REWIND TIME. Last year, in May 2011, I wrote a detailed blog post that laid out the specific steps I took to land my dream internship with Hashable in New York City. Emily Hickey, the CMO of Hashable (at the time) added a paragraph to the beginning of my post and then published it to the Hashable blog. Unfortunately, Hashable was shut down just a couple weeks ago. Looking back, working at Hashable changed my life last summer and it really was my “first love” in the world of startups. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that my somewhat ‘public pursuit’ of the company has in large part come to define my young career thus far.
So, while you can still access my original post right here thanks to Google’s cache of it, I decided to republish the story here to make sure it’s still easy to find for anyone who’s interested in reading, referencing, and/or sharing it!
Now, it’s time to turn the clocks back…
EDITOR’S NOTE (from Emily Hickey):
This is a post from our new summer intern, John Exley, describing his months-long ‘journey’ (aka recruiting assault campaign!) to get a job at Hashable. His tactics were aggressive and creative, and the whole thing was so good-natured and likable – it was impossible to turn down by the end! John’s post is really worth the read. We hope you’ll agree that we’ve scored an impressive, creative, determined, social media savvy monster of an intern for the summer. A very warm welcome to you John, thanks for (insisting on) joining us, and most of all – look out New York City!
NOTE: Too busy to read the entire story? I summarized what I learned into 13 lucky lessons at the bottom of the post
The “new ideal startup team” has been said to consist of three different types of people: hackers, designers, and hustlers. Although I am an ‘Engineering & Management‘ major at Clarkson University, I cannot code or design. Instead, I live for the hustle. Everything I have hustled for since first becoming passionate about Internet startups has led me to the space and the story I’m about to share with you. The following is my story of how I hustled my way into winning an internship with my dream startup, Hashable.
It all started on the 11th of October, last fall. A lot was going on in my personal life. I was at American University for the Washington Semester Program. Although reading TechCrunch that day had me in positive spirits, I could not have imagined how much it would prove to change the course of the next six months for me. I came across an article by Erick Schonfeld about a new startup called Hashable. Once I was able to play with it, I realized I had never been more passionate about a startup and its mission than I was (and I continue to be) about Hashable.
WHY I BELIEVE IN HASHABLE
I was particularly interested in the space because back in the fall of 2009, I was brainstorming ways to solve a problem I was having in essentially ‘quickly remembering who I know’. I studied abroad in Singapore the first semester of 2010 and wrote a business plan there for a ‘personal CRM’ type of solution. Somehow, I’ve always wished I could tag every friend I have (in the similar manner that I still to this day tag my bookmarks on Delicious) so that my network would have a sort of ‘intelligent search’ element to it.
Since then, I have been obsessively researching what I would call the ‘personal/social CRM’ space. When I found Hashable, I was through-the-roof excited because I saw so many ways that it solves (or could solve) problems in the space I had become so passionate about. I fell in love with the product pretty soon thereafter and decided I just had to do everything that I could to try and get an internship with Hashable.
LET THE DREAM INTERNSHIP PURSUIT BEGIN
Once I got in to Hashable’s beta, I immediately started playing with the product meticulously and tweeting about using it. I read everything I could find, from analysis of the product to Hashable CMO Emily Hickey‘s extensively detailed stories of how the team was thinking during the beta process. I also started looking for videos about Hashable and interviews with their founder, Mike Yavonditte, on YouTube. My goal: to understand the many use-cases of Hashable and also to be able to think critically of how the product might evolve.
In early December after Mike started following me on Twitter, I decided to direct message him and ask about the possibility of interning for Hashable. He responded to me and basically said that I was welcome to apply. He also DM’d me about the idea of having a leaderboard at universities like the Rochester Institute of Technology (“RIT”).
So, as soon as I got home from my exchange semester at AU in Washington, D.C., I tracked down Mike Johansson (a professor at RIT who is very respected in Rochester’s social media community). I gathered his feedback and started going to local startup and social media events to ask people about Hashable. I would explain the use-case as best I could and gather more feedback. I also evangelized Hashable over the phone with friends like Marshall Haas; gathered feedback from users like George Petriccione over email; spent hours on Skype demoing Hashable, answering questions (if I was able to), and brainstorming features with friends in Europe like Fredrik Perdahl; and essentially used Hashable endlessly to keep track of all of my interactions.
