Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30

When I was growing up in Leonia, New Jersey, in the 1960s, and continuing as I went off to Oberlin College in the 1970s, I embraced the saying, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” It seemed like a reasonable mantra until 1985 when, to paraphrase Pogo Possum, I met the enemy, and it was me.

I thought about trusting people over 30 recently when my firm was looking for two outside directors for a personal care company we recently invested in. We had some great candidates (one of whom we hired) who brought decades of directly relevant experience.

But none was a digital native. And each, like me, was more “anti-social media” than they were familiar with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and all the other new information channels used by those younger (or at least younger at heart).

Today all companies, especially B2C ones, must span the digital divide. Digital transformation is required to thrive and, increasingly, to survive. Companies that make the leap can, like Darwinian adapters, eat the lunch of those left behind — even those that are bigger, stronger or better-known.

Social media is a potentially dramatic equalizer. A misstep can cost an established brand its place in the sun. Deeply understanding each platform and speaking to the right audience can turn an unknown into a powerhouse. This democratization has deep roots in the U.S. that go back to the nation’s founding.

The Revolutionary War pitted the powerful British Army wearing bright red uniforms and forming ranks against ragtag rebels who often relied on guerilla tactics. Those rebels won independence from the mightiest empire in the world. In America, we’ve always liked insurgents and rooted for the underdog.

As a firm that prides itself on an entrepreneurial spirit that’s helped us to partner with hundreds of business owners since 1988, Riverside loves to see the little guy win. We bring our financial and intellectual capital to the right people to make companies bigger and better.

We make sure those partners include people who can build digital bridges because getting bigger and better is impossible without a strong social media game and a compelling digital strategy. That means more than just knowing the latest on Google’s algorithm or finding the hippest influencers.

It’s about creating authentic connections with your audience, sharing stories and news that matter to customers and prospects and building and maintaining trust and community.

Like our nation’s founding, the saying, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” has a lot of interesting history. It’s often credited to Abbie Hoffman, or even the Beatles, but it was actually social activist Jack Weinberg, who was part of the Congress of Racial Equality. The quote was often used to ridicule the work of CORE and other left-leaning groups, and Weinberg says it was taken out of context and misinterpreted. 

So, you’re welcome to trust someone over 30 when it comes to building consumer brands or even B2B companies. But you’d better be sure that they understand what matters to customers of all ages and know how to reach them.

Stewart Kohl is Co-CEO at The Riverside Co.