Noah Kerner has a simple career philosophy: "You have to do what you love in this short life." And what he loves are startups. So Kerner has created not one, or even two, but three companies that have transformed how the world communicates and consumes media. And he did it all before turning 40.
Now, however, Kerner is in a new position. Instead of launching a company, he helped to acquire another. In a move announced this week in the New York Times, his most successful venture, Noise and parent company Engine, acquired The Intelligence Group, an agency that collects data and produces studies on young consumers. A change in role, yes, but Kerner's focus is still on how to best reach 18-to-34-year-olds. Though he admits that the term "millennials" makes him "want to throw up a little," he knows—more than most business leaders—what this demographic wants in terms of how products are marketed and how corporations talk to them. Overwhelmingly, he says, they want to be connected to a community. Sounds simple, but in a world where technology changes the definition of community at a dizzying pace, it is hard to achieve in concrete ways. Now armed with the know-how collected by The Intelligence Group, Kerner and Noise can remain one step ahead.
Kerner has been thinking outside of the box since high school. He started DJing as a teenager, eventually working his way onto stage with Jennifer Lopez. Upon graduation from Cornell University, he landed a position at VH1 Group managing online marketing. It was a great job for someone newly out of school but, says Kerner, "it definitely was not for me." Instead of polishing his resume, he brushed up his observation skills and realized that while "creative agencies have always been charged with reaching consumers," he didn’t believe they were necessarily approaching it the best way. So back in 2005—before corporate America had fully recognized the unique power of the demographic—he cofounded Noise, a company oriented around the young adult audience.
Noise may have begun as an abstract alternative solution to traditional marketing, but after a successful campaign with Chase in 2006, it moved from concept to success. Kerner and Noise worked with the banking giant and built the first student credit card to reward (with points) those who paid their bills on time. Kerner calls it a "paradigm shift" that promoted responsible money management over reckless spending for a group that often spends well beyond their means. It also marked a new day for his company. "We had a chance to lead product development, brand development, and marketing, so it was a true realization of the original Noise vision," he says.
Noise also shifted the paradigm of how people communicate. The company was founded eons ago, in terms of technological know-how. However, they weren't in the precarious role of having to play catch up when social media exploded—they were on the front lines. "We were the first agency to work with Facebook," says Kerner. "We built their app and launched the first execution of Facebook Connect. So we didn’t really adapt. We were more a part of the change."
As Noise continues to stay 10 steps ahead, so, too, does Kerner. In 2007, he cofounded Soundproof, a music agency that has represented legendary producers including Quincy Jones and Babyface. That same year, he released his pop culture business book, Chasing Cool. In 2010, Noise was sold to communications and marketing services group Engine USA, but he continues to have an active role as chairman. Meanwhile, he has become an adviser to his long-time friend Adam Neumann to build WeWork, which transforms buildings around the world into collaborative workspaces. With nearly 20 locations and a global reach, WeWork is important, "meaningful work" says Kerner.
His newest venture is a little less serious, but just as in tune with what millennials want. "I've just funded and helped launch a mobile game development startup called Good Hamsters," he says. Their first iOS game, Bouncy Hamsters, debuted in June and as adorably named as it is, Bouncy Hamsters is only the beginning, with plans to launch a new game every three months. "The mission of Good Hamsters is to bring happiness to your inner kid. I'm a big believer in businesses with a soulful mission."
[Image: Flickr user Philip Bitnar]