Taking Matters into Their Own Wallets: Young CEOs Tell America to 'Buy Young' - Leadership Week on BTR

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Matthew DeMello

Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signing the Small Business Jobs Act in September 2010. Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Pelosi’s Flickr Account.

It’s no secret what age demographic is most affected by the rate of unemployment in this country (young adults and recent college graduates under 30, for those living under a rock). In the nearly three years since the financial crisis of 2008 that sparked the current era of economic disarray and made millions of Americans jobless, the millennial generation is finally showing signs of not taking the news lying down. Our Time, a new nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., is encouraging young Americans to take charge of their futures, be it through entrepreneurial spirit or their still formidable spending power.

What began as a youth-led campaign to encourage student voter registration at Kenyon College is slowly filling the role of a generation’s single, whispering voice to the ears of its policy makers. Our Time Co-founder, Jarrett Moreno, describes to BTR the demand for an organization like his to help motivate, organize, and advocate for this pivotal age block in our nation’s capitol.

“Had this happened to a group of people who had a very close ear to certain members of Congress or the media, then this would be a very loud story,” says Moreno of his generation’s current political disadvantage. “Since our generation lacks the financial means to have that kind of attention right now, instead you have unemployment for young people around 18% where it’s been for several years and it’s still only considered a talking point before other issues.”

That was until a recent event in Washington held in partnership with the White House, in which Our Time hosted an A-list gathering of American CEOs under 30 to meet with members of Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and discuss ways to help young America help themselves.

“You never have members of public officials all together like that on one day all because they want to be around a certain interest group,” says Moreno. “It ended up being a very high profile group to bring those different bodies together and I think it showed a certain respect for our cause to have the White House staff to be meeting with Young CEOs and members of our organization.”

Despite his current optimism, Moreno had choice words for the establishment when he took the podium during the event.

As was broadcast in CNN’s coverage of the summit, Moreno told his audience, “Part of the reason we’re launching ‘Buy Young’ is to send the message that young Americans do not have to wait for other generations, do not have to wait for major companies or government to solve problems, but we can take ownership and solve these problems ourselves.”

“This has been one of the least productive Congresses in U.S. history, in terms of passing legislation that the president is able to sign into law,” Moreno elaborates to BTR. “Rather than wait for politicians, let’s take all the consumer power of the more than 70 million Americans between 18 and 35 years old, direct that to young business to help them grow and create jobs for young people.”

The event also served as a platform for Our Time to announce their recent ‘Buy Young’ campaign. The initiative encourages consumers to purchase from small businesses created by Americans under 30 through the all-mighty discount. By visiting to the Buy Young website, even the thriftiest of shoppers can find remarkable discounts (anywhere between 50-75% off) on everything from clothing to electronic devices.

How do they plan on activating an age block not known for their attention span or capacity for activism? In short, humor helps. In partnership with Funnyordie.com, the group launched a series of internet videos gently prodding at the discomfort felt by those shacking up with mom and dad. Our Time’s advertising strategy demonstrates the sense of off-beat creativity it shares with its many partnering businesses, as well as Moreno’s demonstrated brand of constructive cynicism.

Outside of trendy absurdist comedy, Our Time is also bringing educational materials to their website to help young people take the first steps in creating jobs of their own. Among them, information on micro-loans, how-to guides on developing business plans, and access to affordable legal assistance will be made available in the next two months. For now, that assistance remains on an individual case-by-case basis.

Given chaotic roller coaster ride of the Dow Jones during this past week, is the economic climate right for unemployed to start businesses of their own?

Fan Bi, founder and CEO of Blank Label and participant in the ‘Buy Young’ campaign, began his business just after the market crash in September 2008. As an intern in investment banking, he had his first custom dress shirt made. From that moment, Bi has been passionate about bringing the luxury and empowerment of custom tailoring to the everyday consumer.

“I wouldn’t say the recession played that much into my decision making of starting the business. There are so many other challenges involved that I wasn’t thinking that macro,” says the clothing line entrepreneur. It helps that his business is swimming opposite of a gently turning business current.

“Online retail has been growing pretty steadily the last couple of years and that’s been an advantage for us,” Bi tells BTR. “We’re largely disruptive to the multi-billion dollar offline tailoring industry, and as more comes online, I think custom tailoring will too.”

Bi’s generosity is not only expressed by Blank Label consumer discounts through the Buy Young campaign, but also in helping other young business leaders do more with less. For instance, if your small business has no money for PR, you might find Bi’s SlideShare presentation on how Blank Label “Got Half a Million Visitors with No Marketing Budget” quite helpful.

This damn-the-torpedoes attitude espoused by Our Time and their partners is not just an expression of bravado they hope becomes popular among their target audience—it might be the only way out of this mess, says Moreno.

“I think that our generation has a unique ability to work together, see past any political, ethnic, or religious backgrounds to create a more unified spirit than any before it. Because of that we have a real opportunity and responsibility to come together and ask ourselves what we want our country to look like in the next sixty or seventy years,” he proposes. “Otherwise, we’re at a very serious risk. If our generation can’t do it, then we risk our nation dropping from its prominent place in the world.”

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