M.I.N.M.: Teen Immersion Meeting
Who: Christine Hahn, president and cofounder, Solspark Inc.
Players: All Solspark employees, old and new — currently 45 people
Frequency: Every other Tuesday, from 10 AM to 11 AM
Why I Never Miss It: "It gives me another way of understanding the way kids think."
If you want to understand how a teenager views the world, try acting like one. That's the ruse behind the Teen Immersion Meeting at Solspark Inc., a New York-based startup that offers the netgenCard, a prepaid debit card for teenagers. New hires are asked to research some aspect of teen culture and to create a character based on their findings. Then they take on their dream teen's persona and make a presentation before the entire staff. The head of the technology group showed up as "Trey," a 15-year-old rapper. Another newcomer came out as the host of a program called "Dawson's Creek Jeopardy."
After their presentations, Solspark newbies are asked to stay in character as their peers pepper them with questions on the really important stuff, like "Where did you get those mad shoes? And don't you think Britney Spears is, like, so over?"
The exercise forces new employees to get a feel for teen spirit (without the acne), and then to share what they've learned. Christine Hahn, 27, president and cofounder of Solspark, says that when you're dealing with kids, understanding their emotions is key. Plus, the meeting is a guaranteed icebreaker — and a company rite of passage. How else to be accepted by the cool crowd?
Know your customer. "Because everyone's been a teen, folks often bring preconceived notions to the table of what 'teen' means. It's very important to get into the head of today's youth to understand how different it is now from when we were kids."
Build a team. "We work in a very open environment to promote a free flow of communication, but this meeting really jump-starts it. Once you've done a rap song with your jeans around your hips, there's almost no fear in terms of walking up to anybody. And anybody can walk up to you."
Knowledge check. "After the presentation is over, we fire questions at the people as if they're the teenager. It gets very creative, because they have to think on their feet, and you see just how far and deep they understand their teen. But it's a supportive environment, because everyone has been through the same trial by fire. And it's always just a riot. Everyone's laughing, which is a great way to start a relationship with a new employee."
Staying power. "Even months after the presentation, when we talk about different marketing campaigns or different user experiences on our Web site, we'll say, 'Trey would not like that.' So the characters are referenced again and again in our daily lives."
A version of this article appeared in the October 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.