How to find (and get!) a startup internship with Deevy Bhimani
This week, we had the opportunity to talk with Deevy Bhimani, a senior at UC Berkeley. Deevy spent this summer interning at Roblox, and last summer he worked at Loom (before the company raised its Series B from Sequoia).
During his time at Berkeley, Deevy has interned for several other startups, including Strivr and Kittyhawk.io. He is also a director at Cal Hacks, the world’s largest collegiate hackathon, and was an ambassador for Lightspeed.
We talked to Deevy about how he finds and vets startups, his tips for getting involved in tech & VC as a student, and the value of being a generalist.
Why did you decide to intern at early stage startups (instead of bigger tech companies) during your first few years in college?
What got me most interested in startups was my dad. Growing up in India, he was a home builder. He taught himself how databases work and are structured, and ended up getting a job that moved us to the U.S. After spending 15 years at Oracle, he would tell me: “If you’re working 12 or 15 hours a day, do it for yourself. Don’t do it for someone else.” If I want to be a founder in the future, it makes sense to be at a smaller company and see how they operate.
At the beginning of college, my goal was to be at as many startups as possible. I didn’t understand the tradeoffs at all! Now, I have understand that there are things to learn in both large and small companies. I want to experience different environments to identify what I think makes a good company and where I perform best.
How did you go about exploring startups you might want to work for, doing diligence on them, and then getting in touch with the team?
I got really lucky initially. My first startup internship was at AstroScrambler, an e-commerce store that sells parts for Ducati Scrambler motorcycles. In high school I got my first bike, and had a friend who had a Ducati Scrambler. He followed this account on Instagram and DMed them about a job. At the time, there was just one guy running it. My friend joined the team and then eventually I joined! It was three people including me. I did no diligence on the company, I was just happy to work on something.
After that, I started investing more time into keeping up with startups, mostly through newsletters. Whenever I read about a company that was interesting, I would do a lot of LinkedIn stalking. I would look at the founders and early employees and see if they seemed interesting. For an internship, I wasn’t really looking at the long term vision, I just cared about the people. That’s the privilege of being an intern — there’s an end date. So, as long as the company could survive the next three months, I was mostly concerned about the “people” component of my experience.
Once I got an interview with a company, I would consume all the content I could find about them! I remember being on the BART up to SF for my final interview with Loom and listening to the CEO’s podcast interviews.
It can be tough to be successful with cold emails — especially when reaching out to early stage founders, who are often very busy. Any advice for other students looking to reach companies in this way?
Keep your email short. I try to keep it max four sentences, with a lot of white space in between — I never send one big paragraph. Most people open emails on phones but write emails on desktop. When I’m writing on my laptop it’s easy to write a really long email, but that won’t read well.
One thing that seemed to catch people’s attention is a symbol in the subject line. This could be something like: “Product Internship @ ___” or “Internship Opportunities @ ___?” If it’s different than just text, it stands out when you’re scrolling through your inbox. In the email, try to have at least one sentence that’s really specific to the company and shows you get what they’re doing.
Startups have limited time and money, and usually need people that can hit the ground running. Showing that you’re that person becomes a lot more important than it might be at a large company. One way to do this is by sending that initial cold email with a product spec, mockups of a new experience, or a synthesis of user interviews with their customers. Providing value without being asked for it goes a long way. Even if it doesn’t get you the job, you will form a new relationship at the very least.
Interning at an early startup can be uniquely rewarding or very frustrating— you may have more autonomy, but often get less training or guidance! How do you be successful in one of these internships?
A mistake I made in one of my first internships was not understanding why they wanted me as an intern. I was just happy they took a chance on me, and didn’t try to understand their perspective. Now, I ask in interviews or on my first day, “When you posted this position or saw my email and decided to interview me, why was that? What did you imagine I (or any intern) could do?” I want to understand what success means for them in terms of my work.
For me personally, it’s really important to have a sense of ownership of what I am working on, and then to understand how the work I’m doing fits into the company’s goals. I know that at any startup internship I’m going to learn a lot, but also want to make an impact on the company.
