I read a piece in the New York Times recently about Millenials. I enjoyed it; instead of the usual rants about how we all have ADD, we’re all lazy, and we’re all sociology majors who feel entitled to jobs we’re not qualified for, it focused on our entrepreneurial impulse. It focused on our ideals. We want the financial success and social acceptance our parents strived for, but we want to achieve it on our own terms. Many no longer aspire to get that coveted entry level position and work our way up to Managing Director; instead, they want to start our own companies, form their own teams. Much of this has come out of a desire for increased autonomy, but much of it has also formed out of necessity; Gen-Yers see that the path to the top is no longer as illustrious as it once was. Professions like law, banking, and healthcare, which were once seen as a stable path to prosperity, are no longer regarded as such, and many young people feel they have just as good a shot trying to make it on their own.
The article was written by William Deseriewicz, a self proclaimed “bobo living in a hipster neighborhood” in Portland. It is obvious that the article is very Portland-centric. Portland is a city that shares a lot of natural overlaps with New York. It is a largely mobile, educated, young, and tolerant city with bouts of crappy weather and lots of food carts. However, the author mentions that in Portland the main drive was to start a socially conscious enterprise, make a ton of money, and give the money away. My experience at a fintech startup here in New York meeting young entrepreneurs has been different. Here, we are unabashed capitalists. We talk openly about valuations, buyouts, monetization, “exits.”. Social consciousness is important, but it is not at the center of the New York ecosystem. Selling your business to a corporation, taking VC money, advertising on your site, etc. is not looked down on. In fact, it is the goal. An opportunity to do any of these things is respected, envied even. What matters is getting there on your own terms, creating a unique vision and having the guts to take risks to bring it to life. Taking your own lane, being yourself, and sticking to it is what gets you respect in an entrepreneurial culture. Blending in, agreeing with everyone, that is the mark of someone looking to work up a structure that is seen as irrelevant and dead.
This is what Deseriewicz gets wrong. He writes that we are a generation that is all accommodating, hoping to please everyone so that they will buy our products, which is many cases is ourselves. Because we have “branded” ourselves, he feels we are all salesmen. This may be the ethos some adapt, but to be successful as an entrepreneur this will not get you very far. The goal of the boomers was to conquer the system; gen-x wanted to defy the system. Gen-Y’s intention is neither; it is to build our own system, and bring others on board. Deseriewicz writes: “we’re all in showbiz now, walking on eggshells, relentlessly tending our customer base.” There is absolutely some truth in this; our generation is certainly not non-conformist. Nowadays it’s more daring to flirt with conservatism than liberalism, and there’s definitely a “hip-to-be-square” thing going on in all aspects of the culture. But I think Deseriewicz underestimates what he calls our customer base, or our audience. Our observers are highly adaptive, and can smell bullshit from a mile away. The goal of the millenial is not to create a slick persona that is highly appealing; the true goal is to be accepted, and praised. for being yourself. The “selling” of ourselves is that exact thing millenials are running from. Millenials don’t want to have to sell anything. To achieve success and self-actualization without compromising who one truly is, that is the goal.