A New Job

Life is a book and tomorrow marks a new chapter. I’m starting a new job with Venture for America as their Recruiting and Social Media Associate, and I couldn’t be more excited.

rockin’ our awesome American Apparel Venture for America fitted tees!

I’m excited because the direct mission of Venture for America is simple:  recruit the best and brightest college grads to work for two years at emerging start-ups in lower-cost cities.  Commendable, right? But what ultimately draws me to the organization is its multiple layers of potential impact.

1. Companies in less-recognized communities who otherwise lack the resources for securing top talent, now receive exactly that. (The first class of VFA fellows is pretty impressive.)

2. Communities that fellows are based in benefit from an economic boost with the influx of talent.

3. Fellows become mobilized as entrepreneurs, learning how to create business opportunities for themselves and others. Ultimately they have the potential to launch their own companies and create jobs.

4. As a nation, we reap the benefits of a revitalized economy, more jobs, and a redefined version of success.

At its core, Venture for America is out to create jobs, and rightly so. I’ve said before- youth unemployment is the issue of our generation.  It’s a cause I get incredibly riled about. 54% of Americans between the ages of 18-24 are unemployed. A sense of dissatisfaction plagues our youth, mainly because we suffer from lack of ownership in what we do. Unless our country’s employment prospects are drastically improved, America will no longer be the passport to the good life.  People will flock to places that actually have jobs, like Asia.

We need to secure America’s enterprising talent NOW. My job with Venture for America will involve identifying those individuals and engaging with them via digital media.  More broadly, I am out to convince our nation’s best that small but high-potential companies can be viable post-graduate options, if not the best.

It’s crazy to think that just a few months ago I moved to New York City with high hopes, a few contacts, and a tepid bank account. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. But thank goodness for instinct. It led me to this opportunity, this chance to work for a company whose mission resounds so strongly with my beliefs. VFA founder Andrew Yang touches on the mission in his well-written post about restoring the culture of achievement.  I am honored to join him and the rest of the VFA team, all of whom boast an impressive record of achievement and belief in the mission.

We will create 100,000 jobs (or more) by 2025. A lofty target, but I am up for the challenge.


A special thank you and shout-out to my friend Sarah Kaiser-Cross who was the first person to tell me about VFA, all the way from Turkey!

What does it take to work at a start-up?

Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodore are co-founders of Fracture, a start-up company based in Gainesville, Florida, and are constantly searching for the perfect team. They both agree that finding the right people to join the company is their biggest challenge.

“To me, it’s somewhat personal,” says Lokesh. “I want to prove that Fracture can be the best decision you ever made as a young professional, and that we can turn you into the best version of yourself.”

So, what do you get out of working at a start-up? Well, we all know you get free lunch at Google. But don’t expect that at all start-ups. Correction: don’t expect that at most start-ups. Do expect a never-ending workload, a lot of stress, and very few resources.  Though you may not get free lunch, there are other perks.

 Here are select responses from members of the Fracture team, who reveal some of those perks and what it takes to work at a start-up like Fracture. They work hard, but they also appear to wholeheartedly love their job, which might make you wonder what this start-up culture breeds.

What is it like to work at Fracture? 

Matthew Bivens, Marketing: It’s like no other place I’ve ever worked at, that’s for sure.  Our culture has evolved organically, and has become more defined as we have grown.  Our office environment is relaxed and casual: employees can decorate their work spaces and really make them their own (can also set up shop wherever they like); we wear what we want for the most part, still maintaining a somewhat professional demeanor (no “free mustache rides” t-shirts); and we’re allowed to bring our pets into the offices, which is a huge plus.  In typical startup fashion we have instruments of all kinds in our office, we host poker nights and try to make a point to get out and enjoy each others company outside of work on a regular basis.  We’re a family, and that’s apparent after only a few minutes of hanging out with us.

The workload here is consistently high — this is a startup, so everyone has a to-do list with more work than there are hours in a day.  Each of us was hired for a specific job, but inevitably we all wear many hats.  It’s typical to see a marketing person helping out in production, or a customer service rep brainstorming to improve packaging workflow.

