12 June 2018

What Millennials really want

From left: Chauwei Yak, Anton Szpitalak, Pocket Sun, and Louise Huterstein, with Dan Murphy from CNBC as moderator.
From left: Yak, Szpitalak, Sun, and Huterstein, with Dan Murphy from CNBC as moderator.

Millennials do not stay with the same company for life. Millennials need constant feedback. Millennials are taught that it is ok to fail, and to fail enough to learn enough to do something great. Millennials are familiar with private market investment, in startups. Millennials do not go to an office to work 9 to 5.

Millennial traits and attitudes such as these were discussed candidly at a session during the 2018 Credit Suisse Global Megatrends conference, and the results may surprise.

The reality is that Millennials' problems are not the same as those of the generation before, said Anton Szpitalak, CEO and Founder, Tribe Breweries and a Young Investors Organization (YIO) Board Member. Solely sponsored by Credit Suisse, the YIO is the premier network representing more than 1,200 members of the next generation of the most influential families around the world.

"A lot of problems were largely solved before we came onto the world but it's not that our problems are any less challenging," he said. "There is a lot of misunderstanding about who we are."

"We grew up bombarded by things that we were all supposed to do and we see these things and our expectations are a little bit different," agreed Louise Huterstein, CEO, Pursuit Hospitality and YIO Board Member. "We see all that is possible...our expectations are so high."

Asked "how do you view Millennials today?" the majority of the audience, 42%, went for "it's complicated". Of the remainder, 35% said Millennials are "a great business opportunity" while 22% said they are "hard to please".

Szpitalak called "it's complicated" "a bit of a misunderstanding". He said Millennials are the most transparent generation. "If you want to find out what Millennials are thinking...just go on Instagram," he said. "Get out there and talk to them. They obviously want to be seen."

"We could be so many different things. That's how humans should be," said Pocket Sun, Founder & Partner, SoGal Ventures, the first female-led Millennial venture capital firm. "We're not one sided, we're multidimensional."

Huterstein said the categories are artificial, as multi-generational families are simply families. "It's about collaborating a little bit and seeing it's about the similarities," she said.

Her own choice is to see Millennials as a business opportunity. "It's a huge business opportunity," she said. "If you're not thinking about who your next customers are your business will stagnate."

While Chauwei Yak, CEO, GAO Capital observed that the world thinks Millennials are fickle, Szpitalak responded that Millennials are simply reacting to an ever-changing environment. "We're just responding to stay relevant," he said.

Millennial-focused brands

What Millennials are looking for in investments centre around risk, reward, return, social impact. Huterstein likened the situation to making a choice at the water aisle in a supermarket, where available choices have multiplied considerably. "There's always potentially something better that you didn't pick," she said. "If you don't stay true to what you put out to the universe, we are quite quick to change."

On the other hand, "we can quickly get back to your camp if you make good on what you're promoting," she added.

"Money isn't our No. 1 priority," said Sun. "Value-driven is no longer a filter for us any more. It's a baseline...we criticise brands for not being organic because that's our living standard."

Story-telling is important, too. "For us, when we make products, we have to tell a story," said Szpitalak. "If you align yourself with the audience who wants to solve big problems.. there's a way bigger chance for driving value for consumers.

"If you fail to be transparent, if you fail to be a good storyteller, that's when you fall behind."

The actual product is paramount, Huterstein said. "(Many companies market the) social good first, the product second. I say to switch it back, because if the product isn't good enough to choose, you won't have a platform to share the social good (story)," she said.

"Sustainability and social impact should already be (woven) into your business," stressed Sun. "It shouldn't be your No. 1 selling point."

Case in point is a company that Sun's SoGal Ventures has invested in, Function of Beauty, which provides personalised vegan haircare online*. "They pay more for the ingredients but they don't even market (the fact)," she said. "To them it's just what they should do...people love it because of its good design and it's a great product to use."

Huterstein likened the situation to making a choice at the water aisle in a supermarket, where available choices have multiplied considerably. "There's always potentially something better that you didn't pick," she said. "If you don't stay true to what you put out to the universe, we are quite quick to change."

On the other hand, "we can quickly get back to your camp if you make good on what you're promoting," she added.

Where Millennials want to work

On the working world, Huterstein said, "You don't have to pay us as much. You need to offer us this better experience and this has to be part of your bottom line. It's about our skillset now and not our tenure in the company, we move companies all the time."

There is a gap between what corporates think they are giving versus how much Millennial employees think they are receiving when it comes to corporate life however. While Huterstein used incentive trips created just for Millennials as an example of what they really want as compared to standard incentive trips, Sun described wanting unlimited access to gyms across countries in Asia and the Middle East. "(We have) asset-lite lifestyles and want the ultimate flexibility," she said.

"Work should be anywhere and anytime and not just in an office," she added, outlining the digital nomad trend. "We are a generation that has transcended geographical locations."

"We don't work anymore and then enjoy afterwards, we enjoy as we go," Huterstein said.

What Millennials will buy next

The next big things may come from e-sports or addressing women's needs. Sun observed that in healthcare, most of the drugs are tested only on men, while procedures are typically designed by men. There can be differences for women. She advised, "Pay more attention to women. They have a lot of consumer power."

Yak said Millennials are more data-hungry but have short attention spans. "They want to get to the answer in 5 seconds," she said, sharing that she has been changing the design of websites to promote ease of use around data presentation and to cater to the trend for mobile-first usage.

Sun added that there are still opportunities for brands to cater to a nomadic livestyle. "We may live in one country and make money in another and transfer money (across the two)," she said. "I face that problem and haven't found a perfect solution. Transfer fees can be a little bit high."

Asian Millennials compared to Western Millennials

Yak said Southeast Asian Millennials are less entrepreneurial than those from China, the US, or the EU. "It's ok to be a school dropout in the US," she pointed out, noting that in Singapore 90% of startups are not founded by Singaporeans. "They're not embracing the 'hey, I can do anything' type of mentality. (They) still want to work in a bank, (they) still want some money, (they) don't want to work in a garage."

Huterstein agreed, commenting that Asians have a sense of obligation around what they are meant to do, "a good job is 'this' and a good student is 'X'". "That does have an impact on entrepreneurship," she said.

However digital Millennials are, Gen Z after them are even more digitally-native, Sun said. "All the bad traits in Millennials will probably be reinforced in Gen Z. It's a myth that they are the younger generation. About half have babies. It's not like they're so young any more," she said. "It's Gen Z who will be shaping what the future will look like."

The session also asked how many Millennials there were in the room. Approximately 57% of the audience said they were from Gen X (born mid-1960s to early 1980s), while 23% said they were Millennials and the rest were Baby Boomers, born from the mid-1950s to 1960s.


Read the TechTrade Asia blog post about the Credit Suisse Megatrends session on artificial intelligence (AI).

Hashtag: #CSMegatrends

*Function of Beauty currently ships to the US and to parts of the UK.