By Crystal Yan (Intern, Wednesdays) I just finished my freshman year of college and I've been interning at Wednesdays for about a month. Wednesdays.com organizes employee lunch programs for companies and lunch clubs for organizations (like the Women 2.0 Lunch Club) and is part of the 500 Startups accelerator.
For anyone looking to work at a startup or start one, I thought I'd share some insights from my experience thus far on why working for a startup is awesome and what I've learned so far.
Reason #1: There's no work for work's sake, you get to do more in less time, every time.
My second day on the job, I sent out some emails and mentioned to the founders that we should have a demo video to keep our emails from being too long. So one of them said, "Great, go for it". On my third day, I wrote a script and pulled together a powerpoint with screenshots. I asked Rick, the UX advisor for 500 Startups, to help me edit the script, and he even helped with the voiceover. By the end of the fourth day, a 1-minute demo video was ready to go and was on every individual lunch club's landing page. Tip: When you're really early stage or pressed for time, a powerpoint, with audio recorded on the slides, saved as a movie file is a MVP demo video that will do the trick until you can pull together something fancier is. I put together a detailed how-to on what we did to make our video here. Reason #2: There's a culture of people believing in you even when you don't believe in yourself, instead of a culture of people seeing you as "just an intern".
One morning, Hong, a 500 Startups advisor, looked at our stats for the Bay Area Interns Lunch Club. We were at 50 members, and I was pretty excited. Then Hong said, "Okay, great, now double that". "What? Oh, I can try..." I said. He looked at me, "No, you won't try. You'll just do it." The clock was ticking and I went on a community management frenzy. That day, I sent "thanks for signing up, invite a friend!" emails out like crazy and watched as the numbers climbed from 50, to 63, to 76, 86, then at midnight, 94. The next morning, I got to the office early to do some last-minute hustling. In 24 hours, I had gone from 50 members...to 96. And a few minutes later, 102.
Though I missed the initial goal by just a bit, I grew the group's user base by 100% in just over 24 hours. I never would have believed that I could do that, but sometimes you just have to be the person who says, "Challenge Accepted!" Tip: It's a mistake to think you can do everything alone. The best way to be SuperIntern is to thank your existing users and ask them to help you out: "Hey, thanks for having us! If we've helped you, please invite a friend!" Reason #3: You're always surrounded by smart, creative and passionate people. Over one weekend, my desk disappeared, so the Monday after, while rolling over a desk to replace it, I had the chance to chat with Tara, a designer sitting nearby, who told me about how she got to work internationally (she did web development in Italy): she bought a one-way ticket to where she studied abroad and figured it out when she got there. And when I wrote a random blog post about a mystery in the office parking lot, you would not believe how many people on the 500 Startups mailing list had such strong opinions on parking etiquette. The 500 Startups family is a community like no other.
Tip: I was stumped on how to respond to a bunch of people I contacted (HR at companies, leaders of professional associations and alumni organizations) when they said they were too busy and wanted to talk later. Andy and Hugh helped me see their needs, to see the situation from their perspective and come up with a way to explain that we've made the process as hands-off as possible. They explained that when I could clarify that we would allow them to get credit for starting a really valuable program but we would do all the work, they would be much more likely to send an email and restart the conversation. Reason #4: You actually know upper management.
Hugh and Andy are the cofounders, and I'm the first intern. The founders aren't just names to you, lecturing you from afar, they're people you get to know. For example, I know that we usually forget to eat unless Andy reminds us. And I know that Hugh enjoys making those obscure math jokes that nobody understands until he explains them. :D
But really, it's not about silly things like that. It's about how knowing the silly things makes it not scary at all to ask them why they started Wednesdays, what they did in their past life at PayPal, which translates really well to it not being scary to ask about an unfamiliar acronym or why a feature is set up a certain way or why we're assuming something about a user.
Even if you're sitting in a meeting and feeling lost, try to ask a good question.
About the guest blogger: Crystal Yan is an intern at Wednesdays.com, a startup that organizes employee lunch programs for companies and lunch clubs for associations/organizations. A social entrepreneur and designer, Crystal is currently studying economics at Amherst College. Her interests include entrepreneurship in emerging markets, producing books with contributors from Seattle to Sierra Leone, and dance. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @crystalcy.