Textbook Ventures
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Textbook Ventures

STUDENT EXPERIENCES

Interning at a Y-Combinator Startup

The work I do, why I chose startups and how I came across it

As uncertainties around securing more traditional roles rises, more and more students have been asking me questions about my current role and general experience in the startup space.

These are the top three questions I get asked:

  • WTF do you actually work on day-to-day?
  • Should I start my career in a startup or corporate?
  • Where do I find opportunities?

For context, I’m currently interning at Landed. We’re a San Francisco-based video-recruiting company that helps Food & Retail businesses hire high-quality candidates faster. The company went through Y-Combinator early last year before I joined the team in November.

Q&A

What do you work on at Landed?

I admit I haven’t answered this question well in the past. I’d often reply with something like “I worked on everything except coding!” or the inverse, “marketing, design, product, operations, partnerships, sales…”. Neither of which fuelled insightful post-discussions. So let’s get specific.

High-Level Responsibility/Org Chart

When I joined Landed, it was a three person team. The CEO, CTO and I as a ‘Business Intern’. Company stage acutely impacts what projects you work on. At earlier stages, startups don’t have defined business units or specialisations. In my case that meant we didn’t — and still don’t — have a full-timer dedicated just to marketing, public relations, design and more. Rather, employees work cross-functionally to scale the product until it’s financially viable to hire someone more experienced.

This is why my first few months at Landed consisted of me tag-teaming with our CEO to get things moving. Here are some things I worked on:

  • Sales — cold outreach, attended sales meetings, organising webinars
  • PR/Marketing — working on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, ads, newsletters, blogging and media outreach
  • Design — website re-design, creating sales 1-pagers, presentations for events, Facebook ads, Instagram posts, company branded T-shirts
  • Partnerships — collaborating on events with university clubs and employment services
  • User Experience —user onboarding flow and continued engagement

Startup vs. Corporate

Unfortunately, there’s no right answer here. But there is a way to define what’s more suitable for you. Answering this requires self-reflection to understand your motivations and assess whether an opportunity aligns with your future goals. I have an obvious bias, but I’ll explain how I came to my conclusion to give you some ideas of what to consider.

My Long-Term Goal (5+ years): Start my own business

I want to be my own boss. Regardless of whether this is a high-growth venture-backed startup, the skills I’m learning now are transferrable. Learning how to brand things people love, product distribution, writing engaging newsletters or successful ad campaigns. The art and science of growing a business from zero isn’t taught at universities or corporate environments where structures and systems guide your next move.

Personality Fit

I love working on open-ended and meaningful problems alongside passionate people. I get bored easily, so I prefer having different cross-disciplinary projects than a defined role. I care deeply about being able to harness creativity and handpick projects and skills I want to hone in on. I don’t produce my best work when there are strict parameters in place. Most importantly, I’m naturally optimistic. This means I’m very comfortable with uncertainties that underpin the startup trajectory.

I’m Optimising for Learning

At each point of your career, you’ll come across crossroads that depend on which factor you prioritise. Is it lifestyle, money or learning?

  • Optimising for money means foregoing a more balanced lifestyle and breadth of learning for a high salary.
  • Optimising for lifestyle means you care deeply about how much quality time you spend outside of work. This means predictable hours, decent pay and manageable levels of professional stress.
  • Finally, optimising for learning means going down the startup route. Your pay can be measly and your hours long. But the breadth and depth of day-to-day projects are so vast, you inevitably acquire unique skills.

Again, there’s no right or wrong. We each have individual priorities and are at different stages of our personal life; this yields different outcomes for what we’re optimising for.

Where do I Find Opportunities?

Here are three ways I’ve sought internships in the past.

Online websites

Angel List is the go-to for listing startup internships in the US. While not as popular in Australia, it’s still a great place to start. We also have job boards (Indeed, LinkedIn), not-for-profits (Ribit), internship-focused platforms (InsideSherpa, Hatch) and venture capital firms which promote portfolio company roles (Blackbird, AirTree).

Textbook Ventures, a Sydney-based student organisation that I’m heavily involved with, also has an email list where we promote startup roles weekly!

Cold emailing

It may be daunting, but it works. Startups don’t always broadcast internship positions and tend to hire from their network. That’s why cold outreach is hugely valuable in demonstrating your ability to take initiative as a student. Remember, the worst case scenario here is that someone doesn’t reply. Not so bad, right?

There are a tonne of online resources on how to send cold emails, but here’s one of my favourites from Sam Parr (CEO at the Hustle). Below is also an example of a structure that’s worked for me using Landed as an example. I hone down on two points: (1) I am genuinely interested in the problem the company is solving and (2) what I can do.

Subject Title: I want to be your next Business Intern

Body:

Hi Audrey,

I hope you’re doing well!

I read an article about Landed on TechCrunch and immediately started looking for your email. Having worked in Food & Retail before, I understand the qualms hiring managers face when dealing with high turnover and recruiting top talent.

I’m passionate about this space and would love to help. Here’s what I can do:

  • Marketing: I’m a freelance writer, food blogger and am experienced with building social media followings and Facebook ads.
  • Design: I’m great with making graphics. I’m also a photographer so I have an eye for good design.
  • Partnerships: I currently head a student organisation in the startup space. I have experience with leadership, management & handling sponsorships.

If you had spare time, I’d love to chat!

Networking and Events

Like every major city, Sydney hosts a bunch of startup events and career fairs that you can attend. These are great to meet companies, investors and like-minded people.

Most of all, I recommend looking globally. Universities like Stanford have student societies which run annual student entrepreneurship conferences. ASES Summit for instance, has had a huge impact in my understanding of Silicon Valley’s technology community and entrepreneurial culture.

Yo 👋

This story is a follow-up from my previous blog post I wrote two years ago while interning at an accelerator. If you’re interested in the VC route – you can read it for comparison!

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