What Business Will Look Like in the Year 2030
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
What will our world look like 10 years from now? It’s impossible to know for sure, but Mauro Guillén has at least some of the answers. He’s an expert on global market trends, a professor at the Wharton School, and the best-selling author of the recent book 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything. His prediction, in short: The business world of 2030 will look very different from today — but that can be a good thing for entrepreneurs. It just takes some practice in observation, a reassessment of who the customer is, and a change in the way we find connections.
Companies have long been focused on serving the millennial audience. You’ve argued that that’s a mistake. Why?
Speaking more broadly about generational dynamics, companies have spent the past few decades targeting younger generations. The thinking, of course, is about lifetime value. That was predicated on the assumption that the younger age groups made up the largest consumer segment. But by the year 2030, both in terms of headcount and purchasing power, the largest consumer segment will be the population of over 60. And 60-year-olds in the United States may have another 25 years ahead of them. So that’s going to create a new set of incentives for companies and entrepreneurs.
That sounds like an opportunity that might be hard for some folks to grasp, especially if that tipping point is in 2030.
Well, obviously, healthcare and anything that improves the quality of life as you age, people are keenly aware of those opportunities. But in terms of consumer goods, this will require a change in thinking. Consider clothing: There’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity in that category, but most brands don’t consider a consumer above a certain age. They don’t even want to touch that demographic because they think it will tarnish their brand image. But that mindset is going to change.
What does the surge in this population segment mean for our workforce?
Entrepreneurs would be wise to abandon this 19th-century idea that in our first few years, we learn, and then we work, and then we retire. People are starting to go back to learning mode several times in their lives, so someone who retires may take on a whole new career. There’s a huge opportunity to serve those people, in terms of products and education and flexible work. We’ve got to help reinvent the last 25 years of life.
There’s another demographic that gets a lot of attention in your book, and that’s women.
If I had to choose one thing that’s going to laterally affect everything else in the next 10 years, it’s women.
Right now, in 41 percent of American households with a man and a woman, the woman makes more than the man. By 2030, it’s going to be more than half. And by my own calculations, more than half of the net worth in the world is going to be in the hands of women by then. That’s going to change consumption, investing, and financial markets because women spend their money differently, invest differently, and tend to be more risk-averse, generally.
When should we expect to see businesses, broadly speaking, spend more time considering women’s wants and needs?
I do a lot of seminars with bankers and wealth managers, and they’re struggling. Because already, women knock on their doors and say, “I have money; can you help me invest it?” And those banks and investment firms don’t have the products to help them. They don’t have their staff trained in a way to handle the nuances of women’s needs. They don’t have enough women on staff as advisers. And that’s just one example — it’s going to impact all industries. Even in real estate right now, so many developers are really starting to think about how they design apartments to better suit women, and to better suit professional working women.
On the flip side, what does this mean for women entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs tend to launch a business in an area in which they have experience, right? So 20 years ago, maybe women would launch a venture in education or healthcare. But now, we’re seeing more women launch businesses in financial services, or manufacturing, or biotech. And those women will shape those fields that have previously been monopolized by men.
Is it too optimistic to hope that these shifts might fix the funding gap?
I hope that some of these obstacles go away, but we are very far from anything approaching parity. And the problem isn’t launching, it’s that the lack of funding constrains them from growing their business. It’s just incredible that there are these biases when it comes to funding women and minorities.
How can entrepreneurs spot the new opportunities in an economy and a culture going through such change?
It’s about the idea of lateral thinking. People will notice change, but it’s important to connect the dots within to find real opportunity. Let’s use Airbnb as an example. Most of the people who own certain types of assets, including living space, are over the age of 50. But most of the people who want to use those assets on a sharing basis — and who don’t want to stay in hotels when traveling because they’d rather experience the town in which they’re staying — are under the age of 35. Airbnb connected those dots and has succeeded because it serves two generations with very different priorities.
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And it’s providing very different solutions for each.
For the over-50 group, Airbnb is now in a position where it’s not competing against hotels but is actually competing against banks. Empty nesters who might be worried about having sufficient retirement savings may turn to a bank to monetize their home without selling it; Airbnb gives them another way to monetize it with more flexibility. That’s lateral thinking: Connecting the dots.
How can entrepreneurs learn to think that way?
Well, that’s the most important question. I always tell my students who want to be founders that you need to go deep into the field where you want to be an entrepreneur, but you also must force yourself to learn about areas that may be connected to that field. How? Read. Read widely. Read multiple sources. I spend 15 minutes every night reading one or two articles about a topic I know nothing about. And expand your own network, connect with new people, reach outside your comfort zone. Even if you explore a topic that might seem unrelated to what you want to do, it’s only going to benefit you. You will start to see the connections.