I’m a Gen Z VC, and Here’s Why “Gen Z VCs” are Overrated:
In the eternal words of Kanye Omari West: “Scoop-diddy-whoop, Whoop-di-scoop-di-poop.”
Welcome to the Gen Z episode. It’s nothing personal.
Let’s kick it off with some basic background. Pew Research defines Gen Z as anyone born after 1996. Ostensibly, Gen Z is digital-native, meme-informed, and progressive. However, I think nobody would disagree with me when I say that the line there is a bit wavy and largely depends on where and under what circumstances one grew up in.
Sure, most of us grew up in an age of technology, but we didn’t all grow up in an age of social media. There’s a paradigm shift in views and experiences from someone born in 1997 to someone born in 2012. I was born in 1999: I got my first cell phone (no keyboard or touchscreen) at 10. My first car was a 2000 Volvo S70 (manual transmission), I used a floppy disc in elementary school, and although I did grow up with a computer, I remember Clippy as the highlight of my MS Word experience. And, most importantly, I got my first social media account on the day I turned 13. That’s a far cry from the second half of this generation.
At least by Gen Z standards, I’m a boomer. I didn’t download TikTok until the pandemic started, and to this day my FYP (for-you page) has more national news coverage than dance videos. See, we don’t call boomers “boomers” because they’re backward-thinking, stupid, or illogical (at least, most of the time). Realistically, we usually refer to people as boomers because they’re old, and reflect the ideology of an older generation. In the same sense, Gen Z is a reflection of immaturity more than it is a reflection of any true generational identity. Does Gen Z love NFTs because they have real value? Or are Bored Apes the new Silly Bandz? Another expensive fad for parents to waste their money on without, and no real substance.
My last point on the totality of Gen Z: If the birth date range for a Gen Z is 1997–2012, the average age of a “Gen Z” right now is ~17.5. Most modern neuroscience indicates that the brain stops developing at the age of 25. Gen Z, no matter how you slice it, are still a bunch of kids. Myself included.
Let’s talk about ✨ Gen Z VCs ✨ :
In the last couple of years through a large group of “Gen Z VCs” have come to the forefront of what one might consider “hip” venture capital investing. Web 3, crypto, NFTs, and the creator economy are a small subset of investment sectors championed by this wave of investors. In turn, these have become the “hyped industries.” Web3 alone received $27B in investment dollars last year alone..
Gen Z VCs have raised funds, garnered social media followings, and profited off the Gen Z mentality.
Good for them. I don’t want to be any part of it.
Just look at the Gen Z VCs summit survey. The top investment trend is “Fintech.” Their favorite company is Apple. Their top role models include Elon Musk, AOC, and Megan Loyst (the latter of whom, in an affront to polling error and situational irony, being the person who published the survey). Is this creativity, originality, and the next wave of forward-thinking investors? Or is it a bunch of kids who regurgitate trends on the internet in hopes of breaking down the door to entering the most esoteric and lucrative industry in capitalist America?
There aren’t true “thought leaders” in the space either. Everyone’s top aspirational VCs don’t have insightful takes or meaningful Twitter posts — just retweets, shameless self-promotion, and the occasional ask for food recommendations in whichever city they’re visiting. I’m in the Gen Z VCs Slack group and it’s the epitome of this transactional immaturity. Every post is so fake that you could see it in Fyre Fest marketing materials, and each and every one has the goal of advancing the poster, their product, or their company. Nothing about the world or ecosystem as a whole.
I’ll be honest at this point I’m so damn sick of emojis that if I the next time a lightbulb-rocket-emoji-filled load of BS makes it in my Twitter feed I’m going to do the ice bucket challenge in our office. I don’t want deal swapping, fake words of encouragement, or implied reciprocation. I want to form authentic relationships based on trust, mutual respect, and intelligent conversations about how we can move the world forward. But that’s not your typical “Gen Z VC.” As a majority, the community and the people who leverage it comprise individuals trying (and often succeeding) at using youth, group-think identification, and confidence as a substitute for hard work and experience. It works for now, but if that’s success for my generation of venture capitalists, then I would have rather stayed in my happy little bubble writing geochemistry code for NASA JPL.
Sure, as an industry venture capital certainly suffers from nepotism as well as gender and racial biases (more on that later), but I like to believe that at its best, VC is the greatest meritocracy in the United States. Too often, I’ve seen Gen Z VCs use this “Gen Z” persona to advance their career in a way that doesn’t translate to authentic value or experience as an investor. You can understand one consumer sector and speak to them better than anyone, but you’re still missing coverage on the other 80.65% of the U.S (not including of course the half of Gen Z that doesn’t have their own money to invest yet). I’ve sat on enough board meetings now to know that it would be near impossible for most of us to provide real value for a late-stage company, unless their new approach to customer acquisition is creating an NFT project.
Personally, I’d rather be defined by my investment track record than by my TikTok following, NFT collection, or my love of Dwayne the Rock Johnson. And I never want to have my career success, my fundraising, or my reputation based on a false narrative of youth that makes me seem “newer” or “more contrarian” than the older guard of investors. Who cares if you’re contrarian if you’re just plain wrong, too?
That’s not to say that there aren’t great Gen Z VCs out there. They exist, and I am lucky to count many of them as close friends. I refuse to call myself a “Gen Z VC” because I refuse to use youth and trendiness to substitute for experience, hard work, and at the end of the day, merit. That mentality, that lifestyle, is what makes “Gen Z VCs” overrated.
There’s the tea.