kayako-london-team

This summer, I was fortunate to be offered an internship with the Growth team at Kayako, a customer service platform. I was really lucky because I could only work for about a month and they still accepted me (Thanks, Kumy and Jamie!).

Despite the short internship, I have learnt many valuable lessons and I would like to share some of them in this blog post. These lessons are mainly for my personal development and do not include more technical stuff such as things I’ve learnt about writing and community building.

Personal Development Lessons

1. Have side projects

Kumy, Growth Lead at Kayako, and I knew each other from Leancamp London 2014 and we have been following each other on Twitter. He knows that I’m interested in marketing. Upon discovering my side project, Be Nice, a weekly newsletter of customer support and experience articles, he realised that I’m interested in the field of customer service and support too.

At that time, his team was not even actively looking for interns as they just started the Growth team and they were unsure if interns could contribute to the team.

However, seeing that I might be a great fit for his team as I am interested in both marketing and customer service, he decided to give it a go and offered me an internship with his team.

I would probably not have gotten the internship without my side project. I realised that having a side project would really benefit me in finding an internship or job as the other party can learn more about me through my project.

2. Onboarding beforehand

As my internship was pretty short, neither the team nor I have much time to spare to onboard me to their working processes.

Fortunately, I had kind of onboarded myself to a large extent before the internship. I’ve read most of the books on their required reading list. I was already involved in Support Driven Chat, a Slack community for customer support pros. I’m familiar with most of the technological tools the team uses such as Slack, Trello, Google Docs and Google Hangouts.

When I joined the team, there was less onboarding required – left mainly their current projects and enterprise software such as HubSpot and Wiki. This allowed me to add value to the team almost immediately.

Several companies write about what they are doing on their blogs. That is a good avenue to gain insights about what the company is doing and how their internal processes are like. An example would be Buffer. They share very transparently about their company on their Open blog and list required readings on their job application pages.

3. Autonomy

Kayako gave me a huge degree of autonomy, despite me being only an intern. In fact, I didn’t feel like an intern at all because they treat me like a fellow full-time colleague. Working hours are quite flexible. Some people prefer to go to the office earlier and leave earlier while others do the opposite. The team is also flexible with people working from home or remotely once in a while.

I learnt that I am more driven when I have the freedom to decide what to do and how to do them. It’s hard to quantify how much more driven or productive I was during the internship. However, the team did mention that they are happy to have me again when I have the time. I will take that as a sign that I’ve added much value to the team 🙂

4. My working style

When I want to focus on a task, such as writing, I prefer to have a certain amount of undisturbed time (2 to 3 hours) by myself. I find that tiny distractions can easily break my train of thought.

This internship has reinforced the fact that I like to work this way. It is nice to be working in an office with the team than to be working alone remotely. However, that also means a higher chance of distraction or interruption from fellow teammates.

Hence, when I was writing, I would usually go to a quiet corner of the office, sit on a beanbag and plug in my ear piece for a few hours. Also, thanks to Slack, communications became slightly less disruptive. Instead of speaking to me directly and interrupting my flow, my teammates would leave me a message on Slack and I would check it when I take my breaks.

5. Give others time to work on my requests

I made this mistake several times during the internship. I asked my teammate about my request a few times within a short period of time, which made her pretty annoyed.

I failed to consider that my teammate might be working on something else at the moment and would work on my request afterwards. By bugging her, I could be interrupting her flow.

I think a better way of communicating a request would be to specify a timeframe so that the teammate knows when he/she has to get back to me and to get an acknowledgement from him/her that she received your request. Also, it would be nice to give it some time (depending on the urgency of the situation) before approaching the teammate again.

6. Communicate transparently with my team lead

In my last post, I mentioned the mismatch between how I thought I should behave as an intern and what my team expected of me.

In the end, this issue was resolved by having a one-on-one chat with my team lead (Kumy). My team lead checked in with me almost every week to ask if I’m learning enough and if there are more things I would like to try.

