Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What's an intern?

What's an intern? Silly question, right? Not so. It really means something different to everyone you talk to. The "traditional" internship is 8 weeks, over the summer, at a big firm, and the intern is typically in between their junior and senior year of college. But we can tell you as the owners of a site with the word "intern" in the name, that we haven't seen a single job like that posted, so something must have changed. The economy has put a lot of people not only out of work, but in career transition, as well as in limbo after college or grad school. In addition, the growth in online universities has made higher education accessible to the masses, enabling people of all ages and backgrounds to gain additional skill sets.  Social media has made it possible to build an entire business based on free online marketing, and it doesn't take an advanced degree to execute on that strategy. And non-Fortune 500 businesses need help more than ever. Essentially, it's the perfect time for small busineses to find part-time, flexible help. Call them interns or call them George, but they're multiplying, and not in the ways we saw 10 years ago when this girl interned at Arthur Andersen (aka happy hour every day! Should have known the place was doomed.)

Today, interns can be anything from apprentices, to admins, to research analysts, to PR people, to sales people.  They can be in college, post-graduation, or experienced professionals with years under their belt. They can work on site, virtually, or somewhere in between (i.e., once a week in-person check-ins with the rest of the time being solo.)  They can have set hours or a flexible schedule. They can work at a sole proprietorship, a mid-sized firm, or a large public company.  The rules have changed.  Thousands of Urban Interns await you.

Lauren Porat
Urban Interns

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ultra Light Startups - Great Networking for Entrepreneurs

When starting a new business everyone tells you to network, network, network.  “Be out there,” “meet people,” – call it what you may, but the truth is that as the Founders of an early stage company, a VERY large part of our job right now is selling the concept of Urban Interns and building our brand.  While you can fill every minute of your calendar with networking events, quickly learned it’s more about quality of affiliations than quantity.  We deliberately keep our list of organizations and affiliations short.  That said, Ultra Light Startups, started by Graham Lawlor, continues to be one of our favorites.

What is Ultra Lights Startups? “It’s a group Ultra Light Startups is a group of technology entrepreneurs who collaborate online and in-person to help each other launch startups quicker and cheaper.” 

Okay, so what does that mean? It means that month after month, Graham fills a room of early stage entrepreneurs, all of whom have at least some tech component to their businesses (and who doesn’t these days, right?) to meet, connect and listen to a panel of experts speaking about a cutting edge topic relevant to today’s start-up environment.   The first Ultra Light event we attended was on employment-related business models. In the last few months, he’s also had events based on twitter-based business models, bootstrapping a startup and monetizing online video.  The event starts with an opportunity to do a brief pitch about your company, and dedicated networking (and pizza!) midway through.  All this for $10, $20, or $30 per event, depending on whether you pitch, don’t pitch, or pay at the door.

Graham told us the other day that he began ULS because he was tossing around a number of business ideas and wanted to bring together like minded entrepreneurs, also in their early days, and looking for peers to discuss business ideas and challenges.  Why “Ultra Light” (or pre-funding) as a requirement to pitch at ULS? Because Graham also believes that an entrepreneurs first job is to focus on building a profitable business, not to run out and secure funding.  There are a lot of resources available for later stage companies.  ULS is very unique in its focus on the earlier stage ones.

Why do we like ULS and continue to go back? Great info from the panels, a collegial environment and we never know where the connections will lead.   As a business that focuses on serving small businesses, we’ve gotten a great response from the ULS crowd—who needs an affordable extra set of hands more  than entrepreneurs?

ULS has chapters in New York, Boston and London. Their next event on August 6 is on Local Business Models. More info here: http://ultralightstartups.com/newyork/









Sunday, July 12, 2009

Laurel Touby, MediaBistro Founder, Shares Insights on Entrepreneurship

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend a Q&A with Laurel Touby, Founder of MediaBistro, courtesy of the Columbia Business School Women’s Entrepreneurship Network.  Laurel is a total powerhouse, having grown her company from 1994 when she started hosting cocktail parties to meet people, to selling it for $23 mm to Jupiter Media in 2007).  So many great tidbits about entrepreneurship were shared.  Below is a sampling:
  • On how to grow a business through networking: You can get someone who would normally not open an email to open an invitation
  • On product: listen to your customers – they have the BEST ideas
  • On funding: build an audience and a revenue stream before approaching investors
  • On the CEO being the brand: if you’re too integral to your business, you can never sell it.  You can set the culture but the biz should live without you.
  • On growing from local to national: let your customers do your advertising for you
  • On hiring: Hire slowly.  Fire fast.
  • On being a female CEO: A female CEO will always be the “mean mommy”.  You can’t please everyone all of the time, so don’t sweat it.
  • On accepting who you are: There are 2 types of CEOs: inward-facing and outward-facing.  The former knows the numbers, the operations, the metrics.  The latter talks to press, customers etc.  Hire for whatever you’re not.
  • On technology: don’t be afraid to ASK your tech people to explain in laymen’s terms how things work and demand that they come up with creative ways to solve problems.  There’s always a way. [ed. note: when I worked at IAC, the Expedia guys, who were really the Microsoft guys, would always say “it’s just software.” So true.]
  • On surviving the recession: conserve cash. Show up at your customers’ doors to get paid. Come up with new products.
  • On competition: once you get a foothold in your space, it’s harder than you think to knock you down.
Comments welcome!


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Recession Start-Up Phenomenon

Urban Interns is a recession start-up.  And according to the Kauffman Foundation study released in the middle of June entitled  “Economic Future Just Happened”, we are also part of a rich tradition of entrepreneurship that stems from down markets. 

From the release:

“more than half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list were launched during a recession or bear market, along with nearly half of the firms on the 2008 Inc. list of America’s fastest-growing companies…job creation from startup companies proving to be less volatile and sensitive to downturns when compared to the overall economy.”

While the perceived weakness of competition and unemployment are cited as factors contributing to the “recession start-up” phenomenon, we personally find the “why” to tell only a small part of the story. From our experience and our observation of others also in recession start-up mode, why we chose our current path is yesterday’s news. What’s much interesting is seeing how people are surviving these times and finding ways to thrive.

We’ve seen some businesses using this time to re-invest in themselves and refine their brand and positioning. Others are diversifying their revenue streams, while other are choosing this time to circle around an area of focus.  In other words, the strategies are all over the board. The common themes? Creativity, perseverance, resourcefulness and optimism.  And while the vast majority of us may not wind up on the Fortune 500 or Inc List (though believe us, the Urban Interns team is trying!) history teaches us that many of us that although somewhat counterintuitive, many of us can use these times to grow and prosper.  Additionally, the rapid growth in small business is a major driver in job creation.  Now that’s some good news we all can use.

What about you? Do these economic times have you reaching for the stars or burying your head in the sand? Leave a comment--- we’d love to hear from you.

Cari Sommer
Urban Interns