"It completely makes sense why there are contradictions, because you're talking about hundreds of millions of people, and you can't bundle them all into one group," says Philippe von Borries, a co-founder and co-CEO of Refinery29, a media company geared toward millennial women.
Instead of trying to figure out how millennials behave, companies should instead be thinking about the "millennial ideology," von Borries told Toby Daniels, the founder and executive director of Social Media Week, during an event Friday for Social Media Week New York.
People now have more access to information than ever before, and consumers--not just millennials who grew up navigating this digital landscape--are starting to act and think differently as a result. Von Borries says consumers are more globally-minded but at the same time are also using technology to seek out their own "tribes," or like-minded communities around the world.
"I missed the cutoff by two months, but I absolutely have the millennial mindset," says von Borries. "It's driving all of us to be better human beings and act better in the world around us."
Von Borries says three qualities in particular exemplify the millennial mindset: a desire to find purpose, an aversion to hierarchy, and an emphasis on inclusion. One can look to the rise of holacracy and social movements such as Black Lives Matter for examples of how these qualities have manifested themselves in recent years.
Von Borries and his co-founder and co-CEO, Justin Stefano, didn't intend to start a media company for millennial women. Refinery29 was originally supposed to be "the indie mall of your dreams." The goal of the website was to bring together the world's independent artisans and makers into one site.
When Refinery29 launched in 2005, the digital landscape was dramatically different. Mark Zuckerberg had created thefacebook.com only one year prior. Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat--all social media platforms that are now critical to reaching millennials--hadn't launched yet.
"We'd go from store to store and sign people up with a clipboard," von Borries says with a laugh. "No one was talking about the millennial ideology, that was for sure."
While Refinery29 was originally geared toward men and women, von Borries and Stefano noticed that women were the ones who were most engaged with the site. Six months in, Refinery29 shifted gears, and became a site focused on empowering women. The company's coverage expanded beyond fashion and style, and now covers beauty, politics, health, entertainment, and tech.
Von Borries says that Refinery29 discovered that the key to building an engaged audience was to "go deep"-- to find out what topics their audience was really passionate about, such as body positivity, and build "communities around them." Today, the company has raised more than $80 million in funding, and more than 100 million users interact with its various platforms each month.
"The power of niche is going to become very important in the next two years," von Borries says.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the number of users who interact with all of Refinery29's platforms each month.