If I’m not wrong, he brought up the topic and told me not to worry that I should behave in a certain way because I’m an intern and that the team does not have any expectations of me to behave like an intern.

It seems better to clarify any doubts or issues I have with my team lead and teammates than to assume things in my mind, which could be wrong.

All in all, I’m really glad that I was given this opportunity as it has been very enriching experience. If you wish to go through a similar experience, then you are in luck! Kayako is looking for an Inbound Marketing Intern! (This is NOT a sponsored post haha.)


4 Ways Of Making Good Friendships Online

Being in Coventry, United Kingdom, means I do not get as many startup events as in cities like London. Hence, I seldom meet people beyond my school mates in University of Warwick.

However, I don’t let this limit me from making new like-minded friends, especially those who are interested in startups. Thanks to the Internet, it has become so easy to connect with others online.

Note: This is my advice on making genuine friendships and not networking and knowing as many people as possible. In fact, I would recommend the opposite — make as little friends as possible at the same time. I would rather have 5 close and genuine friends than 500 acquaintances. I would only think about expanding the circle after the 5 new friends have become close friends, without compromising the existing friendships by too much.

Value Of Making Friends Online

If, like me, you are living in a remote area or your city does not have much startup activities, being able to make friends online would be very helpful. The best outcome is the genuine friendships you create.

For me, making friends online has brought me several benefits.

The first and most important benefit is simply the joy of having a close friend:

  • Someone whom I can talk to, share ideas with and possibly hangout with
  • Someone whom I can help and support
  • Someone whom I can ask for advice, suggestions or help

Also, these friends constantly inspire me with the things they do. And as an added bonus, some friends have helped me to open doors to wonderful opportunities that I could only imagine previously.

Please do not make friends just for the potential benefits they could bring to you (such as connections). That’s just making use of them! And that’s not what friends are for!

4 Ways To Make Genuine Friends Online

As I have benefited from making friends online, I would like to share the 4 ways I adopt to make genuine friends online.

Note: Friendship is a 2 way thing. If the other person does not reciprocate the interest to be friends, please don’t force it.

1. Twitter

Twitter is my favourite channel out of these 4 that I am recommending. Most of the friends I’ve made recently were through Twitter.

Okay, how I use Twitter to make friends is slightly cheeky as it isn’t entirely online only.

What I normally do is after they know me on Twitter (read: are aware that I exist via Twitter), I would ask to meet them for coffee if I can travel to their place to meet them.

Here’s examples of how I got to know Kosta Mavroulakis:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.03.48 Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.04.52 Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.05.41

and Thomas Dunn:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 13.28.12

While it is not a must, I found that meeting them in real life really helps with strengthening the friendship.

I feel that being willing to travel to where they are based shows my sincerity to know them. Also, if they are offering their time to meet me, the least I could do is to travel over to meet them.

Of course, it’s not always possible to meet them in real life. They might be living in another country or a city far away from yours. I’m lucky that my house is an hour to two hours train ride away from London where many startup people live.

For this, I could think of 2 possible resolutions:

  • Choose people who lives near you or in places where you could easily travel to. I would love to meet the Buffer team and startup people like Ryan Hoover but I know I cannot afford to travel to their place to meet them.
  • Skype (or other forms of chat). Twitter might not be the best place for a chit-chat and meaningful conversations due to the 140 character limit. While it would not be as close as face-to-face meeting, moving to a messaging platform allows deeper conversations. When I first got to know Thomas Dunn, we started with chatting on Skype.

Other amazing people I’ve gotten to know through Twitter recently are Lucas Gordon, Keefy Yap and Dave Chapman. (Come and say hello AFTER you read this article :P)

2. Online Chats

The second way I would recommend is to participate in online chats.

2 main forms of online chats that I participate in are Twitter chats and Slack chats. For Twitter chats, it’s mainly #bufferchat and for Slack chats, I’m in #startup and Support Driven Chat.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 15.19.56

There is also #nomad Slack chat but I was too slow in signing up for it and I can’t afford to pay the membership fee they are charging now. You could also check out Slack Chats, a place to discover and join private Slack groups, to find Slack chats that interest you.

