Though the term "millennial" conjures up images of twenty-somethings with their eyes glued to their phones, this generation has a lot to offer the world. Having experienced The Great Recession of 2008, they tend to have a deep concern regarding economic opportunity.
However, despite being concerned with finances, this generation is also dedicated to living a life full of meaning. When surveyed by Barna, 87 percent of millennials said they wanted to live a life full of meaning.
Connie Tang, President and CEO of Princess House and expert in Millennial matters says that "when I consider millennials as a demographic, the one word that never comes to mind is “lazy." The words I use to describe millennials are “creative, considerate and confident." And indeed, there are some truly inspirational entrepreneurs in this generation who have devoted a large chunk of their young lives to making a difference, and helping to better the condition of the world. Below are just seven of those inspirational millennials.
1. Atima Lui, 27, Co-Founder and President of NUDEST
Atima Lui, the daughter of a Sudanese refugee, co-founded NUDEST, a company that enables women to embrace and love the skin they're in, no matter what the color. “The 'nude' problem is obvious," the Harvard MBA graduate explains. “Items labeled 'nude' don't match 84 percent of the population. Anyone who deviates from what the market deems is 'normal' for society is outcast."
Atima Lui. Courtesy of Naja
Thus, to solve this glaring problem, NUDEST uses NUDEMETER, a revolutionary computer technology, to help its users find the lingerie, hosiery, and footwear that matches their unique complexion. By expanding the definition of what “nude" means to encompass every skin type, this entrepreneur helps everyone love the skin they're in.
The company's mission is described as "redefining the standard of beauty to match the full range of diversity in women's skin." Atima, who grew up in Topeka, Kansas, understood from an early age that her skin tone often did not meet society's conventional standards of beauty. Thus, she decided to challenge these normative standards by redefining what the color "nude" entails.
Besides her impressive Harvard Business School degree, Atima has also had experience working in Google, YouTube, and Apple. With ample experience and wisdom under her belt, she devotes her energy to helping all women feel like they are worthy.
2. Paige McKenzie, 22, YouTube star
While many young ladies have aspirations to become famous actresses, one decided to make it happen on her own. Reaching an audience of over $7 million every month and almost $300 million to date, 22-year-old Paige McKenzie is a new kind of star.
McKenzie is the star of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, a YouTube show that she launched in 2010 when she was 16, along with her mom and business partner, who doubles as the show's writer and editor. McKenzie describes her character Sunshine as a protagonist who embraces life's twists and turns, while maintaining an upbeat attitude. “It's basically me but just a little more positive," she says, adding that a cult community has formed around the show, which is available to stream in the US, UK, Canada and the Philippines.
“We chose YouTube because at the time it wasn't a form of watching entertainment. It was this up and coming platform that was super user friendly for young audiences, who could just log on and watch for free," she says. "It was a lightbulb moment when we realized we can just upload content as opposed to waiting for a producer or director to take us on."
The idea for her show, McKenzie says, came in millennial fashion, from a simple Google search. “At the time we looked to see what was the most searched thing, and number one was Lil Wayne and number two was ghosts," laughs McKenzie, who ultimately settled on a show that she calls “horror light." “We made it very family friendly, " she says. "It's not gory, there's no swearing. It's horror for the family."
Looking to the future she says, “we are always looking to expand. We love our YouTube, but we have a TV show (the rights to her show were just purchased by the Weinstein company, who also published The Sunshine Girl family of books) in the works. We want to do a comic book, a video game, a board game, and more! We love our Sunshine universe and would love to ultimately do film as well."
“This is my full-time job and I love it," says McKenzie, who adds that despite applying to art school she was deferred, which helped her decide to focus on her show. “I decided to commit to this, to go all in and just do it, and it was scary," she admits. "I am focused on what people want next, pushing hard to make the show better."
3. Jennifer Chong, 29, Co-Founder of Linjer
The company had reached $1 million in revenue by the end of 2015. Off the back of this success, Chong decided to launch Linjer's line of luxury watches, again on Kickstarter. The pre-orders for the watches another $1 million.
