Deep Patel is a serial entrepreneur, marketer and best-selling author of A Paperboy’s Fable: The 11 Principles of Success. The book was dubbed the No. 1 best business book in 2016 by Success Magazine, and named the best book for entrepreneurs in 2016 by Entrepreneur Magazine.
Recognized as a top 25 marketing influencer by Forbes, Patel has worked with VC-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He is a contributor at Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post and Success Magazine.
I have had the pleasure of getting to know Deep over the past year. He has been on my radio show and is a part of my new InfluenceTree personal branding course for high school students. Recently, I had opportunity to chat with him and learn more about his experiences as an author, expert on Gen Z and marketing influencer. Listen in and learn!
Ryan Foland: Deep, you took the proverbial paper route and turned it into the foundation of a route to success. Tell us a little bit about what brought you to make that decision and what the experience was like.
Deep Patel: My dad was a paperboy in Boston and he always used to tell me about his experiences and all the business principles he learned as a paperboy that he still carries with him today. I’ve always loved writing and entrepreneurship, so I thought, “Hmm … that’s interesting. I wonder if I could maybe turn it into a book or something.” I wrote the book during my sophomore year of high school in 2015. Then I got to interview 15 amazing people for it. The book was published in June 2016.
Ryan Foland: How did you choose the people to interview?
Deep Patel: For half of the interviews, I wanted to reach out to entrepreneurs for a boost in credibility, and I wanted validation as a peer among the most successful in the field. For example, when Vine was very popular, I interviewed the co-founder, Rus Yusupov.
The other half consisted of renowned individuals who I considered successful in other areas and who I had the utmost admiration for. This led me to contact General David Petraeus, and it resulted in one the most engaging conversations I have ever been a part of. The interviews I conducted with business professors from Yale, Harvard and Princeton were intended to reinforce the principles laid out in the book.
Ryan Foland: Are there any lessons you learned while writing the book that didn’t come from people you interviewed, but rather from the actual process of writing?
Deep Patel: The big lesson was understanding the value of patience. Getting the book published wasn’t a swift or simple process. For one, I had to email 100 to 150 publishers and agents, and, like any normal human being, I got impatient. Every time I opened my computer the nagging thought kept ringing in my head: “When am I going to hear back? When am I going to hear back?” The book-writing process definitely instilled in me a greater level of patience.
Ryan Foland: I’m interested in how you got in front of some of these power hitters, like General David Petraeus, the co-founder of Vine and the author of Steve Wozniak’s biography. Was there a process that you had or a system that you used to connect with them?
Deep Patel: I met about 30 percent of them through LinkedIn — when you connect with somebody on LinkedIn, it shows you their email. For the others … believe it or not, most of the information on anyone you can find online. If you go to their website, it usually has a “contact me” option. If not, their email is usually their first name at whatever the website domain is. It was not so much a system as it was a routine of checking for responses and repeatedly getting their attention. I found that getting on someone’s computer screen multiple times will either get you blocked or get a response.
Ryan Foland: Were you ever close to publishing your book by yourself, or was that never an option?
Deep Patel: I feel like self-publishing isn’t the route to go. Anyone can self-publish, so it really doesn’t make it a “unique” path. I didn’t have any marketing experience at that point, so I thought, “How am I going to get into every bookstore?” I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to get a traditional publisher.
Ryan Foland: Were there any parts of the process that you would do again in a heartbeat? Or anything you would have done differently?
Deep Patel: I wouldn’t have written the entire book before reaching out to publishers. All you need for getting an agent on board is a book proposal, which is 20 pages of a marketing plan and summaries of chapters. You don’t have to write the entire manuscript to get a publisher or agent. I would tell any author that they can save themselves the heartache of frantically typing up an entire book for an agent if they can hand in a well-organized proposal.
Ryan Foland: So what else are you doing these days?
Deep Patel: I’m focusing mainly on two large-scale projects. The first involves my Generation Z marketing ventures. The other, which is my biggest project yet, is an Instagram analytics tool, which I’m super excited about.
Ryan Foland: I’m a borderline millennial, but I forget what classifies someone as Gen Z?
Deep Patel: The usual definition is someone born after 1996. They’re the only digital-native generation, which means they’ve never lived in a time without tablets or smartphones. Back in 2010 it was still rare to have a wide variety of tech at your disposal, but now you have third graders with iPhones, so the entirety of this generation is born and raised with modern technology at their fingertips. This level of connectivity is unprecedented.
