Jun 08 2016

How 4 Millennial CEOs' 'Growth Hacking' Mindset Changed the Workplace

A look at next-generation leaders reveals their agile approach to setting business models.

As the first generation to have grown up without knowing what it’s like to have a landline or dial-up Internet, millennials are the tech-savvy employees redefining workplace efficiency.

Millennials in the the C-suite are all about getting from Point A to Point B quickly, without sacrificing their business model. These young leaders are building out new technology workplace models at a rate that can make it difficult for established businesses to keep up.

Ten years ago, no one thought to use social media to build a brand, but millennials, growing up with Facebook and Twitter, quickly caught on to the social power of the Internet.

Take Pete Cashmore, CEO of the incredibly popular Mashable. Mashable was born in 2005 out of a simple blog created when Cashmore was bored at home in Scotland after complications following routine surgery. Success meant sacrificing sleep and a regular schedule to keep up with American culture, and Cashmore used the Internet to broadcast his tech blog to millions of viewers per month.

While the rest of the corporate world was playing catch-up, another millennial team took to the Internet to lead the way for the sharing economy. Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb, used the Internet to connect travelers and renters all over the world. An interesting anecdote? Airbnb originally was a bed and breakfast that offered unique networking opportunities for young professionals.

Once Chesky and his team identified problems plaguing budget-conscious travelers, Airbnb pivoted to focus on shared spaces and rental properties that it could sublet at rates cheaper than traditional hotels. Unlike most businesses, Airbnb was never static.

It adjusted its product on the fly based on real-time feedback to become the highly desirable commodity it is today.

Let’s examine another CEO who took a seemingly basic idea and built an empire for himself online:

Niccolo De Masi of Glu Mobile struck gold when he built the “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” mobile game app. Prior to De Masi, no one had thought to create games for celebrities, but Glu Mobile takes it one step further and targets celebrities with millions of diehard followers. It’s a genius strategy, if you think about it.

These are all strategies that, in hindsight, seem like common sense, but it’s a millennial mindset that brings these ideas to life. Technology is what simplifies their workplaces and accelerates growth, and millennials tend to navigate technology like the back of their hand.

Take one other CEO: Chris Altchek of Mic Network, a video-centric digital news company founded in 2011. He has carved out a name for himself in the competitive digital news industry by catering to millennials. He took the approach from the start of feeding news to his audience where they were — on topics and in formats they craved. Rather than trying to draw them to mic.com, his approach is to engage them across all platforms available. What’s more, Altchek keeps pivoting to meet his audience’s consumption desires.

Engineers and Marketers, Working Together 

At the root of these four CEOs’ successes is the concept of "growth hacking," a term largely put on the map by prolific growth hacker Andrew Chen, who heads up driver acquisition programs at Uber. It’s marketing spawned by engineers, and engineering hatched by marketers — essentially feeding data back and forth between these two parts of an organization and then tweaking the business model to gain results.

Growth hacking, unlike a course on leadership or management, can’t be taught in a classroom. It’s a skill set learned through trial and error, and it’s the driving force behind many millennials who look to start their own companies. And that’s what established businesses don’t understand.

To truly understand growth hacking, enterprises need to be agile, technically adept and open to disruption. Workplace efficiency in the 21st century relies on nontraditional methods of reaching target markets to compound previous success, and it requires an in-depth understanding of the digital ecosystem.

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