Every startup has a million moving parts. This summer Owler was lucky enough to have all-star intern Marcus Stromeyer (Georgetown ‘15) with us to help tackle these challenges. Along the way Marcus learned a few lessons that he wanted to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs and tech-junkies. Here are a few words from Marcus.
(Owler is always looking for talented interns looking to hit the ground running in a fast-paced startup environment. Interested? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
769 days. That’s how long it took Instagram to become a billion dollar acquisition. This means the company gained value of, on average, $1.3 million every day. Not too shabby.
Stories like Instagram’s fuel our fascination with startups. It’s easy, right? Simply have a great idea, get funding, build a product, IPO, and hope Aaron Sorkin makes a movie about you, all while perfecting your ping pong skills and drinking imported lagers.
Hoping to experience the reality of a startup, I was excited to join Owler for an 11-week summer internship in Silicon Valley. The internship taught me, among many other things, the importance of organizing easily-digestible takeaways for your target audience.
Here are three highlights (out of many!) from my time at Owler.
“The point of college is to learn how to think critically. Don’t forget that.” I bet the majority, if not all, of college students has heard this at some point in their academic career. Our response to this advice? Brush it aside and continue fretting about our GPA (I’m looking at you, fellow econ majors). As I learned this summer, however, critical thinking is, well, critical in the startup world as well. One cannot simply drink more coffee, scribble on a whiteboard and miraculously experience a company-altering epiphany.
Instead, critical thinking is a learned and curated skill that requires patience, concentration and commitment; such deep thinking is not a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday experience. In fact, Owler CEO Jim Fowler often credits his best ideas to his morning shower. In other words, working at a startup requires you to constantly assess and reassess your ideas. What are our assumptions about the user? What is our value proposition? How can we optimize the product experience?
One of my projects involved mapping out an “if this, then that” flowchart to optimize our product. I quickly realized that the thought process was a 24/7 experience and struggle. Only after extensive review was I confident and secure in the value of my ideas.
Startups are grounded in a set of ever-changing hypotheses. We are constantly making assumptions about our users, their needs, preferences, and behaviors. However, as these hypotheses change so do the requirements for our product. Therefore, during my 11-week tenure at Owler I witnessed our product evolve and mature drastically. I was surprised by just how quickly the team was willing to dismiss a previous idea; one quick stand-up meeting is all it takes.
In addition, I also discovered that getting feedback is a key part of this process. A whiteboard covered with ideas will never disagree with you; you must go out and validate your assumptions. It’s this constant loop between product iteration and feedback collection that leads to a kick ass product.
Dhotis are Awesome.
The highlight from my time at Owler was joining the team’s trip to our Coimbatore office (most spoiled intern ever? You bet!). I learned to eat with my hands. I tried (and eventually failed at) bowling in cricket. I developed an insatiable appetite for south Indian food. I even, and most astonishingly, survived driving in India.
However, my fondest memory from my entire Coimbatore experience is the people I met. The talent, passion, and character of my colleagues in Tamil Nadu was nothing short of extraordinary. As I listened in on our morning scrums (essentially a morning huddle), I was blown away by their commitment to delivering a product with quality, personality, simplicity, and speed (QPSS, our company DNA). They fully grasp the Silicon Valley mentality and are committed to a superb deliverable.
Outside the office, they embody the Silicon Valley culture of work hard, play hard. I’ll never forget playing cricket at 6am on Saturday morning, eating lamb’s brain at SRKP (thank you for the encouragement, Kamal!), and watching Brad Pitt annihilate zombies in World War Z as a team after a long day’s work.
Finally, my trip made me realize that Dhotis really are the way to go — I truly hope they become the next international fashion phenomenon so I can bring them back to the US!
So thank you Owler for an eye-opening, educational, and fun summer filled with can’t-believe-this-is-an-internship moments! It’s been a great ride.