Founder of genconnectU Talks Creating Online Courses for Millennial Women

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.


Having dodged several idiotically distracted Pokémon players on the way to Michael’s today (Grow up already!) I arrived relatively unscathed to find the scene at 55th and Fifth a bit more subdued than usual. Still, the place was filled with publishing pros (Gerry Byrne, Howard Mittman) and fashionistas (Graziano de Boni, Franck Grandidier) sandwiched in between the usual suspects.

I was joined today by Nancy Spears, CEO of genconnectU, who PR maven Liz Kaplow introduced to me in this very dining room last month. If you don’t know Nancy, you should (and now you do) because she just might be the entrepreneur who will crack the code on how to get millennials to pay attention to your brand for more than 10 minutes.

Diane Clehane and Nancy Spears

Eight years ago, Nancy launched genConnect with the idea of “sharing wisdom” from experts and accomplished professional in a wide range of fields through a series of videos created to “educate, entertain and enlighten” the site’s online audience. The “featured experts” on genconnect’s homepage at the moment run the gamut from actress Goldie Hawn to Maria Bartiromo to celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there’s plenty of media folks in the mix including Marie Claire’s Anne Fulenwider, Elle’s Robbie Myers, entrepreneur and author Nely Galan (who I ‘Lunched‘ with last month), Carla Hall and Lena Dunham to name a few. “There is so much to learn from these people,” said Nancy between bites of salad nicoise. “People want engagement and I thought, let’s do it in video.”

Since starting genConnect (which has just been rebranded as genconnectU — more on that later) Nancy has shot over 8,000 broadcast quality videos (just let that sink in for a minute) and owns all rights to the interviews. Depending on the interviewee, Nancy and her team shoot straight 20 minute sit-down interviews with her subjects or hour-long “stream of consciousness” conversations which are then edited into user friendly 2-3 minute videos.

Topics range from business, health, love, style, food and inspiration. To give you an idea of the depth of knowledge available in each category, genconnectU has 110 celebrity chefs on its food vertical alone. The videos are intentionally byte-sized, Nancy told me. They’re long enough to impart some pithy words of wisdom, but short enough so as not to lose the attention deficit-addled millennials who are genConnectU’s target audience. (Although the site’s demo extends into the 40-plus consumer as well.)

This not Nancy’s first entrepreneurial rodeo. Her first startup Creative Event Marketing, Inc (CEM,) an events and brand marketing company, had an impressive roster of clients including MasterCard, Time Warner, Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly. Nancy sold to Interpublic Group in June 2000. She is also the author of Buddha: 9 to 5: The Eightfold Path to Enlightening Your Workplace and Improving Your Bottom Line, a guide to value based leadership in corporate America. “I had the book party right here in the garden room!”

I’ll say this — Nancy is one smart cookie. She developed technology that integrates PowerPoint and livestream chat with the videos. While her initial vision was to offer inspirational videos on a wide range of subjects, she determined that mission for genConnect was too broad. “The biggest challenge [in business] is honing in and having a focus,” Nancy said. Having done her homework and market research she discovered that the latest trend is in online education, so she decided to pivot her entire business model and rebrand the site as genconnectU and create online courses.

Later this year, genconnectU will launch its first vertical with entrepreneurship courses for women. “All women are entrepreneurs at heart,” said Nancy. “We have a lot to share.” The existing video library will be used to introduce the courses on social media. The courses will be offered a la carte, with plans to test a subscription model some time in the future. Nancy told me the “sweet spot” for the courses is between $20 and $40 per download.

She already has plenty of wisdom stored up to share. This year, she partnered with Women in Communications to shoot the videos for the Matrix Awards and sat down with every winner over the past two years including The Hollywood Reporter’s Janice Min (“What’s she done with that brand is amazing — it’s because she’s passionate about the content”) and Mellody Hobson (“She so incredible I could have done 10 pieces on her.”) In interviewing the Matrix winners, Nancy said one common theme emerged. “These women are all at a stage of their lives where they want to give back.”

Giving back is critically important to Nancy. We talked about how motherhood is the game changer for so many women in wanting to make the world a better place and traded war stories on what it’s like to raise children (she’s the single mother of teenage twins) in the digital age. “Snapchat is breeding an entire generation of narcissists,” Nancy said. We both agreed the culture of entitlement that has permeated the ‘everybody deserves a medal’ generation, doesn’t bode well for our kids.

“I always tell my kids: If you want to be miserable, think about yourself; if you want to be happy, think about others.”

When the conversation turned to millennials, Nancy told me she feels they have the most to gain from the collective wisdom of the genconnectU community. “Millennials scramble to get into that great college, then scramble to get that first job, but they have to learn what it takes to keep that job and succeed.”

The keys to that success might just be a click away. “We’re handing this generation a big mess. I believe we have a responsibility to help them figure out the harsh realities of day-to-day life.”

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1.David Poltrack

2. Peter Brown and Paul Beirne

3. Dini von Mueffling

4. Penske Media’s vice chairman Gerry Byrne

5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman

6. Andrew Stein

7. Bookseller Glenn Horowitz

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia

9. Elizabeth Weymouth

11. PR maestro Stu Zakim

12. Sandra Good and three well dressed folks we didn’t recognize

14. Agent Ed Victor

15. British Heritage Travel’s publisher Jack Kliger and Fran Pomerantz, founder of The Pomerantz Group

16. GQ publisher Howard Mittman

17. Marshall Cohen

18. Charles Wittington

20. Graziano de Boni

21. Tom Moore

22. John Usdan

24. Martin Puris

26. Gucci’s Franck Grandidier

27. Nancy Spears and yours truly

29. David Sanford and Lewis Stein

Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.