If I had to sum up my startup experience in three words: freedom, frustration and fun. In a team of just three people, your input is not just accepted but desired; something needs to be changed, it is up to you to change it, and you can see your decisions bring direct results – for better or for worse!
Startups seldom make it onto big recruitment days or careers fairs, lacking both personnel and resources to ship HR off around the country to sound the great depths of the UK university talent pool.
So when I applied for a Marketing and Operations internship at TempaGoGo, I embodied the cliché of ‘not knowing what to expect’. My knowledge of 19th century French novelists was pretty decent, but as to digital advertising and data analysis, I hadn’t the foggiest.
In a nutshell, TempaGoGo is an online aggregator of recruitment agencies. Instead of picking up the phone, clients can use our online platform and hire temporary workers for their projects in fewer than five minutes.
When I arrived, my two colleagues – a lovely husband and wife duo, Caroline and Phil Pegden – had already developed the business as far as possible. The only problem was how to tell people about their brainchild, and that’s where I came in – thanks to the generous support of the Santander SME programme.
My core function is to bump TempaGoGo up the Google rankings. If you consider that only 1 in 4 internet users bothers to click onto the second page of results, it is of paramount importance to keep your name up as high as you can.
To do this, I need to be constantly active, creating new and unique content about our brand and wider industry trends. This means reaching out to specialised websites in our field (generally construction, transport and admin) and proposing guest articles for their blogs.
Writing fresh content every day means research, research, research. Nobody likes to sound like a broken record, so I’m often busy searching for the latest scalps from Twitter or big players such as the REC (Recruitment & Employment Confederation).
I’ve learned that you have to produce semi-decent content, but perhaps more important is the manner in which you approach potential hosts, and specifically, how to chase them up. If I haven’t emailed a website administrator at least three times, I haven’t tried hard enough – it’s astonishing how far persistence alone will get you.
However, it’s not all about sitting behind a (brand new – thanks Phil) computer! As one third of the whole business, my ideas carry far more weight than perhaps they might elsewhere. When choosing whether to put money into display ads or radio campaigns, marketing consultants or sponsored blogs, I am able to push my line of reasoning and see tangible changes.
Sometimes, it can feel like you’re on The Apprentice! Last week, for instance, we were all sat down with blank notepads trying to draw adverts and thrash out straplines. The only think missing was a scowling Nick Hewer, disgusted with our double entendres.
As a small company, you have to deal with frustration and rejection on a daily basis. Newspapers and larger companies are well-versed in fobbing you off, or more often, simply ignoring you. Sometimes, a witty advert that you thought would definitely release the floodgates once and for all turns out to be a damp squib, or more precisely, leads to no orders.
How do you ‘know’ when an advert fails? Or, more positively, when a blog post proves to be a hit or how a seemingly small tinkering to the website can bring in more visitors?
It’s all about data analysis, and it is impossible to understate its importance. Perhaps the most important ‘hard skill’ I have learnt, the ability to read trends into data is what drives future decisions. The world of advertising and brand awareness, it turns out, is not all bluff and bluster.
Specifically, I have been taught how to negotiate Google Analytics and Adwords. Following an intense training session with Phil, I now know exactly how much people have read each one of our blog posts – and this helps me decide what to write about next. Just last week, I crunched the numbers and found out a disproportionately large number of people used our platform to search for receptionists – so I duly wrote an article for our blog detailing exactly what qualities recruiters should look for in their front desk staff.
If pressed about the most valuable aspect of the programme, I would have to say the way it forces you to become proficient in such a wide range of domains. To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to gain a passing knowledge of just about everything from coding to cold calls. Or as Caroline so deftly puts it, you have to be a ‘Jackie of all trades’!
On a more intimate level, working with a couple of entrepreneurs to help make real their startup dream is an intensely rewarding experience. You feel part of their journey – not just a disinterested bystander in a faceless corporation.
Moving forward, I am adamant this internship will stand me in good stead for future business prospects. Hard skills learned include familiarity with WordPress and Numbers, as well as entry level experience in the fields of marketing, advertising and business etiquette. Recruitment agencies don’t enjoy the most salubrious reputation, so you develop something of a thicker skin in that regard!
Perhaps what working for TempaGoGo has taught me most is the ‘soft’ values of creativity and perseverance. I won’t repeat the maxim about 99% perspiration, but there is a strong element of truth in it – never give up on a lead. If some poor editor receives 500 submissions a day, then you’re not going to get through first time. Don’t take it personally, try again and broaden your enquiries, maybe using Linkedin or Facebook.
I would be very interested to hear from other graduates who have chanced their arm in the world of startups – does my experience sound at all familiar?
This article was initially published on the blog of the Cambridge University Judge Business School Entrepreneurship Centre.