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How Millennials Sell to Millennials

How are the most innovative young minds in retail and e-commerce finding success selling to their generation?

Millennials know how to sell to Millennials. Forbes’s 2016 30 under 30 list showcases 30 entrepreneurial Millennials who are helping transform the retail and e-commerce space via startups and innovations. The roster includes 20-year-old Megan Grassel, founder of teen bra and underwear brand Yellowberry, and Satish Kanwar, the director of product at Shopify, who helped create the Facebook and Pinterest “Buy,” buttons. The chosen 30 were picked out of a “long list of nominees” by judges Tory Burch, Jessica Alba (co-founder of The Honest Co.),  Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (co-founder of Golt Groupe), and Carrie Hammer (30 Under 30 alumna). 

The list is not just full of smart, enterprising Millennials and rising star retailers, but the major trends that young startups are employing to appeal to their retail rebel peers. Since small, innovative retailers are succeeding with young shoppers while major brands are struggling, these are retail trends we should all be inspired by. Here’s a few of the ways Millennials are successfully selling to Millennials: 


Today, when an ambitious young shopper can’t find what they’re looking for in big stores and sites, they’ll just make it themselves. Several of the 30 under 30 companies were created because of gaps in the current fashion market. 26-year-old Kelechi Anyadiegwu founded Zuvaa because she couldn’t find the fashionable African-inspired clothing she herself wanted to buy. Megan Grassel, the youngest on the roster, started teen lingerie brand Yellowberry “after a frustrating shopping trip with her 13-year-old sister,” and has branded her company as the “anti-Victoria’s Secret.” 


Millennials have fueled the wildly successful subscription e-commerce trend, and now they can get everything from weed to toys to vinyl via subscription. But clearly it’s not enough, because they’re also founding their own subscription businesses. The companies on Forbe’s list included fashion subscription M.M. LaFleur, feminine care subscription LOLA, clean-food meal subscription Sakara Life, and pet supply subscription star Bark & Co—co-founded by 29-year-old Carly Strife. 


No, this doesn’t mean making hoodies with built-in earbuds, or putting an iPhone-sized pocket in a pair of jeans. (Though both of those are great as well.) Instead, Millennial fashion entrepreneurs are offering shoppers clothing with fabrics and designs improved by tech. The 28-year-old founders of ADAY are integrating technology usually used in Olympic athlete’s garb into their stylish activewear, and the also 28-year-old co-founders of Athletic Propulsion Labs created their high-end fashion sneakers with “patented performance technology.” (Note the athleisure trend clearly at work here as well.) Julie Sygiel, founder of Dear Kate, is a chemical engineer who invented leak and stain-resistant underwear, yoga pants, and more for active females tired of ruining clothes once a month.  


Connecting young shoppers with goods and creators that they might never have had access to in the past is a major theme running through the 30 by 30 list. “Democratizing” retail is clearly a new wave—with success stories like Warby Parker serving as inspiration. For some Millennial entrepreneurs, this mean connecting buyers with smaller and emerging creators: Christine Souffrant founded Vendedy to connect street vendors around the world with shoppers online, and Carl Waldekranz founded Tictail to help indie retailers set up online commerce quickly, and the co-founders of the Nineteenth Amendment matches emerging designers with shoppers. For others, democratization means giving shoppers access high-quality goods at a lower price. Leura Fine founded Laurel & Wolf, an online marketplace of interior designers who work at a flat fee, and Stephanie Korey, alumna of Warby Parker, has launched Away to bring “high-end luggage to the mass market.”


It’s a post-Uber world, and Millennials are starting some of the businesses that will make everything on demand. Phil Dumonte founded Dashed, a delivery service that brings food from more than 800 restaurants with no previous delivery service, like Bertucci’s, PF Chang’s, and Pinkberry, to hungry patrons within 40 minutes. Even jobs are on demand: 23-year-old Stacey Ferreira heads up Forrge, a “work scheduling tool to match on-demand jobs with workers.”