An internship at a startup helped me convert my passion into a career
After graduating in mechanical engineering, I appeared for GATE even though I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do M.Tech. As I had almost two months before the actual admission process would begin, I started searching for internships through an online platform. I decided to intern at a startup as I wanted to learn the nuances of running a business. I sat down and started listing the skills which were required for the field of business development/analysis and ticked upon those that I already had. I got a fair idea about the things that I needed to work on. I also read the JDs carefully to understand what employers exactly wanted from the candidates. All this helped me in providing a detailed response to the questions like ‘why should I be hired’.
Soon I received a mail that I was shortlisted as a Business Analyst intern at Barometer Technologies and an interview was scheduled. Their business model was to change the archaic way in which the bar inventory was being done. As it was a startup, I looked into CrunchBase for all the investments done in this company till that particular date. Then I searched on YourStory for any media profile about them. After getting a grasp about their business model, I started looking for similar models around the world. I found some models in the US and read about them to understand how differently they were operating. Then I checked the pain points that the startup was aiming to solve and what sorts of regulators were involved. I also read some reports by management consultants about the market size, growth potential, and some stats about the industry that the startup was operating in. I’ve always believed that if you can quantify the views that you want to convey, it carries far more weight. Thus, I always try to have some stats with me.
The co-founders had scheduled the interview at a client’s site, which turned out to be a bar at Breach Candy Swimming Trust, one of the most high profile places in South Bombay. With the raging sea as the backdrop, the interview started. They asked me a bunch of questions on my goals, academic background, and some technical questions on SQL etc. I was also asked to share some instances from my life when I didn’t give up and overcame the odds. As the last question, I was asked to sell the product to them, imagining they were the clients and I was the co-founder of the startup. I gave a satisfactory pitch and even included some stats. Next day I received the email that I had been selected for the internship! I was the first intern/employee of the startup and it was a really great moment for me.
Battling Mumbai’s traffic, I reached the office just on time on my first day. I was asked to find answers to some questions like the reasons behind the problem that we were looking to solve, the different regulations in India etc. Soon I was engrossed in my work. Then lunch time arrived and, to my surprise, both the co-founders took me out for lunch. We went to a South Indian restaurant, and it proved to be a great ice-breaker. We shared some jokes and talked a lot about sports before resuming our work. There were two boards to chart the progress on the tasks that we were undertaking as a team. Later I was asked about all the questions that I had to find answers for. Wherever I went astray, they corrected me and asked about my process while finding the required information. It was about time to leave the office and to my amazement, I didn’t want to! It had been a truly productive and wonderful day.
My primary job was to create a database and maintaining it. This also included studying the backend of our app and giving recommendations on how the database should be linked and how SQL queries should be executed for optimal performance. I also had to constantly observe the best apps available in the market and to share the same with our developers if we needed to develop a particular functionality at times. As we were a small team our responsibilities overlapped, but it was a great exposure for me as I was able to try my hands on different things which I couldn’t have otherwise.
Once I went along for a business meeting with a high profile client. It was my first experience of pitching an idea to a client. I was almost a spectator there, but I heard everything with keen ears and an open mind. Explaining someone who is a novice when it comes to technology the need of using a technical product and how the investment would add value to his business, was a Herculean task! It is like tug of war and in the end, you always want to be on the winning side! This was one instance that I’ll always remember, and I’m sure it’ll help me in future when I’ve to pitch an idea to someone.
Two important things that I learned during the internship was to be tenacious and perseverant while charting unknown territories. In a startup environment a lot of issues and bottlenecks emerge on a daily basis, so one has to prioritize and resolve them. Taking initiative and ownership of work was another lesson that I learned. In retrospect, I think the most important learning, which I never actually thought about, was to be extremely courteous while talking to clients and stakeholders. Small courtesies do go a long way in forging relationships and building your character. In a way, this was, for me, Business communication 101. After the internship was over, the experience that I had gained helped me in grabbing my first job too! I’m still in touch with both the co-founders and they’ve helped me in my professional development. I plan to do an MBA soon, and they have already agreed to provide me their recommendations!
I believe that the proverb, “Well begun is half done” applies in every field of life. So, I would just like to advise all students to start smartly. Your application is your first impression on an employer, the most important one, and so it should be as strong as possible. Thus, do your research diligently and explain clearly what you bring to the table.
Author of the article: Himanshu Jagtap