Let's face it. My own Generation X, as well as Baby Boomers, are obsessed with "The Millennials". We murmur amongst ourselves: "What are they thinking?"; "How can we get them to buy our stuff?"; "What are they doing?!"; "Will they like us?"; "Make sure you have one on your board/committee/fill-in-the-blank!"

At last week's Retail's BIG Show sponsored by the National Retail Federation, the majority of speakers referenced "those millennials", born between the mid 1980?s and the early 2000?s, and expressed angst around how best to capture their hearts and gain more market share. We critique them in high brow journals such as in this Atlantic article-yet we succumb to a "can't live with them, and can't live without them" reality.

Perhaps then we need to embrace a paradigm shift and re-frame the question as follows:

What can we learn from millennials?

It turns out, quite a bit.

  1. Your co-creators are the experts. Recently I was introduced to Tiffany Pham, the founder of Mogul, an online platform that facilitates conversations among young women to share journeys and ideas collectively, instead of in isolated moments. Its content is 100% user generated. Mogul's blog posts feature diverse subjects from its members with titles ranging from "SNL tries to make rape culture funny" to "Leadership for an Inspired Generation".Tiffany, a young woman of Vietnamese, Chinese and French descent, was inspired by her grandmother, a self made media entrepreneur. Tiffany saw a gap in the market- that most information hubs were dominated by male millennial voices, and she responded to that gap by teaching herself code and launching Mogul. Her goal is to make Mogul the digital hub for women around the world, and take up the slack where more male-dominated user-generated sites such as Reddit leave off.
  1. Kindness is a business strategy. Tiffany has an impressive pedigree. She is Ivy League educated, a book author (From Business Strategy to Information Technology Roadmap), a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, an investor in the arts, a film producer, and a self-made entrepreneur. What is even more noteworthy than these achievements, however, is that social mission and principles like "kindness" mean a lot to her. She's integrated those principles into her business model. In fact, Mogul's mantra is "be kind, be authentic, be generous".
  2. Your PR team stems from gifting leadership. Mogul launched in 2014, and currently has over 18 million users per week. While the core team is small, just 20 people, there are thousands of "Mogul global ambassadors". This built in PR machine is not completely self-serving: in exchange for spreading the word about Mogul, the ambassadors receive leadership skills and access to a network that can lead to cool internships and job opportunities. The revenue model is basic, generated from advertising dollars and subscriptions to courses. Yes, courses: for $9 per month, members can learn from a carefully curated roster of 10 courses created by academics and subject matter experts. Given the high volume of traffic, and growing number of members, these various channels translate into an impressive revenue generator. Even cooler are the ways that Mogul's social mission is evidenced by giving away these courses to girls in Afghanistan's Digital Citizen Fund, and First Star Academy an organization for girls exiting the foster care system.

By the end of my conversation with Tiffany, I was most impressed by what she has learned about building organizational culture:

  • On creativity: We use creativity as a tool by doing one-on-one "hash out" sessions and "weekly wins" meetings-where each team member recaps a solution or creative idea they are most proud of from that week. This keeps us all on our invigorated and focused.
  • Most unexpected joy: Creating a technology that could help millions of women around the world.
  • Most unexpected challenge: We launched to such explosive user growth-and have had to retroactively build the infrastructure and team- because there are so many users to support. We now teach ourselves to set impossible goals and work backwards.

Welcome to The Amplify Business Model: personalize content, foster self-improvement and expand networks- all while generating revenue. There is a lot to be learned here.