I've been interviewing young entrepreneurs for almost two years now and one of the re-emerging themes in the businesses they start is dissatisfaction with the status quo. Sure, that's pretty much true for all entrepreneurs, but this generation of upstarts has its own way of looking at existing products and services and judging them not quite up to snuff for their own needs. Their response: I can do better. The result: businesses like Mint.com, Unigo, and Ignighter.
Mint.com, which was featured on our Inc.com 30 Under 30 Coolest Entrepreneurs list, and in our magazine feature, Cool, Determined and Under 30, was started by Aaron Patzer, who was frustrated with personal finance software like Quicken and Microsoft Money. They were "tedious and boring and failed my basic needs," he says. For instance, they took too long to set up and didn't categorize his expense accurately enough. So he built something more to his own liking. Mint.com is an online personal finance tool that tells you exactly how you're spending your money, how you can save, when your credit card payment is due, and when your bank balance is low. Sounds like mom, but without the nagging. Mint.com now has 600,000 registered users and half of them are under age 30.
Unigo is a website that contains free student-generated information on over 300 colleges and universities. It's CEO Jordan Goldman's response to what he believes is the failure of traditional publishing companies to adequately serve the needs of prospective college students. The big guides put out by Fiske and Princeton Review have a few pages on each college and are typically light on substantive student comment. "We're not interested in white-washing the college experience," says Goldman. "If part of going to a particular college is going to keggers every week, it's better that you know that ahead of time." Amen to that. The company launched last September with 15,000 student comments, pictures and videos. In its first week, it racked up 1.5 million page views and Goldman had a long list of potential advertisers knocking at his door.
Ignighter.com is a GenY spin on Match.com. Co-founded by Adam Sachs, Dan Osit, Kevin Owocki, the site allows young singles to register in groups and arrange group dates with other groups. Did you get that the key word here is "group"? "We had friends who were beginning to explore the online dating world and they'd come back to us with horror stories," says Sachs. "So we thought, this wouldn't be so awkward if you could just be with your friends and still be able to meet new people." The founders spent the summer in Boulder at a highly selective incubator/mentoring/funding program called TechStars, where they refined their website, which now has 6,000 registered groups world-wide.
By the way, all of these companies are either venture or angel-backed, so the founders aren't the only ones who think they're on to something by starting companies that specifically serve the needs of their generation. Do you know of other start-up companies like this, or do you have examples of established companies that are tweaking their products or services to entice GenY consumers?
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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