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Day In the Life: Venture for America’s Startup Fellowship

Living the Startup Life Without All of the Risk

Tim Dingman, Venture for America Fellow

Our Day in the Life Series continues with another great opportunity on Seelio: a 2 year experience in startup life through Venture for America’s fellowship program.

Jumping into startup life right out of college can be risky. Will the company make it? Will you make enough to pay the bills?

Venture for America (VFA) has found a way to connect college grads with startup opportunities, robust training, and an established network all while minimizing the usual risks of startup life.

The program launched in 2012 with fellows in Cincinnati, Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Providence, and we had a chance to catch up with  Tim Dingman, a VFA fellow in Detroit, to learn about his experience.

1) What were you up to before Venture for America?

I was a master’s student at Brown University, studying electrical engineering. Brown is also where I studied for undergrad. I thought I’d ultimately go for my PhD, but my senior year thesis experience wasn’t quite what I expected and I knew that a life in research wasn’t for me. I went for my master’s as a bit of a stalling tactic while I figured out what to do next.

2) How’d you decide to apply for a Venture for America fellowship?

At the same time that my senior thesis wasn’t quite going as I’d planned, I was running a sustainable design conference at Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design called A Better World by Design. I noticed that I liked  hands-on operational roles more than research and I wanted to find a way to get more of that experience. Later that summer, I was working abroad in Singapore as part of a program I found out about through the School of Engineering and I saw a tweet about a new fellowship program with Venture for America. As I read more about it I had a gut feeling that it was what I needed to do.

3) How did you choose which startup you’d work with and what’s your typical day like?

VFA actually has a two-step application process. First, you’re hired by VFA and then you need to be hired by one of their partner startup companies. I was able to give my preferences– I wanted to work in sustainable energy and engineering and use my technical skill-set but not be pigeon-holed into a strictly technical role.  I went through a few interviews and I was ultimately matched with the perfect opportunity at Accio Energy, a company that is revolutionizing how wind-powered energy is generated.

On a day to day basis, I work on the computer modeling of protoypes Accio is planning to build, measuring how the model will interact with wind and electric fields. Based on the work I do, we can refine prototypes to be as effective as possible. Typically a position like mine would report to the Chief Technology Officer but instead I work closely with the Chief Financial Officer because I wanted to get experience on the operational side as well as the technical side.

4) What’s been most surprising about being a Venture for America fellow?

Being a part of the fellowship network. There are 12 of us in Detroit and we all have similar interests and love to get involved in new opportunities.

Through the fellowship, we’ve gotten the fast track into Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem– we’ve attended Harvard Business School Alumni events, met the Mayor of Detroit, the head of City Year Detroit, and leaders like Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans. We also have incredible support from the board of directors and other leaders.

Before we even started working, we had a 5 week training program at Brown where we got to learn from companies like McKinsey and IDEO as well as industry leaders like Gary Chou about web development, finance, intellectual property, customer validation and other essential skills. I would have never had exposure to these opportunities without a program like this.

5) What advice would you give to someone in college who is interested in Venture for America?

Don’t be concerned if you don’t have formal business or startup experience. One of the most important aspects of working in a startup is the team dynamic so if you can demonstrate grit and enthusiasm for how you look and interact with the world you’ll be on the right track.

Also, this is a radically different experience than what you’ll typically find right out of college. It’s 2 years in a city you’d probably never experience on your own accord with a group of people with similar mentalities. I can’t think of a better possibility for adventure! You also get the safety net of VFA. If your startup fails, VFA will help you find a new opportunity.

Want to join Venture for America’s class of 2013 fellows? Act quickly, the deadline for the next round is February 18, 2013. Apply on Seelio today!

Day in the Life: Essential Startup Skills

Startup Skills for the Fast Track to Leadership with H. Bloom

When they’re not being featured in The New York Times or Business Insider about their SEED (Startup Education and Entrepreneurial Development) Program, the folks at H. Bloom are rolling up their sleeves and embracing the loads of work that come along with being the world’s fastest growing floral delivery service.

“For young professionals who are not quite ready to start their own ventures, [the SEED Program is] a pretty great deal. They learn how to manage a team and grow a business like it’s their own, without the financial risk. Not to mention they shoot up the corporate ladder.”

Business Insider, October 2, 2012.

