Lessons Learned from Millennial Entrepreneurs

Global Issues By Hikmet Ersek, Western Union CEO June 22, 2017

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting a gathering of Millennial Entrepreneurs at our digital division in San Francisco. Forget the stereotypes you’ve heard about Millennials – these young inventors are redefining how business can drive social impact in a world without borders.

As a purpose-driven company, Western Union is thrilled to see new businesses thrive while unlocking opportunities to do good in so many ways – around the world.

Those who joined us for our Millennial Entrepreneurs roundtable discussion have a truly global mindset. Some, like me, were born abroad. All are pursuing business ventures that can change lives for people anywhere – whether by providing clean drinking water in developing countries for pennies a day, to unlocking a world of knowledge and potential with a text-to-speech application.

We convened some of the most forward-thinking Millennial entrepreneurs and innovators for a conversation looking toward the future. We wanted to find out what shapes their world view, what impact they want to have as global business owners, and what it will take to build a better world.

Our panelists were:

Cliff Weitzman, Founder of Speechify, created a product that converts text to speech making reading more accessible for users who are dyslexic, hard of sight, or for whom English is a second language. Cliff was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2017.

Iman Sadreddin, Co-Founder of Xtravacreators of a contact-less bio-sensing product that takes the guess work out of caregiving and offers a holistic approach to wellness.

Lisa Curtis, Founder of Kuli, introduced moringa, a protein rich superfood that makes it easy for Americans to get their greens on the go while helping to plant moringa trees and supporting female farmers worldwide.

Yuliya Tarasava, Co-Founder of CNote, offers financial freedom through an alternative financial vehicle giving consumers 40x better return on their savings with 100% social impact. CNote was named “Top Innovation in Fintech” at SXSW 2017.

Jonathan Levine, Co-Founder of Folia Water, aims to revolutionize clean water in developing countries with patent-pending nanosilver-infused paper filters.

Our discussion was moderated by Jonah Sachs, contributing writer at Fast Company, which named him one of the 50 most influential social innovators. WU’s head of global product management, Sonika Chandra, also joined me on the panel.

Want to know the secret to their success? Here are five points they made that any business can learn from:

  • Practice disciplined optimism: We can change the world, but we can’t do it tomorrow – we can’t do it in a day. Always be looking to innovate for tomorrow, but don’t neglect the basics of today. Demonstrate the business model works and that you’re creating a real impact on people’s lives before continuing to iterate on the product or concept.
  • Embrace the sharing economy: By sharing, we increase the resources for all. “Ideas are like the flame of a candle. I can pass along the flame so everyone has light, and I won’t lose anything, I still have the flame,” remarked one participant.
  • Be an explorer, not an expert: You have to recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Stay hungry and constantly look for new data, new insights and new inspiration – it’s all around you.
  • The “purity” of product development is in knowing the customer: You can’t build something people want if you don’t know what they really need. Use all channels possible to test ideas and listen to the customer, from social media to face-to-face conversations. And encourage employees across the company to connect with customers.
  • Industrial and societal wealth can coexist: Any industrial system can generate societal good. Achieving societal can fuel industrial wealth.It’s invaluable for Western Union – a 166-year-old entrepreneurial-minded company – and these start-ups to learn from each other and explore how to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive as the operational needs of the business grow.

Millennials are a global economic engine – the impact this generation will have on how we live, work and thrive in the future will unlock more opportunities than any generation before.

We know this because Millennials are our customers, and we are talking to them every day in all parts of our business, all around the world. Nearly half of our digital customers across 40 countries are Millennials. And we’re engaging with them and providing money transfer services on the social platforms that are integral to their lives.

Like our entrepreneurial panelists, we also see the untapped potential of the large concentration of Millennials in certain parts of the world, in particular in Asia, where 58% of the

world’s Millennial population lives, and in Africa, where 70% of the population is of Millennial age.

I look forward to seeing how these businesses progress and to continue learning from and sharing with the world’s future business leaders.

I am so encouraged by the shifts I’ve seen in the entrepreneurial spirit over the past two decades that these leaders embody. The measure of success is not just in how much money you make, but in how you share your success and bring real value to people’s lives.

I’m proud to say we see this in our business every day, and our entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving at Western Union.