This past summer, I had the unique opportunity of working for Konolabs Inc., a company that was part of the 500 Startups program. In their 13th Batch (now already working with their 14th), 500 Startups has done a phenomenal job of mentoring startups to grow to new heights. With at least 2 “unicorns” (companies that have attained a net worth over $1 billion), the accelerator has an impressive portfolio.
My journey in at 500 started late May 2015. Right after I landed in San Francisco after my first year at Boston College, I asked one of my friends about his plans for the following day. He responded, quite simply, “I’m going to a job fair…come!” After searching over 100 companies for jobs, I was still out of luck. It was a fairly simple decision that I would be going.
At the 500 Startups Job Fair, my fears of not being a cliché computer science major came to reality. I looked through the pamphlet for what the companies were looking for, and I saw a LOT of jobs where I would need to know any, if not a lot, of coding. I went to the few tables that were looking for a sales or marketing intern, dropping my resume and letting them know how I could hustle to get the job done.
Then, I arrived at Konolabs Inc.’s table. YJ, now my boss, asked me a couple of questions when I came. She showed me the product, asked what my skillset was, and what I could envision doing at the company. After 15 minutes of what was the most informal interview I’ve ever had in my life, I got a call from her in the coming days. I had a job.
The following three months at the accelerator can’t be described in a single post. While at 500, I met some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever seen. And I’m not just talking about CEOs of all the amazing startups — the mentors that 500 provided were so insightful. I had the privilege of having one meeting with Dave McClure, and his quick intuition about how our product needed to change to get the most traction and how to increase retention was, for lack of better terms, amazing. Looking back, it’s quite obvious he has continuously learned from other companies’ successes and failures to develop the acumen he has today.
Aside from mentors and heads of 500, I had the opportunity to network with a group of individuals from around the world. Numerous companies were from around the US, and potentially even more were from around the world. Branching into countless sectors, from mobile applications to on-demand food services to green cleaning products, the ideas behind all of these companies were truly inspiring. Although there were companies with people that just graduated from college (or even in college), many entrepreneurs faced real challenges. I was truly astonished when so many of these entrepreneurs put it all on the line in situations when they had “real” pressures like taking care of families or being able to pay rent. I knew that my hopes to work in a startup once again down the line (or have one of my own) was not predicated on a specific age, a certain set of responsibilities, or even financial situation. Obviously, all those things can potentially matter, but if anything, I learned that all you need is true passion for the work you’re doing to be able to make it.
I was able to get firsthand knowledge of how startups have bumps in the road — firing key employees or even founders, making the decision between closing a huge deal and sticking by a promise you made to your employee, or even sleeping knowing there is someone out there hustling to beat you, I saw how founders dealt with these situations. Some did great in their endeavors, some not as much. At the end of the day, however, I definitely feel that I came out gaining a much better perspective of how you can lead a team of bright individuals to build an amazing company.
My experience at 500 Startups has rejuvenated my hope to one day have something of my own. I guess it’s just about finding out what that idea is in the near future.