Landing an internship at a startup, especially one in early stages, can be difficult but well worth it. Doing so usually comes about through the pressing need of more help from a startup and perseverance from the internship seeker. Startups tend to be hard at work making their products better and finding customers/users, so they don’t have much time to find interns. At least one of the founders is likely spending all the time he/she can spare looking for full-time hires. But this doesn’t mean they do not want interns. In many ways, interns can be a great asset to a startup. They will arrive at the company with a fresh new approach and be excited to get to work just like a full-time hire. But interns typically cost much less than full-time employees and an internship period allows time for each side to see if the match is right. Startups are certainly not the only party that benefits from the arrangement. Startup interns receive great hands-on experience as they are assigned to projects they would never even get close to working at a larger company.
This summer I’ve been interning for a Palo Alto startup called 500 Miles, a mobile platform for finding, evaluating and engaging with high growth tech companies. The app provides deep insights into potential employers and is an excellent startup database. My role is in growth and marketing, an area in which I’ve had some prior experience at another startup called Troopto. Working in “growth” at startups I often find myself engaging in social media marketing, crafting marketing emails and searching for places where potential users may reside. I help tell the story of the company and articulate the vision and benefits to users. In a given day, I’m doing whatever needs to be done to help the company grow. More and more, I find myself interested in product design and development. I’m learning to incorporate user feedback into iterations of the product and building my design thinking skill set with classes like IDEO’s Insights for Innovation. Currently, I’m excited about a new feature of the 500 Miles platform called Stacks which organize companies into ordered groups like top hiring employers and top H-1B sponsors. Seeing a new feature be developed and shipped is a unique experience that really gets your “startup juices” flowing.
The internship has been solid so far as I’ve worked closely with CEO and co-founder Viral Kadakia who has tons of experience in the tech industry working in leadership roles at companies like LinkedIn and Hightail. He also has experience doing startups as a company he founded, TrustHop, was acquired by LinkedIn. Viral has taught me to utilize some important marketing concepts like the viral coefficient, and I’ve worked closely with him to develop the company’s marketing strategy. He’s taught me to be more analytical in my marketing approach (I’m an economics major, after all) and served as a valuable mentor in helping me to best channel my passion for helping startups grow and succeed. Recently, we worked together to plan an event coming up in mid-July called “Data Driven Approach to Launching your Career in Tech”, and we are constantly working to find the best ways for reaching talented students across the country. My position as a college kid allows me to provide an important perspective and valuable insights for the company while Viral’s experience means many learning opportunities for me. User acquisition is never an easy task but knowing that you are marketing a great product makes it much easier. Once users get the message and give the product a chance, they’re hooked. I have a firm belief that 500 Miles will make job discovery and the critical choice of employer simpler and more insightful leading to a much better turn out for students like me looking to truly launch their career. The vision of the company is certainly motivating, even as an intern.
Since 500 Miles is most beneficial to college students looking for breakout employers, this internship is a truly advantageous situation for both parties. Ideally, when startups give internships, they should be receiving some real contribution from their interns. Interns, whether they are technical or working to acquire users, need to create value. We’re talking some high-quality code commits, great ideas about UX design or a marketing prodigy. Startups just don’t have much room for extra weight and most startups are not the type of place where you go around getting coffee and filing papers. This is precisely why interning at a startup is a great experience. It’s also why working for a breakout startup full-time is the best way to go. You learn how to create value and you see the results play out before your eyes, even if you’re only interning for the summer. Just ask Marissa Mayer or Chad Hurley, who started his career at early PayPal.
Another incredibly valuable learning experience I’ve had at 500 Miles was when I first began telling people about the app. I went to a large gathering of interns and attempted to tell as many of them about the app as possible (simple, right?). Over the period of about two hours, I repeatedly engaged people and attempted to spark their interest by showing them the app and explaining to them why it rocked. After all, the app is a great tool for those looking to begin their career in startups (or just learn about all the awesome startups out and high growth companies out there). I learned that people have little incentive to care about projects you’re working on so you must convince them of why they should care. This is much harder than I ever thought it would be and was thus a great learning experience. The graphic below is from an app card (yes like at Starbucks) that Viral and I came up with to help market the app at this event. We figured if people were pressed for time, they may not have time to download the app but this could serve as a reminder. The world cloud represents the big data that our platform leverages for the in-depth insights into companies available on the app. The app card idea did not work quite as well as I thought it would, but we continue to work on creative marketing methods, especially into “uncrowded channels”. One thing I know is that Chad Hurley helped design PayPal’s logo and things turned out pretty well for him. Also, shout out to Canva for having an awesome platform for designing great graphics.
It cannot be stated enough that witnessing and being a part of a product coming to fruition is really a great experience. I’ve been working closely with the engineers as I learn the ins and out of the product in order to best explain the product. I’m also a fledgling developer myself so it’s great to see top-tier engineers in action. Murali Sangubhatla, the other co-founder of 500 Miles, also has many years under in the tech industry under his belt. He has previously held senior engineering roles at Box and Microsoft. We talk about ideas for the product and I help them find bugs in the app. I’ve even contributed some in UX design of the product, an area I want to continue to learn and improve in. It’s a lot of fun to work with a small team and you grow close in a relatively short amount of time. Every member of the team is working diligently to create value in their given roles, and as previously highlighted, I often find myself doing things that don’t scale (as made famous by PG). This means reaching out to people about the product, receiving their feedback with earnest and telling the right people about the product. Often this part of a startup is discounted and many technical people don’t seem to particularly like such activities. But it turns out a product needs users to be successful and people have to know your product exists in order to use it. The engineers at 500 Miles recognize this and don’t look down on me for not being be highly technical (let alone, hardly dangerous). This has been delightfully motivating as we all work together to leverage the skills of each given team member. It also turns out that an internship at a startup is a meaningful and rewarding way to spend the summer. For students looking to truly see the impact of the work, there’s no better opportunity.