As a continuation of our Day In the Life Series, I had a chance to interview Rebekah Rombom, H. Bloom‘s Talent Director, about the SEED Program and I got some tips about startup skills  students on Seelio should highlight when applying to H. Bloom’s openings in New York or San Francisco.

essential startup skills

Zach Brown, H. Bloom’s First SEED Graduate

1) What is the SEED Program?
SEED is a formal leadership training program that gives recent college grads all the startup skills they need to run a business. The program runs anywhere from 6 months to 1 year and gives participants the chance to be a part of our fast-paced startup environment with dedicated 1-on-1 time with H. Bloom’s top executives, operations training led by a SEED graduate, and classes on starting and managing a business led by the CEO.

2) Why did H. Bloom launch the SEED Program?
The company was born out of the desire to disrupt the floral business (an industry that was begging for disruption!) and to do it as quickly as possible with the highest possible level of delight for all of our customers. When you’re growing as fast as we are (in the last two years we expanded to San Francisco, Chicago, DC and Dallas), you need great leaders. We developed this program to bring in people who are naturally entrepreneurial and give them the training and support they need to be successful in this business.

3) What makes someone a good fit for the SEED Program?
We’re looking for all of the typical startup skills that make a good entrepreneur: hunger, drive and ambition. I need someone who will enthusiastically embrace the grind. It’s not always easy or fun showing up at 6:30AM on Mondays to make sure all of the deliveries are ready and on time, but, when someone shows that they can see a larger vision and execute, we know they’ll be a great fit.

4) On that note, what how can applicants stand out?
Two of our most successful program participants (who are now running markets in Chicago and San Francisco) showed that this program was a continuation of their entrepreneurial experience.

One saw an opportunity at his school to start a business selling flowers to families of recent college graduates on graduation day.  It was a great example of scrappiness– jumping on an opportunity and making something happen. The fact that it was an experience related to our industry was just the cherry on top!

The other previously worked at Enterprise which has a great leadership development program but also requires true attention to detail and the ability to work through the grind. Ultimately, these are the type of people we want to be a part of SEED.

5) Tell me about a typical day in the SEED Program.
6:30-10AM, Monday: Arrive at work and begin prepping, managing and guiding the floral delivery team so that each product looks fantastic and all deliveries happen on time.

10-11AM: Sit in on a meeting with your Market Manager (who is also your mentor throughout the program), the design team, and the sales team to review the prior week and plan for the week ahead.

12-1PM: Meet up with H. Bloom’s CEO, Bryan Burkhart, for a one-on-one lunch to talk about what’s going well, what changes you’d recommend, and what you’re learning so far in the program. Other weeks you’ll sit down for one-on-ones with executives like the COO or other functional leaders at H. Bloom.

1-3PM: Firefight.

3-4PM: Grab a seat for your weekly one-on-one with your Market Manager to check in on how things are going and share feedback about the program.

4-5:30PM: Join other SEED Program participants for an H. Bloom University Operations course, Flowers 101, led by an H. Bloom Buyer.

5:30-6:30PM: Present a few ideas on the weekly manager call about how you think H. Bloom’s route planning process  could be improved. After a brief discussion the other managers offer feedback and agree to launch your improvements for the next week of deliveries. It’s your responsibility to gather the metrics from each market, so we know whether it’s working.

7PM: Go out for drinks. You’ve earned it.

6) What’s been most surprising about the SEED Program?
How quickly it worked! Our 25 year-old manager in Chicago had never even set foot in the windy city and he put his startup skills to work by assembling a team that achieved a $1 million run rate in a year all while opening a brand new market for H. Bloom. Our graduates are moving mountains inside of H. Bloom. It’s phenomenal to see.

7) What advice would you give to college students who are interested in startup life and the SEED Program?
Make sure that it’s right for you. It’s an amazing experience, but it’s not for everyone. The work is hard, the hours are long, and you’ll face a hundred challenges and new decisions every day. Understand whether entrepreneurship is for you. Get a side gig and make a job out of something that didn’t exist before. Can you make it work? Do you like it? How fast can you make it grow? If you’re bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, and have a hunger to be part of something big, get in touch. We’d love to have you on our team.


Want to throw your name in the hat for a spot in H. Bloom’s SEED Program? Apply on Seelio for a chance to hone your startup skills in New York or San Francisco!

essential startup skills

Evan Frankel (left) and Adrian Brady-Cesana (right), New York Assistant Market Manager and New York Market Manager, during the SEED program, and then again after graduation.

