I hear the term “millennials” thrown around a lot by entrepreneurs and other VC’s (almost entirely by non-millennials). The term is generally used in a sentence like — “The world used to be this way, but millennials would rather do X, and so we need to build services that enable X.” While the word makes sense as a generational marker (like “baby boomers”), I’m skeptical that it’s helpful as a way of describing values and preferences — particularly for entrepreneurs and investors.

Like any other generation, millennials are diverse — the generation equally captures a 30 year old investment banker from the Bronx and a 20 year old salesperson at Best Buy from rural South Carolina. These people are not the same. What appeals to them very likely is not the same. How they act and what they value is likely not the same. So it’s highly unlikely these two people will be equally attracted to your product or service because it’s on demand, or has a buy one get one free component. Treating all millennials as a homogenous mass avoids nuance — which product / market fit seems largely dependent on embracing. Yes, on average, “millennials” may have different characteristics than other generations — but as VCs and entrepreneurs, generational averages matter less than the behavior of your target customer. Our discussion should be focused on what motivates and drives those specific people — not broad, overarching arguments about the nature of a generation.

Even if millennials were all the same, this discussion also suffers from another problem — it tends to ignore the structural conditions that give rise to changes in behavior. It suffers from the fundamental attribution error — that even the average choices millennials make are driven by something intrinsically different about them, rather than the world they’re in. To test that assumption, ask yourself this question — has the world changed in the past 20 years in ways that are relevant for to teenagers and young adults ? I’ll give you a hint: yes. Take, for instance, the generalization that millennials like to travel more than previous generations. The cost of airplane travel has halved over the past 30 years — a basic understanding of supply and demand curves would lead you to the same conclusion, and strikes me as a far more solid basis for an argument.

Interested in hearing if you disagree — you can find me at @ablordesays.

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Startups, political economy, productivity, rap, bbq, fiction, barbershops Now: @4DegreesAI. Before: @PritzkerVC, @mestghana, @bainalerts, @Harvard.

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