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What tomorrow’s startups can learn from young people’s attitudes to tech

Nominet CEO Russell Haworth runs through young people's attitude towards tech and how start-ups can learn from them

It was Bill Gates who advised that “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”.

This simple piece of wisdom can save the established business a great deal of time and money, but how does a business consider the potential concerns of their customer? If your approach, ethos and product doesn’t appeal to them, you’re not going to survive; it matters.

For almost all startups on the edge of establishment, the future customer is the youth of today. As digital natives, they are the first generation to grow up in a world where tech and the internet is embedded into almost every aspect of their life.

Conscious of the importance of their attitudes towards the technology that shapes their existence. Nominet has recently conducted research into the attitudes of young people aged 11-24 as they explore the conflict between technology’s benefits and the potential drawbacks for personal relationships and wider society.

Not only did the results demonstrate how mature and open-minded many young people are today, it also raised some interesting findings that tomorrow’s tech businesses can learn from if they want to operate in a way that appeals to the future market.

(Data) honesty is the best policy

Our research found that young people are acutely aware of issues around how their data is accessed and used. Out of the older bracket of young people (aged 18-24 years old) we spoke to, 61% worry that people will steal their information online, and 50% think the government watches everything they do.

They are also willing to walk away from companies they lose trust in – following the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal in June last year, it was reported that online interactions made on Facebook’s mobile app by Brits have declined by around 38%, with young people in particular moving to other social networks.

Tomorrow’s companies must be open and honest about how they use their customers’ data and treat it with the integrity and security the future generation now expect.

Technology to unite, rather than divide

Young people are aware of how technology and the internet can be used to manipulate, and fear it could entrench divisions in society and damage people’s social skills. When asked about fake news, 74% felt that social media was directly responsible for its insemination and widespread distribution of misinformation.

Closer to home, 58% also felt that technology was destroying the art of conversation, clearly aware of the impact their technology habits can have on social situations. With smartphone screen time amongst 15-24 year olds creeping up to 4 hours per day, 63% of the young people we spoke to also thought that today’s children risk becoming loners due to screen addiction.

With this in mind, companies would be wise to create their tech and apps with a view to unite and not divide, to tackle some of society’s issues and find ways to bring people together.

A good example is the rise of health and wellbeing apps; fitness app Strava seeks a high number of users doing a lot of exercise, rather than trying to increase the amount of time users are spending active on the app. Consider this against social media platforms such as Facebook, which wants a high number of users spending a longer time using their platform.

Ensure there are adequate controls to prevent abuse

While technology has proven itself a great tool for seamless communication, it has also presented opportunities for malicious and inescapable bullying.

When asked specifically about their experiences with social media, almost one in every three young people said they had been bullied, with 65% knowing someone else who had experienced bullying online.

While some of today’s tech companies are already taking retroactive steps to try and reduce abuse (Instagram, for example, recently introduced an antibullying tool), tomorrow’s tech companies must make sure that these tools are inbuilt from the start.

Don’t underestimate the malicious intentions of some users and ensure that apps or platforms have the safety and mental wellbeing of their customers built into the foundations.

Tap into their enthusiasm for the digital future

Young people have been clear about their concerns over the negative influence of technology on their lives, but they are also overwhelmingly positive about it.

More than three-quarters of those we spoke to agreed that technology has helped in all areas of their lives, and the same again feel technology allows people of all ages and backgrounds to communicate with each other and learn new skills.

The younger generation will be the most digitally savvy we have ever encountered and are just as inquisitive and enthusiastic as we would hope them to be. Being in tune with their hopes and fears is becoming the vital ingredient for the disruptors of the future. Address their concerns but find ways to inspire their dreams and you have every chance of market success.

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