5 Important Things I Learned While Interning At A Startup

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When I began the first day of my summer internship at RushOrder, I walked into the office expecting the stereotypical startup horde of scruffy, flannel-wearing, bike-pedaling, 20-somethings eating quinoa as if their lives depended on it. Well, it turns out that not every start-up is a little piece of Silicon Valley, and most Angelenos think bikes are odd, medieval contraptions (at least the ones I’ve met since moving to LA from Portland!). That being said, in terms of what I expected to learn and the type of experience I would gain, I actually had very little idea of what to expect. Fortunately, I had an awesome experience during the internship, and so to pay it forward, I thought I would spend the time to come up with a short list of some important things I learned over the summer. Hopefully, those of you considering a job or internship in the startup world will find this helpful to some degree. I need to also warn readers that some of these things may not necessarily reflect startups as a whole, and may have been specific to working at RushOrder. And now, without further ado, here are the most notable things I’ve learned during my first foray into the startup world:

1. There are a lot of financial folks in the startup world, and this is a good thing for the junior cadets out there. I’ve come to learn that a lot of people leave the financial industry either to join a startup or build their own (RushOrder was no exception). And why’s this a good thing? Because you get to learn some mad Excel skills with the same type of rigor that analysts at your typical investment bank would learn. Also, you get to discuss market fluctuations, investing, the economy, and other smart-sounding topics during coffee breaks, if you’re into that sort of thing. At the very least, you’ll learn how to wisely invest your money when you’re able to finally make it rain!

2. Be yourself, just not your asshole self. Team means ohana, and ohana means everyone gets along or else you’ll be spending countless hours a week at the office in misery. Since, by their very nature, startups are small, it’s important that every member of the team gets along with everyone else. Despite how short internships usually are, if there’s any bit of a clash in company culture due to a mismatch in “fit”, you’ll notice it from day one – and it only gets worse from there. Therefore, follow this clichéd dating advice when interviewing for a start-up: be yourself, but not your asshole self.

3. “Casual” attire does not mean “bum” attire. Being able to dress casually for work is underrated. In addition to how much of a chore it is to dress like you’re about to walk into a Boardroom every morning, a business (or business casual) dress code simply costs more money. For those of us who are still in college, the money you save from kissing the dry-cleaner farewell is definitely meaningful! That being said, don’t confuse “casual” with “bum” attire. Though startups try and promote a comfortable atmosphere, don’t forget you’re still in a professional working environment, not your college library. You often see interns taking the comfortable atmosphere of startups for granted, and looking like they rolled from their beds to the desk. Trust me, if you come to work looking like a bum, there’s a high chance that those around you might just start seeing you like one.

4. Get ready to have your ideas, thoughts, and comments tested. Unlike the conversations you often have with friends or college discussion groups, you’re not going to get away with half-assed ideas and arguments that aren’t fully thought out. What I quickly learned is that while everyone is granted access to the floor to speak their minds, if you have something to say, you better have some support to back it up. Your thoughts and ideas will be taken seriously, and will legitimately be considered and tested. Being thorough, and having comprehensively thought through your arguments is crucial if you want to be taken seriously. In this way, you learn to truly think, and exercise your innovative thinking muscles.

5. The work hard, play hard mantra of the startup world is much more heavily skewed to the “work” side. Don’t be fooled by the bear suit and ping-pong table, you’re there to work and give the company your all. Some people mistakenly believe that working at a startup may be easier than working in a large, established corporation. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and in fact, it’s quite the opposite. That’s because, as a startup, the company is literally fighting for the right to exist past the “startup” stage. Moreover, the company is fighting for survival, and that fight brings along with it, blood, sweat, and tears. Nonetheless, as tough as it can get, you’re able to get even more out of it – not only in terms of what you learn, but in terms of the connections you begin making with fellow team members and customers alike, truly becoming a fundamental part of the overall business. And you know you’ve “made it” as an intern when you begin to care about each and every customer that uses your app, while also spending many of your waking hours thinking of ways your app could be even better! Where else can you get that type of connection and experience over a short internship?

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