Tips for Future Interns

For my final post, I’d like to share a few tips for future interns that I have learned from my experience.

  • Communicate with your supervisor.  If you’re ever unsure about how to complete an assignment, ask questions.  It will save you a bunch of time if you ask a question in the beginning and get it right instead of doing the assignment wrong and having to redo the entire thing.  Your supervisor will also see that you are engaged and will be happy to teach you.  Additionally, if you ever need to come into work late or leave early, let your supervisor know at least a day ahead of time.  They will almost always be fine with it; they just want to know beforehand.
  • If you’re bored, ask for more challenging work.  Many supervisors will take a lack of feedback as a positive sign, so if you don’t say anything they will think that you are enjoying your work.  But if you’ve mastered the assignment and need something more intellectually stimulating, be vocal.  Internships aren’t about grunt-work anymore; you should have access to interesting and challenging work.
  • If your internship is in a single department of a larger company, try to make some time to see some other aspects of the business.  Ask your supervisor if you can sit down with someone from a different department for a little bit and get a feel for what they do.  Perhaps see if you can sit in on a interdepartmental or company-wide meeting in order to experience how your work fits into the success of the company as a whole.
  • As you progress through your internship, ask yourself if what you’re doing or what your supervisor is doing sounds like an interesting career path.  If so, ask your supervisor if you can sit in on a couple of his or her meetings.  You’ll get a greater understanding of what your supervisor does in order to make a more informed decision.

The New York Experience

I was born and raised in a suburb of San Francisco called Mill Valley, close enough to the city that I could enjoy many of the opportunities and far enough away that I never felt the strain of city life.  The only other place I’ve lived is at Dickinson, and that has very little in common with living in a city.  While I’ve visited big cities like Boston, Madrid, and Auckland, living in a city is a completely different experience.  That’s why living in New York City for the summer required a little bit of an adjustment period.  The lessons I learned from the experience will continue to help me, especially when I study abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem this coming Fall Semester.

New York has perhaps more things to do per square mile than any city in the country.  If you web-search events for a random day, you’ll find an endless list of opportunities.  Even someone with endless time would have a hard time choosing things to do.  As someone with a time-consuming job, the choices became far more difficult.  With such a huge number of possibilities and not a lot of free time, I quickly became overwhelmed.  The greatest tool available to prevent becoming overwhelmed is organization.  The moderate organization required to be a successful student won’t necessarily hold up in New York City.  I found that planning my days required some serious time and thought.  For the first time in my life, I actually used a calendar to remind me of both commitments and upcoming fun events.

A few days into my stay in New York, I realized that while New York City is brimming with things to do, they aren’t free.  In fact, they were more expensive than anywhere I’d ever been.  A friend in the city had set me up with a side-job to help me pay my bills, but I realized that without some serious planning, I would not be able to afford New York for very long.  I discovered that using an excel budget sheet as well as Mint.com, an online and free financial service website run by the same people who do Quicken, would ensure that I didn’t run out of money throughout the summer.  Additionally, using Groupon and other discount services let me eat at nicer and tastier restaurants than I would have been able to afford otherwise.  I would also like to thank the Dickinson Career Center for the grant that they provided me – without which I wouldn’t have been able to even consider taking an internship away from home.

The most important thing I learned while living in New York City for the summer was self-reliance.  I’ve travelled internationally by myself, I have two years of college under my belt, and I’ve even run my own small business (stringing tennis racket out of my garage), but none of those ventures required the kind of independence that living in a strange city requires.  I knew almost nobody in New York; I had no parents to provide support, no structure of a school to fall back on, and I was living with complete strangers.  And after two and a half months, I discovered that I was completely capable of shopping, cooking, and providing for myself.  The lessons I learned from this experience make me confident in my ability to succeed in my semester abroad.

