Putting the ‘art’ in startup
Guest Blog by ELP Student Sara Ciaramella – Literature, Science, and the Arts – Class of 2018
I’m currently an art student working undercover as marketing intern for Service.com. I’ve been employed for 6 weeks and 2 days and haven’t blown my cover. I’ve had a few close calls over the last month and a half, but with a little help from the internet I remain undiscovered.
Service.com is startup company in Michigan providing a platform to match homeowners in need of repairs to service professionals. Our platform consists of a website and an app which facilitate all interactions between the two parties, from signing up through the final payment. We are operating nationally. This presents some challenges to make sure we are scaling both our homeowners and our professionals evenly.
I’m not actually undercover, but instead I’m at Service.com with the official title of Creative Marketing Intern. In translation, this means that I’m a designer who is working for their marketing team. One thing that’s great about working at a startup is that I get to venture outside of my art bubble and learn new skills that fall on the business/strategy side. I would have a much harder time finding a large, established company that is willing to hand a chunk of their marketing assets over to an art student with no prior marketing experience. Here, I find that I have more autonomy when it comes to the projects I’m working on. Additionally, I get to actively contribute on a daily basis and see my work exist and function in the real world.
On my first day, I was presented with a list of ongoing projects for the summer, and was given another project a few hours later. It was a little difficult at first because startups don’t have the resources to spend time or energy on an in-depth onboarding process. As I worked and asked questions, I was able to understand more and more about the company. After a few weeks, my agenda was full of social media, email campaigns, overall branding, SEO strategy, and learning to make promo videos.
So far, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you learn a lot when working at a startup. The team is currently about 25 people. While we are large enough to have different departments and roles, we still take on unexpected jobs here and there. One week, I went from writing a blog article about estimating roofing costs to writing HTML code for emails, both of which I had never done before. I can now confidently tell you the cheapest and most common roofing material (asphalt) while making HTML look right without a Cascading Style Sheet.
When I first began the internship interview process, I felt like I might not find a job that was going to be the most beneficial to my design career. I was worried that spending too much time working on anything other than Adobe Illustrator would set me back. This was still in the back of my mind after accepting my offer, but at the same time I had a good feeling about Service.com. I started with an open mind, ready to ask questions. After 6 weeks, I’ve found that stepping away from designing things can actually teach you a lot about what you should be making.
In art school, it’s easy to fall into the habit of making for the sake of making. And as an artist there’s nothing wrong with that. In the context of a company, the images I make need to be intentional. It’s easy to justify a design choice because something looks good. When applying design to marketing campaigns and social media, I’ve found that the emphasis shifts from what arbitrarily looks the best, to what is going to communicate most effectively to the market. To this day, the most popular photo I’ve posted to the company’s Instagram account is a stock photo of a dog wearing sunglasses, with some text next to it. I realize that it doesn’t always matter whether something I create is going down in the Graphic Design Hall of Fame. Instead it’s important that I understand what I am communicating, who I am communicating with, and how to get that message to them.
While this has pushed me out of my comfort zone, I’ve never felt uncomfortable. I think we all chose entrepreneurship because we like to be challenged, we like to learn, and we like to have fun while doing it. This internship allows me to experience all of this and more along the way, and I’m looking forward to the next month and half.