Late in the evening of October 4th, rapper Playboi Carti ad-libs to his platinum-selling single “Magnolia” for a packed arena of twenty-somethings in suits. The crowd seems uninterested. While Carti launches into the hook, they exchange business cards in the din.
“Do you have a LinkedIn?” one concert-goer yells at a girl. She nods. Both whip out their smartphones and add each other.
The concert is part of the Forbes Under 30 Summit, the fourth iteration of what Forbes editor Randall A. Lane calls the “greatest gathering of game-changers and entrepreneurs ever.”
The conceit of the conference comes from Forbes’ “30 Under 30” lists, which began in 2011 as a way to celebrate young achievers in a small selection of fields. Forbes now publishes analogous lists for Asia, Europe and Africa, and hosts live summits in three locations across the globe annually––the largest expansion yet of the “Under 30” brand, each summit drawing more than 7,000 of “the world’s top innovators.”
This year, Forbes planned a massive four-day affair—a conference aiming to blend corporate networking with a music festival vibe, all against the backdrop of historic Boston landmarks. What emerged was a sort of hybrid event, where young people line up to have their hair, makeup, and LinkedIn headshots done, and Vine star Jake Paul and Congressman Seth Moulton grace the same stage.
“It’s like the world’s best cocktail party,” Lane says. Lane has a penchant for simile––he has also likened the event to a “Davos for Millennials” and “velvet-rope South by Southwest.”
Tickets to the summit ran from $450 to over $1100 (for a by-application-only Premium experience), although over 1,000 participants attended on a free scholarship intended for those “from diverse backgrounds underrepresented in tech and finance.” All attendees had access to the U30 Village and Music Festival on Sunday and one or more of the six corporate-sponsored content tracks (such as the Impact Stage sponsored by OppenheimerFunds) that featured speakers like Ashton Kutcher, Kendrick Lamar, and Karlie Kloss during the week.
On Sunday morning, the Women@Forbes event on “Closing the Tech Gap” takes place on the top floor of the MIT Media Lab. Inside the JPMorgan Chase Lounge, young professionals in varying degrees of business casual exchange pleasantries and LinkedIn usernames, sipping on bottles of Core Hydration, a “nutrient enhanced PERFECT pH water”.
“Make sure you do follow-ups,” a young man in a speckled grey suit tells his friend. “That’s what people always forget to do. You meet someone cool? You have to follow up.” He scrolls endlessly through his list of contacts. “See? I put the name and a description. Like, John, for example. ‘John likes horror movies.’ Then I follow up.”
Sunday afternoon brings the U30 Village Open in City Hall Plaza, where Forbes seems to have fully bought into experiential marketing. Everything is labelled and treated as an experience here, from the giant board games scattered around the square to Microsoft’s espresso machine. People line up to brainstorm community service ideas in exchange for free samples at the Clif Bar booth.
In the corner of the Experiences Hub, OppenheimerFunds has set up a station where Under-30s wait to enter a box and then leave after about 30 seconds; no one knows what it’s for, or what happens inside, but there are at least 20 people in line. A sign asks “What are you in relentless pursuit of?” Apparently, the answer is free ice cream: Nearby, people line up for one of “The Official Under 30 Summit Ice Cream” flavors: Vanilla, Pumpkin, or (the “Exclusive Under 30 Flavor”) Honey Cornbread.
The Music Festival kicks off later that night, featuring Skylar Grey, Playboi Carti, and Zedd. After a tepid Skylar Grey performance, Carti bounds on stage and launches into a bass-heavy, lyric-light set. The crowd nods along. There’s a half-circle of concert-goers up front, maybe five people deep, with their hands up. Some of them know the words. Everyone else is either crossing their arms or on their phones; a khaki-suited man is scrolling through LinkedIn. Carti yells “SHOUTOUT FORBES,” launches into the chorus of his single “Fetti”––“fetti on fetti on fetti.” His DJ screams for the crowd to put their hands up, and they do.