Lessons from a startup internship program — what happens when you double in size overnight?

Appfarm hired five interns this summer, doubling the size of its organization. To celebrate the successful completion of the program, Appfarm’s Hans Magnus Wold is answering some questions about our experiences.

Lessons from a startup internship program — what happens when you double in size overnight?

Appfarm hired five interns this summer, doubling the size of its organization. This is a significant increase for any company, and especially for a start-up with five full-time employees. To celebrate the successful completion of the program, Appfarm’s VP of Business and People Development Hans Magnus Wold is answering some questions about our experiences. We hope that our story will inspire other companies to establish internship programs!

When did you decide you wanted interns?
We always knew we wanted interns, but we needed to be sure that our platform was ready for it. Also, we needed to be certain that we had the internal resources to run a successful internship program. It quickly became clear, however, that we just needed to make the leap and trust that we’d get there when the time came.

Why 5?
Why not? We knew we wanted to do this, and why not push the pedal to the metal and go for it?

We also wanted at least 2 teams on different projects in addition to our marketing intern, so basic math told us we needed at least 5.

An unintended but positive consequence of having a larger group of interns was the fact that they immediately created their own social community without any direction from us. The strong social relationships that were formed also facilitated a lot of knowledge sharing within the group, which meant they could solve most challenges themselves by sharing their experiences and skills with each other. Awesome!

How did you prepare to receive interns?
In addition to all the practical stuff (access cards, equipment, salary details, etc), we put a lot of effort into our educational program, the Appcademy. It was absolutely imperative that the internship started off with a successful training camp on how to create software using our platform. It was pretty cool that we actually had partners and customers joining this course side by side with our interns.

Our interns on day 2 of the Appcademy, together with some of our partners.

We also tried to plan which projects we were going to have for the summer, but in our world, things move really fast — and we pride ourselves on being able to solve our customer’s needs quicker than others. This meant that we couldn’t really stall projects until the interns arrived, which was both exciting and a bit of a challenge. Actually, we signed a new project at the beginning of the internship period which now a few weeks later has been successfully delivered to the client. I’m really glad we ended up with the projects we did, and I hope and think the interns appreciate them as well.

How has your experience been?
It’s been great, and we miss them already! We did have high expectations, but our interns have really surpassed them. We thought we had a backlog of tasks for them to last all summer, but they’ve just been delivering so fast and with such high quality that we’ve had to come up with new projects and assignments over the course of the summer.

What has been the most difficult thing about having interns?
Coordinating the projects, continuously following up and having someone always be available and on location when we currently have five employees that also need a bit of summer vacation. July means vacation time for almost all our customers as well, so that’s also a challenge.

Is there anything you would do differently if you could start over?
We’ve had a lot of good feedback when it comes to the platform itself, so we plan on making adjustments accordingly. Also, we hope that all our interns give us honest feedback on other aspects of the summer internship. They’re our very first batch, and we really hope they can help us make it even better in the future.

Also, one key takeaway is that you can’t plan for everything and you need to be able to make decisions as you go. Things will change. Even though we’ve actually done it this summer, maybe we should try to stay ahead of the curve on that one — by acknowledging it and actually planning more iteratively instead.

Do you have any words of wisdom for someone else doing the same?

  • In the hiring process, be sure to reply to all applicants and don’t make promises you can’t keep when it comes to feedback times, deadlines, etc. Be honest about it and be professional. You will probably meet the people who didn’t get the job at some later point in time.
  • Be sure to make yourselves available to your interns. Welcome questions and feedback with open arms, and act on them — it’s the only way to improve and evolve.
  • Have the interns work in teams — and have your employees be a part of those teams as well. If possible, try to rotate team members and roles so everyone gets a shot at being responsible for a team or task.
  • Aspire to have “real” projects or tasks for the interns. Nobody wants to spend the summer creating the internal booking system for the company’s cabin (we don’t have a company cabin, for the record) that no one’s actually going to use. Projects with actual customer participation are the best, of course.
  • Take it very seriously! Especially for small companies, this can be “make it or break it” for your reputation with the people that you potentially want to hire — and can have a big impact on your company’s brand.

Last, but not least, will you do this again?
Yes. Definitely! We’ll do it again next summer… maybe even before that! “Winternship” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

In the mean time, I’ll be back soon with experiences and thoughts after going back from 10 to 5 employees over night. Or.. maybe I won’t have to? We are looking to rapidly expand our team going forward, so aiming to be back on double digits really soon!