In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to hire interns and the things to consider before you do. They share their advice on the mindset involved in working with interns and how to hire the right people so that they benefit your startup.

An internship is a professional development training opportunity, where interns gain experience and exposure to their chosen industry. Because interns tend not to have industry experience, you can offer them a placement within your company for an extremely inexpensive cost. But interns are not just low cost help, your internship should provide structured training and development with defined goals and measurable outcomes. This should be a mutually beneficial agreement for employers, and interns.

Tune into this week’s episode of The Startup Chat to learn about the benefits of internships for the intern and the employer. As well as hearing about Steli and Hiten’s personal experiences where they talk about the benefits and pitfalls of working with interns.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:47 The secret to the success of The Startup Chat.

02:20 The new format for The Startup Chat.

03:48 Manage the expectations of your intern before hiring them.

05:06 The wrong way to think about interns.

05:12 The right way is to focus on building a relationship.

05:45 Focusing on two way value creation.

07:20 The mistakes startups make when hiring interns.

08:12 The mindset when hiring an intern.  

09:07 Considering the benefits on offer.

10:28 The ‘Right’ intern mindset.

3 Key Points:

  • Think about the intern and what they are going to get and start there
  • Don’t lower your standards when it comes to hiring an intern
  • You should only give someone an intern job if you would also hire them full time


Steli Efti: Hey everybody this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. Today, on the startup chat, we’re going to talk about how to hire interns.



Steli Efti: And how to make that work for a startup particularly. How do you do that in the right way? Well, before I let you talk about this because I cut you off here. I love doing that once in a while.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. Yeah. All good. Go for it. Yeah.



Steli Efti: I wanted to actually give a shout out to and build a bit of behind the scenes for all our loyal startup chat listeners. Because we got an email recently in our inbox, Hiten and I got. We hear from you guys regularly. We love to hear from you. We love to get email from you. This founder basically just gave us some props. He was asking, he was saying, hey, eventually he wants to launch a podcast himself. He was asking us, “Hey. How the hell do you do it that you put so much knowledge with so little BS in 15 to 30 minute episodes? Are you recording a whole hour and you’re editing it down? Are you having a system with a Google doc with lots of questions with what you’re going to say and what Hiten’s going to say? Is this really well scripted, because I realize” … And this is his words, I don’t like to brag myself, but I’ll do it here. In Eric’s words, “The concise focus of your podcast is unmatched, and I’d love to one day be able to create something similar.” Thank you for the nice words. I posted a screen shot of his email, and I told people the secret to our success is very easy. All you have to do is have a combined 30 plus years of startup and entrepreneurial experience and a daily routine of creating content, videos, podcasts, writing copy, newsletters. And then it’s easy to do. Because in almost 300 episodes, we have never scripted a single thing, we have never really prepared for a single episode, and we’ve never edited a single second out of it. It’s all, one person throws out a topic, we hit record and we just go freestyle. The reason that I bring this up is that just recently Hiten had an even more brilliant idea, because we always try to change. And came up with the idea of saying hey, we’ve been doing these 20 ish minute episode. What if we just say fuck it and we try to do it in 10? What you might have noticed recently is that the episodes has gotten a lot shorter. We’re having fun with the shorter format. We want to hear from you if you like it, if you feel like we’re putting the same amount of value out that we’ve done the 20 minute episodes. It kind of feels like it to me, but I’d love to hear from you out there, but I wanted to share a little behind the scenes baseball. The secret sausage making of podcasting with all the listeners … Before we go back to the topic of internships and how to create internships for your startup and hire interns in a way that really benefits your startup.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I wouldn’t want to plan a lot and do a podcast. Yeah. It just doesn’t feel right to me. I like the way we do it. I think it’s a good question to ask, but I wouldn’t say it’s for everybody. A lot of people like to plan, and that’s their process with everything they do, so being off the cuff can be a little dramatic for them and they don’t want to answer questions and things like that. I think you and I just have a ton of practice around all this stuff, sharing information, writing content, giving people advice, answering people’s questions, and we probably just enjoy it. It’s sort of like answering each others questions in a way and going back and forth. Okay. Interns. The number one thing I would say about interns and hiring interns in a startup is that people forget about what’s in it for the intern. If you start that way and you really with your posting, I think it starts with the posting before you hire them. You tell them what they’re going to get and what they’re going to give up. I think it’s something really powerful. For example, I’ve been entertaining either an intern or just hiring someone relatively junior that really fits a certain criteria. I was talking to my business partner Maria about it. I was like, I just want to tell them at the top of this description, you probably don’t want this. You probably just don’t want this. The reason for that is the demands that her and I would put on somebody would be pretty hard from an intellectual thinking, processing, writing standpoint. When her and I combine, the amount of rigor we put on things, we’re looking for someone that can match that, so say you probably don’t want to do this. That’s what I mean by think about them. I’m not thinking about ourselves even though it might sound like that. I’m thinking about them. If someone’s not prepared to read that and still continue reading, then they really shouldn’t be doing this. When you think about interns you’re usually thinking about, how do I get cheap labor. How do I just get work done? It’s like no, that’s not it. You’re building a relationship, and you want to find people who want to learn from you and want to learn how to do it the way that you do things. You as in the company, you as in the manager, whatever it may be. You. That’s really the piece … If I were to give one tip, think about the intern and think about what they’re going to get and start there. What they’re going to get is why they’re signing up for you, not what they’re going to do for you.



