InternMatch.com is dedicated to helping companies hire interns and helping students find amazing internships. I started it with my friend and co-founder Andrew Maguire, in May of 2009, and since we have participated in 500 Startups, grown to serving over 500,000 students a month, and recently raised $1.2 million from top investors.
The experience has been one of the most rewarding of my life, particularly when we receive emails like one we got last month from an Argentinian student who learned everything he now knows about applying to jobs in the US from our site, and got his first ever internship on InternMatch.
The experience has also been one of the most challenging. Elon Musk, one of my favorite entrepreneurs, compares starting a company to “Staring Death in the Face.” Likewise, one of my favorite talks from Dave McClure was at Seattle’s Startup Day on why not to start a company, because it is hard, and you will likely lose your money, girlfriend, looks, and more in the process. While both statements are dramatic, the fact is that few things are as challenging as starting a company.
One of things that surprised me though, is that while I anticipated a number of the early challenges of starting our company (certainly not all), I neglected to think about all the new and difficult tasks that emerge quickly as the company grows. I am rock climber and compare this to the short sightedness of reading a route. Usually before a climb, good climbers look up and down the rock wall trying to piece together their future moves and determine what parts will likely be the hardest to navigate. Newer climbers tend to only look at the first few moves assuming they will figure the rest out as they go. If you only read the first half of the wall it’s easy to get worn out or stuck halfway up. So on this piece, I wanted to share some of our growth stage challenges, so that other edtech entrepreneurs on Edukwest can better anticipate future challenges and avoid getting stuck.
The Importance of Team.
When we were first starting InternMatch managing our team was easy. Andrew and I had known each other for ages and we worked and lived in a small 2-bed room house in Seattle. As we grew from two people to nine, so did the responsibilities of the team. Bringing together a diverse and talented team who were as ambitious and passionate about the problem we were solving as we are, turned out to be an enormous task.
I now believe that finding people who fit your culture and team is one of the most important determiners of startup success and something that gets defined by employees 4-10, not employees 1-3. Cultural fit is something that is incredibly hard to define and even harder to make a hiring decision on when you need good people fast. However, messing this up can turn your office into a place you no longer enjoy working as happened to Tony Hsieh at Link Exchange or cause your team to be out of sync and fail.
After investing heavily into the hiring process, I am happy to say our team is one of the key reasons why coming into work every day and solving tough challenges is so much fun.
It Gets Harder.
When first starting InternMatch I expected that going from zero to our first funding would be the hardest part of the company. Ultimately, that was not the case. While challenge abounds in convincing smart people and early investors that your unknown startup has the legs to change the world, the challenge of building upon that success to get continued growth and recognition within an industry is harder.
As you dig into any new space, you realize the channels for large-scale expansion are busier, more expensive, and require more creativity and risk-taking than your early channels did. If you like challenge then this stage of a company is even more fun, but don’t expect your startup to ever get easier.
Time Management and Giving Back.
Similar to the point above before starting a company I also used to think that after hitting critical benchmarks more breathing room would become available, which would open up my time to give back to the community, other entrepreneurs, and friends who helped our company succeed. Instead, as teams get larger it becomes even more important to focus action and energy on critical goals and free time becomes scarcer.
Ultimately, the average startup takes 7 years to succeed (if it lucky enough to get that far), so if you haven’t done so already, you need to set priorities on what matters to you (family, friends, personal health, giving back?) because if you don’t it won’t make it onto your schedule.
I remember writing recommendations for Nathan Whitson, one of our first ever interns, who was applying for jobs at Yelp and Amazon (and landed one) at 2 in the morning. I remember doing likewise for another of our interns, Tara Seshan, who was applying for the Theil Fellowship (and got in!) at 2 in the morning another night. While, I am confident they both would have gotten the roles without any of my help, giving back to the entrepreneurial and student community is an important aspect of starting a company in my mind and something I would have neglected had advisors not been upfront in telling me that telling yourself that you will find time for personal priorities later, is not a viable option.
Despite the challenges InternMatch continues to grow rapidly and I could not be more excited for the future. Here are two big milestones I am excited about heading into 2013.
Creating a better internship ecosystem.
We built InternMatch as a social enterprise, looking to help students gain access to great internships regardless of connections. While we have always been passionate about helping students, now with thousands of companies using our site we have found another avenue for social impact—encouraging employers to build more in-depth internship programs and starting a movement away from unpaid interns.
Out of all our employer guides, I am most excited about our recently launched internship compensation ebook, which helps explain the benefits of paying interns in terms of both applicant quality and volume. In the near future we hope to bring the benefits of paying interns to a national spotlight as well as better reward companies on our site for making this choice.
Launching Entry-Level Roles.
What I am most excited about in 2013 is expanding out platform to also include entry-level jobs. When we started InternMatch 3 years ago we knew that internships are a huge need for students. In fact, over 80% of students complete an internship before graduating and yet three years ago few resources existed to help them on this front. That said, the movement to offering entry-level jobs is something that students and employers both pushed us towards.
For employers, internship programs are often built as a tool to evaluate and hire full-time employees. For students, taking on internships is the number one way to transition into the professional world. For all these reasons it is exciting to build tools and resources that help guide both parties along this critical next step and to take all the data, recommendation insights, and more we developed in the internship space to make a word class product for entry-level jobs.