Sarah Ludwig, Custom Orders: It can be really fun.  It can also be stressful, it gets intense, but it’s worth it.  It’s the first time at a job where I’ve been accountable on this level.  Everyone I work with is accountable.  I mean, I’m twenty two, and I have a key, and I have my own entry code for the alarm system.  If I do a bad job, everybody feels it; Fracture is going to feel it.  I am directly responsible for the success of Fracture.  Every person who works here is.

Honestly, that can be overwhelming.  Sometime I miss not caring about what I do.  And then I remember that I have a key.  And an alarm code.

We all work a lot, I personally work more than most of my friends.  I also get to listen to Cabaret on the speakers at the little laser (how great is that sentence) as loud as I want.  Where else can I do that?

When we were going crazy to get orders out the door during hell week, we took a break to build a robo-mascot out of a broken water cooler.  I feel completely fortunate to work with people that I feel happy around.  People I can make a robot with when things get crazy.

Matt Santmyers, Business Development: Fracture has truly best the best and most challenging job I have held. I have learned more in 1 1/2 years with fracture than four years of college. Every day I am pushed to be better and to work harder constantly pushing to improve fracture. But at the end of the day, everyone here can still kick up their feet and relax and enjoy a night out with each other. It really is a great environment to work in.

What type of person does it take to thrive in Fracture’s work environment?

Barry Miller, Production: Three words: tenacious, hard-working, innovator. When working for a growing company, the words “normal work week” do not apply. Often times, orders need to be printed, processed, and fulfilled outside of the cushy 9-5 workers in America face. It can be taxing when equipment fails, supplies arrive late, or you encounter situations that leave your best laid plans in shambles. When those situations arise, you have to be able to dust off, find a solution, and carry on with the company mission. Finally, when you are helping get a company off the ground, you must be constantly looking for ways to improve. It can be tempting to just take things at face value and go with the flow. But without constantly looking for ways to do it better, you ultimately end up hurting the company, and with a young company, small injuries can lead to major problems.

Matthew Bivens, Marketing : We’re all young here, and although we have varying degrees of experience at what we do, this is our first startup experience.  So immediately you have to check your ego at the door and realize that you might be asked to do something you have never done before; you might be asked to master something you never thought yourself capable of; and you might be asked to do it yesterday!  The great thing is that, when you have a team of people that are cool, calm, and capable, no challenge is too large to tackle.  Intelligence is a must, but I think having the capacity to learn and the hunger to keep pushing is much more important.  It starts at the top with our co-founders, and their passion and enthusiasm has definitely trickled down and influenced the rest of us.  We’ve assembled a team of Jedi here, individuals who were hired not just for their intelligence and ability to do a job well, but because they possessed the intangible skills that would allow them to thrive in a high pressure, fast paced startup environment.  

You print pictures on glass, but running a business these days involves more than simply offering said product/service (marketing, follow-up, producing relevant content, etc.). Run me through day-to-day tasks that each Fracture team member works on, apart from handling orders. 

Sarah Russell, Customer Service: We are continuing to grow and develop, and as we do that we assimilate more into our “official roles.” But that hasn’t completely detracted from one of my favorite parts of the start-up life here at Fracture – we all wear many hats. We’re a small team, but that just means we all have to be experts at what we do and then a few other things too. We’re all collectively writing the manual on how to do this. Everything about Fracture is proprietary and crafted with our customers in mind.

There is nothing typical about the day-to-today, but tasks include stocking, cutting and packaging materials on the production end. There is also printing, cleaning and shipping, which is of course crucial. There is planning and research and development projects for the future, along with web development and programming to update the site. Behind the scenes, marketing initiatives focused on the customer experience and business to business partnerships are being built and focused on. We try to keep open communication with our customers, as well, with the office phone, email and social media to stay connected and help them with anything they need. All in a good day’s work. And then there’s Watson and Sierra, the office dogs. Their jobs basically consist of tackling a few chew toys in between corporate naps.


This article was published on NextGen Journal on April 6, 2012.

To learn more about the Fracture team, read about the company on their website.

