More Than Just Ping Pong & Perks: Why College Students Are Flocking to Startups

Siren recently opened our doors to several college interns, as millennials are forging new paths in entrepreneurship. Bijan is taking a semester of from Yale to work on our marketing and growth efforts, and Cheryl and Kacha, also Yale undergrads, recently joined us for a one week externship over spring break.  We asked them some questions about their interest in startups and entrepreneurship. All under the age of 22, their answers reveal why so many young adults about to enter the workforce are drawn to startups. Here’s what they had to say: 

What do you think working in a startup is like? 

Siren interns Kacha, Bijan and Cheryl

Siren interns Kacha, Bijan and Cheryl

Bijan: I imagine a very open office space with lots of white boards. I think startups have a very collaborative and fun environment where people work really hard but also have fun. Of course I'm also picturing ping pong tables and free snacks. I think the pace would be a bit stressful but also exciting.
Cheryl: Working at a startup is exciting, it's ambitious, and it's very self-driven. There's definitely a much more laid back atmosphere than any corporate job, but it's nevertheless hectic in the pursuit of innovation. Working at a startup is a unique experience because you get to build your skills from the ground up while working with a small team of like-minded individuals.
Kacha: Working in a startup is an exciting opportunity for me to constantly learn new skills. I learn a lot from working in a small team because I get to be involved in many tasks that I would have never learned on my own. I also like the fact that every contribution I make in a startup is significant and tangible.

What value do you think millennials bring to startups? Is it any different than what they would bring to bigger, more traditional companies?

Bijan: For tech startups specifically, I think that technology and convenience is so woven into millennials’ lives that it gives us good instincts when it comes to gauging a tech product's quality, intuitiveness and usefulness. We have high expectations and our skepticism allows us to think critically about a startup's products or processes. I'd imagine that this is more valuable for startups than for traditional companies that would be less open to criticism and change.
Cheryl: I think what is unique about millennials is that they have a fresh sense of optimism and potential that sometimes people lose as they get older. I'm not saying that it's to the point of reckless dreaming (though we do seem to be less risk averse), but it's this energy that sometimes pushes a team to the next level. I think we're a part of an age group that sees a problem, and thinks, "I can fix that," and then we go on and try our hand at doing so. It's really a powerful movement. In terms of bigger, more traditional companies, millennials may be bringing the same skill set and such as they would to a startup, but the thing about traditional companies is that they usually have a set structure and a set hierarchy, which stifles some of the creative energy.
Kacha: Millennials grew up with technology at their disposal, so they are very adaptable to new technologies. Immersed in technology since a very young age, millennials know the consumer market well because they naturally know what features consumers need and what features are superfluous. Personally, I feel that millennials would be more proactive when they bring creative ideas to startups because they would feel more accomplished from laying the foundation of building up a small company rather than working in a big company.

Many of your peers are drawn to consulting and finance internships, what made a startup more appealing than those for you?

Bijan: I think part of the appeal is just a "cool" factor. Working at startups just seems fun and exciting. Also, I like seeing the immediate impacts of my work, and I have the impression that startups will give you more meaningful tasks and responsibilities than big consulting or finance firms would. I'd rather work for a young startup because I want to be a part of creating something new. If you intern at a financial institution, odds are you're doing the exact same job as last summer's interns. At a startup, I doubt that'd be the case.
Cheryl: A startup is appealing because it provides the opportunity to turn your own idea into something real. The possibility of building this into a successful end product is what really draws me in. Startups also give you the chance to do a little bit of everything: you could be working on marketing one day and product development the next. There's also the pull from the model of success of past startups, like Facebook and Microsoft - and while I'm not really expecting to be as enormously successful as that, it's still exciting to be thinking big.
Kacha: While I am very interested in consulting and finance, I am also intrigued by the power I have in transforming the startups I work in. I enjoy contributing my ideas to start ups and see them implemented quickly and creatively in the real world. I also prefer the flexibility in my work hours because once I finish a set task for the day, I am free to leave. Most importantly, though, startups are appealing because I see myself being at the forefront of using my creativity to make socially impactful products that can create meaningful change in the society.

Why do you think startups choose to offer a fun environment and lots of perks? What do you think they get in return?

Bijan: I think startups want to offer employees more than just money to motivate them to work hard and achieve results. Though I suppose it's a financially motivated decision, I'd like to think that startups choose to offer the perks because they actually value each employee's happiness and want to create a positive working environment.
Cheryl: They offer many perks to attract the best and brightest, obviously, but I think it's also inherent in the nature of a startup to have a fun environment. After all, you're all working towards the same goals, and there's no sense of working for a boss or manager that makes work feel like a chore. In return, these perks almost act like efficiency wages - as a result, everyone's happy and productive and driven, and there are lots of creative ideas that get pieced together to build a better and better outcome.
Kacha: Startups need to constantly innovate and come up with creative solutions to tackle social problems. Without a fun environment that is conducive to fostering creativity, workers cannot form original ideas that really makes the product unique. By making the work place 'fun', work and play converge, allowing these start ups to come up with genius breakthroughs that revolutionizes the world in significant ways.

9 out of 10 startups fail. Does that surprise you or change your opinion of them?

Bijan: I've heard so much about startups failing, but for some reason it doesn't really change my opinions of them. I guess I always assumed that other startups may fail, but the one I'd work at wouldn't. Now that I think about it, startups definitely offer less job security than bigger companies. But overall, I don't think that would deter me from pursuing a job at a startup.
Cheryl: Not at all. I'm actually surprised the percentage isn't higher, because honestly, I feel like so many startups never expand outside of the university or city bubble they're created in. Regardless, I still think the experience and the skills you learn are invaluable (as long as you're not living in the streets and starving, I guess).
Kacha: I always knew that joining a startup is very risky as 90 percent of startups fail. The prospect of working in something that has a 10 percent success rate is quite scary, but the joy of coming up with a product that I truly believe will change the status quo of society in some way or another outweighs the uncertainty. So I guess it's both scary and exciting to be involved in something that can win big and lose big.