What it feels like “to be in the loop?”
Being in the loop and gaining respect from you peers can be really exciting. It feels amazing to know what’s going on, to get the birthday party invites, and to feel accepted within a community.
When I was out of the loop, I grew a lot. It was time for me to get out of my comfort zone. I went to many events, met new people, and tried new things. After a while I got tired of going to events alone, and I wanted to join a community.
It’s not enough to just join a community. You can be a part of a group, and get invited to all of the parties, but never have the opportunity to speak your mind because of the fear of being judged. You can voice your thoughts to your friends, but what if they don’t listen. That’s the harsh reality, that your friends might not be accepting you for who you really are.
This concept of acceptance can also be the key driver in the workplace. As a new employee or intern, we don’t want to feel like a cog in a machine, but rather we want our perspective to be heard.
Working at a Startup
Two summers ago, I interned at Lovepop, thus joined the Techstars community. Lovepop had been accepted into the Techstars Boston Summer ’15 Program. The mission of Lovepop is to bring back personal touch and make it cool to send someone a greeting card. Imagine recieving a card like the one below?!
Techstars is one of the top startup accelerators in the world, with mentors that include top VC’s and entrepreneurs. Their focus is to integrate startups within the community in 3 months. In total, portfolio companies have raised $3 bil.
Although I was working for Lovepop, I was also working alongside 11 other CEOs. There is nothing like walking into a bustling Techstars Office at 9am every morning. The energy in air is tense, as you can overhear conversations focused on growth, growth, and more growth.
During my summer internship, I was cold calling potential retailers to see if they would want to carry Lovepop. I came in with the mindset of all eyes on me. Every cold call that I made, I would give it my best, and even sometimes have a little fun.
Working at an Accelerator
Since I was working out of the Techstars office, I had the opportunity to take advantage of all the Techstars resources. The Lovepop founders encouraged me to meet the other founders, listen to the talks by accomplished people in the industry, and meet the investors who were in the office constantly. Yep, there I was everyday in a healthy mess, simultaneously cold calling retailers, talking to other founders, and meeting with investors.
I had the opportunity to hear the founders of Android, Google Ventures, Pill Pack, and Localytics speak. Since it was a small setting, I got all of my questions answered. On Thursdays, everyone in the office would get together for the weekly “All-Hands Lunch.” Each founder would talk about how their key perfomance indicator (KPI) changed during that week. Then there was something called “Story Spotlight” where one CEO would share his/her life story. Some of the stories got very personal, with founders even tearing up.
From time to time, I would see the same man sitting in the lobby pecking away at his computer. One day, I walked up to him and introduced myself. I found out that he was a partner at NextView Ventures. We met for lunch later that week, and I told him all about my internship. He ended up inviting me to his venture capital firms mid-summer party, and by the end of the summer he became my mentor. Now, before every big decision I make, I always get his advice.
My Voice was Heard
One of Lovepop’s key revenue sources is selling cards at kiosks around Boston. Intern life isn’t always glamorous, and some days I had to fill in for sick retail employees. The first day, I felt like I was dumped into an ocean of sharks, I had people screaming and yelling at me. After a few days, I got the hang of selling cards and started breaking records. On one Monday, I sold $1,000 worth of cards. The Lovepop kiosk had only started 6 months ago, and my sales had beaten every Monday in the book, even the Monday before Mother’s day. Suprised by my success, the Lovepop founders joined me at the kiosk to see first hand how an intern was doing so well.
I told them the things I did to get customers to buy more cards, and the questions I asked potential customers who were near the booth. I suggested that we test a drawing bowl and Lovepop Mailbox at the kiosk. The next day, we had a bowl for people to drop their business cards in, and a mailbox where we would mail the cards for customers. It was that simple, I came up with an idea, and the next day it was implemented.
I was not a cog in a machine.
The Lovepop founders wanted me to start surveying customers. They wanted me to do in-depth market research on the demographics of their customer. Finding patterns in the data got me really excited, as I started to spend evenings at the office. The founders of the other companies, saw my work ethic and said, “Keep up the good work.” One evening, I was invited to Techstars Dinner at the Trade Restaurant.
Friendships made to last
It was a dinner paid by Techstars. Previous Techstars founders and showed up as well. It wasn’t a time to boast about your company, but more of a hangout where conversations were about life. A couple of weeks later, I was invited to the next dinner. I kept getting the invites, and it felt really good. The dinners are where the lifelong friendships were made. Today, I still keep in contact with a few of the CEOs.
The program was nearing the end which meant Techstars Demo Day was getting closer. It is the day where the CEOs pitch in front of an auditorium full of investors, journalists, and other c-suite employees from major corporations. As the big day marched closer, the intensity in the office was at an all-time high. People would get in at 8am and leave at 2am.
September 1st — Techstars Demo Day!
Emotions were running high. The CEOs were nervous; I was nervous. Each founder gave their pitch on stage. Then everyone who worked in the office gathered in a room behind the stage. It was our turn!
Standing on stage with everyone is probably one of the best feelings I have ever had. The memories of that last 3 months were rushing through my head. I had never started a company before, but seeing 12 companies go through this intense incubation program for 3 months was better than any class I had taken in college or any book I have read about entrepreneurship.
This was a group where I could speak my mind without being judged. I had ideas for other companies in our batch, and the founders would be excited to hear them.
I felt valued.
I felt accepted.
Still in my heart
It’s been a year and half since my internship. Lovepop and the all of the other Techstars Companies still have a place in my heart. I have not only kept in touch with the CEOs, but also the directors of the Techstars program. Recently, I was offered an opportunity to help coordinate the Techstars Boston Intern Program for the Spring ‘17 Batch. I could not turn the offer down, as I wanted to share my experience with other students in Boston.
The companies for the spring program have already been announced, and they are looking for interns interested in market research, sales, operations, data science, front-end dev, back-end dev, and web design.
Want to join the community?
Thanks to Erick Pinos and Melissa Ruiz who read drafts of this article and made it better.