Ryan Foland: I’m assuming that part of your marketing is helping older generations understand how to tap into that market.
Deep Patel: Older marketing executives struggle to cope with the dynamic marketplace that is Generation Z because they have never faced a consumer base as fickle as Gen Z. My main goal is to bridge the generational gap.
Ryan Foland: Is there a list of top things to consider that really differentiate Gen Z in the marketplace right now?
Deep Patel: Gen Z attention spans are extremely short. Also, they don’t want to be sold to. For example, on Twitter you have all these companies advertising 20 percent off and so on, but that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do if you want to catch their attention. Instead, you should be focusing on creating content and building a brand that relates to them. At the end of the day, the pricing is a factor, but it’s more about building trust with them by putting out content they can relate to.
Ryan Foland: Are they more responsive to a particular medium: videos, articles, podcasts …?
Deep Patel: Video is huge. Video is probably the No. 1 thing. That is why we saw such a meteoric rise in YouTube, but we now see that condensed video platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat are making a larger impact because of the abbreviated attention spans. Articles and podcasts are geared more toward a specific audience because short attention spans prevent a Gen Z user from wanting to even smell a 1,200-word article. It’s all about formatting and getting your point across from the jump.
Ryan Foland: You talked about attention span. Is there an ideal video length that Gen Z is more apt to watch?
Deep Patel: I think it depends on what the focus is. Sometimes you can get your point across within 30 seconds and sometimes within a couple of minutes, but it really depends on the purpose. However, if you want to get their attention, something needs to happen within the first 8 seconds because that is how quickly Gen Z can filter information. If you cannot grab their attention in those initial moments, you aren’t worth their time.
Ryan Foland: Is there more of an appetite for multiple videos at a shorter length?
Deep Patel: You definitely want to get across your content as often as possible, so daily would be nice, but I think weekly would suffice. Putting out 2 very good videos of about a minute each on Instagram or a max of 5 on YouTube should keep the followers entertained.
Ryan Foland: Are there any particular social media platforms that are heavily used by Gen Z?
Deep Patel: Instagram and Snapchat are huge. Facebook is making a comeback as well. Even though everyone says Twitter is dying, there is still a significantly sized user base you cannot overlook. But I think Instagram and Snapchat are the biggest ones, because they cater the most to the short attention spans.
Ryan Foland: You mentioned the content strategy for selling, but you also discourage overselling oneself. So how does one accomplish successful selling?
Deep Patel: I think you can ask for the sale, but only do it maybe 1 in every 10 pieces you put out. T-Mobile does an amazing job with this. They built their whole brand around being this youthful, engaging company. That does the selling for them. Their service isn’t that great, yet they still have Gen Z buying into it, just because they created this brand you can resonate with.
Ryan Foland: There’s been a lot of buzz about influencer marketing. How would you describe this phenomenon?
Deep Patel: Influencer marketing is basically using an influencer, whether it’s a popular YouTuber, Snapchat account or any major social presence, to help sell your product or service. You are essentially paying someone who has a strong personal brand, who is credible and has a large audience to influence their fan base to buy your product.
Ryan Foland: How crucial is influencer marketing going to be for Gen Z? I know people are trying to figure out if it really works, and then how they integrate that into their strategy.
Deep Patel: I think it comes down to what you’re trying to sell. Influencer marketing is important, but if you have the wrong influencer, it’s not going to help. If you’re trying to sell a video game and you have a YouTube influencer who is centered around makeup tutorials, it’s not going to help. You have to find an influencer who fits your brand or it’s useless.
Ryan Foland: Does someone need a certain number of followers to be an influencer?
Deep Patel: I don’t necessarily think of it in terms of numbers of followers. It’s basically what their brand is built around. Like for the video-game example: you’d rather have a video-game influencer who has 2,000 followers than a beauty-product influencer who has 100,000 followers. It comes down to the right audience. That said, if you find a user with a large audience, you have to understand how engaged the audience is with the channel. If you have a channel with 1 million followers but that only averages about 20,000 likes, then it isn’t nearly as effective as an account with 150,000 followers averaging about 60,000 likes.
Ryan Foland: Is there anything that keeps coming up as one of your top pieces of advice to the older generation trying to connect? It’s a relatively new topic with Gen Z, and there aren’t that many people I can think of who are really focused on connecting to those consumers.
