The Totally Wired Youth Entrepreneur Panel
- June 4th, 2009
- 1 Comments
Now that Anastasia and I have just about recovered from the latest Ypulse Mashup event held earlier this week in San Francisco (see her post for more highlights), I wanted to take some time and reflect on the last (and indisputably most tweeted and retweeted) panel of the two day conference: The Totally Wired Youth Entrepreneur Panel.
A true testament to the savviness of the teens and twentysomethings we selected, by the end of their session Guy Kawasaki, venture capitalist dynamo and panel moderator, looked pretty ready to go into business with any and all of them. My guess is he wasn’t alone. The well-spoken crew—Daniel Brusilovsky of Teens in Tech; Jessica Mah of internshipIN.com and Indinero; Jun Loayza of Viralogy.com; Carly Wertheim of Teens Turning Green and a very worthy last minute addition Ashley Qualls of WhateverLife.com—were not only ambitious, but remarkably insightful as well ...
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t cover it up
Throughout the conference speakers and panelists kept coming back to the same point about transparency—if your brand experiments and fails, fess up and move on. Your audience will respect you more for it. When the teens and twentysomethings on the panel were asked about their humble beginnings we saw this approach in effortless action. In fact, Jessica Mah proudly announced that her latest venture, indinero.com , a site to help small businesses and non-profits manage their personal finances, was started as a way to save her own first company after it ran out of money. Jun, at 23 the oldest panelist on stage, also openly talked about being shot down on his first couple of tries out of the gate and the valuable lesson he gathered from the experience: “investors don’t want to talk to you if you don’t have traction.” The panelists were also less than shy about the many online detractors who wished failure on them, prompting Guy to offer this helpful description of a certain tech blog’s reader base, “50 year old males, who have never French kissed, and still live with their parents.”
Young interns are not the only litmus test of teen taste
When asked about the most clueless move a youth-targeted brand could make, a few panelists spoke out about companies’ misguided approach to understanding the demo through numbers vs. individuals. Both Daniel and Carly suggested that the best way to gain insight was to seek out the community you’re targeting and inspire teens to talk to each other. Ashley added that while hiring young people within your company is a good start (echoing keynote speaker’s Josh Shipp’s recommendation to put a skeptical 15 year-old on your payroll), brands can’t expect them to represent their entire generation.
Faith and fearlessness will take you far
One of the qualities that impressed me most about the panel was the apparent lack of intimidation (both on-stage and in business). Sure, this might have something to do with the “safety net of their parents” that was mentioned in an earlier session on Gen Y’s spending habits during the recession, but still. The attitude that you won’t know if your company can compete with Craigslist unless you try (as skeptics told Jessica of internshipIN), that your part-time hobby might just become a lucrative career (the origins of Ashley’s WhateverLife), and that passion can actually sell your product to a big brand (how Teens Turning Green got their body care line into Whole Foods) is one we all could benefit from right now. Even without a safety net.
Twitter vs. Facebook
While four out of five of the panelists were on Twitter (in line with an earlier panelist’s observation about the psychographic vs. demographic appeal of the site), they remained divided on which was a better marketing tool (notably, none chose MySpace, the third option). The Facebook fans Daniel and Carly chose that site for the ability to create a community around your brand (via fan page and group), while the other three opted for Twitter. Jun, the biggest Twit-advocate, suggested it was the best way to monitor your brand and insert yourself into relevant conversations. When Guy asked him if others would consider this approach spammy, Jun argued that it depended on your response.
Brands that the youth panel says “get it”
No big surprises here: Apple, Nike, Disney, Nickelodeon and Tom’s Shoes, of which eco-activist Carly said, “teens love cool products with a cause.”