Day In the Life: Working in Sales at Yelp

Seelionians, we’re excited to roll out a new “Day In the Life” series where we’ll interview people working in some of the positions you’ll find over on the Seelio Jobs page. First up is finding out what it’s really like working in sales at Yelp

To find out, we called up Mike Cornelius, a proud University of Michigan Wolverine and a seasoned Sales Manager at Yelp in Scottsdale, Arizona. He graciously took some time to tell us about how he landed at Yelp and what it’s like working in sales at Yelp (apply to join him here!)

working in sales

Meet Mike. He’s on the right.

1) What did you do before Yelp?

Yelp was my first job out of school. I went to the University of Michigan and majored in Economics. I ended up applying to Yelp because everything today is related to reviews– what movie should I see? where do I want to eat? what TV should I buy? I knew Yelp was going somewhere and I wanted to be a part of it.

2) How’d you land your job at Yelp?

I saw the Yelp position on the U of M Career Connector job board. Friendly tip to other job seekers: keep an eye on the position posting date. The closer you apply to the posting date, the better response rate you’ll get!

3) How long have you been at Yelp?

I joined a team of 70-80 Account Executives in Yelp’s Scottsdale office in August 2010. Now we’re at almost 300-400 Account Executives and in 2012 I was promoted to Sales Manager where I get to support a team of  Account Executives and help them make a difference for businesses across the country.

4) Tell me about your typical day.

As an Account Exec at Yelp, the typical day starts at around 8:15AM. You look through businesses in your territory and pick 10 to add to your pipeline. Generally your pipeline has around 300 businesses at a time and you call around 70 each day. When your pipeline is up to date, it’s time for breakfast at Yelp’s fully stocked kitchen. Then you meet with your sales team and agree upon goals for the day with your manager. Once everything is clear, it’s back to your desk where you start lining up calls to talk to businesses about advertising on Yelp. Then it’s time for lunch where you can head back over to the Yelp kitchen for a bite or out to one of the great restaurants in Scottsdale. The afternoon is when things really start happening when you’re working in sales. Business owners start to return calls and it’s time to figure out how to help them get more exposure through ads on Yelp! After a busy day it’s time to head out around 5 and start up again tomorrow.

5) What’s your favorite perk about working at Yelp?

I know it sounds general but Yelp is just a great place. The culture feels very young. We still have aspects of startup life but we also have a lot of substance. We’re serious about what we do and we’re driven by numbers and helping businesses be successful but we also know how to have fun. I mean, take a look at my work quad. It’s like an American themed carnival!

working in sales

6) What has been most surprising to you about working in sales? 

First of all, you never know how the Midwest will help you. One day I had a pretty disgruntled businessman who runs a small breakfast place in Vegas. He was upset about some negative reviews because he’s serious about making sure customers have a great experience. I could tell that he was angry but somehow in the course of conversation we made a Michigan connection. After a few minutes of chatting about Michigan football and our previous lives in the Midwest, we both had a new perspective and started talking about what we could do to gain more exposure for his business through Yelp. Now, a year later, he’s still one of my best customers and we talk regularly about Yelp and the Midwest!

Second, I was really surprised about how measurable working in sales actually is. With an economics background I’ve always been serious about numbers and I’ve seen firsthand how they’ve helped me do a better job. For example, we keep track of something we call a “close ratio” (the percent of businesses that you help sign up for advertising divided by the total number of businesses you pitch). My ratio wasn’t budging but I brought it up with my manager and he helped identify some areas of my pitch that I could change and my numbers started to improve immediately.

7) What advice would you give to someone in college who is interested in working in sales?

If you want to get into sales, find a great product for a company that you believe in.  Working in sales is tough but it’s completely worth it if you believe in what you’re selling. Also, consider whether there’s room to grow in the role that you’re going after. As you graduate, you’ll constantly hear 3 questions and usually in this order:

1) What company are you working for?

2) Where is it?

3) How much are you going to make?

When I took the job at Yelp, not everyone had heard about it and my base salary wasn’t necessarily as high as some of my peers. But, I believed in the company. I knew Yelp was going somewhere and I wanted to find a way to be a part of it. Since I’ve joined, Yelp has grown dramatically, I’ve been promoted, and I love what I do and the people I work with. Also, its 75 degrees in Scottsdale right now. That’s not so bad either!

Interested in joining Mike as an Account Executive at Yelp? Apply today to one of Yelp’s open positions in New York City, Phoenix, or San Francisco!

For more on sales at Yelp, check out this video.