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News

Meet the Innovator: Q+A with Austin Okolo, CEO at The Gen Z Club

Written by 
Rosie Murphy
 on 
February 20, 2023
Plus X Innovation
17
 min

Gen Z Club CEO Austin Okolo shares his insights into how Gen Z is impacting the workforce.

Austin Okolo speaking to a group

Gen Z now make up to 20% of the UK workforce, and are bringing with them transformative change. The first generation to not know a world without the internet, they have grown up seeing the power it can hold, and how virtual businesses can become overnight sensations.

As this generation leaves university and enters the professional world, we'll likely see big changes happening as a result of their requirements coming soon. But, it's not just within existing businesses that we should expect to see Gen Z making a splash.This highly entrepreneurial generation are already showing a strong drive towards side hustles and founding their own startups. In a Nielsen study, 58% of Gen Z respondents said they would like to start a business one day. 14% already had.

22-year-old Austin Okolo, an enterprising member of Gen Z himself, was quick to notice this entrepreneurial spirit amongst his peers. With his cofounders Denzil Jones and Poku Banks, he launched The Gen Z Club, which hosts networking events, resources, and business advice for the generation.

Determined to make a change, The Gen Z Club has grown rapidly in just a year, now holding sold out monthly events across the country. Following from his successful event at Plus X in 2022, we sat down with Austin to learn more about the business, and what is it that makes Gen Z so different to the previous generation.

What is The Gen Z Club?



Technically, it's a platform for Gen Zs to grow and become the person they want to be. We empower, inspire, and educate the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders through monthly network events and workshops so that they can become the best version of themselves. It's a like-minded environment for Gen Zs to come together and connect. We essentially provide a platform for Gen Z to come together, learn, grow, and become who they want to be.

Why did you set up The Gen Z Club??



Gen Z Club all came about by accident. I've got two other business partners, Poku Banks and Denzil Jones, it's not just me. And we've all got different stories of what happened.I had my own fashion brand, Born To Stand Out London, and I love Gary Vee. Gary Vee is a master at personal brand, and I wanted to build mine. Back in the day, one of the best platforms was TikTok. It still is great, but if you got to it early, you see the benefits of it now. My business partner and friend, Poku Banks, got in early and has over 300,000 followers on TikTok, and I missed that kind of wave. Then Clubhouse came along, and I said, 'This is the one. We're going to make up the ground.'So, we started on Clubhouse. I connected with Denzil Jones and said, 'Why don't we do them together every single week and see where that goes?'

We did weekly rooms during the 2021 lockdown. We covered topics like managing your money as a Gen Z, mental health, Gen Z entrepreneurship or nine to five - all of these kinds of questions. We didn't miss one room for about five months. From January to May, we did one every single week. We had weeks where we had a hundred people in there. We had weeks with 10 people in there, but we stayed consistent. Off the back of that, we built quite a decent following.


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A post shared by The Gen Z Club (@the.genzclub)



When did you start holding events?



We thought, let's do an in-person event. I just thought it would be fun, nothing more. We released our tickets, and sold out in about two hours. And it went well, so we thought, let's just do another one. So, we did another one in Nottingham, and sold that out again. I said might as well do another one in January, which sold out again. That was our biggest one at the time, 120 people. Then from there, I reached out to Plus X saying that we want to do it in Brighton.

Then we thought, there's a business here - let's just keep going. And then we ended up doing it every single month. I think for my previous business, I hadn't seen the power of consistency. I said, Guys if we're going to do this, we need to do a month. Otherwise, it just won't work.

And I have hammered that home. And we did. We're 10 months in now. We saw that there was a demand for people wanting network events for Gen Z, and then we just thought, let's just give it to them.

How did you meet your co-founders?



The way I met my cofounders goes to show the power of being nice. Denzil DM'd me on Instagram a couple of years ago just to show me love. He said, 'I like what you're doing. I respect you. Let's just stay in touch.' I followed him, and then we stayed in touch that way, and I saw what he was doing.

The funny thing about Denzil is that I didn't actually meet him until June 2022. We were doing Clubhouses for five months, but I never met him in person. It was because of the pandemic, but also because there was no need to meet up. Like our Clubhouses were virtual, so there was no reason for me to actually meet up with him. We did our first event around June or July, which just shows the power of the internet these days.

My second co-founder is Poku Banks, who has about 300k followers on TikTok. I was in his network anyway, but Denzil and Poku are from the same area in Kent, so they were already kind of friends. When it came to our first event, it was meant to be 'The Gen Z Club x Poku', with Poku being there to add a famous face to it. Then November came, and we wanted to have Poku there again but thought it would be weird to do The Gen Z Club x Poku again. And Poku said, 'OK, maybe I should just be a director.' And I had a meeting with Denzil for about 10 seconds, and we said, 'Yeah, we're down.'

