The world isn’t ending just yet.
“Reports of my death,” Mark Twain famously said, “are greatly exaggerated”. Indeed, he lived another fifteen years. Sometimes in these days of gloomy and discouraging news it may seem that our way of life and our democracy is headed for demise. As bad, even extraordinary, as things are or may seem, that fear is probably exaggerated. Even so, the feeling of despair is real. It’s easy for even an optimistic person like me to feel depressed, to feel alarmed by what is and might lie ahead. I refuse to submit. When feeling fatigued, I reach for a Mati, a truly healthy energy drink. Now I love my Mati, but this is not a product pitch. It’s about Mati the story and Mati as a metaphor for something larger than itself.
First the story. After many years working with long established (often global) clients, I now devote most of my time assisting and mentoring startups. Most of that work is centered in nearby Durham’s American Underground, a vibrant and growing hub of fledgling entrepreneurial activity. Housed in repurposed tobacco warehouses, it’s home to a number of accelerator and developmental programs, including one that nurtures female entrepreneurs. The AU houses gathering spaces and, perhaps most important, affordable office space. It’s a community and I provide branding help to participants in three of its programs. That’s what connected me with Mati in the summer of 2014. Tatiana Birgisson created this tea based energy drink and started her company in her Duke University dorm room. When we met, Mati came in a single citrus flavor, brewed and canned during the idle hours at a local brewery. It was on the shelves at a select number of area stores. Today, less than three years later, Tatiana’s six flavor line is shipped out of Mati’s own facility in nearby Clayton and rolling out to an increasing number of outlets. It’s not national yet, but is available, of course, at Amazon. Tatiana Birgisson is a success story. She is only in her mid-twenties. I still work with, and am inspired by, her. Frankly, the Mati story gives me even greater energy and certainly broader hope than the drink.
However powerful that story, it is dwarfed by the metaphor. Tatiana still maintains her company office at the Underground, amid that bustling community of fellow starters. Metaphorically Mati is that innovative generation — I’ll call it the Mati Generation. Not all of them are in their twenties, but most are still young with a long life ahead. The Mati Generation is my — our — great hope, a forceful reminder that the world isn’t drawing to an end. Quite the contrary, it has a great and creative future. That has happened before. The seeds of where we are today (including our democracy) were sown by past younger generations. This age cohort of any era has always been a source of hope. The Mati Generation is definitely similar, but not the same. Beyond all else, it was born into a time of hyper and enabling technology. Of course, technology had been around earlier, but when I was in college, and for some time after, computers were oversized devices used by select professionals and locked in cooled rooms behind closed corporate doors. They were very powerful, but we had no access to them nor could we even imagine what impact they would have on our daily lives.
Today, as the little fellow in his stroller that I caught recently on my phone engaged his shows, all that initial power and more has shifted into their hands, their control. There are obvious downsides to this access, but on balance it translates into unparalleled empowerment. Mati is a more traditional beverage enterprise, but many in the Mati Generation are harnessing technology and breaking new ground. At a time of greater concern about concussions, one startup has developed a device to track and measure impact on athletes’ heads while at play. Another has developed an app and wearable device to help doctors complete their medical records while others are developing learning games. The variety of ideas and the passion of these founders can be breathtaking.
Working closely with startups and also living in Chapel Hill, a university town, I’m fortunate to come into contact with many in the Mati Generation. I see them too in my own and friends’ families. These are young people who are bent on doing a broad variety of interesting things. Some are entrepreneurs but there are also many going into teaching or social services where the money is limited but the possibility of changing lives is unbounded. It’s a generation that don’t see a world of “my kind” or “the other”. They value and judge individuals for who they are as people not for how they look, where they come from or who they love. That may sound like a liberal sound bite from last year’s election, but it’s reflective of the Mati Generation across political parties. Same sex marriage: what’s the big deal about that? Immigrants: isn’t one of Google’s founders Russian born?
Don’t get me wrong. This is a disturbing time and we may be headed for some more tough years ahead; attempts to set back the clock. I’m not trying to spin that to be anything else but bad. But I won’t give up and won’t stop feeling very optimistic about the future. As a professional, I must caution you. However many of the current generation encounters I’ve had, my impressions (they can’t be called findings) are grounded on purely anecdotal information. Moreover, within the Mati Generation’s age cohort there are people of all kinds likely including tomorrow’s bad actors. With those caveats in mind, I believe firmly in the Mati Generation. It’s what really keeps me going, reminds me that the world isn’t ending yet.