A Summer With The True Entrepreneur Corps
And all of the amazing people I’ve met
It was November.
Outside my window, the sky was tinted dark blue, typical of a fall evening in Georgia. My room’s ceiling lights were off, leaving only the warm glow of my desk lamp and my computer’s bright screen. I sat there in my chair, staring at my laptop intently as it sat in my lap, blowing hot air across my legs. The feeling of the fans running in the computer tingled my skin through my thin polyester shorts.
It was only a couple of months after I had finished my last internship. I honestly didn’t enjoy the experience, and I wasn’t looking to repeat it again. Still, it was hard to ignore the pull of doing a summer internship when quite literally all of my friends around me were interviewing and announcing their new workplaces for the summer of 2016. So, with a bad taste in my mouth, I started to look for new opportunities.
But I didn’t want to work at a big company again. For some reason, it just didn’t sit with me. The feeling of smallness within the enormous gears of the corporate machine. The lack of spark I saw in many of the employees and even some of the interns. The strange sense of yearning that I felt, like I had to do something that meant more than just a bi-weekly paycheck. I knew I wanted to start my own company in the future. With all of that in mind, I began to look for internships at startups.
The main problem with that was that startups, by nature, were relatively small compared to more established companies. Most of them don’t have the resources to market and recruit extensively from university talent pools. Especially not the smaller ones that I was aiming for. My search for startups was daunting from the beginning.
So I began my search in the most natural place to look: Google.
There were many, many links for me to click on. Startups on Angelist. Indeed.com internships. TechLA internships. But it was hard to find something that fit my profile and could use my skills. I sat there, late at night, flipping through page after page on Google’s searches.
Then, on the 5th page, something caught my eye. It was a blog post titled: 15 startup internship programs to apply for. I honestly hadn’t seen anything else like it before, so I clicked on it. True to their word, there was a list of 15 links with short descriptions of the internships below each title. I began to click on all of them. Half of them no longer worked, their links as broken as their promises. Half of that didn’t even apply to me (unless I could somehow learn software engineering in a month). Then there were only 3 left. After parsing through two of them and leaving their tabs open, only one remained.
It read: True Entrepreneur Corps Fellowship.
As soon as I arrived on the website, I knew something was different.
For one, the website actually looked modern. Flat design, only a few choice colors present, using sans serif typeface. Then, as my eyes fell on the text, words leapt at me from the screen. Bay Area. Technology. Startups. Fellowship. They prompted me to keep scrolling down. The website promised a “life-changing experience” with a small group of students chosen to take part in this program. Students of any major or field of study could apply. Not only that, but students from any part of the world could also apply. The program had been running for several years now.
Then, as I grew more and more interested, I flipped through other parts of the website. I learned that True Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm, was the firm that hosted the fellowship. True would place these selected Fellows at their portfolio companies and the students would intern at these startups. But it wasn’t just work, though I was also very pleased to see that the positions weren’t just software engineering roles. The Fellows would also have the opportunity to learn about venture capital and the technology startup landscape as a whole throughout the program. The fellowship class was actually very, very small: 10–14 people. The website stressed that this program would bring together a small community of students passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. Based on everything I had seen, it was clear that this wasn’t just a regular internship.
Then, I looked at some of the posts in their blog, where they talked about the progress of the firm and important updates in their portfolio. I looked at their portfolio companies, these awesome startups that ranged in industry from Saas to ecommerce to consumer tech to hardware. I looked at the partners and employees of the firm, who all came from diverse but impressive backgrounds.
It all looked amazing.
As I looked through the past classes of Fellows, something else caught my eye. I read the line slowly at first, and then kept reading it again as if I couldn’t believe what it said: Shivani Negi, junior Computer Science student at Georgia Tech and intern at npm.
There was someone from Georgia Tech who had been a Fellow! Not only that, but I actually knew Shivani since we were both in Startup Exchange, Georgia Tech’s student entrepreneur community.
At that moment, after seeing her on the screen, learning about the Fellowship, reading the lines of blog posts about the program, looking at all of the cool startups that True had invested in, I knew that I had to apply.
It was my goal to become a True Entrepreneur Corps Fellow.