With the three of us, it has really come to light. We all had our own stuff outside of The Gen Z Club. We all had experience in entrepreneurship. We all had our own communities and our own networks, and we've brought them together now. It just made magic.

How do you work together?



I think we naturally all know what our strengths are. I think I'm more of a visionary, and they would all agree. I can picture things in the future.

Denzil is more of the person that will make it happen. So I'll say, 'Denzil, we need to do this,' then Denzil will get the venue, talk to the speakers and do all of the details. I'm more like the big-picture person, and he is more about the details.

Poku is a bit more part-time with it. Obviously, just his influence is massive for us - him just being a part of the Gen Z Club helps our brand. He also helps with collaborations and is another hand if you need him.

One thing that I have definitely found working in The Gen Z Club is that I understand the power in collaboration. Denzil says all the time, 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.' But I actually disagree. I think if you want to go fast, go together. If you want to go far, go together. I think you go further and faster when you're with people because it's all about synergies. When you've got a partner, you can bounce ideas off each other. If we put our networks together, it's even bigger.

From this experience, I always find ways where I collaborate with people. I think you've got to bring people in to take it to the next level because, on your own, you can only get so far.

Who is your target audience?



The simple answer is Gen Z and people from ethnic backgrounds as well. One thing that we found is that a lot of our artists are people of black origins and other ethnic origins. It wasn't actually intentional with the Gen Z Club, it just found us. I think a reason why our audience is ethnic and also entrepreneurs is that we're also ethnic and entrepreneurial. The community equals our network.I've found that the community is very entrepreneurial, but at the same time, a lot of people still want to go into corporate. I think that it can go hand in hand. I think that a lot of people work jobs but have also got their side hustles as well that feed their interests. I think that it is heavily entrepreneurial, but we do have all sorts of people that have thirst or show like intrapreneurism.

We had our first women-only event in September. We wanted to give that safe space for women to come and network. We found that our events were very male-dominated. And we thought that women wanted to network, so what's going on? So, we thought, let's do a women-only event, and the turnout was amazing. It shows that women want to network; they just need that safe space to do so. So, I'm going to do a lot more of them in the future.

Why is networking important?



I think networking is important in general in life. We're social creatures, and collaboration is really important. The more people that you know and connect with, the further you might go. I think there is definitely a thirst for in-person events, especially after the lockdown. A lot of young people want to go out there and meet people.Like anything in life, it's a muscle. If you want to get good at push ups, the more push ups you do, the better you get. It's the same with networking. Everyone's really nervous the first time they go, but the more you do it, the easier it gets."

What do you think Gen Z is looking for in their careers?



From what I've seen, I think Gen Z is looking to feed their thirst. I think that they're less willing to put up with what they don't enjoy anymore. They've seen that there are so many options out there. They know that if they're not happy in some place, they can find that happiness in other places. You can actually earn a living doing what you're passionate about.

A lot of problems which might have got brushed under the rug back in the day are everywhere to see now on places like Twitter. Gen Z is a lot more open about things that they're not happy with. They're more willing to chase after their passions and their dreams. They're willing to pay whatever needs to be paid or meet whoever they need to meet to do that. I think that they're very different to other generations, and they're looked down upon.

The disconnect between our generation and the older generation is down to the fact that times have changed so much. You can actually build a fashion brand off TikTok, or you can actually become an artist, or you can actually have a YouTube channel playing Pokemon and earn a full-time living. They want to have the opportunity to have that passion.

Employers are better off letting them have their passions and being happy. At the end of the day, they might love to work where they're working, but they might just want to have that thing on the side. Not letting them do that is probably worse for business owners because they might go elsewhere where that is accepted.

What should business leaders know about working with a Gen Z team?



I think that people need to be more mindful that there's more pressure on Gen Z. If they are battling something, or they are moving a bit funny, or they say something unusual, it might be out of something a bit deeper. I think what Gen Z is facing is something that other generations haven't really faced.

I think that understanding is more important now than ever. Managers and HR teams need to try and put themselves in Gen Z's shoes.

And what should business leaders know about targeting a Gen Z audience?



You've got to be where they are at. There are a lot of traditional methods like TV or email, which are still good, but you've got to look at the context of where the audience really are.

I think people need to look at things away from their own ego or from their own reality. They probably grew up on TV and magazines, and that's why they're so attached to it. But times have changed, and you've got to be open to that. Their lives would be a lot simpler if they just went to where Gen Zs are at and find them there.

It's estimated that around 42% of Gen Zs have a side hustle. Why do you think this has happened?



