Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

Top 3 Lessons I Learned From my First Week at a Start-Up

I am currently working as a Programs Intern for Venture for America, which labels itself as a nonprofit start-up. The company has realistically moved beyond the start-up phase and operates on a relatively solid foundation. However because the mission of the company revolves around promoting entrepreneurship, it still fosters a very strong start-up culture. I knew what “start-up culture” meant abstractly, but because I had never had personal experience, there were a few essential lessons I learned within my first week that deepened my understanding of what it meant to work in such an environment:

  1. Stay positive and assume genuine nature

-Start up environments are hectic. There are therefore times where energy might decline, and you may feel nervous about interrupting someone who seems to be busy. When this happens, it is important to remember a couple of things:

  • Positive energy feeds positive energy

-If someone seems stressed or tired, sometimes what they need it a breath of fresh fun and positivity to get them going! Therefore do not be afraid to be overly enthusiastic.

  • Assume people are genuine

-Startups attract people who tend to like other people. Therefore assume those you’re working with are genuine when they are making small talk, because the vast majority of the time they are. At the end of the day, taking the time to make a personal connection at a small organization is invaluable.

  1. Be friends, not frenemies with the other team members (especially interns)

-If there are other interns working with you, great! Get to know them. You will most likely be confused about similar things, and experience similar roadblocks, so it is important to be comfortable with each other. If you do not have other interns with you, this advice works for anyone else you may be working with during your time there:

  • Do not trash talk people

-Trash talking is never cool. But especially at startups, where the environment is so small and you are the newbie, adding to team animosity is one of the quickest ways you can burn bridges. Remember you new, and may not be dealing with the same stress and responsibilities someone who is working there full time might.

  • It is not a competition

-Do not throw your fellow interns, or other teammates under the bus just to get ahead. This means do not place blame on them just to make yourself seem bigger, help them if they need it, and do not monopolize all the tasks if they are meant to be shared. Remember that working well and effectively with others says more about your character than trying to do everything in the office will.

  1. Take responsibility
  • Do not blame something else if it was controllable

-If you come in late and say “my alarm did not go off,” then you are deflecting the blame. In reality, you slept through your alarm. By admitting what you did wrong, you show your team that you recognize your mistake and own up to it. This shows that you’re an effective team player who is self-aware.

  • Do not wait for every detail of instruction

-So much of startup culture is about forging your own path. Especially as an intern, there will be times where you find yourself without much to do. In these situations, it’s important to make yourself available to those who need help, and find a good use of your time until you are called upon. Remember you are not a lost puppy! You are capable of making decisions and recognizing the needs of the organization, therefore take responsibility of the tasks, time, and space you have been given.

Hope you found these tips helpful, I look forward to sharing more of my journey at Venture for America with everyone!