I recently finished an internship at an awesome Y Combinator/500 Startups company called Flightfox. Putting it in perspective: it has taught me more in 2 months than I did throughout the whole school year. Here are few things that I learned that will make me a better startup founder:
- Have Empathy: A few months ago, I had tweeted to Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot asking him three qualities he thinks a non-tech founder should have. One of the qualities he mentioned was empathy. Fast forward to my internship, Flightfox founders Todd and Lauren both were empathetic. Small things like taking me out Go-Karting for my birthday or having a going away dinner for me makes a huge difference. If your employees love you, they will love your company.
- Work hard: The founders were working hard and very focused. They would stay up late at night and take very few breaks. In fact they barely cared about if they ate or not. Not to mention, Flightfox was preparing for demo day so there were specific goals to hit by then. None of this is healthy for the body but this is what it takes to run a startup and especially when you are in the product/market fit and growth stage.
- Drool over metrics: In the apartment that we worked out of, we had put white boards all over our work area. They had important metrics like sales, engagement, net promoter score etc. Every few hours we would look around and knew exactly what we were working towards. There was no need to have meetings everyday. Measuring everything you do helps to know what works and what doesn’t. Knowing what works helps to focus your energies in the right direction.
- Trust your employees: One of my biggest experiments was to show the founders that social media can create buzz for the company as well as bring in conversions. They trusted me and let me experiment and by the end of the two months, a good chunk of the conversions came from social media(fb+twitter). When the boss believes in you, the employee feels empowered to show results and work hard to help the company.
- Be Transparent: At an early stage startup, there are very few people on the team so there is no reason for the whole team to not know all about the company. I knew everything about Flightfox from the investors to the valuation to what were the plans of the future. Heck, I even edited one of the company’s pitch decks to send investors. Transparency helps to create a trusting culture and removes any reasons of doubts and misinformation.
- Talk to customers: This is one of the biggest parts of starting a company. The more you talk to customers, the easier it is for you to know what they like about your product and how you can improve their experience. Luckily, I got to handle a lot of customer development as well as support via email and Olark. Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes can help you realize if your product really provides them any value or not.
- Learn from mistakes: As a startup, you are always experimenting and due to this you are bound to take decisions that are not always successful. At Flightfox, we had some fails on a few strategies but that is fine because we realized that it was a mistake and we learnt from it. The most important thing is that the founders were honest on what worked and what didn’t. Being open about mistakes is what makes them learnings and not mistakes.
These were just a few major learnings amongst many others. Getting an internship or a job at an early stage startup purely puts you through that sweat lodge where everyday is not big numbers but it is a step closer to getting to it. Have any questions or thoughts? Tweet to me @smit1293.