They grew up on the internet, and they’re building the future for themselves. Some are still shy of the legal drinking age, but the Gen Z founders Niko Bonatsos works with are reshaping the startup world.
“The youth, Gen Zers have landed on this planet like aliens, and they’re about to take over. They are living in the future in their heads, and I have no doubt that the ones who are technical can actually start building it,” he says.
In his more than 10 years at venture capital firm General Catalyst, Bonatsos has worked with the greats – like Snap and Discord. Now he’s shifting his focus to startup newbies. By pairing first time Gen Z founders with more seasoned mentors, he’s helping usher in and train a new generation of entrepreneurs.
On Feb. 7, Bonatsos hosted a webinar for Founders Network where he shared insights from working with Gen Z founders.
What Makes Gen Z Founders Different
The group’s oldest members are about 26, so Gen Z founders grew up on the internet. And, they firmly believe they can have careers making money on the internet, Bonatsos says.
Their unique values are reflected in what they create, like, for instance, the generation’s increased progressivism and sexual fluidity. For example, when it comes to online dating products, Bonatsos is hearing pitches for apps that provide options for people to reimagine relationships and experiment with sexuality and non- monogamy.
In order to combat their lack of experience, Bonatsos pairs Gen Z and first time founders with more seasoned entrepreneurs who now have time to give back.
“We at [General Catalyst] have helped a ton of first time founders and immigrant founders make fewer mistakes than they would otherwise make on their own,” he says.
The Gen Z Founders Who Succeed
The most successful Gen Z founders who pitch to Bonatsos are building for themselves, meaning they are creating products and services that address their own needs.
As a result, successful Gen Z founders already demonstrate prowess in one of the most critical aspects of the sales pitch – proving there’s an audience for their products.
For instance, “I’m 23 years old. I’m a nerd developer. I think my productivity really sucks. I’m going to build a dev tool to improve my productivity as a developer,” Bonatsos offers as an example.
But, in evaluating young entrepreneurs, Bonatsos looks for founders and teams with an age old strength: the ability to adapt to change.
“Time is money, because markets don’t wait for you,” he says. “We’re looking for founders who are learning animals, like they treat every meeting, every user interaction, every conversation with somebody who has experience as a learning opportunity.”
Building a Team at 19 Years Old
Some Gen Z founders make the mistake of going into business with their friends, says Bonatsos. They’ll go into business with roommates without thinking about pairing their vision with complementary skill sets.
But young entrepreneurs need to be strategic when deciding how to form a startup team. Bonatsos is specifically looking for founders and teams with technical backgrounds.
“I want the whole team to be technical, so that they can make progress really quickly. If the first idea doesn’t work out, which is very often the case, we can jump into another idea. Because, if it’s mostly business people, it’s going to take us a long time to come up with a new perfect idea,” he says.
Furthermore, Bonatsos recommends that Gen Z founders and first time founders identify a high-quality mentor who is a few years ahead of them in the startup launching process.
During his webinar, he also discussed:
- Changes in startup culture
- Getting noticed on Tik Tok
- Crypto obsessions
- Mentoring Gen Z
- What makes a successful Gen Z founder