability to serve as a utility as well as a companion—and it’s only growing more advanced.

Over the years, conversational AI interfaces have evolved to be able to understand the complexities of human speech—slang, multi-string words, abbreviations, fragments, mispronunciations, and more. And because they incorporate machine learning, they adapt and become smarter as time goes on without human assistance. As a result, conversational AI is able to communicate with customers in a natural tone and convey emotion—to the point where it’s become indecipherable whether you’re communicating with a human or technology.

Offering a Variety of Use Cases

At its core, a conversational AI interface serves as a virtual assistant that can help with a number of use cases, including answering questions about products and plans, matching customers to the right solutions, filing and managing claims, purchasing a policy, and offering help desk support. Its dynamic and intuitive capabilities make it especially useful in the complex insurance industry—primarily for its ability to make buying insurance more relatable and ultimately taking the guesswork out of what millennials perceive to be an intimidating process.

Furthermore, conversational AI helps deliver on what Gallup has found to be the top drivers of millennial customer engagement:

• Keeping accounts and personal information secure
• Ease of making changes to coverage
• Finding answers to insurance questions
• Offering valuable services online
• Ease of managing accounts
• Ease of payment features
• Ease of access to policy information
• Ease of website navigation

Beyond the value it provides to millennial consumers, conversational AI also enables insurance companies to better understand and meet the evolving needs of this demographic. As the AI becomes more intelligent, so does the organization. It provides valuable insights into customer behavior that can inform decision making and the digital experience to better engage with generations to come.