Jack Parsons has been described as the next big thing in social media. As the 23 year old CEO of YourFeed.com, an online platform connecting young people to employers, he’s on a mission to connect 2 million millennials to commercial opportunities by 2020. Jack has been touted as the next Richard Branson. He’s also part of that much maligned and poorly understood generation, the Millennials.
Digital is all about Millennials. I’m a Digital Transformation enthusiast and I’m lucky enough to have a job and the time which allows me to indulge my passion. I was writing my “What does Schumpeter have to do with Digital Transformation” article when I first came across Jack on LinkedIn. When people like Jack come along, you see a charismatic personality, with a maturity beyond his years and massive potential. As a relatively new entrepreneur myself, I was intrigued by his story and his unconventional path to the boardroom. So I tweeted him to see if he fancied a coffee in London. Fortunately for me, he gave me an hour of his time and I was able to get the low down on what the ‘Prime Minister of the Millennials’ thinks of Millennials! Here is Part 1 of the interview.
Simon: Right, let’s cut to the chase, I’m the CEO of a publicly listed company and I want to market my products to Millennials, what advice can you give me?
Jack: Many companies are not targeting Millennials correctly. You need to understand the Millennial landscape and many people don’t. In my research, I have identified over 700 segments in the word Millennial. At one end of the spectrum you have a 23 year old entrepreneur, who has built a business, doesn’t sleep, has a Jack Russell, is on social media all the time and has reached 1.7 million a month engagement. Then at the other end, you have a 29 year old, who has just got himself in trouble, got drunk and ended up as a father accidentally. How can you market to those two people in the same way and put them in the same basket? That is where the landscape is disconnected. Millennials are like any generation, some are struggling to put a roof over their heads and feed themselves, some have mental health issues, some are very well off, others have been very well educated.
Simon: What is the best way to target Millennials?
Jack: You have to get into the purposeful mindset – Ask the question “what is the meaningful purpose of the product or service that I am trying to sell”. You should then apply segmentation to match the purpose of the product to the correct target markets. Marketing to Millennials as one big group is way too simplistic.
Simon: There is much in the press about Boomers vs Gen X vs the Millennials. What do you think the older generations think about Millennials?
Jack: Lazy, Immature, Had it too easy, Spoon Fed, can’t hold a job for longer than 2 years…There are case studies to show why. For example, at the dinner table, it has always been rude to use a phone while eating. Millennials, they don’t think twice about it. It’s cool to take a picture of your meal. There’s a bit of a culture clash happening at the moment.
Simon: So, it’s acceptable to get your phone out at the dinner table? This would be perceived as bad manners…
Jack: To a millennial this is normal – for many of them, the phone is the very first thing they look at when they get out of bed! They post or tweet before they brush their teeth! To ask a millennial to stop using their phone is a bit like asking the older generations to go outside without putting their shoes on. It’s not normal. However, I agree there should be some sense of balance. We shouldn’t be using our phones 100 percent of the time but it is important not to restrict access to what is an amazing information and learning resource. 10 years ago, I would have had no idea how to start up a company or find out what Richard Branson is having for breakfast. The internet has broken down so many barriers in this respect. Having said that, it is also important that millennials do not lose the art of conversation which is so important for building relationships and for business.
Simon: I first came across you in LinkedIn, your article flashed up on my feed. “Why should you start your own business in 2017, I started 2016 with no salary, no degree and…”. How did you get to this point? “I am a 23 year old guy with no degree, I want to be an entrepreneur.” That’s a pretty bold thing to do.
Jack: I was badly let down by the education system, I didn’t know this at the time. As children, you only know what you have been taught. I left school at 16 without any A-levels, so I didn’t make it to university which was seen as a negative. However, I was lucky enough to go straight into a commercial environment at an insurance firm in London. I found that this suited my personality much better. Within a year, I had won international awards. I was like a celebrity in my corporate company with my name on the wall. I realised at this point that there was a big problem – a big mismatch between education and industry. There is a real need to promote our young people and encourage them to grow. Not just in the UK but globally. The future depends on them. I don’t think the guidance in the education system is right.
Simon: Where do you think it is going wrong?
