Eight things Startup Business Owners Need to Know about Millennials

The increasing importance of the Millennial or Gen-Y Generation, those born between early 1980s and the early 2000s, presents the most significant shift in focus for businesses. This up and coming group may present some unique challenges to new business owners, particularly those from an older generation.

This blog addresses both individual features as well as group characteristics that collectively identify the Millennial mind-set.

The four of the key individual attributes:

  1. Millennials want immediate gratification and recognition.

    Baby Boom parents constantly praised their children. In addition, those kids got much of what they wanted without the commensurate sacrifice than was entailed previously. Consequently, Gen-Yers inherently believe they are important, even before they have proven it and so, for the most part, they believe that what they want can be had directly.

  2. Millennials are passionate.

    They actually believe what their parents said, “Follow your dreams.” And, because they are risk-takers, they are not afraid of failure. There is always something else to do. If they are not actively engaged, they may not stick around too long.

  3. Millennials are more interested in social responsibility than their predecessors.

    This appears contradictory to the previous statement. Actually, it means they want what they do to have purpose beyond simply making a living.

  4. Millennials are experiential.

    It is not information or things that are important unto themselves. It is the sensation they get from having them and what they feel when using them. Millennials are “experiential.” They want to be a part of what is going on. They are driven by FOMO-fear of missing out. Advertising geared towards Gen-Y is all about evoking the sense that if you don’t have a certain product, you will not be able to participate in the action.

What does all of this mean for your ability to gain and retain employees?

First, Understand the Millennials may come in with unrealistic expectations. They may have wage demands that are beyond the capacity of many boot-strapping companies. Finally, while these are internal motivations, Millennials may expect that they will be to be provided by an outside source, i.e. you-their employer.

Now, let’s take a look at the characteristics that help define the way in which Millennials view the workplace. Below are the four key factors to consider when trying to understand the characteristics of this group.

  1. Millennials are a digital generation.

    Baby boomers and many of the Gen-Xers started out in an analog world. Generally speaking, Boomers understand new technology by translation from something they knew before. For example, computers are a sophisticated combination of the typewriter and calculator. In contrast, Millennials are native digital users. They understand technology for what is was built to do, not what it emulates.

  2. Millennials are “app” orientated.

    For the most part, they grew up with mobile devices that are driven by applications that were designed to perform a specific function very well, but nothing else. Therefore, problems are seen as discrete issues to be solved in specific ways. They tend to use inductive rather than deductive logic. They start with specifics in order to solve problems.

  3. Millennials are entrepreneurial.

    Over sixty percent of Millennials believe they will start or own a business. Most of them will not, but that doesn’t change their mindset. This may also emanate from the belief that they are important and, therefore, should be their own boss.

  4. Millennials tend towards risk-taking.

    This is a logical off-shoot of their risk tolerance. They are not afraid to try something new. They are not afraid to move. Corporate America no longer provides the long-term employment security it once did. Your new business gives them the opportunity to participate.

Collectively, these characteristics will shape the development of your company.

  • Your new employees will be early adopters of disruptive technology and may seek out companies that give them the opportunity to use it.
  • Their thought processes may require you to develop programs to enhance their ability to think strategically.
  • Their acceptance of risk and passion may give you an opportunity to mitigate costs.
  • They may be willing to trade income for even a small stake in your enterprise, if you are willing to give it away.

By 2015, it is predicted that Millennials will surpass all other groups.

Perhaps most important to a start-up business owner, Millennials are rapidly becoming the largest segment of the workforce. Because of the hollow echo behind the Baby-Boomers, Gen-Xers will never be a majority component of the workforce. Therefore, there is a step change coming in the marketplace, with a dramatic impact on the way companies will do business.

Millennials are the growing power house that will drive the economy into the future. The way to interact with your new employees and potential customers must change. The key to building a successful company is to understand that traditional processes, be they human resource management, operations or marketing, may have limited utility. Success is predicated on understanding and adapting to this changing environment.


Dave Clark

Dave Clark taught Strategy at West Point and is a co-founder of FundingSage, which provides valuable information, tools and resources to entrepreneurs seeking to start, grow and fund a business.