Startup Internships: Stick With What You Don’t Know
Within the last 3 months Brangelina was no more, Trump Tower became Trump White House and I’ve been interning at Launch22, a startup charity that helps other startups… start up.
Google tells you that an intern is a ‘confined […] prisoner, especially for political or military reasons’ and though probably (definitely) true for many, the freedom that came with working in a startup environment was a world away from the textbook bind of academic education. So freedom’s great and all but accepting this freedom (and its inevitable responsibilities) with arms wide open was a bit of a challenge. But! Accept I did, and these are my three months interning at a start-up business.
1st Month: The Thirst for Knowledge (and Caffeine).
August 2016 and fresh out of Queen Mary UoL’s academic womb, I was headed straight into a startup incubator. Second week in and I was sat for an hour, driven to make use of my lecture note-taking skills to overcome the basics of Google Adwords via Youtube. A day later I was running Launch22’s Adwords campaign — just about. For the rest of the month, I was to conquer Buffer, Mailchimp, Squarespace, all social media platforms, Excel spreadsheets and last but not least, how to change the towel holder.
Commonly enough, interning and working is thought the death of learning. The 3 or 4 years of cramming information in lectures is replaced by disappointing coffee runs and dreary tasks. However the nature of startups often means that you’ll be working in intimately smaller teams, requiring bigger responsibility, and in a business that’s probably driving for the innovation that’s defining it as a startup — aka, this is learning central. Being surrounded by startup entrepreneurs will encourage you more than most to learn but you will need to be thrifty with your learning — whether it’s Youtube tutorials or through your team. Take initiative with your learning.
2nd Month: Unproductive Productivity.
Having mastered changing the hand towel holder after breaking it, the path was a little cleaner. With a smaller team though comes greater participation in team growth. My role soon expanded to include Events Coordination and support in management of new interns. And while I was thoroughly enjoying opportunities I otherwise may not have had as an intern in a corporate, they were big boots to fill. The original tasks and goals I had set out to accomplish were lost in the pile. In attempts to increase productivity, my campaign managing and general managing eroded into micro managing. I was doing a lot without achieving enough.
In startups, there’ll always be a lot of work and fewer people and the temptation to achieve way too much is real, making it easy to lose sight of your own goals. Prioritising is an obvious one but easier said than done so set deadlines for yourself even if there is no final deadline — personal deadlines will keep you on top of things. Make use of those tools your team has given you to help schedule yourself (I am now an avid fan of Trello) and when there’s simply too much to do, tell your team for the sake of yourself and the business.
3rd Month: Launch22 Launching People.
Being a part of Launch22 and startup businesses in general can sometimes be likened to an extended stay at school or in my case, university (without the £27k price tag). There’s a lot of learning but also a lot of self-development and discipline. Launch22 was established as a startup business accelerator and while my internship here was also in development of my career, it’s more than that — it’s also a people accelerator. I was able to talk to the L22 mentors like Roy and Stephane and others who have decided to pursue their personal goals. I’ve gained insight and a ton of motivation into the concept of ‘working for fun’ and for myself.
An internship in a startup business will be unpredictable, sometimes more work than you might be used to and require an ability to adapt, but with arms wide open, these are the experiences that will build a solid foundation for your career and for your own sense of self. Entering Launch22, I was unsure what the startup business would be like — the job ad was just as mysterious — but not knowing what to expect was precisely how I learnt the most.