Adding Value

We’ve all heard the start-up narrative. Bootstrapped college drop-outs work out of a garage, build fast, get cash, strike it rich, and save the world. Being part of a start-up is nothing short of being a rock star, or at least from what you see on Twitter. In all seriousness, though, start-up fever is taking center stage and very deserving of it. After all, some of the most well-known and innovative companies like Apple, Starbucks, and Google began as venture-backed start-ups. It is truly exciting to wonder what next ambitious company will emerge from the pool of hungry talent looking to change the game.  However, as is often the case with mainstream media, these subjects are being oversimplified into easily digestible, slightly misleading themes. It is important to distinguish between hype and reality as well as short-term trends and long-term sustainability, lest we are misled into believing that trendy start-ups are a band-aid solution to our economic woes.

 The crucial issue here is job creation. Youth unemployment is inexcusably high. Data from the Economic Policy Institute show that the millennial unemployment rate stands just above 16 percent. Prolonged unemployment has a deleterious effect on the lifelong career prospects of young workers, which affects our entire economy. This is why we must focus on placing our most talented youth in high-impact positions, positions that don’t merely employ but also provide valuable hands-on business experience so they can learn to build sustainable companies that can potentially grow and become larger ones, thereby creating jobs for others.  The thing with many ‘hot’ start-ups, trendy as they are, is that a majority will fizzle out.  What results is boom and bust, not a net gain of jobs.  Our focus should be tailored to small companies with gradual but long-term growth in industries with the potential to enhance American competitiveness and job creation. At a certain point, how many more online media platforms and content-sharing mechanisms do we need? Of course, if done well, these in and of themselves are worthwhile innovations. But don’t dismiss the slow ascension of less glitzy industries like biotech, materials science, and education technology.  The jobs lie here not just for now, but for years to come, once larger enterprises are formed. 

Any start-up seeking long-term growth needs to ensure that they hire employees eager to work for the right reasons. It is a certain type of person who can handle the start-up mindset. There are fewer resources and greater obstacles. You probably won’t strike it rich and you won’t necessarily be a rock star in the Hollywood sense. But if you define yourself by added value and the irreplaceable nature of your work, then you are sure to be an asset. Furthermore, you will be critical to saving America’s future. And by any definition, that’s a rock star. 

Dear Instagram

I first heard about Alice Lee last month through Twitter. Amid a flurry of 140-character statements, the headline about a Wharton student skipping class and deserving a job at Instagram caught my eye. Instagram? Skipping class? My mouse honed in. I arrived at Dear Instagram – With Love, Alice, a website with pretty cursive typeface floating daintily among clouds on a clear blue sky. Like a love letter, its greeting words expressed unabashed admiration:

“In a nutshell: I am a huge, huge fan of Instagram. And I want to be a part of your team.”

Love in the digital age? Some have called Dear Instagram an over-the-top ode to the popular iPhone photo sharing portal, Instagram, which has been downloaded more than 15 million times. But beyond the cute and welcoming background reminiscent of a day on the Bay (sailboats and sunglasses adorn the four pages), Dear Instagram is a thoughtful collection of ideas from a 20-year old who just really wants to work for Instagram. Within two days of its launch on February 16, it received more than 40,000 hits – not too shabby for a site built from scratch in 2.5 days. Media outlets from The Atlantic to Business Insider were quick to highlight how many classes Wharton junior Alice Lee skipped to produce the viral sensation- four- effectively using this ‘act of rebellion’ as clicking bait. But for Lee, skipping class is no big deal. Never afraid to breakaway, she took the entire fall semester off to work at the start-upFoursquare, build her photo business, and go to Africa.

I briefly met Lee this weekend while she was in New York for a client meeting.  She has maintained a flow of design and photography projects, even since before Dear Instagram was born. Lee began her own photo business two years ago, despite having never taken a professional photo class.

“I learn better when I experiment. I started messing around with photography when my Dad returned from China with a Nikon D100, one of the first DSLRs that Nikon came out with. I learned by following people, reaching out to other photographers, creating a photoblog, and posting my photos to Facebook, ” says Lee. “All the gigs I’ve gotten have been through friends, or friends of friends.”