You’ve been very involved with entrepreneurship on-campus as a director at Cal Hacks and ambassador for Lightspeed. How do you go about finding and working with interesting startups on campus?
I was taking a Berkeley DeCal, which are student-taught classes, and one of the instructors was on the Cal Hacks team. It seemed really exciting, so I applied. Being in that position gave me a lot more access to student founders. Before, when I would go to demo days for accelerators and try to talk to companies, no one had a reason to talk to me. I didn’t blame them, especially when there were 50 investors in the room! With Cal Hacks, I wasn’t just a random person, but could do something to help them.
To build my knowledge base, I was obsessed with every startup podcast and newsletter. I would be walking from class to class and always have headphones in, listening to How I Built This or something like that. I started using Pocket to save articles, and every Sunday I sat down and just read through everything. By the time I started running CalHacks Fellowship, I had spent so much time reading about startups and talking to founders and investors that I was in a position where I could actually help them.
In terms of making yourself available and valuable for student founders, it’s great to do something to help others without being asked. For example, the startup ecosystem at Cal is quite fragmented and it can be hard to know where to go. So, I made a small flowchart to help people figure out what’s best for them. After running Cal Hacks Fellowship, I also decided to make the curriculum I prepared available publicly — it’s a work in progress right now, but I plan to keep updating it!
What resources or tools have helped you learn about the tech and startup world that you would recommend to other students?
A lot of newsletters — Accelerated of course, the Crunchbase Daily newsletter, and Emerging Tech Brew. First Round has an amazing newsletter, and so does NFX. There are also things I follow specific to Cal, like SkyDeck’s updates. For individual investors, I like Benedict Evans’s and Alex Taussig’s newsletters. Lenny Rachitksy and Nathan Baschez also write awesome pieces on product and growth.
For podcasts — I started listening to Acquired a few months ago, it goes into a lot of detail. How I Built This is great, Masters of Scale is great. The Knowledge Project and 99% Invisible are both really good — they aren’t all about startups, but talk about innovation and design which is helpful.
I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I’ve recently tried to set a 30 minute per day limit, but it’s been great in terms of learning about where investors and founders come from. I’ve been able to talk to people I probably wouldn’t have gotten a hold of otherwise. I will occasionally give my two cents in places where I feel really confident, but I don’t tweet that much. I do think VC Twitter is a good place to be, but I wish I realized sooner that most things on there are opinions, not statements of fact.
Do you have any advice for underclassmen who are trying to figure out what they’re interested in?
I think there’s a lot of pressure on people to be really good at one thing, and the value of generalists is a little underestimated. I’m not an amazing engineer and I’m not the best designer, but I’ve done a lot of random things. I’ve worked at a three-person startup, I’ve done growth, data analytics, product management, customer success, and business analysis throughout my internships.
At the time, I just felt lost, like I was wandering from role to role. But looking back, it’s helped to have so many different experiences. My general advice to people trying to get into startups is to take the time to explore random things. If you find something that you really like and are good at, that’s great, and keep doing it. But if not, that’s not a bad thing. Over time, you will build skills that the right people will value.
What’s next for you, especially with your senior year coming up?
One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how to better help student founders. When I look at current students, it’s hard to decipher who wants to be a founder, and who is actually a founder. Who is building things, and who just likes the idea of it because it seems glamorous? Which it’s definitely not!
To that end, I’ve been working with a close friend to build a small community of student founders, starting with a focus on Berkeley. The idea is to create a place for vetted founders based on some criteria, maybe those who’ve raised some funding or have even $500 in revenue. They can ask questions, get access to resources, and learn about investors. I want to create a space where they can be perfectly candid with each other, which sounds nice in theory, but it’s really hard to actually do that.
If you or anyone you know has advice on how to create a community like that, I would love to hear it — email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @ DeevyB.
We’d love your feedback on this post and other career questions we should cover — you can reach us on email at email@example.com or on Twitter @venturetwins.
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