The luxury goods industry isn't exactly the easiest nut to crack, but Jennifer Chong of Linjer has done so in the most audacious and unconventional way possible, shunning investors for a bold crowdfunding campaign.
With $27,000 in her back pocket and a passion to create a sturdy leather goods brand, Chong founded Linjer. Focusing on Nordic minimalism and luxurious leather for reasonable prices, Linjer launched to an excited audience back in 2014 after Chong posted her first crowdfunding campaign. The high-quality material coupled with the chic look ensured the flood of orders that came in.
Chong raised $180,000 in orders from that first campaign, a seemingly astonishing number from an industry outsider creating and building a brand via a fundraising platform. "We had no idea how many orders would come in," she says. "We couldn't have expected it. You never know with such a campaign."
The company had reached 1 million in revenue by the end of 2015, and after rolling out a collection of women's bags to wide acclaim, they launched their line of watches, which raised 1 million in revenue in a month on Kickstarter.
At just 28 years old, Jennifer is set to take in five million dollars in revenue this year. So if, like Jennifer, you've "always had an entrepreneurial itch," don't doubt, just do it.
4. Erin Bagwell, 30, filmmaker
Erin Bagwell was stuck at a corporate ad agency in New York, the victim of ongoing sexual harassment when she realized something had to change. “I love exceeding expectations," says Bagwell. “And I just felt that nobody was taking me seriously." She began dressing and behaving differently, hoping a more masculine wardrobe would dissuade the harassers, and felt lost in a corporate culture that was in no way friendly to the generation of modern women working its way through the ranks.
It was then that she began her feminist blog, Feminist Wednesday, and discovered a plethora of entrepreneurial women, whose stories inspired her enough to quit her job and begin a new project - Dream, Girl.
Erin Bagwell. Photo courtesy of The Big Leap
Bagwell's documentary would focus on spotlighting incredible female entrepreneurs and their moving stories. “I wanted the film to be something that if you're starting your first business or your third business, you could review it again and again and find inspiration." Using a Kickstarter campaign to fund the filing process, Bagwell raised 100k.
Upon conclusion, Dream, Girl's first showing was in the White House, and since then has been distributed to select cinemas and organizations in the hopes of inspiring girls and women to put their first foot forward in the business world, and to never be afraid of the daunting spectre of sexism in the workplace. Bagwell's fanbase because of the message and culture Dream, Girl appropriates was broad and star-studded, with Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey as two of the movie's biggest fans.
5. Lucki Starr, 19, professional dancer
While performing alongside Beyoncé and Michelle Obama sounds like the pieces from a young girl's dreams, it was just another day in the life of 19-year-old dance prodigy, Lucki Starr. Starr, who is from Bergen County, tells SWAAY that dance has always been in her life. “I've always had a passion and interest for music at a very young age," says Starr, who as a competitive dancer for the Brooklyn Nets Kids Dance Team (formerly known as the NJ Nets), made appearances at events like the Thanksgiving Day Parade and other TV shows. “It's always been my dream to become a well known singer and performer. Every since I was a kid, I've always been involved, dancing, singing, and doing talent shows." Soon, Starr was hand-selected to be a part of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, which gave her the chance to meet with the former first lady, and eventually become connected to the pop queen herself, Beyoncé Knowles.
“The goal is to encourage people to get off their couches, get active and live healthy lives," says Starr. “Beyoncé and her team created a dance that you can do alongside a video tutorial. It truly inspired me because it's just amazing that someone like Michelle Obama cares that much about people. It was hard to keep my composure around her because it was so surreal. Honestly to this day, it's hard to believe I was able to be part of something so historical."
From there, Starr connected with Bey's entourage, who were in the audience at one of her shows, and had the opportunity to be featured in the campaign's corresponding music video when she was in 7th grade. “Beyoncé is an icon and it was such an awesome experience to meet her and be in the presence of her," says Starr, who named her inspirations as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, John Legend and Alicia Keys.
