Marketing consultant, venture capitalist and “influencer” Patrick Finnegan is just 19, but he has rapidly developed a reputation as a expert on Generation Z, the youngest subset of Millennials.
After launching several startups aimed at his own generation, Finnegan moved to Manhattan where he manages venture capital and advises marketing firms, investors and CEOs on how to appeal to the tastes of his diverse and technologically advanced demographic.
LLNYC recently met up with Finnegan to learn more about the changing tastes of the young and wealthily in NYC.
(Questions and answers have been edited)
LL: Hey Patrick, tell us about yourself.
PF: Hey, so I was born in Connecticut, but really I grew up in Williamstown, Mass., a small college town in the Berkshires.
I ended up going away to a boarding school called Eaglebrook School. It was an all-boys school for grades six-nine. It was an amazing experience. After graduating ninth grade at Eaglebrook, I ventured off to a school called St. Andrew’s in Delaware. St. Andrew’s is widely known as the campus where the movie, Dead Poets Society was filmed. I thrived for part of high school and loved the academics and how it taught me how to write, etc. But really I was always focused on making moves for my future.
My first business was at age 14 at Eaglebrook. It was a coupon startup. Shortly after, I started a wristband business at St. Andrews, then a social media agency, which grossed closed to $80,000 in revenue. I also made fake IDs. Many of those businesses failed or almost got me in trouble. (My school never caught me making fake IDs, even though I was doing it out of my dorm room. But my mother did, and that was a tough conversation).
After my junior year, I dropped out of high school and at first it seemed like the saddest and worst decision of my life. But it was actually the best decision I ever made.
I was lucky enough to be accepted into Wieden+Kennedy, the advertising agency known for creating Nike’s best advertising campaigns, startup accelerator in Portland, Or. I had a company called WorldState. It ended up failing, but I learned so much from the ad veterans at WK.
Then I moved to NYC to help brands understand Gen Z. I’m now the youngest VC in NYC.
LL: Where do you (and your peers) hang out in the city?
PF: I have many groups of friends. I tend to hangout with adults. But in general, I would say, I like to brunch at the Mercer and Saint Ambroeus. Eat at Omar’s, Catch, Nobu, and late night Artichoke Basille’s or Coppelia.
LL: The New York Times called you a specialist in “linking luxury brands with Generation Z.” How did that come to be?
PF: So that is a narrow statement although well appreciated. I advise media brands, apps, fashion brands and also work with luxury brands on Gen Z. I think they used the word luxury because they know me from luxury panels at HAVAS [an advertising and PR agency], etc.
I help all brands, big and small, luxurious and non-luxurious understand Gen Z and its pulse. Eventually, I will have my own content brand in addition to a full-fledged consulting group, and down the line will have my own tech IP and product lines.
LL: Define Gen Z (for all of us old Millennials).
PF: So here is a technical and a non-technical answer.
We are ages 12-19. We are DIY people. We are all taking no traditional paths. Loyalty is a dream for brands to achieve, and although some will, it is very unlikely. Whether rich or poor, we have influencer and access. Social media is a tool that can make any of us successful, its not just about connections like it used to be. We care about the earth and social good in a similar way to Millennials, but also have the drive to support ourselves and not struggle as much economically.
We have a huge influence on household purchases and we are the people who are creating the fashion trends. Kanye is to some degree, but Gen Z is amplifying it and making it huge.
The Gen Z workforce will be very different from how it is for Millenials five years from now. Most of us will maybe start a normal job, but eventually, quit to sell a hobby of our own.
From a pure data perspective we’ve outpaced Millennials and will be 40 percent of the population by 2020!
LL: A lot of brands are still getting a handle on millennials, why refocus on Gen Z?
PF: Millennials are not spending money and brands see that. Gen Z is and will continue to spend more. It’s a long-term investment, because established brand need to continue to stay relevant as all of these cooler, low-budget streetwear brands and media brands begin to corner the market.
LL: What does Gen Z spend its money on?
PF: For girls: Fashion, fitness, food, and experiences. And guys definitely overlap, but more of the fashion and experiences and, of course, shoes.
LL: What first piqued your interest in the luxury market?
PF: I always was watching it evolve and saw how one year a Hermes belt was luxury and the next it was a pear of sneakers, a cool bracelet or a bomber jacket. Hermes belts are not even cool to my demographic now.
LL: Who/what are your influences?
PF: I look up to businessmen such as Gary Vaynerchuk, Sean Combs, Kanye West, Ben Horowitz, Henry Kravis, Steve Jobs, Arianna Huffington, Ken Lerer, Alan Patricof, Josh Kushner and many more.
LL: How do you define luxury?
PF: It is an evolving context that a product is put into, and is dictated sometimes by price point. It’s definitely about value, relevance and demand for the young demographic.
LL: What’s good about the way previous generations consumed luxury goods?
PF: They were loyal and value the craftsmanship. I believe Gen Z does too, but sometimes they get caught up in the cool and take the cool factor over the quality factor.
LL: What’s the next “it” thing/trend?
PF: This new crop of young fashion brands coming out of the VFiles or just Shopify stores or Instagram pages. I would say messaging is the future for Gen Z as well.
LL: How are you (and your peers) changing the face of “luxury”?
PF: We are controlling it and activating both the old luxury and new luxury brands. We also are redefining what it is through our purchases.
LL: You talk about how your generation wants to change the world. In what way?
PF: We want there to be equality on a gender and income level.
LL: You are also very optimistic about the future despite what seems like perpetual bad news. Why?
PF: We will have control of it and won’t let the reality TV-like presidential election let us lose sight of our destiny for this amazing nation.
LL: What new projects are you involved in?
PF: An app called 8 wish is about to have a huge presence. I am also a vice president and sweat equity partner at a $5 million VC fund. Lastly, I am creating a content business vertical for Gen Z with a major content company that I can’t announce yet.
LL: You are very ambitious. Where do you want to be?
PF: I will corner the Gen Z market as the agency and face of expertise for major brands, disrupt media and advertising, manage several influencers, and eventually create some paradigm shifting products that center around Gen Z. My goal is to be a cross between Gary Vaynerchuk, Scooter Braun, Sean Combs, Arianna Huffington and Alan Patricof.
LL: What comes after Gen Z?
PF: The singularity, lol?