Friday, 9.59 am. The workshop starts at 10. The office is empty but for four Matter team members nervously pacing the program area wondering where all our entrepreneurs went. A smattering of sighs, head-shakes and “ughhhh, entrepreneurs” occupy the room, while M83’s Midnight City (probably) plays in the background.
Suddenly, almost by divine intervention (the sound of the door latch not too dissimilar to a strike of Zeus’ lightning bolt), a flurry of our esteemed entrepreneurs pile through the front door. The room fills with activity, noise, laughter, and ideas. Pete, Director of Program SF, looks at me in a way that I could only describe as gleeful yet frustrated — “trust entrepreneurs to find a way of being effectively late yet perfectly on time.” I made a mental note under the category “entrepreneur eccentricities.”
My name is Anamay and I’ve been at Matter for 9 weeks. It was made clear to me on my first day that all of Matter’s interns in the past have written Welcome Blogs upon their arrival— blogs that introduce them to the Matter team, current cohort and wider community. I, of course (insert Face With Rolling Eyes emoji here), seemed to disregard that advice and let my nine week internship fly by without a blog post. I actually kept count — by around week four Liz, Director of Operations, gave up on reminding me. I can safely say, nine weeks later, I live to regret that decision. Indeed, it’s pretty much impossible to sum up my experience here in the San Francisco office into one digestible blog post. So I’ve resorted to narrating potentially tangential anecdotes like the one above. For this, I apologize.
But before I go any further, I guess it’s worth introducing myself more formally. My name is Anamay Viswanathan, I’m a rising junior at UNC Chapel Hill and I worked as a Program Intern at Matter this summer. My main focus has been to keep the programming ship steady and also to build on Matter’s internal data strategy — mapping and closing feedback loops is harder than I thought! At Chapel Hill, I’m studying Political Science and Neuroscience. There are two jokes to make at this point: 1) Yes, I’m assuming politicians have brains; and 2) Yes, it might be the case that a solid understanding of neurological disorders is necessary for grasping today’s politics.
Anyway, back to the anecdotes…
It was my second day. Niles Lichtenstein, CEO and co-founder of The History Project, walks in to use one of the conference rooms (a pretty standard occurrence, Liz later informed me). The rest of the team greets Niles like another regular person at the office. Not me. Have you ever had that feeling when you see someone famous up close and its somewhat hallucinatory? Almost like an out-of-body-time-slows-down experience? Yeah, well, that’s what happened to me when Niles walked in. The only subtle difference —he was only famous in my eyes, in that room at least.
Backstory: as part of my application to Matter, I was tasked with writing a blog post about one of Matter’s portfolio companies. I chose The History Project. Through that exercise, I learnt about Niles and his story (an incredibly powerful one at that). So, to go from seeing pictures and videos of the man to suddenly shaking his hand was a little breathtaking. Suffice to say, my colleagues were a little confused — I looked as if I was meeting John Lennon. But boy am I glad I had that experience so early into my internship. That hallucinatory moment made everything else feel real. I didn’t have to pinch myself. I was indeed in San Francisco, I was indeed at Matter and I was indeed shaking Niles’ hand.
Similar such encounters became commonplace over time. I would have perfectly pleasant, informal conversations with community members during our happy hours, only to later glance down at the title on their card to find out they were in fact a CEO, a founder, a visionary, a leader, a mover-and-shaker. Humbling, terrifying, and truly exciting. I certainly lived up to that oblivious intern stereotype. My favorite encounter has to be when I greeted Anne Diaz, Lead Experience Researcher at Airbnb, to Design Review 1. She walked in, I introduced myself (probably too quickly and quietly) and then asked her if she’d been to a Matter Design Review before. She said no. Without letting her finish her sentence, I leaped into a long explanation of the whole process, why we do it, the tone we want to strike and the timeline for the evening. I then, almost in passing, happened to mention how our four Design Review panelists, our guests of honor so to speak, would be sat at the front and briefly described who they were. She finally decided to cut me off — “Yes, I know, I’m one of the them. I’m Anne.” To this day, I can’t believe how patient and kind she was with me, listening to my spiel about Design Reviews, all the while totally forgetting she was actually one our panelists. I guided her to the front of the program area, perhaps slightly red faced. I remember saying to myself, “Anamay, you just interned the sh*t out of that.”
An important mindset at Matter is that there is no job above or below you. Matter is a very hands-on, action-oriented workplace. At no point was this better exemplified than when Roxann, Director of Program NYC, stuck her head in a trash can for the greater good.
Context: it was Design Review 0 and all 12 teams (NYC and SF) were pitching for the first time in our San Francisco office. Roxann and I had the role of ‘head’s up’ which basically meant we had to ensure the space was running smoothly and nothing interrupted the entrepreneurs’ pitches. Part of this job included turning off the doorbell and placing a sign on the front of the door asking latecomers to text my number to get in. About 20 minutes into the Design Review, I began to receive very irate (and surprisingly sarcastic) text messages. Turned out that someone had been rummaging in our trash and had left a lot of it strewn on the street. A neighbor was thus texting us (angrily) to clear it up. I communicate this to Roxann. Next thing we know, we’re shoulder-deep in trash, reaching into torn bags and emptied cans. It was at this moment we noticed that someone had put some of our trash in another neighbor’s compost bin. The refuse had got stuck at the bottom of the bin. Roxann insisted we be good citizens and clean it out. I was less certain (and certainly less willing). With that, Roxann dove into the bin, head first. I’d never felt so happy to work at an organization as I did then — to see a team member embody everything Matter talks about in one action, without even hesitating, was pretty incredible. Through Roxann, I learned the most valuable lesson both in humility and in building team culture.
This wouldn’t be a Thank You Matter blog post (yes, I just coined that and I wonder if future mildly disorganized interns choose to follow my defection from the Matter Welcome Blog) if I didn’t mention the entrepreneurs of our seventh cohort. They are some of the most special, talented, driven, and brilliant people I have ever met. I can’t begin to tell you how lucky I feel to have met all of them, from Farhan jamming with me about life, love, loss and, most importantly, food, to Kelley incessantly plugging It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (yes, I will watch the show I promise), to Abraham being the cool Venezuelan uncle I’ve always wanted, to David Jay being an endless fount of knowledge, to Brandon seemingly wearing a new pair of shoes and glasses every day, to Bea and Judy literally being the most passionate people I’ve ever met, to Sam teaching me about brewing, to Didi and Linsly being #BFFGoals.
There’s magic at Matter. Everyone cares so much about what they’re doing — about what we, as a community of entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors, are doing. One of my sporting heroes, Roger Federer, recently won a record eight Wimbledon title at the age of 35. In his post-championship speech, when asked what’s driven him to keep going, even so late into an already glittering career, all he said was “I kept on believing and dreaming and here I am.”
And that’s it. I’ve never been in a space where there is so much belief, so much courage to dream. All around, there’s a quiet determination that we will change media for good. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of this team. Thank you, Matter.