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.)

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.)

Exploring My Fears

An article written by Joel Gascoigne of Buffer resonated with me a lot. In the article, he discussed about “The Third Option” which few people talk about:

I was studying Computer Science, and all of my friends were making their choices about what to do after graduation. All events and advice were centered around either getting a job, or continuing onto further education. Those were the two options. The only options you’d find. I had other things in my mind. I was considering building my own business, creating a startup. A third option.

My First Fear

I have always wanted to take the third option. However, for me, it wasn’t just that events and advice were focused on either getting a job or furthering my education. I face pressure from my parents as well.

Being in an Asian family, I naturally have a strong inclination to meet my parents’ expectations. Their expectation for me after I graduate is to find a well paying job in a large corporation. I can understand their expectation because they are using 6 years of their hard-earned savings from working 363 days a year to support my education in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, I’m the only child, out of 3, who gets to study abroad.

Because I can understand their expectation, I feel ever more pressured to meet their expectation. How would they feel if I were to return home without a well paying corporate job? Or even worse, without a job, trying to bootstrap a startup?

This is one of my major fears in life now.

I have shared this fear of mine with some of my closest friends. My friends advised me that I should not be too bothered with my parents’ expectation nor be too pressured; I should do what I want. Sounds easy eh?

I have talked to my mom about this as well. She said that she would support whatever I do because she knows that I want to start my own business eventually, which I really appreciate! However, she also added that it would be better if I find a job and work for a few years first, to cover some of my education fees.

As for my dad? No leeway. Getting a well paying corporate job (and giving my parents allowance) is the only option for me.

My situation probably sounds pretty shitty. However, fortunately, it helps a lot that I’m so far away from home (read: my parents and society’s pressure back at home) and I am consistently exposed to and inspired by startup folks and the startup culture here and online. Most of the time, I forget my fear of not meeting my parents’ expectations.

My Second Fear

When I forget about my first fear, my second fear creeps up on me every so often. I fear that I am unable to support myself financially to work on a startup.

And I don’t want to take a regular job. Joel believes that there’s an opportunity cost of working in a regular job, which I agree with:

I have come to believe that not only is there a massive upside to building a startup, there is also an opportunity cost of working a regular job. That is to say — if you have the goal to eventually build a startup, then every moment you spend working a regular job is making you less experienced as a startup founder.

Why would this be the case? Well, firstly, let’s look at the lifestyle implications of a regular job. A lot of smart folks will graduate and have good prospects of working at in investment banking or at a consultancy, and the salary potential is very high. So you get started and you have a nice apartment. Once you get a raise, you naturally upgrade your lifestyle. You soon reach a point where you have a lot to lose by cutting your salary in half or to nothing.

Not only is it very easy to get used to the lifestyle promoted by the salary and the people you are around, you also learn to speak in a way which helps you as an investment banker, but not necessarily when you’re building a product or service for the masses. Most importantly, you are becoming an expert of something, and thereby losing the beginner’s mind which is vital to have as a startup founder.

Rob Fitzpatrick wrote a great good post, which I feel answers my fear. (It’s a short read so I’m copying and pasting it here.)

The ferry driver, the founder, and the freelancer

Back then, most people couldn’t swim, so they would hire a small boat and a driver to take them across the rivers. The winter snows were melting and the river was violent, but the passenger had no idea how bad it would be until they were out on the water. He was clutching the edges of the boat in terror as the ferry driver calmly wove between the currents and the rocks.

Once on solid ground, the passenger marveled at the driver’s calm and asked how he could possibly remain so at ease when death was on the line. “Well, I can swim,” he replied.

I think of freelancing (or any flexible money-making skill) the same way. Your startup might not work out, the boat might tip over. But knowing you can happily survive a capsize (as opposed to ending up in debt or in a job) helps you recover faster from mistakes and make smarter decisions (without the influence of undue stress) while the company is still afloat.

The sources of worry change over time (e.g. from your own financial security to that of your employees), but in the early days, personal risk is at the top of the list. Although it may not seem very scalable or flashy, learning how to make a bit of money on your own terms is a hugely useful startup skill.

Being able to make money on my own terms would allow to me to support myself financially while building a startup. Even if the startup does not work out, I would still be able to support myself and not be forced to get a regular job.

Previously, I had been busy thinking of what the next great idea would be and had neglected on investing in myself. I’m glad that a post by Dan Shipper, Why are you in such a rush?, gave me a wake up call.

The verdict: it takes a while to do this stuff. 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.

Hence, I started to learn to code and now, I’m working on my writing skill. While I’m not making any money at the moment, I believe that investing in my skills is the right thing for me to do now. I hope to be able to freelance and make some money with the skills I have soon.

A Potential Resolution

I’ve been considering a potential resolution to my fears. It’s a mixture of getting a regular job and building a startup — getting a role in an early stage or growth stage startup.

There are many advantages to this. It might meet my parents’ expectations (hopefully); I might be able to support myself financially and I would be able to pick up and improve essential startup skills.

It seems like a triple win situation. This was partly why I applied to Buffer.

However, I know that there is this tiny voice in me that says, “I will build a successful startup someday!”

Exploring my fears through this blog post has helped me understand my fears better and given me more motivation to work harder for myself. Do you have things you are afraid of too? This exercise of exploring fears might be useful for you ☺Let me know what you think.

(This is my 6th 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.)