Some Things I’ve Learned

In no particular order, here are a few things I’ve learned from my internship at MyClean.com:

  • Customer service is incredibly important.  People will often forgive subpar service if they can easily talk to a real person.  Talking someone through their problem and working with them to create a solution will often lead to a life-long customer.  On the other hand, people will get fed up with poor customer service even if the product they receive is excellent.
  • Hiring the right people slowly, even if it means putting a hold on growth for a short period of time, is preferable to quickly hiring unqualified people.  Employees who do less than quality work will lose a company business.  Better to wait until you have the right people so that the customers you gain, you keep.
  • Connections are a start-up’s best friends.  You can write a hundred emails and make a hundred phone calls to a company that might be able to write something positive about your business, but chances are good that they’re getting the same thing from similar companies.  Utilize the people you know to see if you can help each other out.  If you vouch for your business to a person you know (assuming you have a good relationship with the person), they are much more likely to trust that you’re doing good work and deserve a positive review.
  • Spending money on clients will usually pay off, but know when to cut your losses.  If a customer complains, offering discounts or a free service can make them a client for life.  The money you spend on the discount will be earned back quickly if they continue to use your service.  However, sometimes the company has to fire the client.  Some people try to get continuous free service by making a complaint and seeming “satisfied” with an offer for another discount.
  • The traditional forms of advertising are dying.  Newspaper, radio, and TV ads have their place, but almost never with a startup.  You can advertise on social media for free by creating a page and sending out daily messages and coupons – give out enough free stuff and people will start to listen.  For many types of businesses, Yelp reviews are the best form of advertising because each post is an independent testimonial.  If a customer tells you that you’ve done an excellent job, politely ask them if they would review your company online.

The Perils of Growth

If you talk to the CEO of any startup, he or she will tell you that the company’s main goal is expansion.  Depending on the type of company this can mean a number of things: expansion of the number of clientele, expansion of the number of units sold, expansion of the company into additional markets, or countless other growth goals.  Expansion means more profit potential, which means more investors, which means more expansion – a good startup will be able to turn growth into a positive cycle in order to create a successful company with long-term profits.

When you look at companies like Facebook, McDonalds, or Walmart, growth seems inevitable if you offer a valued product.  It’s easy to forget the companies that fall by the wayside because they made small mistakes along the way.  Here are a few mistakes companies have made attempting to push their way to growth:

  • Decline of product quality: One the greatest business declines in the history of the United States was that of the American automobile industry.  This collapse occurred for a lot of reasons, but a large factor was the drop in quality of American cars across the board – especially when compared to their European or Japanese counterparts.  As a result, U.S. car companies suffered negative growth, and in 2010, the United States suffered a $110 Billion automobile trade deficit with the rest of the world.
  • Expanding too quickly: In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the tech bubble allowed numerous companies to grow exponentially.  Some companies, like Amazon, were able to support this growth through solid enough infrastructure to brave the storm when the bubble burst.  Other companies, like Pets.com, spent millions on advertising and development of a brand without stopping to make sure that their business model was sustainable.  When the tech boom ended, so did Pets.com.
  • Expanding through debt instead of investors: Swiss Air has become synonymous with the struggles of the airline industry since the end of the 20th century.  In the early 1990’s, Swiss Airlines attempted to grow by leveraging themselves into debt.  When profits dried up for airlines following 9/11, Swiss Air was forced into bankruptcy. In the words of Warren Buffett, “How do you become a millionaire?  Make a billion dollars and then buy and airline.”

Like most startups, MyClean is attempting to generate growth without falling into these traps.  The product MyClean offers is a high quality clean, so our Vice President of Operations has developed a scalable plan – affectionately named MyClean Boot Camp – to train cleaners to provide a high quality and replicable clean.  Someday our CEO would like MyClean to be the household name for cleaning companies just like Kleenex is for tissues.  However, his goal is to grow the business substantially in New York City before expanding to other markets.  Finally, many of the MyClean founders worked for banks during the last financial crisis before starting MyClean, so they recognize the importance of bringing in investors instead of going into debt in order to grow the business.

If you want to check out the services offered by MyClean, head over to www.myclean.com.

Creativity in the Workplace

At about 11:30am on Monday I felt like I needed something to push me into gear for the rest of the day, so I decided to go get a cup of coffee.

“Anybody need anything?  I’m making a coffee run,” I announced.

“Airheads.  Get me a big bag of airheads.”

While that might seem like an unusual request for those familiar with more formal businesses, I found it perfectly normal and wrote it down without missing a beat.

One of the things I most enjoy about working at MyClean is the casual office environment.  Everyone is under forty and we’re all very friendly, so we joke around, ask questions, and share stories with each other.  That isn’t to say that we don’t take our work seriously; the staff here often works twelve hour days to make sure business keeps expanding and clients receive the best service possible.  The office isn’t stuffy or stifling, but rather a place where a relaxed attitude is placed at a premium.