Then things started happening fast. On January 9th, 2011, I started working from home for my semester-long co-op with the San Francisco based startup Syncables. Out of nowhere on January 14th, my friend Marshall Haas unexpectedly got the ball rolling for me:
— Marshall Haas (@MarshallHaas) January 14, 2011
— Marshall Haas (@MarshallHaas) January 14, 2011
Emily asked me to follow-up with her in 2 weeks to see when I could interview with the team in NYC. Sometime over the next 2 weeks, Mike Yavo went out to Los Angeles and did an interview with the venture capitalist (and author of my favorite blog) Mark Suster for the show “This Week in Venture Capital” (aka – ‘TWiVC‘). The interview was published (watch it here) on a Wednesday, January 26th. Late Thursday night I sat down in the livingroom and started watching it.
I got goosebumps watching it. The things Yavo and Suster were discussing (mostly the part about Hashable’s mission and foreseeable evolution into a social CRM for individuals) were literally exactly what had made me become so passionate about the web for the 2.5 or so years I have been researching the technology startup ecosystem.
MY FIRST EMAIL TO EMILY HICKEY: THE INTERVIEW REQUEST
I emailed Emily that night, at 3:07am on January 28th (if you’d like to see the exact email I sent, let me know in the comments!). Basically, I recapped my background, explained why I’m so passionate about Hashable, and asked if we could schedule an interview date in February. Emily loved the email and asked Hashable’s VP of Biz Dev Jane Kim to “run point” on setting up an interview.
At that point, I put the hustle pedal to the metal and went all out. I read every page of Hashable’s website, every one of their blog posts, every article I could find, every new interview with Mike Yavo and new video of Hashable, and every Quora thread about Hashable. I researched the team and made a list on Twitter called “The Hashable team“.
One night, I even hosted my friend in Sweden Oscar Carlsson’s LiveStream NoSleepTillNumberOne (after he had stayed awake for 64.5 hours straight) and talked about my passion for Hashable and my dream of interning for them.
MARK SUSTER: AN OPPORTUNITY TO STAY ON HASHABLE’S RADAR
Then a funny thing happened. Mark Suster asked his readers on his blog if they any would volunteer to summarize his TWiVC interviews since he was becoming too busy. I was pumped – I had taken some notes during his interview with Mike Yavo and thought this would be a great opportunity to stay on Hashable’s radar. So I asked Mark on Twitter if I could summarize that interview. Thankfully, he responded (there’s an interesting little tangent story here, I told it in this video if you’re interested!) and agreed.
So, I worked really hard on perfecting the summary and emailed it to Mark on February 7th. At the time, my good friend Seva Shorin from Australia (who I had studied abroad with in Singapore) was visiting the US for a his ‘summer’ vacation. He was itching to meet up with me in NYC, so I decided it would be perfect timing to follow up with Jane and Emily about scheduling an interview in the city.
Unfortunately, Emily didn’t see the purpose of interviewing me before the SXSW conference since I wouldn’t be able to begin as an intern until April 30th, when my co-op with Syncables would end.
ROLLING THE DICE: A GAMBLE THAT PAID OFF
After telling Seva I couldn’t justify spending the money for a weekend in NYC if I wasn’t also able to interview with Hashable, I was kind of dejected. So, I decided to take a risk. Seva had made plans to visit another study abroad friend of ours in Boston that weekend. I reasoned that if I could make the relatively short ride from Boston to NYC, maybe I could convince Emily and Jane to interview me afterall. So on a Wednesday night, February 16th, I confirmed with my good friend Michael Hanna that I could crash at his apartment in Boston on Thursday night and booked a $65 one-way bus ticket from Rochester to Boston for the next morning.