I think it's easier now than it was back in the day. One thing that Gary Vee says a lot is that there are no gatekeepers anymore. For example, if you wanted to do music on the side or wanted to start a band, you might have gone to a bank or MTV or that kind of thing. If you want to be an artist today, you find a studio and post on TikTok, and you could be famous overnight.

I think that the entry-level to get started is a lot easier now. You don't need a massive marketing firm to market your stuff. I can imagine back in the day, if you weren't getting in magazines, it might have been hard for you to grow. But nowadays, you can literally post on TikTok and reach your audience that way. It makes starting things a lot easier, which means that a lot of people are starting things.

What would be your advice for someone that wanted to start their own business?



Number one is to find your why. Find a passion, and find a solution. Businesses solve problems, or they make people's lives easier. When you start your business, think about how the thing you're doing makes your life easier. It could be a desire, or it could be a direct solution. How is what I'm doing going to add value? That's what matters. Every single business in the world adds value.The second thing is to be consistent. I've got a rule in my life, which is to do it consistently or don't do it at all. Making that transition from doing one event to monthly events is what made The Gen Z Club an actual business. I think that you don't have a business unless it's consistent. It allows you to do things like try out, fail, learn, see what works, and meet new people. I think consistency is such a valuable part of any journey.

What's been your proudest moment so far with the business?



My proudest moment so far is being able to go to the University of Sussex as a young 18-year-old and then go on to hold an event for the university in order to impact people. That was a really special night for me on a personal level. We also did an event in July where we had two 260 people there, just two days after I graduated. To see that turnout was a massive turning of opportunity knowing we were able to get that many people into one room.

The final one is that we were nominated for a national award at the British Business Excellence Awards. I didn't think we'd ever get to the final of it and was so surprised. Just to have that recognition on that level is something that I think is incredible so early on.

What's been the biggest challenge?



There have been times when the tickets haven't sold out as well as we thought they would, and it's been a challenge to find out why. There are a lot of reasons why things don't sell. I think our Loughborough event was a challenge for us because we just had a random location. That taught us that although people have travelled far for our events, location does matter massively, and you need to find your audience.For any business, you have to learn a lot about the game. It's a challenge to be so young in such a fast-paced industry and learn as you go along. You make mistakes, which is also important, but it's challenging.

What does the future look like for the Gen Z Club?



One thing I'm big on is just taking the next step. I think that when you take the next step, it illuminates the step after that. That's why I don't really like the idea of a five-year plan because, in a year's time, it's going to be so different. I'm very mindful when I say, 'This is what I'm going to do.' You can't be too attached to anything, because that's how you can manoeuvre and how you adapt. If I say we're going to do this for five years, I might miss out on a massive opportunity over here.

The next step is to work with more large corporations. We're trying to get funding from corporations on the back end to make our events free or cheap. Right now, we're filling out rooms with £30 tickets and a hundred people. Imagine what we can do with a free event or cheaper tickets. We're working with companies to target Gen Zs through our events and other areas, and that will allow us to get more people in our rooms, create more impact, attract more Gen Zs and grow our communities. That's the next step for us.

Any last bits of advice?



All of your emotions are valuable. We put such an emphasis on being happy, which is a great emotion to have. But, if it happens 24/7, it can be very destructive. What you should aim for in life is an adventure, and with that might come happiness, but the other emotions matter too and tell you things for a reason. And also, if you're looking into sponsoring Gen Z, or if you want to target Gen Z, or you're looking to come to networking events, then we're your people!

Find out more about The Gen Z Club on their website, and stay-up-to-date with Austin Okolo on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Rosie Murphy

Content + Social Media Manager at Plus X Innovation.

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min read

Finding the right mentor for you and your business could change everything.

People writing down ideas at Plus X Innovation
How to Find Funding for Your Startup
Insights
6
min read

Looking for funding for your startup? This guide explains how to find it.

A group of people testing out a product in the Plus X Innovation workshop
What is Open Innovation?
Insights
8
min read

Read our guide on how open innovation can benefit your business.

Award for Best Newcomer at the 2022 Property Awards
One to Watch: Plus X Wins Best Newcomer at the 2022 Property Awards
News
2
min read

Plus X Innovation was delighted to be named 'Best Newcomer in Commercial Property' at Property Week's prestigious Awards.

A member speaking at SoapBox in the Launchspace at Plus X Innovation Brighton
How to Become a Successful Business Leader
Insights
6
min read

Read our guide to successful leadership to inspire you on your journey to being a better business leader.

The first cohort of Product Foundry working together in the Plus X Innovation Brighton Workshop
Product Foundry: Welcome to the First Cohort of Makers
News
7
min read

In May, ten creative physical product makers kicked off their journey on Product Foundry. Meet the first cohort.