Steli Efti: I love it. All right. I’m going to flip this around a little bit. And I’m going to now-



Hiten Shah: Bring it.



Steli Efti: Now bring up the what should be in it for you. A few tips on my end. First of all, just even before we started recording the episode, I realized that some of my … I have a lot of very good friends today or that I have very strong relationships with that started as my interns. I have a pretty amazing track record when it comes to hiring interns. A lot of these people are founders and CEOs of their own companies today are good friends of mine, have become peers and friends. But they started five, seven, eight years ago as interns in some random startup that I was running back then. The number one thing that I’ll throw out there is don’t lower your standards when it comes to people when hiring an intern. Obviously, you have to lower your standard when it comes to experience. You can’t hire an intern and expect them to have 50 years of industry experience. That’s dumb. But you can absolutely have the same expectations when hiring an intern and you need to have the same expectations on them when it comes to them from a character perspective, from a cultural fit perspective, and from a intelligence and work ethic perspective. You should hire interns, but you should only give somebody an intern job if you would also hire them full time, if you can see yourself hiring them full time in a year or two. This is brilliant because you brought up the, hey, you probably don’t want to work here because we’re going to set incredibly high standards. Right? I think that too many times when I see companies, or startups especially, hire interns, they have much lower standards to those interns, and I think that’s a really terrible idea.



Hiten Shah: I agree.



Steli Efti: Right. They go, well, let’s just get cheap labor or they think, well, yeah this person’s not perfect but they could do just the basic dumb stuff we have to do like, I don’t know update our blog post or do some tweeting, some dumb stuff that’s not that important but that we don’t get around to, we don’t have the time. Let’s just hire an intern to do all the dumb things. Well, fuck no. There should be no dumb things done in a startup. You’re in the early days. Everything that everybody does should be super crucial and important. The dumb things should just not get done. When you hire an intern, it should be people that you think, this is somebody I could see become incredibly successful person. This is somebody I could see offering a job. This is somebody I like. This is somebody that is smart, that will challenge me. This is somebody I can give meaningful work to. It doesn’t have to be mission critical if they mess a little bit something up, the whole company is bankrupt, not that. You have to give them proper amount of responsibility and you can’t just overload them, give them the responsibility to run the entire company obviously, but you should think they could one day. You should trust in them and believe in them. You can’t make compromises on anybody in your company. It doesn’t matter who it is or what position they have. Too many times, startups they’ll accept an intern they would never accept as a full time member. They think, oh, this persons a little slow or sloppy or I don’t like their personality. I don’t think they’re a culture fit. But they’re like, well, but they don’t want a lot of money or in some cases they will work for free. That’s even worse, which may be my next tip and we can riff on that. I would not hire an intern that works for me for free. I would always pay. I want to pay everybody. I want to hire an intern if I can pay them. Obviously not market rate if they were 10 experience veteran, but I want to pay them money for their work. I don’t want to just get their work for free.



Hiten Shah: I totally agree. I think paying them money is good or paying them in some other way. There’s a lot of other ways you can pay them as long as you have a deal. But paying them money is good because they should get paid something. I’ve seen a lot of scenarios where you don’t have to pay them money, but there’s something that they’re really looking for that’s more valuable to them than money, and they’re willing to do it because they want to. It should be more of a decision they make not necessarily you make. Yeah. I couldn’t agree more with you about … I think this thing that really struck out to me is when you say this should be someone you’re willing to hire full time. That’s really powerful, because then you will respect them in a different way. You will treat them with respect, and I think you will really focus on treating them as more of a team member. I think that’s super important. A lot of people just think of interns as cheap labor. Obviously you haven’t done that or you wouldn’t have found these folks that went on to build their own businesses. Right? I think the right intern is someone who wants to learn and is that hungry that you know that they’re capable or could be capable one day of doing what you just said, which is over time building their own businesses. That’s huge. I think it’s just so undervalued the way that most early stage companies think about interns.



Steli Efti: The other thing is you should think about a relationship with an intern like a relationship with anybody else in your life and in your business, which in my mind is a 10, 20, 30 year timeline. Whenever we hire an intern, I’m thinking, is this somebody I want to have a relationship with for the rest of my life? You got to help them, they help me, we work together on projects. Is this somebody I want to spend time with and invest in, so the internship is the beginning of the relationship. Again, it’s not just some kind of a quick hookup. Well, this person is just going to do a lot of shitty work nobody wants to do and nobody enjoys and is meaningless, but we will feel like it’s accomplishing something because we’re getting this person for cheap or for free or whatever. No, you should think about this person as an investment in a long term relationship and then spending time helping them, train them. It’s not going to feel like a loss if they don’t turn out to become an instant employee or team member of your company because in two years, three years, four years maybe there’s going to be another opportunity to work together or to invest in a startup or become and advisor or whatever. Thinking really long term even with short term interns I think is the right framework to use. Again, too many times I think startups they think very short term with these people. That leads to meaningless relationships with ultimately are just a waste of time.



Hiten Shah: I’d say more but we’ve said things that I haven’t read anywhere about interns. That’s what we like to do. Right?



Steli Efti: That’s what we like to do.



Hiten Shah: Tell people things they can’t hear anywhere else. Think about the interns as humans and you can go read in some blog posts about all the logistics of interns. But I think one of the biggest things is how to hire them and how to make sure that they’re supported, and I think we got there.



Steli Efti: All right. Hire great interns and take it really seriously. That’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very soon.



Hiten Shah: Later.