About ten minutes after tweeting about my trip plans, my man Kevin Mandeville saw my tweet and called me on the spot; offering to pick me up on Saturday morning and take me to a conference called Mobile Camp at MIT. I was pumped because I thought it would be the perfect use-case for using Hashable to record who I was meeting.
So before I went to sleep that night, I took a gamble. I emailed Emily and Jane once more, letting them know that I planned to be in NYC on Monday the 21st and would love to interview. The following morning while on the bus to Boston, she, Jane, and Mike emailed me back; agreeing to interview me on Monday. The risk had paid off, and I was ecstatic.
MAKING MY OWN LUCK: HOURS OF HOMEWORK ON HASHABLE
I pieced together some places to stay for the short-notice trip to NYC (huge thanks to my bros Matt Wilson and Aniq Rahman) and got to work. I planned what topics I thought would be important to cover in the interview. I also made a list of things I thought could be improved, features I thought would be awesome, questions about product use-cases, and even sketched out an idea for adding a field to tag people in order to describe them (something I’m super passionate about).
On February 21st, Monday, I interviewed with Jane, Emily, and Mike. I detailed my weekend experience of networking at MIT’s Mobile Camp without business cards and how I evangelized Hashable in person and online throughout the conference. The interview went well and they said that they would follow up with me after SXSW. I was walking on clouds after the interview. While at a Starbucks by MSG waiting for Seva to arrive from Boston, I even randomly introduced myself to a girl named Carly Strife whom I overheard talking about TechStars. Turns out, she knew some of the Hashable engineers!
MARK SUSTER PUBLISHES MY SUMMARY ON HIS BLOG
Later that week I realized that Mark Suster hadn’t emailed me back yet. So on February 25th, I sent him another email. I tried to use the lessons I had learned from Mark’s blog about sending him follow-up emails:
- I kept it short
- I put it in context: “Just decided to take my shot at creeping back up towards the top of your inbox “
- I added something relevant, letting him know that I had actually just interviewed with Mike and Hashable that week
- And after seeing via my Rapportive plugin in Gmail that he had tweeted about going to a Sarah Silverman show the night before, I ended it with a simple “Hope Sarah Silverman was hilarious last night!“
That weekend Mark sent me a tweet letting me know that he received my summary and that it would be up soon. On March 1st, Mark published my summary of his interview with Mike Yavo (you can read it here: The Guy Who Took on Google (and now LinkedIn): Mike Yavonditte) and gave me a virtual high-five that I will not forget anytime soon:
“…there is a most excellent summary below provided by John Exley. If you get a moment, as a favor to John for having produced such wonderful notes I’d be grateful if you would check out his most excellent startup blog The X Factor. Thank you, John. I appreciate the write-up and your continued support of this blog.”
To add icing to the cake, Mike Yavo RT’d my summary later that week!
THE HUSTLE CONTINUES: EVANGELIZING HASHABLE AT CONFERENCES IN UPSTATE NY
Thanks to my bros Justin Groden and Conrad Barrett trucking me around, I devoted tons of my free time during the month of March towards evangelizing Hashable at events around upstate New York. At the We Live NY Summit at Cornell University, my friend Liz Roscito told me that one of the judges (Christine Tate of the ARC Angel Fund) of the startup competition was an investor in Hashable!
While standing adjacent to my friend Andrew Farah as he introduced himself to Ms. Tate, I watched as Ms. Tate apologetically told him that she had run out of business cards. I politely interrupted and offered the solution of using Hashable to exchange business cards, telling Christine of my dream to intern with the startup this summer.
Not only did Ms. Tate’s excitement bounce off the walls when I mentioned Hashable, but a couple days later Andrew unexpectedly sent this tweet to Hashable:
It was really a huge blessing to have friends like Andrew supporting me as I chased Hashable. My “campaign” as Emily later referred to it was ongoing from the moment I first communicated my interest to intern with Hashable. I favorited many of the tweets from friends like Andrew who spoke on my behalf throughout the semester.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t over yet. I needed one more major push.