Naturally, she references these experiences in her Instagram application. But more than a digital resume, Dear Instagram outlines concrete things Lee would actually do if given the opportunity to work at Instagram, which includes revamping the developer site and connecting with more photographers. On the final page of the site, which reads like a storybook, Lee concludes with the question “So why me?”, then quickly summarizes her own answer in a concise batch of sentences and graphics. Perhaps the more logical question to ask, however, is why NOT?

The outstanding nature of a website like Dear Instagram begs the question:  Is this the new standard for resumes? Do we all need to create a viral website to receive a second glance from respected companies these days? If so, save my spot in the unemployment line now!

Thankfully, Lee offers resoundingly simple advice that doesn’t require coding. In fact, her number one tip for job applicants is to just be genuine.

“Don’t do things for the sake of doing them, ” she says. “Don’t feel compelled to make a resume-y website just because “everyone else is doing it” – because that’s not a real reason to!”

Lee suggests showing, not just telling, how your strengths will add value. Think about what a company is lacking and provide a solution. If you are a writer, write potential copy for the website. If you are a designer, send a potential design, which is what she did. Lee thought the current Instagram developer site could use some improvement so she redesigned it and sent them a mock-up.

Proactivity is a strategy she often uses to much success. While helping a potential client with something unrelated to design, she decided to create website icons free of charge for the team to use. This established a regular collaboration and she is currently working on a major design project with the organization.

Lee’s interest in Instagram stands uniquely at the intersection of her photography and technology passions. With ten employees based out of San Francisco, Instagram is at the center of the start-up revolution – all the more reason why Lee loves the company.  However, she cautions that start-up culture is not for everyone.

“I think that it’s a certain type of person who wants to go into the start-up world and it’s really important to be honest with yourself in deciding if you’re that kind of person,” says Lee. “You have to work hard at your traditional corporate job, but in the start-up world, the onus is really on you and you are truly irreplaceable to the organization that you are a part of.”

Start-up or corporate, Lee’s career advice applies across the spectrum. Professionally, be smart and offer valid ideas, but what is equally important is being likable. This is significantly easier when you love what you do.  Lee wakes up with a smile knowing she has “a whole day ahead that I can spend building cool things.”

Lee and Instagram have talked but so far, no work arrangement is set.  Rest assured, with or without the InstaGig, this is not the last you will hear of her.

original article can be found here at NextGen Journal.

Interview with Dr. Young’s #mkt420 class

Last year, I had the awesome opportunity of speaking with Dr. Elaine Young’s (@ejyoung67) Marketing Management class at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. These ’social ninjas’ are truly maximizing their use of social media tools like Twitter and Foursquare to reach target markets. But, more importantly, they are using it to market themselves.

Yes, for all you career-hungry students, it’s possible to FIND JOBS via Twitter.

By creating your own ‘personal brand’ through tweets and blogs, you can present a more holistic representation of yourself. Like it or not, your tweets, facebook profile, and blog posts portray a side of you that a traditional resume simply cannot. Whether it be your undeniable wit, stellar character, or saintly values- all these components will shine through this new digital resume of sorts. Employers are increasingly turning to these avenues to investigate the character and personality of prospective employees.

So if you haven’t cleaned up your Facebook profile or gotten a Twitter account, you really should consider! (And I’m not just saying that because we’re called CampusTweet.) Employers like seeing that their employees have personalities. The professional resume still has relevance of course. But it can’t tell your boss about the issues you’re passionate about, the TV shows you love, what you like talking about, or what will get you jumping out of your seat. Maybe you think your boss doesn’t need to know those things, but that’s beside the point. Whether you like it or not, that’s the future.

My conversation with Champlain’s social ninjas only reinforced this notion. We’ve reached a day when it’s entirely possible to access previously inaccessible people through the digital medium. Follow Ashton @aplusk. Want a job at CNN? Try tweeting @cnnbrknews. I’m not guaranteeing a response, but hey, at least you’ve got a conversation started. And with that, you’ve got a foot in the door.