Starting at a Startup
Guest Blog by ELP Student Lucy Grierson – Business Administration – Ross School of Business – Class of 2020
Dear future intern,
I have composed a list of five things that describe my experiences at a startup thus far. Some of these may be good things or bad things, it all depends on how you look at it. Regardless, these things have taught me some of what it is like to start at a startup.
Number 1: You may never know exactly when you have a meeting
Even on my first day of work, I experienced this. I was supposed to meet up with my boss and discuss my first tasks on the job. Well, 10 a.m. rolls around and I am just sitting at my desk waiting. Then, my phone pings and a message from my boss pops up saying “meeting moved back to 10:30 a.m.”. So, 10:30 comes around and I am waiting again. Finally, my boss joins the meeting and we are ready to go.
I did not think much of this experience at first because we all have those mornings where we are running late. However, my meeting two days later was similar. Five minutes before our morning meeting I get a message that my meeting was going to be over an online platform called Zoom. Being handicapped when it comes to technology, I freaked out. I downloaded the software and set up my microphone and video settings. As soon as my phone ticked 9 a.m., I was able to join the meeting.
For an organized and timely person, I was put off my game. I live off my calendar and always plan meeting times. I setup my computer a whole hour ahead of time whenever I have a skype call. While this last-minute Zoom was certainly a new experience for me, this is the life of startup intern. Whenever something needs to be done or discussed, you need to be ready to meet. It may be planned, rescheduled, or out of the blue. As a flexible intern, you need to show up and be ready to work.
Number 2: Ask questions
Yes, this may sound like a cliche. Instructors always say things along the lines of “there’s no such thing as a stupid question,” “stop me and ask questions when you don’t understand something,” or “don’t be afraid to raise your hand and participate.” When you are an intern at a startup, it is up to you when it comes to deciding how much you will learn. If you want to grow and learn as much as you can during your summer, it starts with questions.
When working at a startup, you must realize that your boss’s job is not only to mentor interns. Most likely, your boss’s job will entail everything from stocking the office with snacks to running the whole company. It is not their fault, nor their job, to work alongside you all day.
I learned this lesson quickly after my first week of work. I was given some assignments and I worked on them. The next week came around and I was assigned another list of things to get done. I soon realized that I was just going to go through the motions without growing if I did not strive to learn new things. The second week I reached out to my boss multiple times asking for feedback on my work. Better yet, I questioned my boss for feedback on my deliverable. I was learning what my boss liked to hear, and I also learned what was important when delivering a week’s worth of work to the team.
You can go through the motions as an intern. Your boss has plenty of other important pressing matters to work on. Better to step up and ask questions that will allow you to learn.
Number 3: Slack is everything
I am not talking about slacking off here. I am talking about the app- Slack. I have talked about asking questions and setting up meeting times. How do startups communicate efficiently and effectively? The answer is: they use Slack.
My only advice here is to get slack and learn how to use it.
Number 4: Other interns- allies or competition?
I had the opportunity to start a couple weeks earlier than the other interns this summer. I would get assignments from my boss and have meetings with just him alone. I learned a lot because all of the attention was on me.
This all changed though when just one other intern started. I had to share meetings with this girl who used fancy words and intimidated me with everything she knew. She also seemed to always be one project ahead of me working faster and faster each day.
At the end of the first week working with her that I realized she was a good addition. I was able to learn from the intelligent questions she asked my boss. I was also pushed to complete more and more work each week to keep up with her. The addition of just this one intern had turned my job from a comfortable position to a state of growth.
A couple weeks later, the other interns started. We were given a group project to work on. Instead of looking at them as competition, I viewed them as my allies. We were all in it together to deliver the best slide deck or research or whatever the assignment.
As a result, I learned that the other interns were making me better. They pushed me to grow and learn along with them. I learned more about teamwork. I also learned information from my boss through their questions. I recommend you look at the other interns as your allies and a team.
Number 5: It ain’t no 9-5 job
Almost every week I work more hours than what is expected of me. I am not saying this is a bad thing at all. In fact, I love it. I learn so much every time I work on my projects.
I included this one to warn you. You may feel like you have to work in the office at 9 a.m. and then leave around 5 p.m.. However, I have gotten an email or slack message from my boss at midnight or 2 a.m.. It was never required of me to work on stuff outside of the usual times, yet I always wanted to. I could not wait to get working on projects or things to do list. That is why I ended up finding myself researching insurtech at 2 a.m. on a Monday, waking up and talking about it with my boss on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m…!
Do not let this scare you. Let this excite you. If you truly want to be working at a startup- you might live for those 2 a.m. nights with your computer.
I hope my views help you in some way as a future intern.