“So what are your summer plans?”
…The dreaded question for any college student, second only to inquiries about post-college career aspirations. Most students must either fabricate an impressive-sounding façade for bumming around at the beach or be prepared to explain precisely how their internship will translate to real-life skills and employment opportunities.
“I’m working at a company called Matter — it’s a startup accelerator and venture capital firm in San Francisco,” I explain to my friends and family in South Carolina. Where I come from, that’s alien speak, so I’m usually met with blank stares. I translate: “It’s like a grad school for startups!”
My favorite response, however, is the classic “Why are you working there?” The confusion is not unfounded — a venture capital firm/startup accelerator is hardly the expected summer destination for a psychology major.
To paraphrase Matter founder Corey Ford, my path to this internship was more of a “drunken walk” than an intentional march. And like many entrepreneurs embarking on the drunken walk, I stumbled. Last summer, I applied to Matter rather haphazardly, desperate for summer options. It showed in my application. I wasn’t accepted.
After more scrambling, I ended up landing a marketing internship at The Motley Fool, an investing services company (yes, another nontraditional destination for a psychology major). My job was to write articles for a FAQ page that translated complex investing jargon into layman’s terms. The goal was to show the Average Joes of the world that investing is not only a Wall Street game — that they, too, could learn the ropes and take control of their financial futures.
It was after that internship that I decided to reapply to Matter for the following summer, more sure than ever that it’s where I wanted to be. In writing for a nontraditional investing audience at The Motley Fool, I learned the importance of communicating with and empowering individuals that are often overlooked, of breaking down complex ideas into digestible pieces. Most importantly, however, I came to understand that media is the most powerful tool for doing so. And what better a place to apply these lessons than Matter, a company that leverages media for the purpose of empowering the public?
Unfortunately, in today’s world, media is often seen as a bad thing, a contagion that is infecting society. Each day, we are bombarded with more and more junk media, and many journalists are being forced to prioritize page views over quality of content. Nowadays, many media sources have been reduced to clickbait celebrity gossip, mindless humor, and jaded political judgments. A yet sadder tale is that of the many slowly-dying traditional media sources, which are regrettably the ones that tend to convey the most reliable information.
Matter challenges this dismal notion. It demonstrates that media can in fact be used for good — to foster a society that is more informed, connected, and empowered. Most importantly, through its 5-month accelerator program, it helps startups that are trying to enact positive change through media to actually do so.
It is for this reason that I chose to spend my summer at Matter. And luckily, this go-around, Matter chose me back. I believe not only that media companies can change the world for the better; I believe that they have the responsibility to do so. And as members of society, we have the responsibility to nurture these companies so that they can achieve this potential.
So where do I fit into that goal?
I’ve only been at Matter for three days now, but I’m already getting an idea of the ways that I can make the biggest impact during my short ten weeks. Three main areas I’m excited to focus on are helping with integration of the San Francisco branch and newly-created New York branch, revamping the employee and entrepreneur experience, and “storytelling” — the art of communicating Matter’s culture and mission through transparent media content.
Some of my main personal objectives are to gain exposure to the world of media and tech innovation, to develop my photography and video editing skills, to build mentors and community connections, and most importantly, to understand what it truly means to be an entrepreneur.
I have no doubt that the drunken walk that got me to Matter will continue throughout my internship. I cannot predict exactly what I’ll run into — especially given the freedom I have in defining my role. And I cannot predict the exact skills and lessons that I will have learned by the end of the summer. But I see this ambiguity as opportunity. And if there’s one thing my drunken walk has taught me, it’s that internships are all about the journey, not the destination.
In his UNC TED talk, Corey discusses the “drunken walk” of the entrepreneur, and how no path can sometimes be the best path of all.