A downside to these chat is the pace and volume of messages. For me, I find it quite hard to keep up with the conversations, especially when a lot of people are chatting at the same time.

Fortunately, I could tweet people directly and send private messages via Slack. When I find interesting people that I would like to connect with, I would approach them using these 2 methods. This is because I prefer getting to know someone better through one-to-one chat than through mass group conversations.

3. Emails/Volunteering

The third way is the old school method of emailing people whom I love to connect with.

I included volunteering as part of this method because all of the time when I emailed someone, it was because I wanted to offer my help. It usually started with me wanting to help the other person. And through helping them, we became friends.

One example is me volunteering to help Rodolphe with community management of Remotive. I’m not sure if we are at the stage of being close friends per se as we have only been chatting for a few weeks. However, I would really love to get to know him better eventually as he is an really interesting person!☺(Note: I’ve not met Rodolphe in real life.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.44.36

A disadvantage of using emails is that you might not know the other person’s email address. I use tools like Rapportive and Full Contact to help me. I discovered another tool recently called Anymail Finder. Here’s a way to find out people’s email address.

Another disadvantage is that your email might be buried under other emails that they receive. This is understandable. Hence, I would usually send a follow up email a few days later.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 13.14.09

If I still do not receive any replies after the second email, I might send a third one a week or two weeks later. There might be a chance that the other person is not interested to connect with me and if I could sense that, I would stop.

A possible resolution is to reach out to them via other channels such as Twitter or Instagram.

It is up to individuals how persistent they want to be. If you want to be very persistent, I would recommend that you be polite with it and not annoy the other person. The last thing you want from trying to make a friend is to make the other person dislike you.

Other wonderful friends whom I’ve made through this method are Salim Virani, Ben Aldred, Kumaran Veluppillai and (only very recently) Chase Clemons.

4. Online Communities/Forums

The last way is through online communities and forums. I’m not really good at this yet and it’s something I would like to work on.

The few online communities that I visit are Product Hunt, Growth Hackers and Inbound.org. As I do not visit and participate in them very regularly, I find it much harder to make any friendship through them. Also, I don’t want to be using these platforms to make friends without making much contribution to them.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 15.24.37

One good aspect of such online communities is that the pace of conversations is much slower than that on Slack chats, though the volume can be quite high too. Nevertheless, it is easier to join the conversations.

However, you cannot private message anyone via the platforms at the moment. So you would need to find other avenues to reach out to them. My preferred choice is Twitter.

Maintaining The Bond

All good friendships require maintenance. The way you choose to maintain your friendships is really up to you. Different people have different ways of doing this.

For me, I feel that the basics of maintaining friendships offline apply to that online as well:

  • I want to have regular contact with my friends. So every now and then, I would chat with them and see how they are doing. (Or stalk them on Facebook and Twitter haha)
  • I know that I can depend on my friends when I need help so when they need help, I would try my best too.
  • I find that meet up in real life and shared experiences really strengthen friendships. So I would want to meet up with them whenever possible.

I wouldn’t say that I’m good at this and I would really want to improve how I maintain my friendships.

Conclusion

Being in a remote city does not mean that we cannot get to know like-minded people. Most of my like-minded friends do not live in the same city as me. Because of the Internet, it is a lot easier to “meet” people online.

The 4 ways I would recommend to make like-minded friends online are:

  1. Twitter
  2. Online Chats
  3. Emailing/Volunteering
  4. Online Communities/Forums

Do you know of any other ways to make like-minded friends online? I would love to know them.

(This is my 19th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)


Starting A Startup In College

This is something I debate with myself a lot. Many of the articles I’ve read suggest that college students should start a startup in college because of reasons like the resources available in school, abundance of potential co-founders and how it is alright to fail.

Last night, I watched a video of Paul Graham giving a lecture titled, Before The Startup, where he discouraged college students to start a startup in college. I was quite surprised because he started Y-Combinator, an accelerator for startups, and that advice is the opposite of what most people say. After listening to his explanation, I realised that his advice makes sense.