Jack: Education focuses on certificates and grades. The industry focuses on making money and growth. The young person is in the middle of this all confused. With all due respect to teachers, they do a great job but many do not have any commercial experience as they have been in education all of their careers. They don’t know what industry and the real world is like. How can they prepare young people for the working environment? They promote higher education and make out that University is the be all and end all – this is how it has always been. I was lucky enough to realise that this is just an opinion. How do you explain why many companies do not allocate budgets to educating their employees? Education is always second to Business – many companies don’t think it is cost effective. The education system does not teach commercial sense and that is where it is going wrong in my opinion.
Simon: What is the solution?
Jack: Teachers are telling people that if they don’t go to university and get a degree they won’t achieve anything, they can’t be successful, get a job, be an entrepreneur. “You have to have a degree to be an entrepreneur”, that’s what I was told. Young people leave school and go from a nice warm sandy beach and into the cold winter snow. The contrast is massive. The young person, who leaves school is confused by this disconnection. They find that they are not equipped for industry as they have been trained to pass exams. The solution is to equip them with commercial skills. The young person has access to the internet 24/7, access to video, social media and a wealth of apps via smartphones which they can learn from.
Simon: I have heard that Millennials are not money oriented? What has turned them off?
Jack: When it is Christmas, Millennials will ask their Dads for an Iphone, a PS4 and a season ticket to West Ham. What do they get? Exactly that. In the older generations you would have almost definitely been told “No, we don’t have the money” or “You have to earn it”. Young people already have access to money, their parents have bought them everything they want. They are now looking for something money can’t buy, which is meaning and purpose. They want to find a job that they enjoy, a company that looks after them and is aligned to their values.
Simon: If you read the papers, you are led to believe that it’s a tough environment out there, shouldn’t young people be grateful for any job they can get?
Jack: It’s a common misperception that there is a lack of opportunities, that things are bad for millennials. In my opinion, this is the perfect time to be what you want to be. If a man can get in a rocket and go to the moon there is nothing stopping anyone from looking at the internet and learning. It really upsets when people talk about skills shortage, lack of jobs due to Brexit. There are loads of opportunities!!! I’m convinced that 2017 is THE best time to be an entrepreneur. I go to further education colleges, partner with massive companies, have met 250 FTSE CEOs in the last year as part of my work with YourFeed and nothing could be further from the truth. The government is promoting entrepreneurship and coffee shop businesses. Being an entrepreneur is also cool these days but there are long hours and hard work involved. This misperception is what gave me motivation to write the article, I wanted to send out a positive message to young people instead of the doom and gloom mentality.
Simon: Your positivity must be a huge inspiration to young people. How did you learn how to be an entrepreneur?
Jack: I believed in the purpose and the course, I had £20,000 saved and space in a coffee shop. I thought to myself, “Bloody hell, this is only going to last 10 months at most”. “What am I going to do to be meaningful and purposeful?”. So I met and networked with many many people, learning, growing and engaging. Through this network, I managed to secure some funding from venture capitalists, built a team and then came up with a product idea. The Managing Director of the Bank of America now sits on my board, The Group CEO of the 5th largest media company in UK is also on my board. I have met so many people who I have learned from and engaged with. It’s the sort of stuff you don’t find online. Now Your Feed as a company is valued at 8m within a year.
Simon: Did you have any negative experiences along the way?
Jack: One of the first venture capitalists I spoke to was a man in his late 40s. His verdict on my business plan was “You’re 21, you have no experience of business, no one is going to listen to you. You have no money and I only have 10 minutes.” That was one of my first meetings and it could have knocked my confidence. But I kept my composure enough to ask him some questions.
Jack: “How many people are there in your network you could phone up now?”
VC: “About 1000”
Jack: “How long did it take you to build?”
VC: “15 to 20 years”
Jack: “What resource did you use?”
VC: “My little black book”
Jack: “I bet you I could have a network of 1000 people and that I can match the profile of each and every one of your contacts in a month”
VC: “No way, that’s not possible!”
Jack: “If I do that can you make introductions to 50 people in 1000?”
And I did it! 3 weeks ago the same guy phoned to apologise for doubting me. I think that’s why the CEO of London Stock Exchange is calling me the next Richard Branson!
Simon: And how much money did you spend on Marketing?
To be continued… to find out what happened next, tune in for part 2!