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For decades, Microsoft was associated with a traditional definition of office work, long hours in front of a computer, but now the corporate giant is finding that Gen Z entrepreneurs are disrupting notions about the hectic workplace and the traditional 9-5 day. Many Gen Z college graduates are reversing the career paradigm and pursuing entrepreneurship rather than entering the corporate world.
“We’ve seen a lot of redesign and a lot of digital transformation during the pandemic, which I think has really led to what we see as some entrepreneurship boom,” said Travis Walter, vice president of retail at Microsoft Store. According to data from WP Engine and the Center for Generational Kinetics, nearly two-thirds (62%) of Gen Z say they have or plan to start their own business. In 2021 alone, 5.4 million Americans submitted applications to start their own business, according to government data.
The traditional idea of ”Hustle Culture” has evolved over the years, and while Grind Gen Z looks a little different than Millennials, that doesn’t mean they do any less work. Instead, these entrepreneurs are wearing multiple hats with flexible hours, work vacations, and more consideration for personal time. Almost half of Gen Z, about 48%, have numerous side hustles, compared to 34% of small business owners, according to a Microsoft survey conducted by Wakefield Research of 1,000 small business owners with fewer than 25 employees. Many of these businesses overlap with the rise of social media marketing. According to Microsoft data, entrepreneurs who use TikTok for their business (48%) are almost twice as likely to have multiple side hustles as those who don’t (27%).
“I think it’s important to let people work how they have to work because that’s when they can actually do their best work, as we’re seeing with entrepreneurs and Gen Z,” Walter said.
Microsoft data shows that 91% of Gen Z entrepreneurs work non-conventional hours; 81% say they work while on vacation, compared to 62% of business owners overall.
“What do I really want to do?” is a frequently asked question, according to Philip Gaskin, vice president for entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. “It’s some of that Gen Z energy,” he said.
Generation Z graduates are coming into the workforce during the pandemic period of “rediscovery,” Gaskin said, a generational reassessment of the personal and professional aspirations of many Americans. Some people who were bored with their work at the company or who felt old-fashioned at a certain point in their lives were given the time to stop and reevaluate. Many people who saw an opportunity during the pandemic seized it, often with new technology ideas. The boom in start-ups is not entirely a rosy scenario. In some cases, according to Kauffman’s analysis, it is a function of necessity, as people who have lost their jobs need new forms of income.
This shift correlates with a rate of new entrepreneurs that has been growing for several years, with 2020 showing the highest increase of all, according to data from the Kauffman Foundation. And it has a big impact on the job market. “Most of the jobs created in the last five years have been provided by companies less than five years old,” Gaskin said.
Gen-Z are also more inclined towards entrepreneurship rather than getting involved in American companies straight out of college because many see it as a way to accelerate their retirement. According to the Microsoft survey, about 61% of Gen Z small business owners believe they can retire faster than if they had gotten a job at the company, compared to 40% of all small business owners who think so. For the broader small business community, accumulating retirement savings through investment vehicles has historically been a challenge and much of their income has been reinvested directly into the business, raising financial security concerns among entrepreneurs.
Mission-driven, problem-solving Gen Z entrepreneur
Ritwik Pavan, a Generation Z entrepreneur, has founded several companies.
“I’ve been on the entrepreneurial journey since high school and I’ve always wanted to build something because I’ve always had a problem-solving nature,” Pavan said.
The big idea he landed on, having worked in various tech niches since college, including app development, was urban mobility.
In 2018, with co-founders Matthew Schaefer and Christian Burke, he launched Vade, which helps reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions by providing citizens with real-time parking data.
From left to right: Vade’s Ritwik Pavan (COO), Christian Burke (CTO) and Matty Schaefer (CEO) discuss venture plans.
“I help all these people solve problems and come up with their ideas, but I’d like to find something that I’m passionate about solving, and for me that problem was parking,” Pavan said. “The best thing about being an entrepreneur is that we’re very mission-driven and believe that what we’re going to do will change lives for the better and help cities become better places to live,” he said.
According to the Microsoft survey, around 88% of small business owners who prioritize social good say it has helped their business grow, including 82% of Gen Z respondents.
Pavan is an example of how the work rush has changed. His favorite aspect of being a small business owner is the flexibility that the job brings, but that doesn’t mean working fewer hours than a CEO like Jamie Dimon or Elon Musk demands.
“The truth is, as founders, me and my co-founders worked 18-hour days for the first three years, even 20-hour days, sometimes even now,” Pavan said.
But being able to make decisions for your own company is worth the long hours, even if you are also responsible for the bad ones. According to Microsoft data, many Gen Z entrepreneurs, like Pavan, start with this decision-making before college, and many don’t see a degree as critical to their success: 78% of Gen Z entrepreneurs say a college education ” not” is very necessary” for them to run a business.