Putting a dent in the universe with the help of interns
About the Author: Aayush Agrawal is the founder of Campus Connect. A recent graduate from NITK Surathkal, this young entrepreneur maintains a blog, Rajasthani Ramblings, and provides insightful details about his entrepreneurial journey and the role interns played in it.
The summer of 2016 was near when I anticipated that I would have no team with me, an MVP of a product, and limited cash. I needed to figure out a way to continue building the product over a few months with the limited resources that I had. I did not have the resources to hire full-time employees at that time. After evaluating my options, I decided to hire interns for the summer. That has been one of my best decisions during my entrepreneurial journey.
I posted our requirements for the developer, designer, and marketing profiles on internship portals such as Internshala. I gave importance to candidates with prior experience through projects, internships, or hackathons. I used to take an initial telephonic interview of shortlisted candidates, asking them about their projects in their resumes. I do not have a core CS background, but I could figure out when a student didn’t understand the languages that were listed on their own resume. It’s funny how many students describe their knowledge in C or Java as expert proficiency after just a single college project! One thing that I took very seriously when hiring was to talk to the candidates about their ambitions and future goals. I realized that when I took the candidate’s interests into consideration and helped them achieve their goals over the internship period, they were more motivated and had a strong sense of ownership. This is extremely important for an early stage startup.
A technical team member, Rishab Doshi, helped me with the interview process. We gave the shortlisted applicants a small project. For the Android developer profile, we asked them to make a simple Scoreboard App which would involve making few screens with XML and handling data using simple HTTP POST/GET requests. Keeping a project helped in filtering out the casual candidates. It also showed us the level of their understanding and the ability to build on their own, without asking for help. For the final round, Rishab took a technical interview on core concepts. Rishab had a unique process taking interviews over a shared Google Doc allowing the candidates to type their answers and code. I felt that his thorough interview style was the key for us to get high-quality interns. Finally, we hired 3 tech interns for the summer – one each for Android, Web, and Backend development. We seemed to figure out an efficient process for taking technical interviews and were happy with the results.
Design and marketing, on the other hand, were much more challenging. I could not figure out a structured manner on how to interview candidates for these two roles. I was looking out for resumes which had some prior experiences and stood out. After a follow-up call in which I asked in depth about the experiences on their resumes and their interests, I used to make my decision.
During the summer, I decided to pivot our product idea due to multiple reasons. This meant that we had to rebuild our product from scratch. I made the decision for the pivot exactly when the interns had joined for their 8-week internship. This was a great opportunity for them as well as for me. Leading a team to build a product from scratch on my own was quite an exciting challenge. I had done this before but with the support of technical members who worked alongside me in decision making, architecting, and executing. This time I was on my own, a chemical engineering graduate leading a team of CS students to build a tech product!
Over the course of this stint, the interns put in a lot of hard work. Saurav built the architecture and APIs with great speed and efficiency. He picked up backend development quickly and figured out the ways through which he could optimize his code. I loved discussing possible loopholes and algorithmic efficiency with him. Sarthak not only built the Android app but also developed parts of the web backend for our page routing. Our designer Arunima was tasked with rebranding our product, icons, and logo. It was quite a big task for any designer, but she took it in stride and presented a brand icon that we even use today.
When working with the interns, I realized that to lead them effectively, I had to set the framework. I would explain clearly what I was trying to achieve, create a visual picture of it, and do the first step with them together. I encouraged them to explore it on their own as well, to ask questions (sometimes I didn’t have answers for them), and to make their own decisions. Few times when Sarthak used to be stuck with a technical problem, I would just sit down with him and we went through the code together.
Later in June, we were looking to hire full-time employees. This time around I chose Sarthak to conduct the technical interviews for the candidates. This was an extremely fresh and exciting experience for him which, he tells me, has given him a lot of confidence for his own interviews during campus placements. In those 2 months, the team delivered the complete Android and web platform of our new product. It was a moment of great pride for me and a huge achievement for the entire team.
The big reason why I think internships in startups are great is because that is where my own entrepreneurial journey started. I got an internship at the end of my second year at a tech startup. At the time, I didn’t have any idea what startups or technology products were. Learning on the go, talking to the founder, team members, and doing multiple things on my own got me extremely excited.
For any student out there who is unsure about what her interests are or what she wants to do, apply for an internship in a startup. If you love it and thrive in it, you will know what to do ahead; if not, you can still cherish an experience of a lifetime and then try the next option. For early stage startups looking to quickly build their MVP, I strongly suggest hiring interns. There will be many iterations of your product in the future, but get the first one out at the earliest and with the least expenditure. A team with good interns will surely get the job done and their enthusiasm will give you a confidence boost too.
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