Next Generation

Influential Austin entrepreneur named youngest member of prestigious AdAge 40 Under 40

Influential Austin entrepreneur youngest member of AdAge's 40 Under 40

Ava McDonald headshot
McDonald started her company while a junior at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin. Courtesy photo

At age 19, Austin entrepreneur Ava McDonald has definitely broadened her sphere of influence.

On October 5, AdAge named McDonald to its annual 40 Under 40 list, becoming the youngest person to earn that honor this year. Alongside her on the list are marketing trailblazers from places like The New York Times, Walgreens, Google, and the NBA.

“It’s a huge honor to be named to AdAge’s 40 Under 40 list, not just because I’m in the company of so many great marketers from across the globe, but because it proves that there’s no age requirement when it comes to being an entrepreneur and making a difference,” McDonald tells CultureMap.

McDonald, a freshman at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., is founder and CEO of Zfluence. The startup bills itself as the first and only digital vehicle for connecting companies with Gen Z “micro-influencers.” These influencers love the brands’ products and want to authentically promote them on social media to their circle of friends.

Today, about 1,800 Gen Z influencers belong to the Zfluence network, which now serves more than 50 brands. McDonald aims to bump up the number of influencers to 3,500 by the end of this year. She also seeks to boost Zfluence’s client base by 30 percent over the next six months.

“I’m thrilled to be representing Generation Z on the list,” McDonald says, “and hope it will inspire others my age to follow their dreams and pursue their entrepreneurial passions.” 

It’s no wonder that, as a teenager, McDonald is a successful businesswoman. After all, it’s in her genes. Her parents are Jack and Carla McDonald. Her father is chairman and CEO of Austin-based Upland Software, and her mother is founder and CEO of Austin-based marketing firm Dynabrand.

Ava McDonald told AdAge that she decided to launch Zfluence after coming across “disingenuous endorsements” made by “pay to say” influencers and targeted at Gen Zers. She started the company in early 2019 during her junior year at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.

“As Zfluence rolled out last year, some naysayers told her that she was too young to start a business, but the platform’s exponential growth over the past 12 months speaks for itself,” AdAge notes.

As if McDonald’s influence weren’t widespread enough, MBA students at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business are using Zfluence as a case study.

“I’m happy that Zfluence is getting recognition for making influencer marketing more ethical and authentic,” McDonald told Forbes.