It made me think about whether I want to start a startup now while I’m in college.

Why Do I Want To Start A Startup In College?

There are 2 reasons why I am so eager to do it now, instead of after I graduate.

The first reason is that I don’t want to get a regular corporate job. I’ve done it in the past for 8 months and it was really boring. Also, I’m not quite sure if my work has an impact on the company as a whole. The idea I have is that if I am able to start a successful startup in college, I do not have to worry about finding a regular corporate job after graduation. (Of course, there are other ways to avoid a regular corporate job.)

The second reason is that it is way cooler to graduate while having a successful startup and go straight into working on something that matters to me than to try to find a corporation to hire me and build my resume. To me, working on a startup is better and more interesting than working in a large corporation.

Should I Start A Startup In College?

So going back to the debate, should I start a startup in college?

After watching the lecture by Paul Graham, I went to read his essays. There are 2 advice in Paul Graham’s essays that made me feel that his advice against starting a startup in college makes sense.

Startups Are All-Consuming

That brings us to our fourth counterintuitive point: startups are all-consuming. If you start a startup, it will take over your life to a degree you cannot imagine. And if your startup succeeds, it will take over your life for a long time: for several years at the very least, maybe for a decade, maybe for the rest of your working life. So there is a real opportunity cost here. — Paul Graham

I ask myself if I am willing to go all in for my startup, if I have one. Not really. I can’t see myself quitting school for it, unless it is making thousands every month. Realistically speaking, the chances of that happening is small, especially without a high level of commitment. It is still possible if I am super lucky but I don’t really want to leave it up to chance.

Desire To Prevent A Startup From Failing

I now realize that something does change at graduation: you lose a huge excuse for failing. Regardless of how complex your life is, you’ll find that everyone else, including your family and friends, will discard all the low bits and regard you as having a single occupation at any given time. If you’re in college and have a summer job writing software, you still read as a student. Whereas if you graduate and get a job programming, you’ll be instantly regarded by everyone as a programmer.

The problem with starting a startup while you’re still in school is that there’s a built-in escape hatch. If you start a startup in the summer between your junior and senior year, it reads to everyone as a summer job. So if it goes nowhere, big deal; you return to school in the fall with all the other seniors; no one regards you as a failure, because your occupation is student, and you didn’t fail at that. Whereas if you start a startup just one year later, after you graduate, as long as you’re not accepted to grad school in the fall the startup reads to everyone as your occupation. You’re now a startup founder, so you have to do well at that. — Paul Graham

Paul Graham feels that graduates have a greater desire to succeed when they start a startup because there is a pressure on them to do so. When they fail, people around them would judge them differently from how they would judge undergraduates.

I don’t see myself being able to give up everything to prevent my startup from failing because I prioritise other commitments at the moment. While I’m happy to study less to work on a startup idea, I won’t give up my exams to save the idea from failing without having any certainty the idea would work.

So I concluded that it would be better to wait till I graduate. I am not being unambitious or deterred because it would be hard. I am being honest with myself, being pragmatic and choosing what seems to be the best path for me now.

Of course, these are my own considerations. I don’t want to stop anyone from starting a startup in college if they have a huge desire to do so and would sacrifice some things in their lives for it.

What Should I Do Now?

If I don’t want to start a startup in college, what should I do now?

1. Stop Thinking Of Startup Ideas

The very first thing that always comes to my mind is that I should think of startup ideas which I could work on after I graduate. I would always be thinking of what would the Next Big Thing be and become frustrated when I could not think of any. However, it seems like that is not the best thing to do.

The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. — Paul Graham

Paul Graham suggests that this is the counterintuitive thing about startups. He wrote a long essay on this. He suggested to think of problems, instead of solutions. In the essay, he gave many other advice as well.

2. Learn Skills That Would Be Useful In A Startup

I think that one of the best ways to prepare for starting a startup is to equip ourselves with skills that would be useful in a startup. There is a huge range of skills that a startup would require — coding, marketing, writing, designing and so on.