Entrepreneurs working together at a desk at Central Research Laboratory
How to Turn Your Side Hustle Into a Full-Time Business
Insights
5
min read

Are you running a business alongside your day job? This guide outlines how to make the leap and turn your side hustle into a full-time job.

Collaboration at Plus X Innovation Brighton | Ask the Xperts
Why Workspace Needs to Be More Than Just Offices
Insights
5
min read

The needs of modern workspaces have changed. Employees are seeking flexible working hours and locations, and putting health first.

Members doing yoga in the launchspace at Plus X Innovation
What Makes a Workplace Healthy?
Insights
4
min read

It's more important than ever to ensure that your work environment is sustaining your health and wellbeing.

Networking at Plus X Innovation Brighton
A Guide to Keeping Employees Happy as You Scale
Insights
4
min read

Picking the right time to scaleup your business can be hard to pinpoint.

People using the Podcast suite Plus X Innovation Brighton
Should Your Business Start a Podcast?
Insights
4
min read

Podcasts have had quite the journey. But is starting a podcast right for your business?

Open innovation between startups and corporates at the Better World Collective Innovation Summits
Three Things Corporates Can Learn From Small Businesses About Innovation
Insights
4
min read

Innovation has proven to be a crucial component to success in business - for corporates and startups alike.

Two people working together in the workshop at Plus X Innovation Brighton
20 Inspiring Innovation Statistics for Businesses in 2023
News
5
min read

Want to boost your business innovation? Be informed and inspired by 20 of the most interesting 2023 innovation statistics.

Paul Rostas and Mat Hunter, Co-CEOs of Plus X in the Plus X Brighton workshop
How Cities Could Benefit from Innovation Hubs: An Interview with Mat Hunter
Stories
5
min read

Hear from Mat Hunter, Co-CEO at Plus X Innovation to uncover what we look for when exploring for new innovation hubs.

Entrepreneur pitching to corporates at Better World Collective Summit
What Small Businesses Should Know About Pitching to Corporates
Insights
5
min read

Ready to take your idea to big business clients or partners? Here's what you need to know about pitching to corporates.

The first cohort of BRITE Pioneers at Plus X Innovation
The BRITE Pioneers: Cohort One
Insights
8
min read

Plus X Brighton welcomed 15 businesses that are on their way to change the world to Pioneers.

Plus X Brighton reception from above
A Guide to Downsizing Your Business's Office Space
Insights
5
min read

Due to the growth of hybrid working, many businesses have opted to reduce the size of their workplace or move to a coworking hub.

A Plus X Innovation member working on their laptop
How to Register Your Business with Companies House
Insights
5
min read

Read our guide about why you should register with Companies House.

Product Foundry Cohort Two in the Plus X Innovation Brighton Workshop
Welcome Product Foundry Cohort Two: The Greater Brighton Product Makers
News
6
min read

Product Foundry is a BRITE innovation programme for cutting-edge product makers in Brighton. Meet the second cohort of makers.

Group of Dad La Soul parents and children in the Brighton Launch Space playdate
Dad La Soul Brings Family Fun to Plus X Brighton
News
2
min read

For the next 12 months, we're proud to announce that Plus X Brighton will become home of Dad La Soul's new Brighton playdate.

Toby Kress, Plus X Innovation, applauding on stage at CRL Accelerator Demo Day 2022
Congratulations to CRL Accelerator Cohort 9
Insights
2
min read

Learn about the 9th cohort of CRL Accelerator.

The second cohort of the Pioneers Programme at Plus X Innovation
The BRITE Pioneers: The Second Cohort Making a Better World
News
7
min read

Take a look at the second cohort of pioneering businesses who want to make a difference.

Plus X Innovation Brighton in motion
How to Start and Run a Business During Economic Change
Insights
5
min read

Tough economic conditions can actually be beneficial for startups to exploit market gaps.

Innovation happening between members in the Plus X Innovation Workshop in Brighton
The Case for Collaboration: Why Corporates Should Work with Startups
Insights
2
min read

Startups exist to be disruptive. Corporate-startup collaboration can bring benefits to both parties. Learn how to make it work.

Coworker from above working at a desk in Plus X Brighton
How to Utilise Underused Office Space
News
4
min read

The hybrid working revolution has brought with it many positive changes for teams - but changed requirements for office space.

People collaborating in a meeting room
Why is Collaboration Important in the Workplace?
Insights
3
min read

Collaboration at work is about so much more than water-cooler moments and team meetings.

The third cohort of BRITE Pioneers at Plus X Innovation Brighton
BRITE Pioneers: The Third Cohort Driving Impact
News
9
min read

Meet cohort three of BRITE Pioneers.