Fresh off a successful tour with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, I jumped right into my next adventure: working at Instrumental as a Business Development Intern.
Instrumental creates a combined hardware and software system that solves a critical blind spot in manufacturing: lack of access to insights on the assembly line. Because of archaic data systems that require engineers to shuttle back and forth to factories every time something goes wrong, companies waste billions in time and resources when creating new products. As a B2B company tackling a secretive industry, Instrumental presented new challenges for me to engage.
Over the past few months, I’ve been given the rare opportunity to work at and help shape a startup on the cusp of exponential growth. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my Business Development Internship at Instrumental.
Know your deadlines and responsibilities
A big project I took on this summer was executing a major marketing campaign. Since I was the entire Marketing department (among other things), I was responsible for designing and executing a campaign by myself, including gathering the necessary materials, building a special online landing page, and completing everything by the hard deadline of August 21st, 2017.
The campaign I chose was centered around the “Great American Eclipse”; I worked with the Sales and Operations teams to create a list of hundreds of people who would be gifted a personalized card, an Instrumental swag sticker, and a pair of eclipse glasses so they could safely watch the eclipse. From buying ISO-certified glasses direct from a certified seller to painstakingly ensuring that I was sending the packages to the right addresses, each bullet point was checked off the list. In parallel to the physical marketing strategy, I attempted to make #eyesontheline a hashtag that would be associated with Instrumental on social media.
By keeping track of deadlines, I obtained eclipse glasses long before they became a scare commodity, and kicked off the campaign a couple weeks before the eclipse for maximum relevancy. My eclipse glasses did start appearing on social media, and I’m hopeful that some potential customers I reached out to will become regular customers in the near future.
Another task I took on was curating content for Instrumental’s blog, Manufacturing Intelligence. This was a mix of working through articles Instrumental’s founders had written, intern blog posts co-written with fellow interns Geoff and Juan, and content writing featuring ideas relevant to Instrumental. The revision process for these articles was lengthy, looking at the finest details and checking them for accuracy with the most knowledgeable members at Instrumental. For one post where I compared machine learning with standard computer vision techniques, I took time to sit face-to-face with Anna (CEO of Instrumental, and my boss), developing ideas for non-confidential graphics that would provide a high-level view of how these techniques work. These graphics, and the content they illustrated, were then peer-reviewed by our resident ML/Deep Learning expert, Simon, who went back and forth with me on how to accurately word technical details, especially when discussing Instrumental’s anomaly detection technology.
Being meticulous does not necessarily mean arguing over synonyms, but it does involve striving for the best quality possible to represent yourself and the organization that you are an integral part of. In all my projects, I did multiple run-throughs to catch glaring mistakes and iteratively improve quality.
Ask (and answer) “Why?”
One conversation I had with Anna sticks out prominently in my memory. We were discussing an experiment I wanted to set up, and I was very focused on explaining the different tests we could run, things we could measure, different baselines we could use, and so on. At a certain point, Anna replied, “Can you answer ‘Why?’ I’m definitely on board with trying this, but why should we focus on testing X instead of Z? What’s your rationale?”
When planning a new project, know how to clearly articulate why your project is important. I was able to verbally explain the “why” for this particular experiment, but I made sure to explicitly add a “why” statement in all future project drafts. Taking the time to answer this question helps focus the scope of a project, solidifying its importance for an aspect of a company’s goals, and makes it a lot easier to communicate your thoughts to colleagues.
You never know what skills come in handy
Going into this internship, I knew certain skills would come in handy: an analytics/econometrics background, different writing styles, experience with B2B. Over the summer, I drew on skills from my entire college experience and beyond: mechanical engineering (building hardware systems by hand); economic modeling (thinking about how to position a B2B manufacturing/software company relative to competitors); machine learning (understanding enough about Instrumental’s industry niche to write technical articles); educational philosophy (friendly lunch arguments over improving U.S. education systems). I even spent some time doing video production, where familiarity with a camera, a tripod, and iMovie turned a few interviews into lots of content to draw upon, including Instrumental’s first video customer testimonial!
Reflect and revise cultural values
In the middle of my internship, Instrumental went on a short retreat to reflect on its existence so far. Even though we weren’t full-time employees, interns were invited to offer our insights into Instrumental’s culture.
By the end of the retreat, I was even more impressed with the amazing colleagues I had at Instrumental. Taking time away from actively building products and reaching out to potential customers is always a difficult choice to make, especially for a young startup, but I think that this was the right choice at the right time. After a couple days of introspective insights into the company’s ethos – interspersed with pool parties, cooking meals together, and a very memorable game of sardines – I felt that Instrumental was poised to maintain a healthy, comfortable, food-and-pun-filled culture, even as it doubles in size over the next few months. Given contemporary case studies about horrific company cultures within major Silicon Valley startups, I was very thankful to play a part in making sure that Instrumental proactively plans for the company that it wants to become.
Overall, I had a good summer tackling many roles and responsibilities at Instrumental. Now, on to Senior Year!