4 Unique Insights from Working at a Startup

I was sitting in on a branding meeting- the kind of meeting that name brands like Nike probably had before the iconic slogan “Just Do It” was born. Ideas were thrown around, words were scribbled, erased and scribbled again on the ideation board. Tentatively, unsure of the desirability of my contribution, I raised my hand to voice a suggestion. 3 pairs of thoughtful eyes were immediately trained on me, and I felt myself break out into a cold sweat before a reassuring voice said, “Hmm, let’s write that down”. 

I was amazed- I was merely an intern but my ideas were taken seriously. More importantly, how many interns get to participate in, much less contribute to, the crafting of a firm’s branding strategy? Through working at Culturally, an early-stage startup, I was not only able to gain unique insights into the startup ecosystem in Singapore, but also learned many valuable skills from the Culturally team.  

  1. Startups are Ingrained with a Vision

    Culturally is a digital platform where consumers can book cultural experiences, such as dim-sum making, to experience local culture in an intimate setting. My first distinct impression of the Culturally team was made in a Peranakan restaurant hidden in the tresses of a Chinese temple. We had ordered Peranakan Laksa and Jacin, Ping Ping and Michael were all bickering about not having cash (Singapore is going cashless!). This quirky team will come to show me what it means to be driven by a vision. In particular, the founder, Jacin (an NYU alum- what are the odds!), will emphasize repeatedly the value she saw behind Culturally- it was not only a marketplace, but also a medium to bring people together through the bridging of cultures. This firm belief is what drives her work, and everything in the company.

  2. A Dynamic Work Environment

    I liken working at a startup to working in a circus- not because the work done is only of entertainment value, but because one often needs to learn to navigate different tasks and juggle different roles. I found myself working on designing promotional pamphlets, recommending marketing strategies and developing a quality control system to optimize consumers’ experience. I also found myself on my feet, meeting and talking to business partners about their goals and aspirations. My most memorable interaction was with the founder of Kim Guan Guan Coffee, a local business supplying uniquely Singapore traditional coffee (or Kopi) beans. From her description of her business and from tasting her lovingly brewed Kopi, I sensed her undying passion for the trade and immovable spirit in pushing for its preservation as a national heritage.

  3. Be Adaptable to Change

    Given the dynamic work environment and the unpredictability of tasks ahead, it is extremely important to be adaptable to change. Contrary to popular opinion, I realized that adaptability doesn’t just involve being able to switch gears; adaptability also connotes the ability to absorb the change and reconfigure your entire organizational framework. For example, if I had to run to participate in a new workshop trial for the entire afternoon, I learned that I should consider these questions: how does this new event affect my ability to meet deadlines? Can I complete my tasks on time? If not, can I renegotiate expectations? Expect to be on your feet and get your feet wet- but plan ahead to avoid soggy socks.

  4.  Take Initiative

    Any new insight is valuable insight. This is a key lesson I learned from working at Culturally. At Culturally, my opinions were valued- despite being a college freshman at the time. In fact, one of my proudest moments during the internship was when the Business Development Head, Ping Ping, praised the interns for “taking initiative”. In fact, Nanda (my intern buddy) and my persistent questions about the brand and the company contributed to the setting up of the branding meeting in the opening paragraph. Startups are seeking to grow as you are seeking to grow, and everyone values active feedback during that process.

Overall, working at Culturally was an eye-opening experience, and has pushed me to explore startup and entrepreneurial opportunities at NYU as I continue my undergraduate studies. I definitely recommend working at a startup once to expand your perspectives, and meet cool people!

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At Culturally, we offer customised hands-on cultural experiences for you and your loved ones to enjoy and have fun whilst learning about other cultures!

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