Part 2: About people who help you and never giving up
This essay is the second of four I wrote about my path towards tech companies and a way to introduce myself to the team at Shopify.
When you talk with people working at successful tech companies, either founders or employees, they will always tell you, that no matter how much you read about it, you will never truly know what it takes until you work at one. Through my readings and after the experience I had two years before in Silicon Valley, I naturally set my eyes on finding a summer internship at an American tech company. However, factor very little experience with tough visa restrictions and here I am struggling to get just an answer. This period of my life taught me another invaluable lesson: how important it is to surround yourself with people willing to help you. Desperate to find anything that will suit my interest for startups, I reached out to all my connections and specifically to my mentor. A few weeks later, I received an email from my mentor telling me that she went on a trip to Europe and that on her way there she sat next to a: “Swedish entrepreneur running businesses in Los Angeles”:
Realizing that this might be my best shot, I emailed the guy right away:
From this first email follows nine others, all being follow-ups. Until this one day: June 5th. I received a phone call and a few minutes later was buying my airplane ticket for a three-month internship in Los Angeles. I learned a lot from this internship, but most of all learned this one lesson: having people who are willing to help you will get you further than anything else. Fast forward 10 months after this internship and I am now finishing my first semester at the University of Ottawa. During this period, I got involved in a few projects, tried to work at a startup again and figure out what I wanted to do in the long run. After my first experience in Los Angeles, I felt confident it was going to be a pretty easy exercise to find another summer internship at a startup. Valuable lessons are usually learned the hard way: I got zero offers. Out of the 60+ applications I sent, I did not get one interview.
What’s the lesson here? Always stay humble and realize that because things worked out once, they may not, without extra efforts, work again. At that point, I’m on my way back home to France: without an internship and with four months to fill in. The last card I played is again related to the title of this part: reaching out to my bosses from the summer before and see if they knew anyone interested in my profile…
As it turned out, they did know someone.
Again, it took me many emails and some persistence to finally convince the cofounder of this company to hire a 19-year-old guy from Europe and fly him out to Santa Monica for a three months Sales & Marketing Internship. Looking back, I believe this persistence is really what got me to where I am now. Harley Finkelstein (CPO at Shopify) loves to talk about “hustle”, in fact I couldn’t agree more. When working on new projects, given how competitive the space now is, persistence and drive are absolute musts.
Before moving into Part 3 and talking more about the experience I had at Rocket Internet, I think it’s important to take a step back and talk about the skills I gained from the experiences prior to Rocket. If I had to list out the top skills I believe are crucial if you want to work at a tech company, it would be:
4) Ability to learn extremely fast and turn these learnings into actionables
I learned 1) & 2) through sports, 3) through traveling and 4) is an ongoing challenge that you can shape by working at startups where you either learn from your mistakes and act on them or die.