SCOTT EDWARD WALKER BECOMES AN INSTANT LEGEND TO ME
In early April after the SXSW conference, Hashable had not yet formally followed up with me. I was trying to think of a clever way to follow up with them when THE MAN, Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law, happened to invite me to a TechCocktail event that he was sponsoring in NYC on April 14th.
I decided that if I could find a place to crash in NYC for a couple nights, it would be the perfect time to try following up with Hashable for perhaps a 2nd interview.
A week before the event, on April 6th, I returned to Clarkson University for the first time in almost two years (after back-to-back exchange semesters in Singapore and Washington, D.C. and the co-op I was doing at the time) to give a speech to the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization that I used to be president of. I talked about my journey as an aspiring entrepreneur and explained how basically everything I had learned and become so passionate about all seemed to lead to a startup named Hashable (if you want to watch it, UNYstartups included all three videos of my speech and my slidedeck here). I demoed Hashable and explained how I was currently pursuing an internship with them.
Then it all started to come together. On a late Monday night, April 11th, my man Matt Wilson sent me a text confirming that I could once again crash at his apartment for a few nights that week. So, around 1:00am I booked a $65 bus ticket for NYC that would leave just seven hours later at 7:45am on Tuesday morning. That night I emailed Jane Kim, letting her know that I was back in NYC and would love to interview once more on Thursday morning.
EVANGELIZING HASHABLE ON POWER 105.1 FM IN NEW YORK
While the week as a whole was truly unforgettable, I will never forget what happened on Wednesday. On the morning of April 13th, Matt brought me to an interview he was doing about his startup Under30CEO in the Power 105.1 FM studios, a legendary New York hip hop station.
Once we got to the studio, I met DJ Suss One and started showing him Hashable. After I tweeted about evangelizing Hashable in the studio, he RT’d it to his 60,000 followers…helping to spread the word about Hashable even further:
Towards the end of the interview, the host Kim Kane invited me to go on the air. I was beyond ecstatic. After Kim introduced me, I started evangelizing Hashable on the air – talking about my passion for the startup and how I was pursuing an internship with them in the city.
INTERVIEW #2: THE DO-OR-DIE INTERVIEW WITH JANE KIM
That night, on the eve of my interview, I spent hours preparing for what I perceived as I do-or-die last chance at winning my dream internship the next morning. Having talked a lot about community management with Jane in my 1st interview, I decided to focus a lot of my research on that topic. So I dove into Quora, studying Q&A threads like who the best community managers are and what the must-have tools are for community managers.
I also outlined what I thought the many roles of a community manager are, brainstormed some ideas for engaging new users and rewarding top users, and prepared a list of questions about how to best measure the engagement of users, etc. Finally, I decided to send a direct message to Mahalo‘s community manager, Mike Bracco, and see if he might be able to jump on the phone and give me some ‘advice from the trenches’. 20 minutes later he called me and shared his best tips.
In my interview with Jane the next morning, I was as focused, persuasive, and passionate as I could be. I realized quickly that the odds were stacked against me and did my best to explain how I would approach things like customer development and converting new users all the way to passionate evangelists. And of course I reiterated that I would give every ounce of energy I have to Hashable.
THREE AMAZING FRIENDS PUSH ME ACROSS THE FINISH LINE
After the interview, I figured I had a limited window of time before they would make a final decision. I decided I would need to pull all the stops to help push my candidacy past the finish line. So I reached out to three people I really respect and believed had enough experience observing or working with me to credibly recommend me to Hashable:
- An informal mentor of mine who has helped shape my work ethic as a hustler since early 2009, Larry Chiang
- The CEO of AudioMicro, Ryan Born, who I met while I was volunteering at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC last year
- An MBA student and entrepreneur at Cornell, Arthur Soroken, who I knew had met with Mike Yavo recently
All three of them speedily delivered recommendations of me to Jane, Emily, and Mike.
I then set up a meeting for later that afternoon with Matt Shampine, an entrepreneur I had wanted to meet ever since discovering one of his projects, a really cool site called We Are NY Tech. Additionally, Matt is a power user of Hashable and that morning in my interview I found out that he was good friends with Jane!
