Millennials. It's that group of people born between 1980 and 1995 (give or take), and the first truly tech-savvy generation. They grew up with computers in their homes and classrooms and had cellphone before they finished puberty. Generally, they're seen as technophiles - especially by their boomer parents. But this generation is also believed to be driving the shift toward radical ideas and new ways of doing things, especially in tech startups, where there are few clear rules besides the one that says leave old-school business at the door. (Uncover some of the background that allowed the millennials to become so connected in A History of the Internet.)

Who are the Millennials?

A 2010 Pew Research Center study provides a complete profile of the millennial generation:
  • Millennials are more diverse racially and ethnically; they are less likely to have undergone military service and less likely to be religious.
  • When it comes to education, millennials often find themselves wanting a college degree. Only 19 percent have graduated from college, but many say they plan to finish their degree, should the money and time become available.
  • Career-wise, millennials face greater challenges than older adults because they entered the workforce during a great recession. Two out of three millennials have full-time or part-time jobs but are less likely to hold on to a full-time job than Generation Xers or baby boomers. This is why more and more millennials are settling for part-time jobs.
  • Millennials are often painted as job hoppers. Indeed, the Pew study found that 66 percent of millennials say they plan to switch careers in the future, while close to 60 percent have already switched careers one or more times.
  • This is one optimistic group of people. Around 90 percent say they have enough money to survive. And although 40 percent are unemployed, they believe the economy will improve.

Pew researchers also found that millennials:
  • Are wary of other people
  • Trust the government to remedy their situation
  • Are not in a hurry to get married
  • Have better relationships with their parents than past generations
  • Are very comfortable expressing themselves with technology. About 20 percent have posted online videos, and around 75 percent have a social networking profile
  • Identify themselves as very tolerant and liberal, with a high inclination to use technology
  • Love pop culture, music and clothes
  • Think they are smart

Media culture expert Jenny Braudaway writes that millennials are more likely to care for influence rather than affluence. That means that they would rather become a superstar blogger with thousands of followers or a YouTube sensation with a million video views than be a highly paid doctor or lawyer. What’s more, millennials also love creating content. They blog about their thoughts and feelings, and they rant or rave about products and services. The Pew study also noted that this generation's affinity for technology is not just limited to their gadgets, but the way they have fused their social lives with their gadgets. (Learn more about social media in Jedi Strategies for Social Media Management.)

What does this add up to? A group of people who are inspired, engaged and very connected.

Millennials and Tech Startups

As it turns out, the millennials' strengths make them a great fit for startups - whether they're working for one or starting one themselves. A tech startup needs talented, tech savvy workers that can relate to an up-and-coming generation of new digital users. More than their skills, it's millennials attitudes that set them apart.

Because millennials are often open to working for less money, cash-strapped startups don't necessarily need to dangle cash as an incentive to get top talent. Engaging work can be a recruiting tool in and of itself.

Millennials also want more flexibility and freedom in their jobs and workplaces. In Cisco's Connected World Technology Report, millennials said that they would would be more likely to choose a company that allowed them to work remotely or have a flexible work schedule. Staying connected shouldn't be a problem: Most said they'd rather lose their wallets than their smartphones. That may also explain why Cisco found that more than half of those they interviewed would shun - or find ways to circumvent - companies that prohibit access to social media sites.

A fleet of workers that would rather not have office space and knows how to work some of the most important online business channels? For startups, this sounds like a match made in heaven.

Getting the Word Out

Even if millennial workers are not charged with manning a company or buying its products, companies can often rely on them for one more thing: Getting the word out about their products or services. Just give them something they can rave about, and they'll spread the message on Twitter, Facebook, blogs - and beyond. There's no need for big fat marketing budgets. This group is best found where they hang out: online.

Talking About this Generation

Most millennials believe new technology makes life easier, and because many faced a recession upon hitting the workforce, they may have a different perspective on career and work. It's this group that's stepping up and launching many of the recently successful tech startups, or they're working at throwing out the old way of doing business in favor of using tech to complete business tasks. And whether they're working in a startup, a large company or on their own, they've had a hand in major trends, ranging from bring your own technology (BYOT) to social media marketing. The millennials may be over-hyped, but despite all the buzz, it isn't just lip service: This generation has different attitudes, beliefs and skills than those that came before.