By Meagan Loyst, Associate at Lerer Hippeau & Founder of Gen Z VCs
On Friday, September 17th Lerer Hippeau hosted the first GEN Z VCs SUMMIT in partnership with the Gen Z VCs Community. The event was the first and only gathering in our industry built by Gen Z, for Gen Z. Our historic event virtually hosted over 3,000+ attendees from 71 countries and 60+ speakers — all to create content around empowering the next generation of leaders in Tech & VC.
In this piece, we’ll dive into the four most impactful Gen Z insights from across our 16 panels. Read on for takeaways useful to founders, VCs, and students alike.
Meet consumers where they are, and for Gen Z, that means founders and brands need to get creative. The next generation of companies need to be thoughtful about where Gen Z is congregating online and reach them in a way that is authentic. Brands can do that through influencer partnerships, activations in the metaverse, engaging users in the comments section of TikTok, or chatting with their most engaged customers on Discord. Gen Z brands like Topicals are leveraging Twitter Spaces to engage their community around topics like “Toxic Beauty Standards”, and others like Cake create candid sexual wellness content on TikTok. To be relevant for Gen Z in a rapidly changing world, brands need to meet them where they are online and match their energy.
The future of venture capital is creator-led. Creators like Harry Stebbings, our keynote speaker, are leading the way. Stebbings leveraged his podcast, The Twenty Minute VC, with nearly 15 million downloads a month to raise/launch his own $140m 20VC Fund. Having a brand and online presence gives you the advantage of distribution and a platform to better support your founders. Starting early to find your edge is important. Emerging fund managers shared how they leveraged Twitter to build their brands and get their names out there, whereas Gen Z founders shared stories about how putting themselves and what they were working on online had helped them find co-founders. Gen Z is the first digitally native generation, and we’re best poised to capitalize on this digital moment — start building your brand and finding your niche. Think about the #1 thing you want people to associate you with and focus on that. Then once you’re on people’s radar, it becomes easier to branch out. In a world with more capital in the market for founders to choose from, your fund’s positioning and your individual brand carry more weight. One of the top trends Gen Z VCs are interested in is the Creator Economy, so embrace being a creator and use it to your professional advantage.
The power of building authentic relationships and community cannot be overstated — for Gen Z, this is at the core of what “success” means for founders, VCs, and brands.
- For VCs: Young investors often enter the industry thinking you need to have a massive network and do transactional deal flow calls to get ahead. Our world and generation is moving away from this to focus on building more authentic relationships — don’t ask for things, and instead be open and be vulnerable. This is also key to finding upward mobility within a fund and having someone to advocate for you as you progress in your career. For emerging fund managers, this authentic relationship building comes through as you’re pressure-testing your thesis and getting feedback from fellow GPs, as well as using empathy to win deals and the trust of founders.
- For Brands/Startups: Gen Z can sniff out inauthenticity from a mile away. Working with creators and influencers has become a large distribution angle for emerging brands and incumbents alike, especially in today’s world where creators are Gen Z’s celebrities — they’re relatable, authentic, and have developed a sense of trust with the consumer that mimics that of a friend. Working with the right creators who resonate with (and are excited about) your company is important, as is listening to their feedback and giving them creative freedom. Abby Roberts (16m+ followers on TikTok & other platforms) noted that her audience engages more & products sell better when she’s actually excited about the content she’s making, versus reading from a script. This speaks volumes to how important it is for brands to allow influencers creativity in their partnerships. In addition, Gen Zers want brands to have a personal touch and voice that make every interaction feel like it’s one with a close friend. This helps you grow more organically versus pushing a narrative.
- For Founders: You have to live your values day-in-day-out within your companies as much as you project them externally. Authenticity might mean something different for every company. Olamide Olowe of Topicals noted that in the beauty industry, the meaning of “aspiration” has changed for Gen Z. You’re no longer aspiring to be or look a certain way like we were primed to feel reading magazines growing up. Instead, brands of the future aspire to help you be the best version of you — it’s really about self-empowerment. Lisa Bubbers of Studs noted that brands have a responsibility to customers and the society within which they operate, and incorporating feedback while simultaneously not breaking promises to your community as it evolves is important. Founders like Bo Han at Buzzer live the ideal of being built by Gen Z, for Gen Z — this idea of co-creating alongside your user base will grow to be even more critical in the coming years, especially since Gen Z thrives on being entrepreneurial (42% want to start their own businesses one day). Buzzer hires Gen Zers from their Discord channel, participated in Gen Z VCs Beta Club to incorporate Gen Z feedback on Day 1, and even brought Gen Z investors onto their cap table at the Series A to make sure they have ownership over the product. That’s leadership, and that’s the future of brand-building for the Gen Z consumer. This is true for enterprise companies as well, like Common Room, who are helping B2B companies activate and grow their own communities.
Your youth is an advantage — take your limited work experience as an opportunity to be creative and scrappy in how you get things done. We’re living in a world where merit and work ethic are becoming more important than credentials. VCs are entering the industry at a younger age despite not having operating, banking, or consulting experience. This shift is happening because funds are realizing that incorporating Gen Z feedback into investment decisions is advantageous, and that young investors can help founders in a unique way as their target customer/demographic. Founders are similarly looking to hire people on their teams that can hustle and might not fit traditional molds. Joshua Browder of DoNotPay noted he’d rather hire a builder than someone with fancy degrees, and similarly Naomi Shah of Meet Cute noted that brand fit can be more important than skill sets since the latter can be taught. Students can also think about this when trying to break into VC or Tech, as there’s no one right path to get there. Consider building thematic deep dives or sending deals to your favorite VCs, turn to communities like Gen Z VCs for leadership opportunities, volunteer at your local angel investment group or get involved on campus — the options are endless. You don’t have to know everything, but your unique perspective matters. Leverage your voice to land conversations with mentors, future employers, and customers alike.
At Lerer Hippeau, we plan to continue this momentum in supporting Gen Zers in the Tech and VC ecosystem, just as we’ve done for the past decade in backing companies like Parade, Studs, Buzzer, Topicals, Meet Cute, Cake, Simulate (Maker of NUGGS), and more.
Gen Z founders, or folks building for Gen Z, we’d love to hear from you. Reach us at email@example.com.