In my meeting with Matt, I explained why I love Hashable, what I thought I could do for them, and how badly I wanted that internship above any others I perceived as backup plans. Afterwards, I raced over to NYU to meet one of Hashable’s earliest adopters and one of New York’s most connected networkers, Trevor Owens. I had this feeling of wanting to tell anyone who would listen how badly I wanted the internship with Hashable.
Finally, I left NYU and went to the TechCocktail event in Union Square to meet Scott Edward Walker in person and evangelize Hashable amongst those in attendance. Seriously, Scott treated me like family. He reassured me about Hashable, shouted me out when he was announcing the beginning of the event, and gave me the perfect set up over and over again to explain Hashable to different people coming up to him during the night.
It was surreal.
When I got back to Matt Wilson’s apartment late that night, I booked another $65 bus to return home to Rochester at 8:30am the next morning. I’ll let you guess what happened on my ride back home
SECURING MY DREAM INTERNSHIP WITH HASHABLE: IT’S OFFICIAL
The following morning I randomly met a freshman programmer named Matt Hoyle in the Port Authority bus station. We sat together on the bus and I talked about Hashable and showed him a bunch of the blogs I frequent every day. He downloaded the Hashable app on his iPhone and created an account, and 2 hours later I got a call from Jane Kim with an official offer to join my dream startup for the summer. This tweet made it all official:
Woohooo! A big, big Hash-welcome to
@johnexley – our official new summer intern – get ready New York City!!
— Hashable (@Hashable) April 15, 2011
THE EPILOGUE: WHAT I LEARNED FROM CHASING MY DREAM INTERNSHIP
In case you’re too busy to read the entire post, I decided to summarize what I learned about winning your dream internship into 13 lucky lessons:
1] Know and use the product endlessly. Study use-cases and practice explaining the product to non-techie friends.
2] Think of ways you would improve the product if you could.
3] Obsessively study every piece of feedback you can find about the startup, e.g. feedback requests and bug reports on community forums.
4] The startup might say “we’ll follow up with you in…“, but what they probably mean is “if you really want (and deserve) the internship, you’ll earn it by finding a creative way to get back on our radar and follow up with us before it’s too late“.
5] In your interview, explain and show what kind of work you think you could do for them. Also, help prove that they can trust you to be able to do what you say you can do by tying in relevant examples of current or previous projects you’re hustling on.
6] Work hard to help others, and perhaps they will one day be able to endorse your work.
7] Prove you are committed to the startup and/or their space. How? Your tweets, your blog, your activity on Quora, taking the time to detail all of your relevant experience on LinkedIn, etc.
8] The modern startup interview occurs around the clock and in public (with your activity on the web) beginning the moment you first express your interest to intern with the startup. It does not end until the moment you are are given an offer or told “we’re sorry, but…”.
9] Be everywhere you can evangelizing the startup, from offline at conferences and meetups to online via Twitter, commenting on blogs and writing your own, answering or asking relevant questions on Quora, Skyping friends about it, helping new users over email, etc.
10] Be sure to communicate that you are not just interested in interning for the startup, but that you’re also very interested in beginning your career with them if possible.
11] You should be able to create a compelling proposition for what you offer and what they need. So ask lots of questions about the startup, research, and figure out how your skills and passion can tie in.
12] Can you find people who are similarly skilled or who are working similar roles at other startups? It shouldn’t be too difficult nowadays. Try reaching out to them and asking for advice about how they’ve reached their level of success in that role, and share how you’re currently pursuing an internship doing similar things.
13] Try practicing as a point of contact for new and confused users…whether you know them or not. Reach out to them and gather their ideas, feature requests, and bug reports and offer genuinely to help them become a proficient user. Many times your efforts will be public for the startup to see, but you can also offer to move the conversations to email or jump on Skype.
I must point out that I owe Seth Elliott, Brian Shaffer, Eric Stromberg, and Emily Hickey a virtual group hug for pushing me to share this story. Of course, there are many people who I did not name here (ahem, Jeremy Levine) who encouraged me and gave me advice along the way. I am really thankful to them as well!
Now, let the internship journey begin.
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