Monthly Archives: August 2010

How to secure an internship at an internet start-up without a technical background

Today (ironically Friday 13th) is my last day as an intern at Get Satisfaction. Working with smart and driven people at the Satisfactory has been a great experience. I’ve learned a lot about what a life at a start-up is like– what an Internet star-up is and isn’t. I took lots of mental notes that I’ll undoubtedly rely on when I start my own company soon.

One question many people asked me at the various networking events and conferences I attended this summer was: How did you end up at Get Satisfaction?

The answer to this question is the main subject of this blog post.

It’s not too difficult to get an internship or a job at a young Internet company if you are an engineer or a rock star/ninja (insert technical role here), but it’s not so easy if you only have a business background. I already blogged about how an MBA’s best fit is at a later-stage start-up with an actual product. Of course, Get Satisfaction fits that description, but it is still very much an early-stage company.

Here are some things to consider if you only have a business background, but want to get in at the ground level of an Internet start-up.

1. Identify the opportunity: Find the company at which you want to work. Don’t just go for the best known company. And no, Facebook and Zynga aren’t really start-ups anymore. Internship is a resume builder (having a great name on your resume could help you stand out), but more important than that is what you can actually learn from your experience and the impact you can have on the company. Ask your self the question, “Where can I learn the most and where can I have the greatest impact?”

2. Love what they do: This is somewhat related to point 1. Do you or would you use their product/service? If you aren’t sold on the idea of what they are doing, they won’t be sold on you either. You have to have a shared vision. Be enthusiastic about the company and be their advocate/evangelist before you start talking to them.

3. Network, network, network: Do you have a friend at the company? Do you have a friend that knows someone at the company? If not, at least a friend of a friend of a friend? You get the point. Get an intro. Schedule a time with the person who can get you in the door. Meet her for coffee. If that’s not possible, try to schedule a 15 minute call. Do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door. Make those contacts. When emailing your contact to set up a call or a meeting, include a link to an article that she might find helpful. It not only shows that you understand the company, but it also gives you something to talk about.

4. Sell, sell, sell: What do you want to do for the company? Do you have an idea for their product that you can help implement? What makes you the ideal candidate to work on this project? In other words, write your own job description. Create your own internship project and then pitch it to the Founder/CEO/Product Manager, etc. They are way too busy to think about babysitting an intern who can’t help them build their core product. Sell them on an idea and own it throughout the summer.

Freestyle Capital, the early-stage VC I worked with during my first year at Duke MBA, is an investor in Get Satisfaction. I really liked Get Satisfaction so I wrote a little blurb about what I’d like to do for the company and asked for an introduction. That’s how I got my interview with the CEO, Wendy Lea, and eventually ended up working at the Satisfactory for the summer.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was lucky to get an introduction to Get Satisfaction, which by the way is doing very well. I emailed several start-ups in the Bay Area and pitched my internship project ideas. I was offered a job some other start-ups, but most of them said, “No. Thank you.” Still, I was able to make valuable contacts, which I’m sure will come in handy someday.

Getting a job at an early-stage Internet start-up takes a lot more work than uploading your resume to a job posting on your career service center’s website, but you’ll get the job you want if you are persistent and can demonstrate that you are a true value-add. Oh, and by the way, start-ups don’t hire months in advance. I secured my internship toward the end of March. Keep that in mind as you pitch yourself to the next Facebook or Google asking for a summer internship.

By: Jonathan Lee
Twitter: @hi5at5