It is always handy to have some useful skills than to learn from scratch when I want to work on my startup idea in the future. It would help to speed up the process too.

The verdict: it takes a while to do this stuff [starting a successful business]. In fact, to build anything valuable will take years. So if you’re young and have no experience, spending 6 months learning skills like programming and design and sales isn’t a waste of time. It’s an investment. — Dan Shipper

Having a skill would also allow me to freelance and make some money on the side. It would be helpful if I’m bootstrapping my startup.

Also, I would suggest to learn things that you are interested in, not simply whatever seems cool and to focus on one or two areas, instead of spreading yourself too thinly. I’ve tried to learn many things at once and I ended up not learning much.

3. Work On Side Projects

An alternative to starting a startup is to start side projects. However, I feel that the mentality has to be different. Work on side projects for the sake of learning, instead of trying to create a successful startup eventually.

Otherwise, it would be the same as trying to start a startup. Side projects are meant to be free of any pressure while starting a startup is very stressful. Kevan Lee from Buffer wrote an article about The Science of Side Projects, which I would recommend reading.

4. Avoid Entrepreneurship Classes

I’m very bad at this. Since 14 and only until recently, I’ve been signing up for such classes which gave me a taste of starting a business using the very traditional method (eg. having a business plan first) but not much on making a startup successful.

Based on the classes I’ve attended, I feel that the way we are assessed in class is very different from how the market would assess a startup. Scoring well in an entrepreneurship class is likely to have zero relevance to how well my startup would do.

Also, I think that students are not given enough time on work on their ideas before they are being assessed. Usually, classes are a few weeks long or at most a year long and students’ work would be assessed by then. However, as we know, startups usually take some time to take off.

Hence, I’ve learnt to avoid such classes as I feel that they would give me a distorted image of starting a startup.

5. Make More Friends

This is something I need to work on more. College is a good time to make more friends and there are 2 benefits to this.

First, having like-minded friends would allow us to inspire one another to keep up the desire to start a startup in the future, to encourage one another to keep practising our skills and to keep one another accountable. Also, to me, it’s simply more fun to work with friends.

Second, we might find a potential co-founder.

Because of group projects in college, we can get a sense of others’ working attitude. We can then decide if they are people whom we are willing to work with. Through projects in my school, I’ve gotten to know people whom I will most likely not work with on any of my startup ideas.

Another great avenue for making like-minded friends is Twitter. I have made many good friends through Twitter and then meeting them face-to-face. While it might not be possible to meet people on Twitter physically, I found that it strengthens the friendship much more.

6. Find A Job In A Startup

The last but definitely not the least thing I could do is to find a job in a startup. Working in a startup would allow me to experience the pace and pressure of a startup. Communication and teamwork skills from working in a startup would be valuable for running a startup in the future.

Most startups are flexible enough to allow students to work part time, as long as they produce work. Having an useful startup skill (point 2 above) would make one more attractive to startups.

Here’s Paul Graham’s advice for getting a job in a startup:

The way to learn about startups is by watching them in action, preferably by working at one. How do you do that as an undergrad? Probably by sneaking in through the back door. Just hang around a lot and gradually start doing things for them. Most startups are (or should be) very cautious about hiring. Every hire increases the burn rate, and bad hires early on are hard to recover from. However, startups usually have a fairly informal atmosphere, and there’s always a lot that needs to be done. If you just start doing stuff for them, many will be too busy to shoo you away. You can thus gradually work your way into their confidence, and maybe turn it into an official job later, or not, whichever you prefer. This won’t work for all startups, but it would work for most I’ve known.

The debate on starting a startup in college would never end. I think ultimately, it is dependent on the individuals. While some might choose not to start a startup while in college, like I’ve decided, there are several things that we can do at the moment to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead.

Do you have any advice for college students who want to prepare themselves for starting a startup after they graduate? I would love to hear them ☺

(This is my 18th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)