1. Startup Journey

On Interning at EmailOctopus

I rehearse my opening line one more time for good measure. Wiping away a bead of nervous sweat, I open the office door and walk in for my interview. Just like that, I forget everything I needed and wanted to say. Perhaps the most adorable dog – Alfie – jumps at me, wraps his paws around my leg, and I stand there, overwhelmed.

I think this particular moment in time nicely foreshadowed, and now perfectly encapsulates, my entire experience at EmailOctopus: nothing was as it seemed. Interning at a fast-growing startup, I felt that each day brought about its own playful surprises that were simultaneously challenging and thought provoking. The culture, the people, and the business itself turned out to be as relaxed, enthusiastic, and unconventional as Alfie was that very day.

Yes, we’re using socks as gloves to handle the BBQ

I had many opportunities throughout my eight weeks at EmailOctopus to step out of my comfort zone and discover things I wouldn’t have otherwise. With the generous help of Tom, Jonathan, and Ben, I was able to contribute back to the company in the best way I can. For that, I’m so thankful.

I was responsible for assisting EmailOctopus expand its consumer base, engage its existing users, and acquire new paying customers. However, before I could even begin executing the appropriate marketing strategies needed to achieve those goals, I had take a step back and think deeply about who we’re actually targeting. Through a mix of quantitative and qualitative research, I created a customer profile that would help us better understand not just the behavior of our ideal customer, but also the values he holds and the challenges he faces on a day-to-day basis. From there, it was much easier for me to recognize what EmailOctopus needs to continue doing well in, what we need to improve on, and where our unique opportunities lie. This allowed us to streamline our marketing initiatives for the next 2 months and to make sure we receive positive returns on our advertising investments.

Nevertheless, all this thorough planning caught me a little off guard. I didn’t expect marketing to involve this much grunt work. I think that contemporary media (e.g. Mad Men) sometimes distorts our perception of what marketing is really like. Yes, you do get to work on all the fun stuff like creating advertisement campaigns or coming up with fancy slogans. But it’s also about spending enormous amounts of effort researching, analyzing, and evaluating data. By doing just that, I’ve realized it’s this willingness to go the extra mile that separates the mediocre and successful marketers apart.

However, this never felt like a chore to me. In fact, it was an eye-opening experience. When I took time out of my day to learn more about the EmailOctopus customer, I began to understand what the company really stood for, and how it managed to disrupt what is gradually becoming a saturated market. This, in turn, became extremely useful information to refer back to when I was working on podcast and newsletter sponsorships. In our attempt to increase our brand exposure and subsequently acquire new customers, we decided to run paid advertisements. I researched over 40 podcasts and newsletters to sponsor, reached out to the appropriate people in charge, and finally drew up a lengthy comparison chart that outlined the pros and cons of each choice.

Having spent close to three weeks on this project, and having had the chance to see it through to the end, I think I’m very fortunate. And I think that this is what truly makes working in a startup that much more enjoyable than any other entrepreneurial venture. Despite only being a university student, I got to do work that mattered to EmailOctopus, and to be responsible for marketing projects that had a tangible impact to the company. It was stressful; but considering the hugely rewarding feeling I get from completing my work, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Which brings me to my favorite task of my internship.

Side projects have always been an important part of EmailOctopus; after all, we started off as one ourselves. We currently run a website called LookAtThatSaaS (software as a service) that helps aspiring tech entrepreneurs get ideas on how to design their SaaS website and find resources on how to successfully start a SaaS business of their own. My job was to revamp the website by creating fresh and sustainable content to increase our engagement rates and attract new visitors. My idea was to share insights on the day-to-day life of different SaaS Founders to help our audience overcome the potential challenges of running a business. Over the course of 3 weeks, I interviewed 6 different SaaS CEOs/Founders, recorded and edited their responses, published 6 blog posts, and promoted each of them through our social media accounts.

The final product of my Day in the Life Project

I began this project with the intention to find out what CEOs did in a typical work day. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much more information I had gained. In our attempt to genuinely help others, we were given a glimpse at the insightful ways in which people motivate themselves and their team, tackle challenges and overcome setbacks, drive sustainable growth and improve their quality of work, and approach their lives positively and intelligently. This is the beauty of side projects.

However, what amazed me the most was just how much dedication the whole team puts into answering customer inquiries. They always respond to customers promptly and in a friendly and personal manner that shows they care about what their users have to say. Being put in charge of support was daunting, to say the least. Not only because I had to uphold such high standards, but also because I had to have technical knowledge. Nevertheless, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to pick things up, and at how much more familiar I became with EmailOctopus.

After successfully solving more than 800 tickets, I can only say I enjoyed every bit of it. To me, it isn’t just “answering questions”; it’s knowing how to problem solve, communicate effectively and persuasively, and build a strong rapport with the very people who pay to use your service. This certainly took a lot of learning on my part, and even more patience. But the positive feedback I receive from customers every now and then is beyond encouraging. More importantly, they’re powerful reminders that the work I do matters.

As my summer internship comes to an end, I want to thank Tom, Jonathan, and Ben for giving me this rare opportunity to learn from you, and for making me feel so welcomed. Working alongside such talented and hardworking people has truly been a humbling and character-building experience. If this is what my future career could look like, then I am excited.

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