“It's very evident that she is super passionate about her work and she puts her all into everything that she does. It was such an awesome reminder to always better yourself."
Starr, who is planning to release a couple of singles later this year, will be performing at Winkylux's Unicorn Carnival this year during NYFW.
Looking to the future, Starr says she is working on music that will help empower and uplift young women. “I want people to feel good and not settle for less than they deserve. It's so important to know your worth and your value and that everyone is beautiful in their own natural way," she says.
6. Emily Dong, 27, CEO of Pawprint
Emily Dong is CEO of Pawprint, a mobile app for pet owners to manage their pet's medical records. It obtains records from their pet's vet, records like proof of vaccination, to provide to groomers, hotels, and more. The handy app can also set up recurring reminders for vital things like flea medication and daily walks.
Dong herself graduated from USC with a degree in accounting information systems, and was first a web developer at LearnSprout, before launching Pawprint.
"It started off as a side project," the USC grad says. "I have two dogs, and whenever I take them to the groomer, they always require proof of vaccination. This was a surprise to me, because that's not usually information you have on hand. I felt like pet owners should have access and ownership to their own pets' information."
As a female engineer, she first tried to find a developer to help her build the app, but when she couldn't she decided to take on the task herself, and coded the program.
"The thing people ask me the most is whether they need to code in order to build out the ideas they have," Dong says. "I've learned that to build a business, there are a lot of things you can validate without having to code, and it actually forces you to answer those questions earlier rather than building out a product that people may or may not use. We got lucky with our products, but we definitely could've spent time earlier validating the business model."
The app is the official medical record for over 30,000 pets, and can track the timeline of your beloved pet's events.
7. Laura Dweck, 27, and Michael Dweck, 29, Co-Founders of Basic Outfitters
Spouses Laura and Michael Dweck are co-founders of Basic Outfitters, a flagship service that lets its customers customize a full drawer of high-quality basics, including socks, underwear, t-shirts, and joggers. A unique appeal of the company is that it offers a $120-valued drawer for an affordable $60. "It's revolutionary because we are changing the way men shop for basics," Dweck proclaims. Though the service is only targeted at men at the moment, the owners are working on a women's collection for the near future.
Laura and Michael Dweck. Courtesy of WeWork
Regarding their marital relationship and how that affects their professional lives, the lovebirds seem to handle the transition with ease. "We are extremely supportive of each other and work together to make sure that our relationship and our business flourish," explains Mrs. Dweck. "Our respective backgrounds - Michael's is in operations and customer service, and mine is in fashion – compliment each other and help us manage different sides of the business."
Mrs. Dweck's background in fashion is critical for another reason – it is one of the reasons the company is able to sell their products for such an affordable price. "Having worked in the fashion industry for years, I was able to leverage my network to find the best quality products at the best price points for our customers," she reveals.
Another noteworthy aspect to Basic Outfitters is that it was featured on Shark Tank. Although the Dwecks weren't able to manage to close a deal on the show, the exposure gained from that episode gave them a remarkable boost. "Our sales grew over 1000 percent month after month after that episode aired," Mr. Dweck details. The couple also has no regrets about how they presented their business on the show. When asked what they would have done differently on Shark Tank, they said, "Not a thing. The sharks raved about our quality and were blown away by our concept. It gave us validation that we were onto something big."
Besides the helpful publicity boost, the Dwecks also learned vital lessons from being on the show. It forced them to dig deeply into every detail of their business, and to examine why they were doing the things the way they were. Another important lesson they learned was that they have to throw their hat in the ring. "The fact that the sharks loved our products and business model, and that we had offers from both Kevin O'Leary and Lori Greiner, was incredible validation for our product and business as a whole," says Mrs. Dweck.
That validation was clearly helpful – Basic Outfitters boasts a steady growth rate of 25 percent month after month, with a product return rate of less than one percent, which is well below the industry average of 15 percent. The successful millennials were also featured on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list, which can only add to their popularity.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.