Deep Patel: Gen Z has an active BS meter. They filter out whatever is irrelevant to them. On Twitter, they scroll through thousands of Tweets. If they skip over yours, it’s not because they have a short attention span; it’s because your content isn’t engaging enough. I think that’s what a lot of branding companies don’t understand.
Ryan Foland: It’s not just about content. It’s about engaging content.
Deep Patel: If you just put out posts that are basically the same every day, or that do not relate to your audience, then you’re wasting your time and theirs.
Ryan Foland: Forbes has called you one of the youngest, most successful networkers out there. Are you finding that you’re building your network with other Gen Zers, or are you focused on an older crowd, or is it all of the above?
Deep Patel: I think it’s all of the above, because you don’t want to limit yourself to one age group. The world doesn’t function as everyone interacting within their age group. I focus on staying in touch with older, wiser businesspeople to learn and gain experience, but I keep in touch with just as many younger ones to stay youthful and keep my network diverse.
Ryan Foland: Are you primarily building from LinkedIn, or are you using multiple platforms?
Deep Patel: LinkedIn is tremendously important for building a modern network, but it also comes down to cold emailing, introductions and getting out and talking to people.
Ryan Foland: I don’t know how many people still believe that cold emailing works. You’re saying that it’s an effective tool for reaching out?
Deep Patel: Every cold email has to have a value proposition for the person who is receiving the email. For example, if I was putting out a book and the back cover didn’t have an interesting preview or information that I needed, then I wouldn’t waste my time. Everyone is going to need help with something — it’s finding what value you can offer them. That’s mainly how you can connect with them: by providing value without expecting anything in return.
Ryan Foland: One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of Gen Zers aren’t really on LinkedIn. I work on a college campus, and even college kids don’t seem to jump on LinkedIn until they’re out there in the world. Is LinkedIn a place for Gen Z, or are they not there yet?
Deep Patel: It’s not just Gen Z. I don’t think most people are on LinkedIn. You’ll find young entrepreneurs on there every now and then, but the overwhelming majority are not.
Ryan Foland: I’m coming from an old-school perspective: a time when there was less technology. Do you feel like Gen Z is missing some of those real-life, personal components because of technology?
Deep Patel: I think depends on the person. For some, technology helps them connect with others if they want to. If someone lives 200 miles away, it allows them to connect without having to actually meet in person. On the other hand, it could be that you’re hiding behind a screen because you’re too afraid to interact in person. It really depends on the person. It can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Ryan Foland: These days, someone who grew up without much access to technology is going to be in the same workforce as people who only grew up with technology. Are there any dos and don’ts when trying to relate to a Gen Zer?
Deep Patel: I don’t remember the exact statistic, but an overwhelming majority — around 70 percent — say they prefer to buy from a brand or a company that has a charity or philanthropic tie to it. I think that’s one. They want to buy from someone who has a purpose for the greater good. Toms is a great example, because they donate so much as part of their mission. Gen Zers want to buy from someone with a purpose.
I think another one is make them feel valued. Although they are sometimes criticized for it, I think Gen Zers are accustomed to receiving praise and rewards for even small achievements. They thrive on feeling valued. Generation Z’s motivation and self-worth are linked to acknowledgment, so if you want to engage Gen Zers, make sure you appreciate them as individuals, as well as recognize their performance efforts.
Ryan Foland: Are Gen Zers really worried about personal branding, or is that something that they inherently understand because they grew up with technology? Do you think Gen Z is in tune with the whole concept of the personal brand or is it more realistic for young entrepreneurs?
Deep Patel: I think it’s more for young entrepreneurs. Every Gen Zer understands social media, but fine-tuning it to create your personal brand is a whole different thing. They’re aware of all the tools available, but they don’t always feel the need to develop one unless they have a greater purpose for social media besides just connecting with friends.
Ryan Foland: At what point would you encourage someone to take a serious look at the ability to control how their image is portrayed online? Are there any triggers that would cause you to say, “If you’re doing this, you should be considering developing your personal brand”?
Deep Patel: I think it starts with building your foundation. You have to build your presence online first. The most obvious thing is getting a website up, with your name as the domain. Then launch a blog or other platform for getting your ideas out, so you can start raking in emails. Create content that centers around your area of focus.
Ryan Foland: I love it! Focus, focus and focus! Well buddy, I think your focus has lead you to the strong brand that you have today. I look forward to you being my Gen Z lifeline!
Deep Patel: Thanks Ryan. Happy to help how I can!