Younger technologists building their own startups are drawing lessons from the pandemic, including the need for a diverse workforce and what it means to balance ambition with wellness.
With Gen Z emerging into adulthood at a unique time in human history, an earnest transformation is happening at the intersection of social justice and digital innovation across the globe. This generation is also very entrepreneurial: According to a recent survey conducted by EY Ripples and JA Worldwide, 53 percent of Gen-Z respondents said they hope to run their own business within the next ten years.
Among the new generation of tech entrepreneurs is Kevin Chandra, co-founder and CEO of Typedream, a no-code website builder funded by Y Combinator. Chandra thinks Gen Z’s spirit of dedication (read: long hours) and appetite for risk is the same as any other generation of tech entrepreneurs.
“My co-founders and I realized we didn’t like working for big tech companies and doing mundane coding work, so we took a gamble, quit our jobs and started the company,” he said. “Most of the other founders I talk to feel the same way—they want to shape the world, and they want to be working on their own dreams.”
Chandra said what’s changed is the understanding of how to speak to your target audience—the early adopters (or “cool kids” as Chandra puts it), which means knowing where the relevant cultural conversations are happening. “You have to be where they are and speak their language, people prefer not to be on forums, they don’t want the company to have a corporate voice, but they want us to be more irreverent, and when you’re make ads, you have to think about TikTok- or Instagram-style,” he said.
When it comes to hiring tech talent, similar ideas also apply to Gen-Z startups as the tech startups of yore: You need people who are excited about the product, the company, and the journey. However, the younger generation is rejecting the straitjacket approach to working hours.
“It’s not the 9-to-5 thing anymore, you can wake up whenever you want and set your schedule, as long as you finish your tasks,” Chandra said. “We also don’t have a physical space, so you can be anywhere in the world you want—we don’t care about that.”
There’s also the adoption of some additional flexible workforce characteristics, such as eschewing meetings on the calendar for a more informal approach. “We don’t handle meetings like the older generations—if you have something you want to ask, just hit the call button in Slack and ask me—you don’t have to wait until the meeting at 3:00,” Chandra said.
In conversations with investors and the previous generations of startup founders, there’s little handwringing over changing work habits or approaches to productivity. “They understand and have been through it themselves, and so they’re open to change,” he said. “The fact that we understand the culture is different—they want us to be the experts of our generation, and in fact they encourage it.”
The key takeaway gleaned by working in a startup through the pandemic has been the realization that remote work really is the future.
“Not having a physical space is fine, and we’re using a lot of software to replicate the feeling of presence and having co-workers around us, and replacing those serendipitous chats in the office,” he said. “It works really well, and we find people are even more productive, especially when you’re in your 20s and you don’t have a family.”
Chandra also pointed out his generation’s focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in tech startup culture—of the five founders of Typedream, two are women—and he sees a push towards ensuring top leadership levels reflect diversity through direct representation.
An emphasis on corporate responsibility for social issues extends into the financial realm; for example using online payment platforms like Stripe, which uses a carbon removal purchase tool or where you can donate a percentage of your annual income to a charity.
“We want to see more financial inclusion with more people on the internet,” Chandra said. “You’ve seen kingdoms and monarchs come out of Facebook and Google—what makes it different for us is that we want the users to be able to earn a part of that economy, as well.”