How I Built My Startup with Only Interns and What it Taught Me

I think there are very few businesses where you get to live your own product and service as long and as deep as a customer as I did at Internshala.

For the first 2 years, entire team (except me) was made up of about 15 remote interns who handled everything from content, sales, Ops, social media, to tech. Yes, ours was a truly of the interns, by the interns and for the interns setup :).internsOther than making for an awesome sales pitch, giving product insights; the experience also taught me what it takes to run a successful internship program at a startup.

1. The right mindset

If you think of interns as just interns, or even worse as cheap or free labor; you will dilute down every aspect of it, right from hiring to mentoring. And the output would be no different.On the other hand, if you realize that interns are the first team that you will have before the first team & treat them accordingly; you will be surprised at the wonders they will do for you.

I could write a book on number of times interns at Internshala have given professionals run for money; for now, I would like to share the picture of our new office wall designed and painted by our interns.

2. A strong mentor.

Interns have limited/no prior professional experience which means first couple of weeks require deeper and patient hand holding which is possible only if you enjoy teaching and mentoring. Unless you (or someone in your team) is willing to take on the responsibility of an intern’s learning outcome, it may end up as a frustrating experience for both the parties.

3. A rigorous selection process.

Because you are just a start-up and she is just an intern, shouldn’t mean any less stringent hiring. Assess for cultural fit and always give an assignment or two before saying yes to ensure sincerity. Also check on logistics (availability, duration, commute, relocation etc.) as prospective interns often underestimate these and over commit.

4. Set the ground rules on day 1.

Educate them on basic etiquette expected in a professional set up; don’t assume they should know it because you knew it when you were their age. For ex. I tell my interns to send a daily task list at the start of the day (helps bring accountability) and drop me a text if they are running late.

5. Let them loose.

If you get the hiring part right, you will spend less time micro-managing them. Trust your interns with creative freedom & bigger responsibilities and allow room for mistakes; they learn really fast and can work incredibly hard for anything they feel ownership of.

6. Your Internship Program will change over time.

We started with part time remote interns working for 1 or 2 months, then full time in-office 2 month interns, and now we hire only 6 month interns. As the business grows, it is important to understand which parts of the business need interns and which roles require full time staffing as else transitions can become difficult to manage.

7. Be ready for bad days.

Yes, there have been times when selected interns have not shown up or the performance has been below par but I take them in the same stride as when a full time hire drops out or leaves after 2 months of training or an expected sale goes sour – part of life at a start-up :).

As a whole, as long as we have followed points above, we have always had great experience with our interns and they have made tremendous positive contribution to Internshala story.

8. Pay your interns.

Always. Right from day one. A stipend goes a long way in ensuring commitment and accountability from both the sides. Plus, this extra financial pressure would help you try harder to figure out a revenue model or do sales – both essential for survival.

There is no set rule on how much should the stipend be (keep it fair); we paid Rs. 2.5K/month to remote part time interns, Rs. 5K/month to remote full time interns, and now pay Rs. 12,000/p.m to full time in-office interns.

Hope this helps, would love to hear more stories of your experience with interns in comments!

[About the author : Sarvesh Agrawal is founder & CEO of Internshala, a platform for hiring interns.]

NextBigWhat invites founders and doers to share their insights with the readers. Do connect with us :

  1. Sarvesh, Thanks for :

    1. Validating my business model (doing the same with my marketing agency)
    2. Providing me awesome interns via internshala

    Cheers. Owe you a beer!

  2. That’s really inspirational article I have seen, everyone with plans of startup in mind must follow these steps to get success. I am sharing this article in my circle. Really thanks again.

Leave a Reply

Sign Up for NextBigWhat Newsletter