I’ll spare the details of the long application process. I contacted Shivani, who was more than happy to tell me more about the program and help me with the extensive Fellowship application. A long Typeform application, a one minute-long video demonstrating my interest in the program, 2 letters of recommendation, and a personal statement later, I had applied to become a Fellow. I heard back, I interviewed, and then the summer was upon me.
It is August now.
The entire summer has come and gone in the blink of an eye. It’s actually incredibly difficult to put everything that I’ve experienced to words. On paper, the True Entrepreneur Corps, or TEC, has given me an opportunity to make fantastic relationships and connections with amazing people. I’ve gotten to meet some impressive individuals, many of whom came to personal speak to the Fellows at our weekly meetups. The founder of Typekit. The founder of Product Hunt. The Founder of Madison Reed. The Founder of UXPin (my CEO). All of the partners at True Ventures.
More than that, I’ve also gotten a chance to know the other Fellows. They all have such different backgrounds, yet their passion, intelligence, and drive ring the same way. It’s been a privilege to have gotten the chance to meet them. One Fellow has started her own startup and is currently raising funding. One Fellow has worked at 4 startups before he started university. Another is an amazing singer and a member of Penn Masala. Many of them are very involved on their university campuses and have done so many exciting things. Beyond all of that, they’re not just simply a collection of resumes. We’re not just a group of similarly-aged students from the same place studying the same fields at the same schools. To date, the Fellows have been the most diverse and interesting group of people that I have ever met. As many people who have gotten to know me over the summer may recall, I’ve been in a constant state of amazement by other students during my entire time in the Bay Area. Sometimes I’ve learned more in a conversation with one of the Fellows than I’ve learned in a single class back at school.
An internship program is supposed to provide value to students beyond just having them do busy work and paying them (though the latter is admittedly nice). With the TEC fellowship, there’s not a shadow of doubt that I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could in a single summer. Through my startup, I’ve learned a great deal about brand strategy, how to operate within different marketing channels, and user experience design. Through True’s other programs, I’ve learned about everything from how venture capital works to the emergence of virtual reality as a platform to how to build a successful startup from absolutely nothing. I’ve visited Alcatraz, volunteered at a church, attended True University, celebrated three birthdays (thanks to all the Fellows born in the summer), and took a road trip down to Lake Tahoe with 10 other Fellows. It’s the sheer variety that’s astounded me more than anything.
And that’s just the tip of the iceburg.
Your network is your net worth. Connections are everything. The people you know now translates into your success later. Much of the advice from founders and industry professionals that I’ve gotten essentially boils down to the importance of relationships. Whether it’s your customers, your team, or your advisors, people are the most important aspect of any venture. That’s why I made meeting new people the core of my entire summer. The Bay Area Intern Slack, a community of over 2000 interns working in the Bay Area over the summer. The non-technical intern dinners. Every single meetup and workshop. And of course the TEC Fellowship.
Let’s make it clear, though. Not everything has been seamless at my time here. There are a lot of harsh disparities in San Francisco. Homelessness is rampant and commonplace. Average monthly rent here surpasses the monthly income of most people in the United States. The saving grace of the Bay Area is tech, and there’s not too much variety beyond that. The Fellows, as great as they are, aren’t perfect. Some have known each other longer than the duration of the program, and there are certain smaller groups of friends that form stronger than the rest over time. Some of us mesh better than others. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s hard to overcome natural tendencies.
Yet, I can’t imagine what I would be doing now had I not been accepted into TEC. Despite some of the negatives I’ve mentioned, it truly is a fantastic program that allows you to learn from amazing speakers and mentors and to have an opportunity to do meaningful and impactful work at a company. It’s hard to imagine what could be better. That’s why I wholly recommend applying to the program for anyone interested in technology, entrepreneurship, and one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.
There’s only a week left now, I’m afraid. One week to keep meeting people, do good work, and enjoy the time I have left in the program. It’s bittersweet. If some of you may recall, I wrote a post discussing the uncertainty of my decision to come to the Bay Area at the very beginning of the summer. I didn’t know what I would think of San Francisco, much less the work I would be doing and the people I would be meeting. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I would feel at the end. I was so unsure then.
As I gaze down Mission Street from the big window of my apartment in the sky one last time, twinkles of white light still flowing down a line of warm yellow street lamps extending into the horizon, everything looks the same. Yet, it seems different somehow. Brighter.
I’m happy to say that it’s all been worth it and more.
San Francisco, 2016