In an expanding company, this sort of office environment is the right prescription for creativity, especially since our target clientele are younger.  JP Morgan looks to attract older, more serious individuals that have money to invest, and nobody in their right mind would entrust their money to a company whose employees didn’t appear serious about their jobs.  Google, on the other hand, appeals to the younger, less conservative generation who care less about business suits and more about cool-looking home pages.  Could you ever imagine a bank or a law firm creating a custom logo to commemorate interesting events?  Yet Google does this dozens of times per year; for the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge back on May 27th, they changed their home-page logo for the day to this awesome image on the right.

An example of the way this pro-alternative office environment has manifested is in the construction of the office itself.  While most companies subscribe to the conventional office layout – some combination of standard desks, cubicles, and offices depending on rank within the company – growing companies catering to younger markets are now trending towards innovative office designs.  (Check out this article on some of the cooler office layouts: http://positivesharing.com/2006/10/10-seeeeeriously-cool-workplaces/)  The theory behind these awesome offices is that if the architecture is creative, then the people who work there will also be creative.  Perhaps this is why companies of this sort also tend to offer unbelievable perks in the office; if employees are de-stressed and enjoy their time at work, they will come up with more creative ideas.

This sort of attitude only works given the right circumstances.  In a business in which pure results are the defining characteristic (e.g. number of hours billed, number of securities sold), having an office environment that encourages taking time off to get your juices flowing is not necessarily conducive to success.  However, if a business (like MyClean) requires growth of the brand, and clients are gained and retained because they like the business’ creative output, then a little bit of time spent telling a joke or sharing a story isn’t a sacrifice to productivity at all.

MyClean has rededicated itself to creative marketing and branding since I have started my internship.  We are constantly thinking of new ways to engage our clientele and bring in new customers through fun and interactive campaigns.  We send out emails for goofy holidays, partner with other fun companies for contests and giveaways, and attend events and parades as an office.  We will also be moving from our somewhat cramped current office to a much roomier location in the next couple of weeks.  Hopefully, this move will keep our creativity flowing.  Check out our website for updates on future creative projects: www.myclean.com.

P.S. Here’s an awesome info-graphic on the perks that various companies offer: http://mashable.com/2011/10/17/google-fa…

4th of July and Branding

I am incredibly lucky to be in New York City this summer, and spending the Fourth of July here helped to reinforce that feeling.  I met up with five of my cousins as well as my Aunt from Israel in Hoboken, New Jersey.  There, I spent time with my cousin and his wife’s two-year-old twins Leo and Annabelle.  They are beautiful, joyful children and I was so happy to play with them for the day.

One of my cousins works for Michael Kors in their marketing department, and I discussed my internship with her after dinner.  As we walked out to the balcony to watch the fireworks, I noticed that the barges from which the fireworks launched had large “Macy’s” logos on them.  I asked her why Macy’s might sponsor Fourth of July fireworks even though it’s not a big shopping holiday, and she explained that it’s all about branding.

Macy’s sponsors a number of holiday events in order to be known as America’s store for the holidays.  Some of them make commercial sense: sponsoring the Thanksgiving Parade reminds people of where to shop the day before Black Friday, the largest consumer day of the year.  However, by sponsoring the Independence Day fireworks, Macy’s brands itself as THE American company for all American holidays.

I found this an interesting comparison, as a large part of my job as an intern with MyClean is to work with the rest of the staff on branding.  It would be easy to categorize us as just a cleaning company, but it’s important to show that we’re more than that.  We improve life for home and office owners by taking cleaning and making it one less thing they have to worry about.  In this way, we portray ourselves as a lifestyle company – one that fits with whatever style of life you choose.

The importance of branding cannot be overemphasized.  Creating a positive and professional image for current and potential clients is essential for a successful business.  Our cleaners could do excellent jobs every time, but if they don’t look and act professionally while at each job, they won’t be hired back.  That’s why we give our cleaners clean and sharp-looking polo shirts to wear and put them through a strict training process to teach them proper on-the-job conduct.  Our website could be perfectly plain and functional, but an enticing site with fun and engaging content will bring in many more customers.  Check it out at: http://www.myclean.com/

As I sat on my cousin’s balcony surrounded by family and watched the fireworks in the sky, it all clicked.  Macy’s sponsors the fireworks because they’ve branded themselves as a part of my wonderful day.  At MyClean, we work to associate ourselves with the relief that comes with having your apartment or office professionally cleaned.  As for this summer, I guess you could say that Dickinson has branded itself as a part of this incredible experience.  The grant they awarded me has helped me afford to live in this exciting city for the summer.

