I sat in Greg’s office about four months ago, basking in our shared vision of Yalla as a SaaS giant.
“We’ll be everywhere,” he fantasized. “Everyone will start using Yalla in college. Their professors will require it for class. And they’ll love it, so when they graduate and get their first job…”
“They’ll tell their boss about it, and everyone will use it at their office!” I finished.
Our plan for market domination through higher education was brilliant (we thought). It also relied on interns. We needed college-aged people to pitch Yalla to students and professors. So I posted some internship listings, reached out to some marketing departments and got to work finding our crew. They worked for Lemonade Stand, our sister company, and helped market the application. Not bad for real-world experience, right?
Four months later, I can say with confidence that our brilliant plan didn’t work out. It turns out Blackboard – which we had hoped to replace – is too deeply entrenched in higher education, with multimillion dollar contracts lasting years at the university system level.
It also turns out most college students don’t care about collaboration software. As I’ve since explained to Greg, “They either make a note to do something on their phone or they just remember it, because they’re young and full of synapses.”
That’s not to say the internship idea failed. In fact, I’m happy to say our internship program was an amazing success. In just a few months, the interns (Amanda, Jonathan and Balin) helped us sharpen our focus for Yalla. In return, we taught them about digital marketing and gave them a chance to get some experience in the industry.
Here are some lessons we learned through our first formal internship program.
-Don’t be afraid to pivot. Near the end of our program – when it was clear our “Yalla for education” idea wouldn’t get off the ground – we decided to scrap it. We were having some success with Twitter and content marketing, so we asked the interns: “Hey, would you be willing to drop everything you’ve done and work on this instead?”
I expected a revolt, but they loved the idea. They created new Twitter accounts and started spreading the word about Yalla. A couple of them even wrote posts about lessons to learn from their experiences, which you’ll see on this blog over the coming weeks.
Now I only wish we had abandoned our initial idea sooner. The internship program gave us the extra people power to actually test our idea, realize it didn’t work, and move on.
-Hire for enthusiasm. We were lucky to have a big pool of talented students from local schools apply to intern with Lemonade Stand. The interns we hired had impressive resumes and a good mix of skills. But their enthusiasm is what got them the job.
All three of the interns asked a lot of questions about Yalla when we first interviewed them. They were eager to start marketing the application to their peers. At our regular training sessions on various aspects of digital marketing, they showed a real interest in the topics.
Just remember – you can teach someone how to do what’s required, but only if they’re willing to learn. When you’re looking for interns, prioritize enthusiasm and curiosity above just about everything else.
-Expect to learn as much as you teach. Okay, so we taught these interns a little bit about marketing a product. We showed them the value of content marketing and sharing others’ work on social media. And they’ve now got a sense of how a digital marketing agency works.
But what did we learn from them? Let’s see…We got truckloads of valuable feedback about how millennials see Yalla – both from the interns and the people they talked to. We learned our grand marketing strategy wouldn’t work for our product. And we renewed our faith in American youth. (Seriously, though – our interns are awesome.)
Internships are a great way to bring in outside feedback on your business model or application. They’re great for testing strategies or marketing channels employees don’t have time to focus on. Most importantly, they give a student real experience that should help them land a job after graduation. I’m excited to choose our next round of interns soon. Which reminds me – if you know anybody, send them my way.