If I told you I always wanted to work at a startup, or that Venture for America (VFA) was on my radar as my number one post-grad choice, I’d be lying. It was happenstance that my friend chatted me the VFA application link three days before the final deadline. I applied because I was deep in job application season as a second semester senior; to be honest, I wasn’t all that committed to the idea yet. My reason was inconsequential, but I really hate the show Silicon Valley and that clouded my feelings on startups in general. Update: I still hate the show, but I love working at a startup and being a Venture for America fellow. Looking back, I can’t really imagine taking another path.
During the VFA application process, they ask you if in the future you would ever want to start your own company. My response was always yes, but back then I was thinking in terms of becoming a freelance designer and maybe growing that into a little design firm. In my mind, this would have taken place in my late 30s or early 40s, after I felt I had learned as much as possible from working at other companies. Now my response is still yes, but the end goal and timeline are very different. Becoming a freelance designer is a form of entrepreneurship, but VFA showed me how much of a positive social impact the startup community can have through companies like Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program and the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys. There are also product companies that recognize problems and strive to fix them like VersaMe, Pathsensors, and ClassTracks. The main goal of every designer is to identify and solve problems through design. Through VFA, I saw this on a larger scale with startups and admittedly was hooked.
When the VFA match portal opens, all hell breaks loose. There are companies reaching out to you, you’re reaching out to companies, VFA team members are trying to keep up to date with every fellow’s journey, and everyone’s email inbox is overflowing. I found out that I got into VFA the Monday before the portal opened, so the turnaround time was basically non existent. I was still trying to figure out how to write my “pitch” (opening email) to companies when they were already emailing me. I barely had time to decide what I was really looking for before going into interviews, but here’s the list I pulled from my notebook:
At the end of the process I signed on with Leverege. Before they hired fellows, they were a company of 4 and had a founder with a history of multiple successful companies under his belt. They wanted to hear my opinion on various marketing and branding decisions before I signed on, which I took as a good sign (it was). The job description involved marketing, product development, company branding, website design, and more, so I was sure I wouldn’t be ‘creatively bored’. Looking back at all of my pros and cons lists for every VFA partner company I talked to, I still stand by the five factors I considered
Fast forward to present day: I’m sitting at a coffee shop, sipping coffee with two members of the dev team and fellow 2016 VFA fellows (our crew has been dubbed the rat pack by the rest of the team). I just wrapped up designing a user interface for a smart city and am documenting some user interactions on our website using Inspectlet. Later today, I’ll be working on a slide deck with the Director of Sales (who also happens to be a VFA fellow) for his product demos and checking on how our A/B testing for our current ad campaign is going on Google analytics. Each one of our nine team members influences the direction and success of this company. We’re all trying to figure out how to make our company be one of the 10% of startups that succeed and to be honest, I’ve never loved Monday mornings more.
Hannah is the VP of Design & Marketing at Leverege and IoT For All. She's passionate about tech and frequently writes about design, tech, and IoT. You can find her writing on IoT For All, Medium, and Huffpo.
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