The Importance of Small Jobs

In a growing business, even small jobs make a huge impact.  This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned so far at my internship, and is the reason why even our CEO takes on tasks that executives at other businesses might scoff at.

One of the most crucial aspects to my job is to man the phones.  I’m usually second in line for a call behind Danielle; if she’s already engaged, I become the face of the company.  Most clients call in order to ask questions about what we offer, schedule or reschedule appointments, or leave reviews of our cleaners.  It’s a fairly small task with almost no glamor, but I recently learned that picking up the phone answering basic questions has earned our company more than the intended amount of positive feedback.

A week ago a woman scheduled a clean with us for her apartment.  She was unsure of what service to purchase from us, so I helped her decide and scheduled her appointment for her.  A day later, she called again and asked for us to reschedule her appointment, so I made the change.  After the clean, she called again to give her comments on the clean and to ask for help with our online service, so I walked her through as far as I knew and then transferred her to my manager when my knowledge ran out.  All in all, I fulfilled my duties and left the customer happy with our services: a job well done.

It turns out that this customer was a writer for a widely read New York City blog.  As a result of the service that she received both from the cleaner and from our office, she wrote an exceptionally positive review of our company that has attracted a large number of new long-term clients.

Here’s the link to the review: http://www.nyctaughtme.com/2012/06/cleaning-house-nobody-can-do-everything.html.

What started out as just covering the phones and answering client questions turned into thousands of dollars of new revenue for the company.  Even small jobs make a huge impact.

For more information on what MyClean does, check out www.myclean.com.

MyClean: An Overview

Welcome readers to my summer internship blog!  This summer I am working at a small tech startup called MyClean.  This company fits well into a niche market: they provide a high quality cleaning service that customers can book online.  The cleaners are insured, so customers don’t have to worry about theft or injury, and the service is hassle free.  So far the business has expanded to the point where there are usually at least sixty appointments per day.  In just two short years, the company is already experiencing a profit.  With 25 cleaners currently on staff and more being hired every day, MyClean is preparing for major growth.  But in the office, it’s just the CEO, the technology guy, one of the founders, the VP of Operations, the Head of Client Relations, and me.  The six of us run this company for the summer.

The CEO, Mike Scharf, takes on a huge role as the head of a growing company with minimal upper level staff.  He’s in charge of the company’s financial future and therefore must act as the CFO as well, managing MyClean’s books and making sure that our incoming cash flow is always greater than what we send out the door.  He manages all of the other employees in the office, making the final say on issues ranging from improving the website to offering Yelp discounts.  His most active job is securing large accounts; whenever a commercial or large residential location wants MyClean to bid on cleaning their property, Mike goes out and meets with them personally.  Later in the summer I will be going with Mike to a few of these meetings.  Finally, because this is a small company, when Mike is in the office, he answers the phones just like any of us when we’re busy or not there.  In this environment, there is no job too small for anyone in the office.

The technology guy, the founder who comes to the office, the VP of Operations, and the Head of Client Relations all have much more focused roles.  Justin, the tech guy, works continuously to upgrade our website and make our software more effective.  The founder spends most of his time Kenny, our VP of Operations is in charge of hiring and firing cleaners and making sure that those who work for us are as thorough as possible.  Danielle, our Head of Client Relations, is in charge of all smaller quotes, answers any questions that potential and current customers have, makes sure that all client complaints are dealt with properly.

That leaves me, the intern, with lots of room to take hold of major projects and run with them.  While I was brought on to run the advertising and marketing campaign for the summer, this responsibility takes up only a small part of my time since most of our new business comes in through referrals or online reviews.  I have also taken on the job of organizing the schedule of cleaners every day, a project that is essentially a huge puzzle; certain clients request certain cleaners, certain cleaners are allergic to pets, and all cleaners need at least a half hour between appointments for transportation, but we have only a certain number of cleaner-hours in the day for a fairly large number of clients that need to be serviced.

I have taken on a number of other jobs, big and small, and will continue to work on challenging assignments and seek out new opportunities to expand my skill set.  Throughout the rest of the summer I will be updating this blog with specifics and stories about my internship, so keep a lookout for new posts.  I’d also like to thank Dickinson for providing me with a substantial grant that has subsidized the cost of interning in New York City.  If not for the grant, I would be back in San Francisco without an internship, so I appreciate this opportunity.